Category Archives: Homebrewing & Kits
Make your own
Folks, this has been a fun and hilarious winter project. Yesterday, when I built this air cannon antenna launcher it was -4 degrees outside and this was a perfect evening project to put together. For years, me and my two ham radio buddies (WR8S Bill Shultz and WV8TG Tom Graf), have enjoyed ARRL Field Day activities and usually used a slingshot and a 3/4 ounce fishing sinker weight and an old Zebco fishing reel (with 20 pound test line) to shoot and suspend our doublet dipole antennas high into the trees. Certainly, the slingshot worked pretty much flawlessly… but… boys will be boys, and the idea of an air cannon / spud launcher / potato gun type system seemed to be a new desire. (Most people, our wives included, wouldn’t trust our 3-man team with a slingshot, let alone a potato gun! But I digress.) Actually, our local ham radio club (Monongalia Wireless Association) had a version of a potato gun antenna launcher, so we decided we needed one of our own… and to make some design modifications in the interest of… “science”… plus our own sadistic pleasures. (Make sure you read below WV8TG’s initial “pressure test” experience.) The following pictures hopefully provide the basic concept and parts we used. Tom and I split the cost of the parts needed to make launchers and each built our own version, but they both are the same basic design with only length dimensions of the air chamber and barrel being the difference.
All parts where sourced from our local Lowes store in their plumbing department, except the Schrader valve which can be purchased at an automotive store. Total cost about $40 but you could make a couple of them as a joint project with a friend and reduce that cost per launcher a bit. I got a small rubber gasket for the outside nipple of the Schrade valve to act as another seal on the exterior of the air chamber. You will need to drill holes for Schrader valve, barrel slug stop and projectile slug caps to attach the screw eyes to attach the fishing line. I used 3 inch PVC for air chamber, 1.25 inch PVC for the barrel and short sections to mate the air chamber, trigger valve and threaded barrel. The projectile slugs were made from 3/4 inch PVC and caps and I filed off the nubs on the caps with a Dremel tool for a smooth fit into the barrel. I used PVC Prep on each joint before applying the glue. When gluing joints together, insert the sections together and twist a quarter turn for a solid adhesion. Let all glue set up for 24 hours before testing air pressure chamber. I will pressurize the chamber inside and let it sit overnight to see if it loses any pressure. It’s too cold right now to take outside in -4 degree temperatures to test, but I will use a bicycle pump with a pressure reading valve, and start at 40 psi… then 50 psi… and then 60 psi for test shots to see how it functions and check for any air pressure leaks. We use 60 psi for our club launcher.
WV8TG (Tom) charged his air chamber (barrel not attached) and let it set overnight to test for chamber air leakage. When he opened the trigger value… there was NO leakage… but there was a sudden LOUD release of 60 psi air gush out of a 30 inch long, 3 inch wide fully charged air chamber. He indicated the compressed air release was… impressive. However, his wife was not impressed… nor was she aware of the scientific test that was taking place. #surprise! #WHOOOOOOOSH #loudwifeexpressions I have no reason to doubt Tom will find his projectile slugs in the next county using his design. The club chamber was 12 inches long versus his 30 inch air chamber. #overkill? I designed my air chamber for 14 inches and will conduct all tests… outside. #potentialmeanwife
As soon as I get my Yaesu System Fusion FTM100-DR online, I want to mate my Bencher paddles to the new MFJ-490X Menu Driven Memory Keyer that I picked up at the 2016 Dayton Hamvention last week (May 21, 2016). I am itching to get these two toys working in some CW / More Code Contesting very soon! 5 programmable memories plus all sorts of keyer speed, weighting, side tone, hand key capability, serial number decrements, random code practice, iambic settings, etc.
(See video below!)
MFJ-490X Memory Keyer Instruction Manual
Here is an excellent YouTube video from RimstarOrg that breaks down the concept of how crystal radios actually DO their magic! Yes, MAGIC. Radio signals are all around us 24 hours a day. Invisible! You can’t really touch them. You can’t smell them. You can’t hear them without assistance. We don’t really feel them bombarding us. We don’t sense those signals without some mechanical help… but they strike us with many different frequencies constantly… so let’s explore the range of frequencies we can decipher with a homemade crystal radio set!
THE BEST Multimeter Tutorial
The voltmeter… the Volt-Ohm Meter… the Multimeter… digital or analog… continuity… amperage, voltage and ohms… COME ON, MAN! What is it and how hard is it to use in the every day life of a ham radio enthusiast or just someone working in their workshop? Once again, Afrotechmods has an excellent tutorial on his YouTube channel for us to learn from!
You won’t believe how easy it can be! You take it in bite-size chunks of information and at your own pace. NO MORE MORSE CODE REQUIREMENT! (But Morse Code is a blast to still use and also the most efficient form of radio communication! I had to be able to send and receive 5 words per minute for the old Novice License… 13 wpm for General Class… and 20 wpm for Advanced and Extra Class licenses. There are no longer any Morse Code requirements and the Novice and Advanced Class licenses are no longer available.) For more than 100 years ham radio operators have been exploring the world and beyond from their own little ham shacks / ham station / living rooms. It never gets old and there is always something to explore!
What can you do with a ham radio? Talk to people all over the world with as little as 1 watt or less… or even 1500 watts. Assist in Emergency Communications. Assist with branches of the US Armed Forces. Build your own radios and equipment. Experiment with your own antennas. Go to fun “Hamfests and Flea Markets” to learn and get great bargains. Find new friends who are hams in your local club. Participate in the Annual ARRL Field Day Contest and exercises! Talk to the astronauts on the International Space Station. Talk to other hams around the world THROUGH many ham radio satellites orbiting the earth! Use your local VHF/UHF Repeaters to talk to family and friends from the car, handheld radio or from home. Track ham radio equipped balloon flights. Work with hams with disabilities. Refurbish or collect old time ham radio equipment. Teach others ham radio courses and/or help with exam sessions.
There are three different licenses you can obtain and they are designed in a way that as you study to get the first license, what you learn there will help you understand the next license study material. The really nice thing about it is that you will have ALL the multiple choice questions in each exam pool AND THE EXACT ANSWER TO EVERY QUESTION! That’s pretty good to have all the Q’s and A’s to study! The sample questions in your study materials are the EXACT questions you will see on the exam. A score of 74% gets you the license! There are also FREE practice exams you can take online or even from your smartphone! (I took a couple practice exams each evening as I sat watching TV in my favorite chair in my living room.) Soon the questions you have missed in the past practice exams are embedded in your brain with the correct answers reinforced! Each question will have four (4) possible answers; and on most of the questions you can just about eliminate two of the possible answers just by looking at them. (I will give you some good pointers about how to study and prepare for the exams at the end of this post! Read them before you buy any study guides or books!)
You will just need to do some interesting and fun reading, look at the questions (and the exact answers) from each chapter of the book… and before you know it you will be ready to take the exam! You are going to learn some really cool stuff each time you read the material. PLUS, as you advance to a higher class of Ham Radio license you can pick your own call sign! (In the early 1980’s my first call sign was KA8LJO from the FCC as a Novice Class licensee… then I was assigned KB8FIR by the FCC when I got my Technician Class license… and better yet, when I got my Extra Class license I picked my own call sign, WT8WV… “Whiskey Tango 8 Whiskey Victor”. I chose it for three reasons… I am fond of an occasional taste of good whiskey… I love my state of West Virginia… and phonetically it stands out and sings in a pile-up during a Ham Radio contest!)
The first license you study for is called the Technician License and the exam has only 35 questions! You will learn some very basic things about electricity, how your radio signals move through the air, some of the rules that the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) expects us to abide by for best practices, antennas, radios, the frequencies you can use in your new radio, and much more! You will gain legal access to some very good frequencies for both voice and data communication in several excellent ham bands. You could be ready to take this exam in a couple weeks of study!
The second license is called the General Class License and also has only 35 questions. This course adds to what you learned in the Technician Class study. It really dives just a bit deeper into some common things you will find will help you get more out of your antenna, radios, contesting, which ham bands magically open at specific periods of the day and year, some simply explanations of a few electronic circuits we use every day, and much more! You will also gain even MORE frequencies on the ham bands to use at your pleasure! You could be ready to take this exam in 2-4 weeks of easy study!
The third (and highest class of Ham Radio license) is called the Extra Class License and consists of a 50 question exam. This study course really dives deeper in what you have learned in the Technician and General Class license preparations. It will take a bit more time to study and prepare, and has a few more questions on the exam. You gain ALL frequencies allotted to Ham Radio communications, with several excellent niches within certain ham bands reserved for ONLY Extra Class licensees! You could be ready to take this exam in 30-60 days with some good study and practice exams under your belt!
The Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) also offers all sorts of study books for not only all the licenses but a myriad of way cool ham related stuff for every facet of this vast hobby! I have been a member of the ARRL for years and the monthly QST magazine alone is worth my dues! Plus you get discounts on all the other books and items. You can even find a local ham radio license class! http://www.arrl.org/find-an-amateur-radio-license-class Here is a link to the ARRL study guides for the three licenses. They are much more in-depth than the Gordon West series of license books and a good addition to your study… but I personally feel the Gordon West series in the best way to get that license quickly. Below for more information. http://www.arrl.org/ham-radio-license-manual
License Exam Study and Preparation Tips
Select which study book you will use for the license you are going to test for.
Find a quiet place to read.
Have a yellow highlighter handy to highlight things you might need to refer to for a question.
Study about 20 minutes a day. That way you won’t overload your brain!
Download a smartphone app with the ham radio practice exam questions and answers. I used this all the time whenever I had to wait around for something or someone… or in a boring meeting (once in a while).
Watch free YouTube videos to help you prepare or further understand the chapter. I have watched all of Dave Casler’s YouTube videos and they were a tremendous help to UNDERSTAND not just the question but the concept for every ham license book. He does each video by chapter or topic and they a short enough to consume in a sitting.
I highly recommend the Gordon West Technician Class License Value Pack for getting your Technician License quickly! I don’t get paid for saying this! Grin. However, I will tell your this is the best investment in getting a license you can find. Gordo makes it fun to learn and he tackles every question and answer in a way that will etch it deep in your memory. You will absolutely burn through the questions and he’ll teach you ways to remember even the questions that seem difficult for some reason. I have met him at the Dayton Hamvention and he’s a wonderful person and so helpful. He even gives you his personal telephone number to call if you have a question! I suggest burning the CD’s to an MP3 format and put them on your iPod, iPhone, Android or other device so your can listen to them anywhere… car, at lunch, on the treadmill, working out, hiking, etc. Worked for me every time I did my 30 minutes on the treadmill and lifting weights! (After I completed my Extra Class license with his book and CD’s I sold them for half-price to another General License ham in our club who is now studying with them! You could recoup some of your cost, too!)
I highly recommend the Gordon West General Class License Value Pack for getting your General Class License quickly! http://www.w5yi.org/catalog_details.php?pid=59&sort=4
I highly recommend the Gordon West Extra Class License Value Pack for getting your Extra Class License quickly! http://www.w5yi.org/catalog_details.php?pid=43&sort=4
Practice Exams, Practice Exams, Practice Exams, Practice Exams, Practice Exams!
These are free and a good way to see what areas you need to focus on so you can master a question. I did this about every evening during commercials watching TV! Great feedback on how you are progressing in your studies. When you begin scoring 80% on these practice exams you will be ready to sit for an exam! (If you buy the ARRL study books, they come with a CD with all the questions in the pool, the answers, scores your exams, shows you the areas you need to focus on, and tracks your progress by each section of the question pool.)
Getting you Ham Radio License is NOT rocket science… but it will be fun! It’s a hobby that is ageless. What happens if the cellphone towers don’t work, or if there is a prolonged power outage, or a natural disaster prevents normal communications? Ham radio operators are often the first folks getting the word out and getting the help coming in! I doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby, either! I have pieces of equipment I have either built myself or purchased dirt cheap at a flea market. I have also saved my money for some other items in my ham shack. It’s also a fun hobby to share with family, friends, and associates worldwide! GET ON THE AIR!
Click on picture below to enlarge it so you can see the frequency privileges you get with each license!
How to set up and operate a complete QRP ham radio station using the Two Tinned Tunas transmitter, Sudden Storm ][ receiver, and Tuna Helper T/R switch from http://qrpme.com/
These are very handy for all sorts of your 12 volt ham radio projects!
Will be looking for these at the next hamfest!
Recently I remodeled the attached garage into an additional room (which will include my revised ham shack) so that it became a functional area. Before hanging the dry wall I ran both electrical circuits and a network circuit so that I could not only supply power to the whole room but also 2 circuits for my ham radio equipment and computers. After pulling the CAT5 cables I had to terminate them for hooking up the wireless router and computers. This video shows and explains the exact sequence of the individual multicolored CAT5 wires and the order they need to be slipped into the connectors before they are crimped. WRITE DOWN THE WIRE COLOR CODE ORDER GIVEN IN THE VIDEO TO USE WHEN YOU ARE READY TO MAKE THE CONNECTIONS.
I have helped build and used two of these Doublet Antennas during the 2014 Field Day Contest and they worked great! Worked many stations on CW, Phone, and PSK31. Works great across many HF bands. A little over 120 feet long. WR8S (Bill Shultz), WD8WQK (Tom Graf) and I are going to make one for my ham shack as soon as I order the parts. Take a look at Ray Heffer’s explanation of the Doublet Antenna and a diagram by N4UJW below.
Afrotechmods is a very insightful and easy to understand YouTube channel to follow on basic electronics. Here he talks about multimeters and their usage in our ham shack. I have several different digital and analog multimeters and their usage often depends upon the application and project. He does other excellent videos, so check him out!
This is another cool video by W2AEW. He does the best job of explaining theory I have found. His videos are excellent and his schematics and formula explanations are easy to understand. I have exchanged messages with him and he encourages us to follow his blog and learn. Also check out his website below!
This video shows how to zero-beat the WWV signal as a tool to adjust the frequency reference of an old frequency counter. It demonstrates the concept of zero-beat’ing a test signal against the WWV carrier. Since the WWV carrier is likely more accurate than any other frequency reference that most hobbiests and hams have in their labs, this is a useful technique. It can be used to check or adjust the 10MHz reference in the counter, if it has one, or can be used to very precisely set the output frequency of a signal generator which can then be used as a test signal for the frequency counter.
Similar techniques can be used to adjust the frequency accuracy of a ham radio’s reference. Several years ago, I wrote up a procedure that I put on my website. If can be found here: