Friday, September 4, 2020

QCX+ Continuation

After the first bit of fun where I completely messed up the build in thinking I was constructing a 40m version instead of a 20m, things have somewhat calmed down. The instruction manual is well written, with excellent photos, good descriptions and provided you take your time and don't rush as I did, you wont make mistakes and things should go as described.

As I write I have completed the kit and apart from 4 missing M3 screws that I'm not too sure should be included anyway, but I can't emphasize enough it was a good build from the instructional point of view, so much so that a beginner with a bit of common sense should be OK. 

As yet, I have  to do the smoke test which for me I'm dreading, with the potential screw up of the T1 torroid. I'm just hoping it will work, but honestly I really don't know and it's certainly nothing to do with QRP Labs, it was purely my mistake! I would and probably will purchase other kits from QRP Labs, they are an excellent company, even emailing me during the pandemic to say how my order was progressing!

Once I had corrected my mistakes the rest of the build was fairly straight forward, with no difficult issues or problems. Once completed I was struck by how good and simple the design was. But that's the reason why the original QCX design sold 10,000 kits!

The enclosure is fairly simple yet strong and sturdy. There is certainly no need to make your own, this one will do the job brilliantly.

The picture above is not too clear but gives the general idea. Incidentally the kit is sitting on the manual, that's how much information regarding building etc you get...134 pages, pretty impressive!

Once I have built up enough courage I will do the smoke test, hopefully have a very large drink and report back and then on to the next build!!

...........Just to add, smoke test completed and although it switched on my LCD display was just showing one line of bars. After a thorough check of soldering points and some re soldering and also repositioning of the micro chip The radio sprang in to life, excellent! Now I have to align and do some other tuning and then hopefully we have a good little rig to play with.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

The QCX+ 5 watt Transceiver - Dumb Mistakes Already!!

Finally the kit has arrived, but it had to wait as I was still in the process of finishing off the Rockmite and the Texas Topper (see posts below). Over the past few days I have started to build the kit after taking a further two days checking the inventory and reading over the manual. 

The first and I can only say dumb mistake I made was winding the T1 Torroid, It wasn't that there was anything wrong with the winding's, in fact it was perfect. Four different winds on a small torroid, eight connections, as I said perfect.  I'd even fitted it to the circuit board as instructed and begun adding some capacitors  when I realised I had some capacitors missing and saw the bag marked 20m LPF! It suddenly dawned on me I had been in auto mode and for some stupid reason thinking I was building the 40m version (as per the Rockmite) instead of the 20m version!

The giveaway!

Believe me, there was a lot of swearing when it dawned on me what I had done. Bloody typical that torriod was regarded by the manual as very tricky and I had just completed and fitted the 40m version perfectly, I was livid.

Now came the awful task of removing 4 capacitors and the 8 connections of the torriod, then reducing one of the winding's from 38 to 30 and three sets of 5 winds to 3. I honestly thought that's it, I ruined the kit before I had even got going! Miraculously, and I really don't know how, somehow, with much patience, I managed to remove and then fix and reset the torroid.

The torroid and capacitors refitted !

The PCB doesn't look too bad from the top, but underneath I had some scary moments where the tracking began to loosen through me heating and wiping off some solder to reopen the holes.

You can see the mess on the three triangular holes and the center track looks pretty beaten up, but I've checked and rechecked and the connections look OK. Somehow I got away with that stupid mistake. 

The morale being the usual, read and read again the instructions and don't confuse your 40m Rockmite with your 20m QCX+

................More to follow over the next few days!

Saturday, August 22, 2020

The Texas Topper 5 Watt Amp

Before moving on from QRPme and the failed Rockmite that didn't live up to my expectations. I also purchased the Texas Topper, a 5 watt amplifier. This I thought would go nicely with the 4 Rockmites that I own and could provide me with a bit of oomph should the need arise!

Once again, how can I explain, I've built the 4 Rockmites, an OHR 100A, even a K2 so I'd like to think I'm not a novice builder, but even I was struggling with the instructions. When you have built something like the K2 or the QCX and even the early Rockmites the instructions are superb. They take you along the fun and the ride of the whole process, good instructions will also explain why your doing something so you can learn and understand the whole build process.

Sadly with QRPme they seem to be blunt and to the point, not really teaching you and expecting you to know things that really aren't that clear. Also once again I also had the wrong parts so I have had to order five more capacitors, annoying to say the least.

The Texas Topper has been constructed, but once again with little satisfaction by me, I feel sort of empty, not quite fulfilled.

The picture shows it all, built but missing parts, which are all on order. I shall now have to wait another week and probably struggle with the completion yet again. Incidentally my rockmite transistor part appeared the other day which fixed the receive problem, but unfortunately I still can't transmit so more investigation work is required.

To sum up I don't think I'll be buying anymore kits from QRPme, sorry but that the way it goes!

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

40M Rockmite From QRPme

I can't remember if I said in a previous post that I had a new Rockmite on order from a few weeks back. It was the 40m version, I wanted to see if there is any difference from the old days of when I bought three 40,30 and 20M from Dave Benson K1SLW, which really got me started in building QRP.

I was aware Dave Benson K1SLW was retired and had handed the Rockmite business across to someone else, but I didn't know who, so obviously I did a bit of searching on the web and came across QRPme. QRPme is run by Rex Harper W1ERX. The other thing I didn't realise was that Kanga Products was the UK operation for QRPme and in my rush, I went straight to QRPme to order the Rockmite.

The package duly arrived from the States and of course I had to pay custom duty! This seemed to be the first of many issues. On opening up the package and inspecting the contents, I realised the "Dave Benson" personal touch had gone.

Whether it's through QRPme being bigger, or Rex hadn't the time I don't know, but that personal touch has disappeared. That easy to read instruction manual with those marvelous pictures of all the components and everything explained had gone and in its place a few sheets of accurate instructions, but not with a beginner in mind.

Waiting for parts

Sadly that wasn't all. Some components were missing and I found a mixture of different parts, but for other bands, but not all complete. For instance, I was missing 3 capacitors for the 40m kit but had the right capacitors for the 20m kit. Also where I should have the crystals for 40m I had the 20m set, which made me double check and think if I had originally ordered the 40m kit!

The wrong crystals

So in conclusion I have had to reorder some components and crystals from Kanga Products and have been left disappointed and saddened that the Rockmites that started me on the road to QRP building is in a way no more. Sure the Rockmite is alive, but slicker and corporate. It still relatively easy to build, but sadly lacks the personal touch Dave Benson seemed to add.

I think if you look at the website there's a lot products on there, I don't know how big QRPme is, but it just feels to me that everything was rushed if that makes any sense. Maybe I was just unlucky! Let me know if you've had a good experience with QRPme.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Emtech ZM-2 ATU

 I came across this ATU kit while searching the web for a tuner specifically for my Rockmites and other QRP rigs as the Tokyo HC 400L ATU is too big for the low power.

All the reviews I'd read, pointed towards a good, easy to build QRP tuner. So I decided to go ahead and purchase. In under 10 days it arrived promptly from the States, custom free and well packed. 

The instructions were well layed out and even a beginner could quite easily complete this kit. The only process that might be deemed difficult for some were the two toroids, but to be honest they were not that difficult, but being the lazy person that I am, I got the main T130 toroid wound for me for an extra $5 which I thought was pretty cheap! To be honest and my only moan was the T130 had been wound but the 2nd SWR indicator toroid which is much smaller hadn't been and if I'd known this at the start I wouldn't have bothered paying the extra $5 as I find smaller toroid's harder than the larger ones to wind! 

But no matter, I'm not a complainer about winding toroids, the're a necessity and I just get on with the job. Otherwise installing the components and the switches was pretty easy, there's not a lot of room when installing the 2nd toroid, but if you're careful it fits all in.

The tuner even comes with two sets of decals which you can then spray with varnish or  similar screening, provided they are stuck on accurately they work well.

Once finished it's extremely easy to operate, which makes it a joy to work. I really like this bit of kit and for the price you can't go wrong. It will be ideal for the new QCX+ kit that I'm waiting to arrive!

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Chinese Manual Kit ATU Off eBay

I saw this advertised when browsing on eBay and thought for £8.79p you can't go wrong at that price! Or so I thought, an ATU kit complete with box, stickers all the bits, it was a reasonable deal and if you messed up it was only a few pounds. 

It didn't take too long to arrive about 3 weeks from China, well packed and it was all there, the only problem of many to come, was there was no instructions!

Browsing across the internet I guessed there must be something and sure enough when looking at Tinker John's YouTube video W5CYF (who does very good instructions btw) . He had a link to some half Chinese/English  e manual which I duly printed off. Obviously Tinker John had had a go at building the Chinese kit as well and he got it working, but didn't seem too impressed by the instructions, I got the impression he more or less just built the kit via the pictures!

Well, together with the Tinker John video's and the instructional pictures, I tried to follow it all and eventually got there. But to be honest the circuit board was misaligned, the instructions for drilling in to the container were totally off and Winding the large torroid and twisting in the tapping points was an absolute pain (and normally I don't mind winding torroids). Finally, you needed and engineering degree to work out how the variable capacitor knobs were fitted on to their respective capacitors and I'll admit there was a lot of it was re jigging and re drilling!
In the end and to fair I just followed Tinker John's advice and looked at the pictures and the one schematic diagram and somehow got there . 

What surprised me was linking and connecting it all up to my W3DZZ and my antenna analyser and finding it actually worked!!

What surprised me even more, was that it worked reasonably well, enough to for me actually use my K2 and the Rockmites. So for £8.79 and if you're prepared to have a bit of fun and struggle, but if you're dedicated you will get there, I would buy the kit and have a bit of fun, after you can't go wrong for £8.79 or $11.32!

Saturday, July 11, 2020

JJJElectronics QRP Transceiver 20/40M

Well, what can I say that's good about it, honestly very little. I paid nearly £85  for a ready built transceiver, calibrated and aligned, but I'm afraid it's probably the worst £85 I've spent on a radio. This probably through impatience and stupidity on my part, I should have waited , but as usual jumped in with both feet!(What I should have done is bought the kit for £35 instead).

A fairly simple face for a simple transceiver

I had to install an on/off switch and a jack for headphones. The initial set up was some female plugin wire setup for both the speaker and power which was quite frankly useless. On powering up the transceiver it drifts like mad and maybe (and I say this loosely) after 20 minutes of warm up it may steady a little. The only time you can hear any Morse on 20M is mid morning, as the rest of the time you are plagued with MW. Similarly in the evenings this happens on 40.

You can see where I added the on/off switch and the ear jack

But I suppose that's what you get when buying a QRP rig off eBay. It's not badly built and the guy knows what he's doing. But the design is appalling and when you see something as good as the QCX QRP rig that is priced at $49 it does make you wonder. The morale of the story is, steer well clear of JJJElectronics on eBay, don't make the mistake I did. 

Still, I have now got loads of spares for my next new QRP rig whatever that will be!

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Rockmites and Other QRP Radio

Regulars to this blog will know I do like some QRP and during the lockdown in this country I was back working with the Rockmites. I have three at the moment 40,20 and 30 Meters with a fourth on the way.
The 20 and the 40 are in the same type of container as above and the 30 below is in a small metal tin.

Small Wonders Labs is no more as Dave Benson has retired and so the Rockmite works has been passed on to Rex Harper W1REX with his very successful website .
 I’m interested to see what has changed and if there are any improvements etc to the build process. I hanker after the build and the challenge of trying to get contacts with 0.5 watts. Sometimes you get lucky and have great QSO’s with these wonderful little radios and other times you’re sitting for hours trying to get a reply, swings and roundabouts!
I also have an OHR100 5 watt transceiver, a 5 watt 20/40 mts transceiver by JJJelectronics and of course the Elecraft K2.
The OHR 100
One final rig I’m waiting for which I am relishing the build is a QCX –plus by QRP Labs this is their follow up from the famous QCX transceiver that sold somewhere in the region of 10,000 kits, so was very successful.
The new QCX+
Another kit I’d like to have the challenge of a build is the K1 and I suspect in the future, I shall no doubt purchase and build one.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Invertd L W3DZZ 40/80 and Top Band Antenna

The W3DZZ Top band Inverted L is a great antenna if you want to get on top band but never thought it possible because you are limited to a small garden. It doesn’t have to be in a straight line, you can bend to your garden shape and it should still work pretty well.
The lengths are divided up in to 9.9 metres followed by the 7MHz trap and then 6.55 metres to the 3.5MHz trap and then another 8.54 metres. A good earth is needed with a ground rod, but preferably some ground radials would be even better.
As usual the higher the better for the antenna, but it will work at 15 or 20 feet if limited with height.
The traps are the simple coax fed, divided up to 20 turns for the 80 meter and 11 turns for the 40 meter on a 40 mm PVC water pipe former with simple solder connections as shown in the diagram.

Below are my traps which took about an hour to build.
The top band length shown will give a 1:5:1 SWR at around 1.9MHz. If you are limited with height try to put in more ground radials if you can.

The picture below shows it going over original designer’s house, but as I said before you can bend it to how you want. I’m lucky enough to have it as a straight dipole, but last year I had it up as a horizontal L shape round the corner of the garden and it worked well.

Do experiment with this antenna, especially now it's summer and you can get it ready for those dark nights when top band and eighty start coming in to their own. Once set up correctly to your particular situation it will work really well for those lower bands!

Forgive the quality of the camera work, but hopefully you get the idea with the  W3DZZ  about 10 meters up!

This shows where the coax is split to the shack and the earth goes to the ground radials from the DX Commander

Thursday, June 11, 2020

DX Commander & Rebuilding W3DZZ Top Bander

I don't know if you have come across this antenna before but information is widely available on the internet. Which is where I first saw it and then came across the youtube site of DX Commander. Cullum is a bit of an odd ball to say the least, but is very entertaining and knowledgeable about his product. So much so that he convinced me and having read the various favourable comments as well, I ordered the DX Commander Classic multi band antenna.

 Basically it's a vertical 10 metre fibre glass pole with a number of elements in parallel attached to it , in turn you connect the elements up to a number of ground plane radials by a series of aluminium plates. Very neat and tidy but simple, but then all the best ideas seem to be simple and it works very well. I have to say I'm pretty impressed and with the price. It's now raised up in my paddock and within a few days of erecting I've had contacts from all over Europe, across the pond and in to the far reaches of Russia. By the time the cycle picks up I'll have no problems getting VK and ZL.

I now have the W3DZZ up for 40 and 80 meters, the Hustler which is a sort of back up antenna which is the 6 bander and now the DX Commander which is setup for 10, 12, 14 and 30 meters. Regular readers will probably remember me mentioning the W3DZZ sister antenna (40, 80 and top band) that I experimented with back last year. Well I am in the process of rebuilding, I am using the two old coaxial traps (80 and (40) which I have reset and cleaned up and am just waiting for the new wiring for the element.

The whole length of the antenna is roughly 25 metres but obviously split up with the traps. I hope to use the ground radials from the DX Commander with the top band antenna and I'll stretch it out across my paddock. I've already setup and prepared some poles for the antenna to hang, so now it's just waiting for the postal service to drop the wiring off!

The picture above shows how it would be set up over a house, but I plan to have it raised up, but in my paddock. The picture below shows my previous attempt and how simple it is when completed. I think where I went wrong last time was that I didn't really plan how I was going to raise and keep up 25 metres of wire and two traps. It was always a bit fragile, it never felt solid, also the tuning could have been better. So this time I'll take my time and do things slowly!

Radio wise I still have the FTDX 5000MP and the FT 1000D as back up and of course the trusty K2 and a number of QRP rigs. Sometimes I get itchy and want to sell and buy, but in honesty the 5000 and the 1000 are superb rigs and really why bother?