QRP Labs 5W CW transciever kit #7

OK I’ll be the first to admit that I’m the worlds worst at finishing projects. The number of “almost completed” things I posses is ridiculous and the whole thing is starting to bite me in the arse a bit. I’m rapidly discovering that projects not in enclosures don’t tend to travel well and as I’m still living out of boxes and rapidly creating more cubic containers of possessions I thought it only right to at least finish this one off properly before my tools and workshop are consigned to storage!

I’m keen to use this rig in WSPR mode and for that I purchased the GPS unit offered by QRP Labs. Assembly of that was very straight forward.

The next trick was to provide my receiver with a suitable enclosure. Having learnt the hard way with my WSPR beacon, I wanted this to be slightly more durable as the number of times I snapped the wires between the main unit and the receiver puck were getting to be ridiculous. One of my pet hates is trying to solder multicore cable to plugs so this time I spent a whole £1-99 and purchased a pre-assembled cable which was screened along its entire length, with very nice moulded plugs on each and just lopped one off to solder it to the receiver board. One thing QRP labs advise is not to use a metal enclosure for the receiver so the hard part was trying to find a plastic one which had a degree of transparency to it so the status LED’s were still visible. I’ve used Hammond enclosures before but they were daft money so I plumped for a cheap and cheerful one from eBay, correct dimensions etc etc, lovely stuff.

Until the bloody thing arrived and the internal dimensions were 2mm too small to accommodate the PCB without a liberal application of my Dremel. Anything for an easy life please!!

At the risk of going all style over substance it seemed rude not to give my suitably hacked about enclosure a bit of corporate colouring to match my transceiver. Also it was an excuse to patch the chip on that which had been nagging me since the day  I finished it. Now time is of the essence here as the Met Office, local radio, Accuweather and the old man down the road are warning of a cold snap which the makers of “The Day After Tomorrow” would be proud of! Not the sort of weather to attempt any type of outdoor work let alone spray painting. So with the end of the world looming I made haste and hit my little plastic box with some Ford Vista Phoenix Orange and used the veritable hot house which is my dining room this afternoon as a slow bake oven.

The fact my cat is developing a tan laying on the table next to it is an indication of the warmth in there! It’s glorious.

So with everything all nicely painted it was a simple case of putting everything back together.

And there we go, what a lovely couple they make!

So as we’ve all been sent home from school today on the off chance there may be a snowflake sighted somewhere, it’d be rude not to see what this thing can do. What else am I going to do? Scrape the snow off the car?

https://www.dropbox.com/s/4daabv6lpnrxnne/VID-20180301-WA0001.mp4?dl=0

And on that note, until next time!

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QRP Labs 5W CW transciever kit #6

When the weather broke and it decided to be slightly less like a water park and more like Spring I pounced. Seizing the moment I cracked on with my enclosure and took the opportunity to spray my drive, hands and enclosure Ford Vista Phoenix Orange.

I’ve seen a few enclosures made from PCB material in similar colours and really liked it, so as a build taking inspiration from both options I plumped for it. The whole idea of these colour schemes is so that when you’re out in the wilds being /P you don’t accidentally leave your nice tactical black rig laying around and wander off without it. In short, idiot proofing! Four coats later and my can spluttered and gave out, job done. After 24 hours of allowing the paint job to dry gently indoors in the warmth we have this.

At the same time I ran my case decal through my inkjet printer on water slide decal paper and hit it with three layers of spray varnish before giving it 24 hours to cure.

So the next trick was to add the decal sheet to the case

To be honest I’m really pleased with how things are looking but there’s a really good reason why inkjet print jobs and water don’t mix. Despite three decent layers of varnish to seal the ink against the media I suffered a degree of print bleed when the transfer sheet hit the water and when dabbing down after application. As such the finished article isn’t as sharp as it could be but I’m hoping it won’t be that noticeable. I joked earlier about investing in a laser printer and I’m now serious about doing so. The print process is different to inkjet and as such you get a much sharper print, the ink coverage is uniform and deeper (in my opinion) and for this type of application with the correct media you’re not going to suffer leaching. Also for day to day correspondence it gives a much more professional output. In reality something like an HP LaserJet Pro for just over £200 isn’t a bad buy and with all of the connectivity options it supports it’s moving up the list from “would be nice” towards “ought to sort sooner rather than later”. Add to that that inkjet ink is the 8th most expensive liquid on the planet, it’s time to find a different way to spend £80 rather than on refill packs.

Moving on, a 24 hour drying period is needed before I hit the enclosure with a lacquer layer to seal the decal sheet and to protect my paint job.

So with the enclosure completed it was time to package everything up, but before doing so I wanted to prevent anything nasty happening with the rig. One thing that was noted and commented on is that if you use the rig for WSPR (which I do) the duty cycle (time the radio is in effect keyed down and transmitting) of the transmission is 2 minutes from start to end. Even with the power amplifier in the circuit being Class E and very efficient, there’s no such thing as a free lunch and the power transistors tend to get on the hotter side of warm. The suggestion is to add some form of heat sink to them, which is interesting as you haven’t got an awful lot of room to play with!

Now you can get commercial heatsinks for TO-92 packages but they’re not cheap and they require space around them to attach.

You can see that the one of the left is incredibly close to the stand off spacer for the LCD display which makes things a little tight to say the least!

A bit of Google work revealed several nifty DIY solutions, one from instructables and one from Matt’s Tech Pages, which is truly inspired and uses a 6mm ring terminal to do the job.

The snag is I just didn’t have enough space so it was time to improvise. Take one strip of heatsink, attack with a Dremel and you get something like this.

Apply a small amount of Arctic Silver thermal grease and a small ring of heatshrink tubing and you get this.

Objective achieved with no impact on neighbouring components. OK it’s not the biggest heatsink in the world but some heatsink is better than no heatsink, especially if it prevents transistors from burning out. I’m sure there would have been someway of bridging the transistors to the case chassis, bearing in mind its huge and made of metal it would have done the job nicely, but it would have been way too fiddly and there’s no guarantee that it would remain permanently attached.

For completeness I added a simple commercial one to the MOSFET to help keep things cool.

Job done! Next trick was to shoehorn everything into the enclosure. Only one broken wire and a minor dink to my paint job (which is nagging me believe me!) later and everything’s in place.

Check it still works before putting the case back on.

Add a few knobs for the rotary controls

And Roberts your mother’s brother!

I’m really pleased with the finished result and it’s been a fun build. Next trick is to get the QCX on a real antenna and see what the world has to offer it in the way of QSO’s and WSPR work.

QRP Labs 5W CW transciever kit #5

Now unlike Mick, who can work wonders with Serif Page Plus I struggle when it comes to playing with graphic packages. I use them so infrequently that I spend more time cursing and accidentally deleting what I’ve just done than producing anything worthy. I’m sure if I spent the time to learn one properly I would get some good results but then I wouldn’t need it. It’s like being confronted with the child who has homework where they have to produce a PowerPoint presentation and they promptly produce something that someone giving a TED lecture would be proud of. I’m from the era of acetate OHP slides. I like them, they work!

All that aside my designing was done in MS Word. I built a table of cells, moved things around where I needed them, added my little icons and lettering then hid all the cell outlines. To be honest I’m really pleased with the few hours work it took to create. The plan for me is to revisit the idea of inkjet water slide decals like I used on my 1 Watter to great success. Mick does a very neat trick of printing his decals on paper using a monochrome laser printer then securing them behind an acetate protective layer with mechanical fixings which works really well. If you have a look at the readers wives page at QRP labs gallery and scroll down and look for QCX-40 by Mick M0GWD you’ll see the quality of his work. Unfortunately, not having a laser printer (which is something I really need to sort) nor a Prusa i3 Mk 3, I need to work with what I’ve got so my plan is to apply decals to the paint layer once sprayed and then lacquer protect them to give a finished article.

That’s my layout, which I intend to print as a single piece this time. The snag I found with the 1 Watter was that lots of little decals got a bit fiddly. My concern here is one large one may well rip when moved around to get it into position plus I need to cut holes to accommodate the screws and control shafts from the pots, buttons and rotary encoder.

That’s version 6 of my decal as a paper print for sizing etc. It’s evolved again since last night and I’m sure it will again before it gets placed on the enclosure. This morning I trotted off to Halfords to get some more primer and a very nice satin finish lacquer. I’ve never been a fan of high gloss finishes, so we’ll give this rattle can a go.

Unfortunately, the great British weather has put a hold on things. My spray bay is a sheltered corner of my drive and today it’s damp and windy. Hardly the conditions for spraying paint and the likes. So until there’s a break in the weather which isn’t looking likely this week, everything’s on hold.

To be continued . . .

QRP Labs 5W CW transciever kit #4

So I’m into week three of Aussie Flu and I’m resembling a Wookie more than a human due to my facial hair. With the cough I’ve got there’s a definite intergalactic walking rug roar going on!

I must admit to starting to climb the walls slightly more than a little as I don’t do ill, but have tried to keep my brain occupied if nothing else by cracking on with my QCX kit. To be honest when I get back to work I won’t have the time so lets make hay while the sun shines.

We left the saga last time with me unable to find my capacitive touch key so I was unable to fully test the little rig. In the end I gave up and rather grudgingly lashed out on a Palm Radio Pico Paddle. I only say grudgingly because somewhere is a perfectly good home made paddle which I really like but I’m buggered if I can find it. The Pico Paddle is lovely and does the job nicely, so I eventually managed to hook the QCX up and give it a go.

The rig requires alignment and the manual walks you through the various calibration steps to set the radio up. It’s worth spending the time to do it properly and I wasted an afternoon playing.

One thing that a lot of people have commented on is that the radio needs to be housed inside a screened enclosure to prevent stray RF causing issues. That aside this thing needs to be portable as I’m sure there will be an FPARC show and tell when everyone is done and I wouldn’t want my hard work getting ruined in transit. For speed I “borrowed” an idea from Mick M0GWD from the club who is very talented when it comes to enclosures and graphics. He very kindly sent me a copy of his drilling pattern which gave me a starter for 10 but I’ve got a few changes of my own to implement along the way.

I’m using a Hammond 1590XX aluminium enclosure for this and the board and associated wiring fits nicely, or at least it should!

So with my template glued to the case with Pritt Stick it was time to start chain drilling out the LCD cut out. I took my time as the screen is the focal point of the unit and I wanted it perfect.

I revisited that cut out over and over with needle files in all sorts of light and with  a variety of T squares and set squares before I was happy.

Circular holes are slightly easier and for once, rather than using a smaller drill and expanding the holes with needle files I lashed out on some intermediate size drill bits for some of the connector and rotary control entries just to get it right first time. Trust me it’s worth it.

After a thorough clean in hot soapy water the raw metal enclosure was washed down with IPA to degrease and to remove any water residue. We could have gone naked but I decided that this QCX was going to be both loud and proud in the colour department so it needed priming and painting.

Typically, I ran out of primer in the last few applications and just as the daylight was going but I think it’s sufficient for government work! That can cure for 24 hours before I hit it with a colour layer or five!

Meanwhile I decided I was going to mod my QCX on the PCB as I was suffering the unreliable microcontroller start up issue that other builders had been experiencing and thought while I was wielding a  soldering iron I’d apply them all for completeness. This involved relocating one of the inductors (L5) supplied with the kit and adding a few resistors in key places on the underside of the PCB, not unlike in the K2 build.

With all of that done, the next stop was to add a GPS receiver to the kit. Apart from making the WSPR functionality of the kit so much easier, it also provides a reference source for calibrating the radio further.

This is QRP Labs QLG1 and I bought it at the same time as the QCX kit. If you use this rather than anything else its a simple 4 wire hook up to the rig and saves a lot of hassle. Now when I’ve tried to hook GPS antennas to kits before I’ve got into all sorts of trouble with broken wires in cables, at entry points and on plugs.

Not this time, I had a flash of inspiration and paid a whole £1-90 for someone to do all the hard work for me in the form of 3m S-Video cable from eBay. Nicely built and screened with moulded plugs it was a no brainer. I just lopped one plug off, worked out what went where inside and soldered it to my GPS puck.

Job done. I also invested in some decent quality chassis mount 4 pin mini DIN sockets and made myself a little jumpered connector to fit to my QCX board.

One screened durable GPS lead of the required length. All that’s needed is a nice little enclosure to mount the GPS unit in. I’m very tempted to 3D print one, just to justify buying a Prusa i3 Mk3 but may just wimp out with a plastic box from eBay – you never know.

Anyway, this is where we are so far –

All I need to do now is come up with a suitable decal pattern to finish off the enclosure once painted and we’re done.

Here’s a quick video of the rig in action now I’ve got it all working nicely.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/cs7tkv5iq9z95ei/QCX_test__20180122_224457.mp4?dl=0

To be continued . . .

 

QRP Labs 5W CW transciever kit #3

Day 8 of Aussie Flu. Reporting beard length 25 mm and increasing slowly, cough currently south by south west force 8 and productive, inter cranial pressure reduced by several millibars but still pounding, temperature 38 degrees, local bodily precipitation clammy. Outlook – bleak!

In between moments of grottiness I eventually finished the little QCX kit.

I made the decision early on that I was going to mount it in an enclosure so fashioned up fly leads for the switches and connectors to allow it to be boxed up. I’ve been umming and ahhing as to how to enclose the kit after having a look at QRP Labs builders gallery,  which you could consider as the equivalent of “readers wives for the Ham Radio enthusiast” in slight less salubrious circles!

Drawing inspiration from several candidates I’m going for a hybrid between two very well fashioned products. My enclosure has arrived and I need to get cutting and drilling.

Learning points on this one –

1/ Have a look at the suggest modifications page on the QRP Labs site. On initial power up my QCX did nothing and I wondered what was going on. It transpires that some people have seen issues with the software on the micro controller not starting on power up and there’s a mod to overcome the issue.

2/ The LCD has metal “fins” protruding from beneath which actually touch the top of one of the inductors which isn’t a good thing. Bend it out the way gently with pliers.

3/ The nylon pillars which fit close to the display contrast pot won’t fit on mine. I’ve got a very dodgy looking pot and the pillar needs filing down to allow it to fit. Easy enough to do, but without things would be under tension which isn’t a good idea.

4/ I was short changed on my nylon hardware in the kit which has meant an eBay job to get some spares

I’ve also got the GPS unit to build as I liked the idea of playing with WSPR again with this kit, so that needs building.

The real bummer I’ve found is that where I’ve been living out of packing crates for the last 13 months I can’t find my capacitive touch key anywhere. It added to the pile of frustration last night and I emptied countless boxes in the hope of finding it but to no avail. As such I’ve got no way of putting this little thing through its paces and getting it set up correctly. Another problem to be overcome.

To be continued . . .

QRP Labs 5W CW transceiver kit #2

So my creative constructive outburst was short lived when my little Australian friend reminded me who was running the shop this week by hitting me with a headache which felt like someone had parked a 7.5 tonne truck on my temples and threw in a raging temperature to boot. I lost a day and a half of my life to my bed and was eventually woken from my feverish slumber by my mog doing her best Simon’s Cat Cat-Man-Do impression.

To avoid being battered to within an inch of my life by my little furry friend I decided to try vertical again rather than horizontal. Two hours later I was bored witless and fired up my soldering iron in an attempt to relieve the tedium.

A few hours work and we’d made good progress. After an awful lot of resistors, came a few capacitors and things were starting to take shape.

Eventually I reached the band specific part of the build which involved winding the required inductors for the 40m model. I forgot how much I enjoyed making these things which is weird as they’re a fiddly as hell if you’ve got thick fingers.

I also realised I really do need to go to Specsavers and get some glasses that actually mean I can see what I’m doing! That’s for another day.

And that seemed a good point to call it a day. We’re getting there!

To be continued . . .

QRP Labs 5W CW transceiver kit – FPARC 2018 Club Construction Project #1

Last year I spent a lot of time looking rather than doing as I’m slightly preoccupied at the moment with other stuff which can technically termed as “shite”. Look it up, it’s a genuine term to describe life!

Whilst looking rather than doing, I stumbled across an advert for good old QRP Labs 5W CW transceiver kit and thought how it’d be really neat to build one when I got my life back on track. The kit is an embodiment of a lot of smaller projects I’ve played around with all rolled into one.

You know I’m a fan of their projects as one of my very first builds was their WSPR receiver which I still cherish to this day, even though it’s buried in a box in a storage unit at the minute. Being sensible/slightly distracted I shelved the idea of buying one until the good old boys from FPARC checked in to see if I was still alive and announced that the club 2018 construction project was going to be the 40m version of this. In true spirit I was inspired and promptly clicked “Add To Cart” and joined the lengthy queue awaiting delivery. That’s the problem with QRP Labs products, they’re so damn good they sell like hot cakes. Over the festive month my box from Japan landed and I was rewarded with kit number 2136! This was duly consigned to the pile of “things to look at sometime if I ever got the chance during the next 365 days”.

Now 2018 seems to be following in the fashion of 2017 where my luck is concerned and on Monday I had a visit from a friend from Australia. Unfortunately not a hot blonde Aussie Sheila in a Wicked Weasel bikini bursting forth from the swell carrying a 6 pack of Fosters like Ursula Andress in Dr. No, rather that slightly less popular chap H3N2. So much for the 8 quid I spent getting my arm stuck with a needle loaded with flu vaccine!

After coughing, spluttering and sleeping for 3 days I eventually dragged myself out of bed with the idea that being vertical and ill rather than horizontal and ill would be a better idea. Admittedly I currently look like Dracula on a bad day and am sporting a beard that Ant Middleton and his ex SF cohorts would be proud of but hey, who’s going to be looking at me?

Now I had options here. Watch countless box sets on telly, read or do something more practical, so I cracked open my Japan Post Parcel to see what was inside. Hey, it’s 2018 and this is a 2018 Construction Project!

You know, I started to get excited!! That’s therapy if ever there is one for flu. Now knowing that setting off on a build stood in a freezing cold garage wouldn’t do my health any good I decided to relocate my kit to the comfort of the warmth and the dining room table.

My house, my rules. It’s a brave new world out there! I must admit I felt slightly rusty when it came to sorting my act out when building things. It could have been a combination of all the Benylin and the flu or just I’m out of shape. After a while my Mojo was back where it needed to be and we had things under way.

After sorting and checking my kit contents it was time to put solder to iron and get building. As usual the manual is spot on in walking you through the build and I was feeling good.

The first few steps involve installing the various IC packages followed by capacitors. A lot of capacitors!

And that’s where we’re at before the shakes, shivers and headache started to rear its ugly head again. At least it’s a start and certainly more entertaining than the rubbish on Freeview!

To be continued . . .