Lego toys have always been a staple of my youth before ham radio was even in any sort of idea in my befuddled mind. I was always seen in front of a big bi fold box of legos dreaming up some sort of battle ship, carrier, land roving vehicle or just a big lego box that I could place all of the pieces in an intricate fashion to make them appealing to one’s eyes. Looking back now, I must have had at least 150 plus kits in that big box.
Today, now that I am an extra class operator, I have found a new type of lego, one that can talk to you or you can talk to other people and something that was battery powered.
My new lego is building kits.
It all started one day, when my base radio (Elecraft KX3 / KXPA 100) had to be shipped back to Elecraft for repair work. I was without a radio and was yearning to get back on the air. At that time, no spares were in my house. So around that time, RAGS Hamfest was just that weekend. I happened to pick up a QRPp 40m Pixie kit radio. When I got that radio home and dumped all of those tiny little pieces on my coffee table, I reminisced about those days playing with legos. “These are just like legos!” I shouted and began to assemble that kit.
It took around 2 hours to finish, but did I have fun making CW contacts on that little radio. I gifted that radio out to a fellow ham as a small token of appreciation, after I got my KX3 back.
A few weeks went by and I really missed that little radio, as quirky as it was, no side tone, no filters, nothing that we are accustom to today as some of us hams today are appliance operators. I started to look for another kit.
Google searching my mind into oblivion, I had found a small southern group called 4 States QRP group that had several kits for purchase. I scoured their inventory and found one that really intrigued me, a 40m crystal para-set format radio titled “Bayou Jumper.”
A little over a week went by before it arrived well packaged and all parts were accounted for after initial inventory. I was going to get that little radio working and built this weekend.
So I did go for it, cold turkey marathon session. 12 hours later (09:00 to 21:00) it was complete. A bit of alignment and tweaking. I could not believe that receiver was so sensitive in that regenerative receiver. Noticing this receiver’s pass-band was so wide, i opted for a filter board that was later installed. What a super radio this became. It was then I knew kit building would be one of my facet to ham radio. Thanks to Jerry, NK2C for the wonderful box!
A part of me still wishes Heathkit was still around.
From there it was a monthly chore, to look for kits, keep an eye out on some minor challenging kits and work my experience level up.
To this day, I have a plethora of 4SQRP kits that I have built.
My “Laboratory,” has also evolved. From a simple helping hands and a cheap Harbor Freight soldering iron, to a Hakko digital iron, DSO, HP Signal Generator, several frequency readouts as well as miles of solder, (Thank you Roger for that!), I have almost completed my bucket list item.
I however love through-hole soldering, but kits can get quite big and bulky with multiple boards. Now I am learning Surface Mount Component soldering ( SMT), starting with a KD1JV SSB 75M Radio (picture courtesy of Pacific Antenna).
With any hobby, things start to accumulate, cost more money, time, and energy (The MTE Conniption I call it) than we know what to do with, know how to spend, or have any likelihood to complete. Kit building is exciting for me, it brings me much closer to my hobby, just like it did fly fishing. Tying your own bait to catch a few trout for dinner. Now I build kits to talk to other hams around our small planet.
“Getting Started: Top Tips”
Soldering Iron! I started small, simple and cheap, but quickly outgrew it. My advice is go for medium grade off the bat. Some soldering iron that is at least digital and easy to program. Later in kit building you will find that soldering iron to last longer and capable of more work, then a simple Harbor Freight special.
Get miles of solder! Don’t just get a small spool of angel hair size or one that is thick as a broom handle. Simple Kester 44 is fine in 60/40 or even better 63/37. 63/37 seems to harden faster with little or no “Plastic Stage,” that could create a cold solder joint. 60/40 is quite pronounced in that area, but it is manageable.
Get a high quality solder sucker! Don’t be stranded without one. For those instances where you botched a component or need to remove a gob of solder that doesn’t belong. It is a good to have. Use a solder wick to get those areas where a lot of solder needs to be soaked up. Wick tends to stick to a pad if you are not careful. A silicone soft tip is what I prefer, they have great suction and lock around component holes quite nicely.
Get a magnifying glass! Yes, that is on my recommendations list. Having a relaxed field of view helps out quite a bit. No sense squinting to see a component to ensure it was soldered correctly. I prefer one on an arm that is LED Lighted.