Homebrew basics

Discussion in 'Homebrew and Kit Projects' started by KB3LAZ, Aug 9, 2008.

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  1. KB3LAZ

    KB3LAZ Ham Member QRZ Page

    Ok guys and gals I am new to the homebrew concept and would like some pointers. I can use a soldering iron/gun and I know the difference between tubes and transistors, lol. If I do a search on the web or in my many books I find many projects to start of with and kits to buy, but whats a good place to start? Should I buy a kit or build from scratch by following a project out of one of my books? Also should I start off with an amateur radio project or something smaller? I think it would be nice to build a qrp cw transmitter and receiver pair, would this be a bad first choice? Also if you think it necessary for me to start off by reading some important book or explanatory article feel free to suggest one because there are many of them out there and I havent the slightest clue where to start. Feel free to treat me as a complete newbie to this topic as I am one.:p Any advice would be greatly appreciated!!!!

    Thx and 73 de kb3laz

    PS I would really like to use tubes in my project!
  2. KB3LAZ

    KB3LAZ Ham Member QRZ Page

    Oh ya I forgot to mention that I have no test equipment!
    Is this going to be a vital tool for even small projects?
    If it is will it be a big expense to get these material?
    If so I may have to wait a while because money does not go far with my current situation. I only work part time during the school year.
    Also If I do need test equipment will it be hard to learn how to use it?
    I think I am putting the horse before the cart at this point, lol. :p
  3. AB8RO

    AB8RO Ham Member QRZ Page


    Depends on where your skills are and what you want from the experience. You won't learn much about electronics or radio building a kit. Some, just not much. You will develop mechanical and electrical skills. Simple things like soldering, cutting and stripping wire, what type of pot shafts take what kind of knobs, what order to stuff things in a box, etc. Don't kid yourself, building a kit is not the same as building from scratch. It can be fun, I do it sometimes to relax. It's sort of the "paint by numbers" of building.

    The major downside to kits is when they don't work. Doesn't happen often, but, it does happen and they are usually sophisticated enough that it's too difficult for the beginner to diagnose himself.

    Complete kits that include nice cabinets and knobs will give you more experience with the mechanical aspects than simple PC board kits, UNLESS, you choose to actually put the pc board kit into a box.

    RF building comes with it's own set of "extra" frustrations. I think a good first kit is either an accessory or a piece of simple test equipment. A simple function generator, for example, is very handy to have if you don't have one and is unlikely to not work on the first try.

    On the other hand, there is little that is more satisfying than building RF projects that actually work.

    Yes. Well, no, not really, but QRP transmitters aimed at the beginner typically sit on the shelf because they are too weak to be useful for most people in most cases. However, you have to start somewhere so that seems to be where most people start.

    God no, just jump in and do it. Make sure that you have a copy of the handbook handy, any year at all will work but you should go with at least the mid seventies or later for building solid state stuff.

    That said, there is a very good resource on line called "From Crystal Sets to Sideband" which is very worthy of attention. It may answer a lot of questions for you or generate more specific questions that I'm sure people here will be glad to answer.


    Don't be afraid to just get started.

    I would highly encourage that. A good first RF project might be a simple two tube transmitter from days gone by. The "Novice Special" is in my 197x handbook uses two inexpensive tubes, a handful of parts, and gives you 15 watts input on 80 and 40. That's enough to actually make contacts with

    Another good way to get started is to rebuild something. Buy an old beat up transmitter at a swap fest, strip it down to the chassis, and then build a new tranmitter using the chassis, tube sockets, power transformer, caps, etc. I recently rebuilt an old tube guitar amp from the fifties this way. It had a pretty sad pentode preamp and so I stripped it down and used the parts to build a 50's Fender Princeton clone.

    Here's a point to keep in mind. Projects don't have to be finished. We call them experiments. Build small RF modules on little bits of pc boards and play around with them. It will teach you a lot about what works and what doesn't.

    Finally, if you decide to build something, maybe a few of us can build it together with you. Let's talk about something simple to build. Then we start a thread for that project and each of us can post pictures of parts we plan to use, etc, as well as progress along the way.

  4. KB1KIX

    KB1KIX Ham Member QRZ Page

    I run quarterly buildathons here in CT and given the varying range of experience, I can offer you the following:

    No test equipment, many kits are good for that, as they are geared towards those just getting started.

    Interests may vary. Sometimes I do a small QRP CW transceiver, sometimes I run a project that is valuable to any operating class (our next project is the OpenTracker for APRS).

    Most kits only require a soldering iron and flush cutters (though something to hold circuit boards would be nice).

    There are many fine kits (and I've purchased from all of these individuals) that are available from:


    Plenty to keep you busy as you get started.

    One bit of warning..... I started building kits a couple years ago, and now my bench is overflowing with gadgets and I'm rapidly building a junque drawer. Now the toys I want are a little more expensive (like a 100mhz scope would be real nice).

    Most importantly, have fun!

  5. KB3LAZ

    KB3LAZ Ham Member QRZ Page

    Thank you for your suggestions and encouragement.
    The link you posted was very helpful in the sense that it has given me more direction. I noticed that in the first chapter it says that SSB hombrew is rather complex, but I think this would make a nice project. Beings that a qrp rig is going to be a little tougher to make contacts with Im thinking that a 10m setup or 2m even would be a good place to start. I think that a 2m fm crystal controlled rig may be my first project. I have a friend in the local area that would have all the parts I would need to complete this project. He has a bunch of old GE parts radios and boxes upon boxes of crystals! Also another direction I could go in would be to restore an old rig such as a FT-101, which I have at my disposal and I even have the tubes for replacement and a tube tester. Anyway I will flip through the Hand Book tomorrow and ponder over my options before I make a final decision. I will let you know what I decide and keep everyone posted every step of the way.

    Again thank you!
    73 de kb3laz
  6. KB3LAZ

    KB3LAZ Ham Member QRZ Page

    Thank you for the words of encouragement and the links.

    73 de kb3laz
  7. KB9BVN

    KB9BVN Ham Member QRZ Page


    If you have no test equipment, I'd suggest you at least get your hands on a decent multimeter. If you can find one that also measures L's and C's that's even better.

    I have accumulated the following:

    Tektronics Model 465 O-Scope ($50 used)
    Norcal Dummy Load (10w) ($12)
    OHR Dummy Load (100w) ($40)
    A couple Multimeters
    Old Lafayette RF/AF generator (FREE - someone gave it to me)
    BK Precision Sweep/Function Generator (FREE - another hand me down)
    AADE LCII meter ($100 - this is a kit, I built it)
    Couple sets of those "spare hand" things that hold PC Boards ($15 each maybe)
    Decent soldering station (Solomon SR 936) ($40 in 1998)
    Couple of homemade RF probes (must have's) (FREE...used old test leads and junkbox stuff)

    I run QRP about 99% of the time, I make contacts all over the world with my K2 and my attic dipole. Building stuff is fun, kit or not.
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2008
  8. KC4UMO

    KC4UMO Ham Member QRZ Page

    I second that suggestion. Test equipment is very importand for any RF projects. There are a lot of homebrew type of stuff on the net you can google. I do not have alot but have enough to get me by. After my service monitor gave out (had it 16 years) I posted here and on qth.com and had 30 replies via email. Found some in the 200 dollar range.
    I finally bit the bullet and bought an IFR 1200S. Over the years I found stuff at good prices.
    Yaesu freq counter
    Kenwood station monitor
    Adjustable bench power supply
    Many multimeters
    Motorola Auto-tune frequency / audio / tone monitor
    RF probes
    Telewave watt meters
  9. KB1KIX

    KB1KIX Ham Member QRZ Page

    Man..... envy!

    I still can't decide between that and the one made by M3. I've used both, but I'm leaning towards the M3 - thing is sweeet!

    I used both at FDIM at Dayton last year, both great shack tools.

  10. KL7AJ

    KL7AJ Ham Member QRZ Page

    The first homebrew project any ham should do is a crystal radio. There is no better method of learning some basic radio principles. There are THOUSANDS of different ways of doing this. Look up crystal radio projects on the web.

    (this should be required by law!) :)

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