Equipment for the Beginner to Home Construction

One of the things that attracts many people to the QRP facet of amateur radio is the thrill of using home made equipment and the experimentation that goes along with it. There are a whole host of tools and basic test equipment which are to be found in the seasoned constructor's workshop, but how does the beginner start? What are the basic requirements needed to start work on a few simple projects, kits etc? Below are some thoughts put together to try and suggest what equipment is needed for the beginner to acquire to start off with.

Cheap tools - Forget it. Buy the best quality of tools you can afford. It is a case of Buy Cheap, But Twice with tools. You get a cheap screwdriver, for example, attack a stubborn nut and what happens? The blade of the driver is ruined. If in doubt, consult a fellow amateur radio constructor or anyone who has been in the electronics trade, they will gladly help.

The Care of Tools etc - Take care of your new tools and they will last for years. Use the correct one for the job. If a Phillip's screw is to be tightened, use a Phillips screw driver, not a straight bladed one. Don't use pliers to tighten nuts, use a spanner etc made for the size of nut you are using.

Ensure tools are cleaned after use and stored safely.

The Basic Tool Kit

One addition, not in the above list is my Most Essential Tool and that is a pair of surgeon's locking forceps, also known as Spencer Well's forceps or artery forceps. They are ideal for handling small components and can lock onto component wires, etc. Sometimes on sale at car boot sales (garage sales) and radio rallies - GET SOME! I couldn't manage without mine!

Soldering Irons - People vary in their advice for this important tool. There are many to choose from and you can acquire a good selection over the years. Just about all my work is done with an Antex 25 watts iron with about 1/8th inch a tip. I use this for all my work with ICs, transistors etc. Smaller lighter ones (12 watt for example) are useful occasionally, but the above is the type I personally would suggest. Make sure you have at least one spare tip for the iron - I get through about three a year! Whilst on the subject of soldering, use an electronic grade of solder from a know manufacturer and, most important clean the tip of solder and flux after use and at intervals during use. This will prolong the life of the tip. A suitable stand for the iron is a useful addition and can be home made by using a U-shape piece of aluminium with a notch cut out on which to rest the iron. Make sure solder splashes can't reach carpets etc! Also, use solder in a well ventillated room and do not breath in the fumes, which may be harmful.

Drills - I managed for years with a hand drill, which is, of course perfectly controllable, in contrast to some electric ones. However. a modern cordless drill is very useful and speeds can be adjusted by trigger action to suit the various jobs. Drill bits are expensive, but it is particulary true about trying Cheapo brands - don't! A small 12v hand drill is invaluable for drilling PCBs and again the same applies for the miniature bits used for this. Drilling PCBs soon blunts the tips but they can be re-sharpened easily. A small drill stand is almost mandatory here, but you can manage without, as I have done.

Cutting Tools - Various small saws are commonly used, including hacksaws and the junior version. I also use Stanley knives fitted with a removable saw blade. A pair of tin snips is handy and may be used, apart from metal work, for cutting printed circuit board. Incidentally, PCB can be 'cut' by scoring with a sharp tool, using a straight edge and by applying pressure against a right angle, such as a bench edge, it will break along the scored line. Various small files will be found useful as will a hand reamer for enlarging holes. In days gone by, we used chassis cutters for cutting valve holder holes, and these may still be useful to cut for holes meters, control knobs etc.

Working Surface - It is important to work on a well lit surface which will not be harmed when drilling and cutting (unlike the dining room table!) and I find that a nylon kitchen chopping board is as friendly as any surface for this purpose.

Dick, G0BPS has these as his most needed tools:

The last item is for when it all goes 'orribly wrong.

(My local radio club has an award for home construction called the GOLDEN LUMP HAMMER AWARD - for the same reason as Dick's!

Meters - There is a huge selection of multimeters on the market ranging from simple to very exotic ones. The latter measure almost anything from DC, AC (volts, amps, ohms etc), frequency etc - almost any measurement you will need, except your inside leg! Analogue meters are perfectly adequate for most purposes, especially the old AVO range, but digital meters are now very popular and accurate. The addition of a simple RF probe makes any meter doubly useful for measuring RF, indicating oscillators are working (or not) and power measurement. I must add a circuit for one to my web page ...

Frequency meters are useful and now quite reasonably priced, but you can manage without initially - or know someone who has one. Another reason for joining the local club. Generally speaking though, I try not to lend out my tools, they sometimes fail to find their way home! GDO's (grid or gate dip oscilltors) are also very useful for checking tuned circuits and can be used as signal generators.

Receivers - Not really a tools maybe, but with a reasonable receiver, general coverage with SSB & CW capabilities will be found very handy, in fact essential for the constructor.

Here is Dave G0DJA's list of esentials for beginners:

For test equipment, I would have an analogue multimeter rather than a digital. So many times what you want to do is look for peak or null readings and that can be difficult on a DMM. An analogue unit is great to use with a diode detector which, in my opinion, is the other essential piece of test equipment for building QRP gear. The next would be a frequency counter, although a good general coverage receiver is the next best thing.

I haven't used my GDO for a while now, although I do use it as an absorption wavemeter "from time to time" HI! I use an MFJ Antenna Analyser with a small add on probe for getting tuned circuits to resonate, I find it a lot easier to use than the GDO and it has a fairly accurate read out when compared with the reading shown on a frequency counter.

Here are some thoughts from Stephen, G0XAR:

Absolutely the best tool in my limited armoury is an old Weller Temperature Controlled soldering iron which my brother rescued out of a skip. It works well and I can solder everything from PCBs through to PL259s with ease. Second place goes to a 3 quid PlasPlugs wire stripper which I recently got from B&Q. It will strip and cut coax as well as mains cable and solid core telephone wire. Third place goes to a 4"" Jaw bench vise which I swapped for a bar of chocolate.

Test equipment: The first RX I built was a Sudden for 20 Meters. I could not get it to work. To de-bug it I needed a signal source. I purchased a kit from HOWES for an XTAL Calibrator. It was easy to make and went together first time. As well as providing a signal source it is a useful calibration aid. I used the calibrator to peak the coils on the Sudden and bingo it worked.

Obviously one needs a multi-meter. There was a huge box of seconds at Longleat, ex BT Digital jobs for 3 quid each. All the ones I tried seemed to work. Cosmetically they looked a bit rough.

Continuity Tester can also double as a code practice oscillator.

Thanks to the above constructors for their help in compiling this page.

Frank, G3YCC

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