Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Noisy fan on my Owon DS7102V Digital Oscilloscope

A bit over two years ago I got one of those inexpensive, Chinese-made digital oscilloscopes to supplement my old, trusty (and still working!) Tektronix 465B analog scope.  While the old analog scope is still my "Go To" scope since it is much easier to use in most situations, there are quite a few instances where just being able to throw some cursors and lines on the screen to quickly measure and monitor various parameters - and being able to save the results to a USB memory stick is just "nice"!

I chose the Owon over the Rigol, the more popular scope at the time with similar ratings and for about the same price because:
  • The Owon has a 10 Meg sample memory depth, meaning that even though you might be operating at audio rates, you can still be sampling at many MHz!
  • It had a much larger screen than the then-comparable Rigol with much better resolution.
  • The other folks that reviewed it said that although there were fewer firmware updates available, they weren't really needed since there weren't any known, serious bugs.
  • They guy at Saelig offered it to me for the same price as the Rigol, including some accessories that would have cost extra with the Rigol!
So, I've been happily using this 'scope for a few years now, preferring its lower mass and bulk when taking it portable and occasionally taking advantage of its ability to store the scope image (and even the memory buffer) to a USB memory stick - or even via an ethernet connection.  Another interesting feature that has occasionally come in handy its its VGA output connector allowing the screen to be directed to a much larger monitor at the same time as the built-in monitor is active - something that I've occasionally used at Ham Club meetings to demonstrate something using an overhead video projector.
Figure 1:
Two of the four black screws to be removed.
There are two more on the other size, one deeply recessed
as well as the large, silver ground screw.
Click on the image for a larger version.

About 6 months ago I noticed something odd:  Occasionally, when I would turn it on, I would hear the fan screech.  I soon realized that this happened only when it was cold and (apparently) the lubrication in the fan was likely a bit thick.  If I let it screech for a minute, turned it off and then back on, everything would be fine - but it was getting to be increasingly annoying.

I finally decided to do something about it, knowing that it would require disassembling the unit.

First, some warnings:
  • You may be voiding any warranties that the unit may have by doing this!
  • This unit contains potentially dangerous/fatal high voltages!  You must disconnect it from the mains before servicing.
  • If you do not have a modicum of experience in working on electronic devices, do not work on one of these!  (If you own an oscilloscope in the first place I would guess that you'd know something, though!)
  • Take necessary precautions to minimize static buildup as there are static-sensitive components that could be destroyed if excess voltage is applied!
  • You risk breaking something and/or damaging yourself:  If you undertake this task you agree to accept all risks in doing so!
  • Work in a clean, well-lit area with a soft cloth on which to place the oscilloscope face-down and a container to store screws, noting the different sizes and types (and their locations!) as you remove them.
  • Figure 2:
    Location of the two tabs on the bottom of the unit.
    One must press on the white plastic to release these tabs.
    Click on the image for a larger version.
  • Your mileage may vary!

Having gotten that out of the way, let's get on with it.

Getting it apart:

Getting the back off is slightly tricky, but not bad if you know the secrets:
  • Remove the four black screws, two on each side.  These have small washers with them that you should not lose!  One of these screws is deeply recessed, so a fairly long, thin screwdriver is needed to remove it.
  • Remove the large, silver ground screw from the back of the unit.
Figure 3:
Location of the single tab on the top of the unit.
Press on the white plastic in the location of the tab
to release it.
Click on the image for a larger version.

Once you have removed the five screws from the back, the case will still not come apart so you must now press in just the right places to release the tabs as the pictures indicate.

Figure 4:
The power supply and the attaching wires.
The ground wire unplugs from the socket on the rear
cover while the mains wires unplug from the power supply.
Notice the yellow ground wire attached under the screw.
Click on the image for a larger version.
On the bottom, there are TWO tabs that must be released (figure 2) in order to separate the front from the rear of the unit.  To do this, press firmly on the white plastic front while prying apart the side closest to that tab and the two halves should come apart.  This is done again for the other tab on the bottom and for the single tab (figure 3) in the middle, on the top.

Once you have the tabs released, carefully work the rear cover past the power switch, noting that it is tethered to the power supply board with several wires.  Carefully unplug the yellow/green ground wire from the plug on the rear cover and then gently but firmly pull the AC mains connector from the main board, rocking it back and forth, prying slightly on connector's tab if necessary.

Once you have disconnected these wires, set the rear cover aside in a safe place.

Now it will be necessary to remove the power supply.
Figure 5:
The screw location for the power transistor.
This screw, along with the four in the corner, hold
the power supply board into place.
Click on the image for a larger version.
  • It is possible that this power supply has capacitors on it that are charged to dangerous/lethal voltages, even when powered off.
  • Do not touch anything on the back side of the power supply board or set it on a conductive surface!
  • Note from Figure 4 which screw has the ground wire connected to it! 
First, disconnect the other power cables that connect from the power supply board to the other boards.  Now, locate the four screws in the corners of the power supply and carefully remove them, noting that they are coarse-threaded screws that go directly into the plastic.

Once the four corner screws are removed locate the hole in the power supply board and note that there is a screw that fastens a power transistor to the metal structure for heat-sinking.  Using a (preferably) magnetic screwdriver, remove this screw, keeping track of any washer with it.  At this point you should be able to lift the power supply board free and set it aside on a non-conductive surface such as a piece of paper or cardboard.

Figure 6:
The display interface board being removed.
Note that the other two wires have been removed - plus
the orange/brown cable from the front panel display.
Click on the image for a larger version.
Now, the display/driver board must be removed - this being the blue board that was partially under the power supply board and the reason that we needed to remove the power supply in the first place.   First locate the brown/orange cable at the end of the board that goes to the main display panel and note how much of the gold-plated conductor from the cable is visible while it is plugged in to the connector!  Remember this as it will be helpful to know when you plug the cable back in!

This connector is white with a black or brown release tab.  To release this cable, this tab slides away from the board (along the cable) evenly by only a millimeter or two while still being connected to the socket, preferably using one's fingernails rather than metal tools:  You should gently work each side of the black/brown release catch until it is at the end of its travel, noting that when you push on one side, the other side will move back slightly.  Once this tab is released the cable should be easy to pull out with very slight force:  If you have to pull on it very hard at all, the tab is not properly released!
  • Be very careful with this release tab and cable as both are easily broken if excessive force is applied!  This release tab does not separate from the connector.
Once the cable for the display is disconnected, carefully unplug the two other cables connecting to the board noting that some of them have release tabs.
Figure 7:
Shield cover with BNC connector.  The large plastic
shield must be removed from the connector along with
machine screws that hold this cover into place.
Click on the image for a larger version.

At this point the four small screws holding the board in place may be removed and once this is done the board may be unplugged from the side-mounted connector that connects it to the rest of the circuitry.  This board should be set aside in a safe location, observing anti-static precautions.

Now, locate the shield portion with fan and the "Trigger" BNC connector and remove the black plastic shroud around it.  On this shield, locate the other screws that hold it in place to the stand-offs to the board below and remove those screws, noting that they are machine screws!

At this point you should now be able to remove the large metal shield with the fan attached, noting how the cable from the front panel is routed through the hole.  As you lift it, you will be able to remove the power connector for the fan from the main board by firmly pulling on it and rocking.  Be very careful for other impediments for removing this cover - just in case I forgot something in these instructions!
Figure 8:
The original fan.  I chose to re-lubricate this fan with
a PTFE-based oil, but now that I have a picture of it I
should be able to cross-reference it and order a new
fan ahead of time should is start to make noise again!
Click on the image for a new version.

You should now have the fan sitting in front of you.  As it turns out, I didn't a replacement for the particular fan that was used, but having had experience with these sleeve bearing fans before I knew that if the bearings were in reasonable shape (e.g. not "cooked") then it was perfectly reasonable to replenish the original lubricant and get more life from it.

To inspect the sleeve bearings slip a small, clean (de-greased) screwdriver under the label where the wires emerge from the fan and pry up, carefully pulling off the label.  Under this, in the center, you will see the end of the sleeve bearing and if you see "wet" oil rather than what looks like bits of tar, the sleeve bearings are likely to be in good shape:  Note that the oil may be dark and somewhat thick, but it seems that this is par for the course for what is used on these fans for some reason!

At this point I soaked up as much of the original oil as I could with a piece of paper towel and then dripped one drop of PTFE ("Teflon" tm) lubricant as a replacement, the brand being visible in figure 9.

Figure 9:
The fan and the supplementing lubricant, a PTFE-based oil.
Click on the image for a larger version.
Over the past several years I have had very good luck the above technique:  Usually, it is done to "resurrect" a fan for long enough time to get a brand new one ordered and on its way, but I have, on several occasions, forgotten that I have done this to a completely seized-up fan after cleaning out the gooey remnants of the original oil and realized, after a year or two, that it was still running fine:  Not the ideal thing to do, but good to know if you are in a pinch and don't have a new fan on-hand - or are really cheap!

Once the single drop of PTFE oil was added - be sure to completely clean up any that was spilled on the surrounding plastic using alcohol - re-attach the label if it came of "cleanly" - that is, if you were able to remove it without leaving any of its adhesive behind.  If parts of the label and/or its adhesive did come off when you removed it, use some "invisible" tape to cover the hole, but be sure to tape the original label of the fan to the outside of the metal shield where you can see it when you take off the cover so that you could, if need be, cross-reference it and get a new one!

Once the fan has been relubricated it is time to reassemble the oscilloscope, and as they say "Reassembly is the reverse of disassembly:  Please refer to the steps above - and your notes - when putting it back together.

A few points to remember:
Figure 10:
The ground stud:  Note that it must be aligned so that it is
flush with the back panel or else it will not go on!
Click on the image for a larger version.
  • The machine screws that hold the metal cover in place.
  • The plastic piece around the BNC connector.
  • When plugging in the display interface board, make sure that the connector properly aligns with the main board:  If it doesn't seem to fit, it isn't plugged in correctly!
  • The small screws that hold the display board into place.
  • The two cables that plug into the display board - one for the back light and the other from the front-panel buttons.
  • The LCD panel cable:  Be sure that you release the black/brown part of the connector before trying to insert the cable.  Once the cable is pushed in all of the way, re-seat the black/brown lock.
  • Re-install the power supply:  Put in the four corner screws first, then the screw that holds down the power transistor, remembering to install the ground wire.  Refer the the picture, above, if you need to be reminded as to where the ground wire attaches to the power supply.
  • Make sure that all cables are reconnected!
  • Reconnect the power and ground wires to/from the rear cover.
  • Making sure that no wires are pinched, place the rear cover into place, carefully working your way around the power button.
  • Note that you need to carefully align the BNC connector and ground screw stud to the back panel.  Note that the ground stud actually protrudes into the back panel and is flush with it and that the rear panel cannot be properly installed until this is done!
  • Carefully engage all three snaps.
  • Reinstall the four long, black screws with their small washers.
  • Reinstall the large, silver ground screw.
  • You are done with reassembly!

If all has gone well the fan will now be quiet.

One final recommendation:  Turn the oscilloscope on and let it run face up (so the new lubricant will work its way down into the fan) for an hour or so so that it gets warm and then shut it off, leaving it face up while it cools down.  This will allow the new PTFE-based lubricant to permeate the sleeve bearings within the fan, particularly as it cools and the lubricant withdraws back into the sintered bronze sleeve bearings themselves.

If the fan becomes noisy again (or is still noisy) you will now be able to cross-reference the original fan with a new one and know how to install it.  If you do get a new fan, it would be best to get one that is specifically designated as having ball bearings and/or from a well-known brand so that you don't have to replace it again!

For your convenience, the general specifications of the original fan - which appeared to use sleeve bearings - are as follows:
  • Size:  60x60x10mm
  • 12 Volt, 0.15 Amp
  • Noise:  27-29dBA
  • Speed:  3600-4700RPM
  • Air Flow:  11.4-16.5 CFM
Some suitable replacements using ball bearings are:

Digikey:  603-1407-ND  (Delta model number EFB0612MA)
Mouser:  664-AD0612MX-G76T-LF  (ADDA model number AD0612MX-G76(T)-LF)

Other fans may be found with sleeve bearings, etc. and any of them should work in a pinch.  Since this 'scope does not run particularly warm, picking one with somewhat less air flow would probably not be a "show stopper", particularly if it isn't used in very warm environments.

Best of luck!


This page stolen from

Sunday, November 23, 2014

My first coherer

Recently the topic of the meeting of the Utah Amateur Radio Club was on "old" radio.  Really old radio, which is to say "radio" in the days before vacuum tubes and even crystal detectors.

One of the detectors used in these old days was the Coherer (see this link.)  "Discovered" more or less by French physicist Eduoard Branly in the 1890 and based on phenomenon observed by others, this device does not detect the presence of radio signals in the "conventional" way, but it goes from a high resistance state to a low resistance state in the presence of a radio signal - and then it needs to be "reset" (by mechanically tapping it) before it can detect again - a short of "one-shot" detector.

The most common type of detector (the "Branly" type) consists of metal filings located between two conductors, typically in a glass tube.  As it turns out these filings can be different types of metals, often described as "imperfect" conductors", but one should not confuse this as meaning that these are "semiconductors" like diodes, but rather referring to (possibly) semi-oxidized bits of metal of various sorts.

Back in the heyday of the coherer - before it was made obsolete in 1907 with the advent of the crystal and electrolytic detectors (yes, the "crystal" detector was a vast improvement over the coherer, which tells you how "bad" it actually was!) the most common type of transmitter was the spark gap which emitted a short, high-energy repetitive burst of radio signal.

How, exactly, a coherer works is still not well understood even today, but it is believed that there may be some sort of "micro-welding" of the particles on the molecular level in the presence of an RF signal that causes them to form a path that will carry DC that, after detection, is then broken (literally!) by tapping the coherer, mechanically, with a device called a "de-coherer" that rearranges the particles within.

Making a coherer:

There are a number of articles to be found on making a coherer, but nothing terribly specific that I found on the rather short notice caused by my rush to build a coherer:  The club meeting was later that evening and I was in a bit of a hurry to throw together the coherer at the last minute.  I found a web page by Neil, the "  " that included a portion on making a coherer that said, in effect that about any sort of metal filing that he'd happened to use did work, at least after a fashion - although some things worked better than others.

So, I went to work.

A few weeks earlier I'd ordered some inexpensive 25mL glass burettes from American Science and Surplus and from one of these I cut up a few lengths, each about 2-3/4" (approx. 7cm) long using a diamond cutoff saw and flame-polished the sharp edges with a mapp-gas torch - but just enough to make it safe without causing the diameter to narrow.

Standing one of these the pieces of burette on a square of cardboard I placed a number of short pieces of flux-free, silver-bearing, lead-free plumbing solder and then, carefully (!) heated the glass with a propane torch.  Since the burette was made from "Pyrex" type glass, it was not likely to shatter and soon, the molten solder filled the piece of glass - but it took 3-4 times before I managed to get it right:  I either knocked it over or, in its liquid state, it would run out of a small gap in the bottom!  Eventually, I managed to carefully press it against a paper towel to seal the bottom to keep it from leaking out and I soon had a "plug" of solder the same diameter as the inside of the glass burette!

After this had cooled I wrapped it in a paper towel and then proceeded to (carefully!) break free it from the glass burette by hitting it with a wrench, liberating the metal plug within.  From that, I cut away the dross that had formed at what had been the top end and in the middle, cut it diagonally, polishing the two pieces with small needle files once I was done.
Figure 1:
My first coherer, of the Branly type, made from a piece of a glass burette, solder, filings from contacts of
defunct circuit breakers and some epoxy!  It works, but not very well!

At this point I had to reduce the diameter of these two pointed "slug" ends slightly so that they would fit easily into the other piece of burette that I'd cut:  If I'd attempted to force it into either end of the burette piece, it would have surely shattered the glass!  Once I had two pieces that I could slide into at least one end of the burette segment, I then soldered short pieces of wire to the flat sides of these two slugs using a very hot iron and pre-tinned wire with 60/40 solder:  A bit of skill was required since I was soldering solder to solder!

Having done that I then set to "make" the filings that go in between the two electrode "plugs" that I'd just prepared.  In other reading I'd found accounts that indicated that nickle-silver coins made good filings so I proceeded to attack the contacts of some defunct circuit breakers that I'd rounded up with some needle files.  Working over a piece of white paper, after about 20 minutes and three pairs of contacts I had a nice pile of filings ready.

One of the pieces of glass that I'd reserved was the "bottom" end of the burette - the one with the nipple - for the body of the coherer itself and I threaded with wire through that end.  Mixing some 5-minute epoxy I worked it into the hole and moved the plug back and forth so that it made a complete seal around the plug to prevent any filings from finding their way around its sides and then stood it on end to prevent the epoxy from running out.  Very carefully "hitting" the assembly with a bit of heat from the propane torch, the epoxy hardened almost instantly - a fact tested by poking it with a piece of wire - and I poured the filings into the open end.  Carefully lowering the other electrode/plug I oriented it so that the two "slopes" of the electrodes met toward the middle and then put more epoxy into the other end to seal it as well - and waited for the epoxy to set.

After 15-20 minutes, I carefully applied a bit of heat which accelerated the curing of the epoxy to the point of it being safe to handle and I now had a completed coherer, ready for testing.

Or so I thought...

The way that a coherer is supposed to work is that its DC resistance is supposed to be very high (if not close to infinite) until the presence of a fairly strong RF signal, at which point its DC resistance will drop - and stay that way - until it is reset by being mechanically disturbed.
Figure 2:
An old Ford coil being used as the source of the "Spark Gap" transmission.

In this case, whenever the filings were between the two conductors, I was getting just a few ohms of resistance, essentially making it useless as a detector.


With very careful fiddling I discovered that I could arrange the filings so that they barely touched one electrode or the other and then, if I set off a spark on the nearby Ford coil, the resistance would go from, say, 40 ohms to 20 ohms - enough to demonstrate that it did work, but not very well.

With the demonstration at the club meeting coming up in a few hours I figured that this would have to do, so I set it aside for a while to do other things, but when I came back in an hour or so I found that I could much more easily arrange the filings and now get a few hundred ohms, trigger the spark, and then get a few ohms or tens of ohms:  The only thing that I can figure is that the freshly-filed, silver-laden particles had somewhat tarnished after that time and the "imperfect" connection was now (slightly) easier to attain.

Figure 3:
Diagram of the coherer-based detector.  Not shown in this diagram are the particles between the sloped
electrodes of the coherer, or the "de-coherer"!

Using the coherer I wired up the circuit shown in Figure 3, above.  This has an LED in series, putting only about 1.1 volts across the coherer itself with a pair of 1k resistors "isolating" the the device at RF, allowing the wires connecting it to act as sort of an antenna if desired.  For determining if the coherer had been triggered, one could look at the LED's brightness and/or monitor the voltage drop across one of the 1k resistors with either a voltmeter or and oscilloscope.  When "setting up" the coherer it was a matter of fiddling about with it until the red LED lit dimly.  When the spark "triggered" the coherer, the LED would then illuminate much more brightly until the glass body of the coherer was lightly tapped with the plastic body of a ball-point pen, reverting back to its "dim" state.

When it came to demonstrating the operation of the coherer at the club meeting I simply connected my digital oscilloscope across one of the 1k resistors.  As it turns out, my 'scope has a VGA output that I connected to the club presentation room's overhead projector so that everyone present could see the trace on the 'scope change DC level with triggering of the coherer when it detected RF from the sparking of the nearby Ford coil, and then be reset when I "de-cohered" it by gently whacking it with a ball-point pen!

* * *

How sensitive was this coherer?

I never did try to check the range.  The "transmitter" was just the Ford coil in Figure 2, just as depicted with the two short #12 AWG wires connected to it being the "antennas", but the coherer seemed to reliably trigger at a distance of about 6 feet (2 meters) which was the maximum distance that we tried being that this was the size of the table on which we'd set up our demonstration!

Considering the size and shape of the wires in Figure 2 I figure that the this spark gap transmitter is actually operating in the VHF/UHF/Microwave range, much like that of the original Hertizan Wave apparatus of the late 19th century!  - see this link.

So there you have it, a coherer!

* * *

It's been a few weeks now since I built this coherer and its resistance is still too "low" in that I have to fiddle with it to to get it to work, but it does seem to be a bit less "finicky" in getting it set up to be triggerable thanit was when I'd first built it, so whatever is going on with those metal particles to make them work better still seems to be happening, albeit much more slowly!

At some point I may try building another one or two coherers using different materials, once I have done a bit more research on the topic (I still have some pieces of burette left!) but that will have to wait for another day!


This page stolen from

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The "Pointless" 10 meter DSB QRP transmitter

Figure 1:
The slightly-modified "Shake Light" and the "pointless"transmitter.
The flashlight portion still works!
Click on the image for a larger version.
The annual "Homebrew" meeting of the Utah Amateur Radio club meeting was coming up and while I was going to show off what I'd done thusfar on my mcHF transceiver - link I wanted something else that was a bit more "fun" and a very quick build, preferably one that could also give a signal to hear on the transceiver at the same time.

After a bit of brainstorming, something simple and pointless occurred to me - the so-named 10 meter DSB (Double SideBand) QRP transmitter in the title of this article.

I'm not sure where the idea came from but the germ was, no doubt, related to a previous article in this blog, "A Mechanically-powered Capacitor Flashlight" (May 13, 2012) - link  where I describe the inner-workings of the "shake lights" that were the objects of the annoying commercials that had been playing at the time.

These commercials have (thankfully!) disappeared from TV and the flashlights largely gone from the stores, but I bought several of them on clearance a few years ago.  As noted in the article linked above, while these particular flashlights actually do have electronics in them that will generate electricity in response to mechanical motion, not all of them do as some are apparently electrically inert, being marked as a "Toy" as the article "What Light Through Yonder Flashlight Shakes - Webarchive Link describes.

The flashlights that I got on surplus aren't as good as the somewhat expensive ones mentioned in the article above, but I was curious how well they might power a simple, low-power transmitter.

The transmitter itself is very simple and is depicted in Figure 2, below.

Figure 2:
The diagram of the "Pointless" 10 Meter QRP DSB Transmitter.
C4 is connected directly in parallel with the 0.22 Farad capacitor already inside the "Shake Light" which means that the flashlight's "run" time is also increased!
If a 50 ohm "antenna" load is used instead of the telescoping antenna, the 3.9uH inductor would be omitted.  On U1, pins 1, 2, and 3 are connected as shown with the remainder being grounded.
No attempt at low-pass filtering was included, so caveat emptor!
Click on the image for a larger version.

This transmitter is almost as simple as it could be!
  • The RF energy comes from a 28.570 MHz crystal oscillator module that I found in my box of "Crystals and oscillator modules."  At 5 volts it consumes 5-6 milliamps and it seemed to function down to about 3 volts.  I picked this frequency because it was in an amateur band on a frequency where SSB (or "DSB", in this case) was legal.  The fact that it was 10 meters was a plus since that made the antenna a bit more efficient.  In testing other oscillators, I noted that some drew over 20 mA, so I stuck with the lowest-power device that I found.
  • U1 is a doubly-balanced mixer that I pulled from a piece of scrapped satellite equipment.
  • T1 is a 1k-to-8 ohm transformer from Radio Shack, part number 273-1380, but about any similar impedance transformer would probably work.
  • The Microphone is a standard electret microphone available about anywhere.  I think that it came from a junked telephone handset, but I'm not sure.
  • The 1 Farad, 5.5 volt capacitor came from a junked piece of computer equipment that had used it for a memory backup power source.
  • Some telephone cord - the sort with embedded cloth woven in - used to connect the flashlight to the transmitter.  This cord is very lightweight and able to flex repeatedly without fatiguing and breaking - plus it was free, having been cut from a junked telephone handset.
  • The "Q1" microphone amplifier circuit consisting of all of three components (not counting the coupling capacitors) to boost the audio.
  • No RF bypass capacitor on the V+ lead is shown as the oscillator module seemed to have one internally, so I didn't bother...
How it works:

Assuming that capacitor C4 is already charged up to something around 5 volts, pressing switch SW applies power to the oscillator, the microphone, and microphone amplifier, Q1.  Q1 boosts the audio from the microphone by a factor of about 100 or so and transformer and T1 converts the rather high impedance from the amplifier down to something closer to the 10's of ohms that U1, the mixer, wants to see on its diodes.

Figure 3:
View of the back side of the transmitter.  The 1 Farad capacitor,
C4, dominates the view!
Click on the image for a larger verion.
When current from the audio transformer upsets the diodes in U1, the mixer, it gets out of balance and RF gets through:  The more out-of-balance from the higher audio level, the more RF gets through.

Interestingly, if the audio goes positive, the phase of the RF goes one way, but if the audio goes negative, the phase of the RF goes the other way, providing symmetry in both amplitude and phase.  In the process it generates "Double Sideband" (DSB) which is the same as single sideband except that both USB and LSB are generated at the same time.

The output of the mixer goes through L1 which, in this case, is a 3.9 uH choke.  For this device I used a telescoping whip about 26.5 inches (67.3 cm) long and this amount of inductance "approximately" resonates it at this frequency - very approximately, but better than if I'd just fed the output of the mixer directly to the whip!  The RF output power has not been measured, but it is likely on the order of 1-2 milliwatts PEP, at most!

It is difficult to tell from the picture in Figure 3, but the entirety of the plastic-bodied BNC antenna connector is actually insulated from the grounded aluminum bracket to which it is mounted and both its "shield" and center are connected together.  This allowed me to "bypass" any matching network on an antenna that I might try and use the telescoping whip antenna that I'd happened to grab from my box of VHF/UHF whip antennas.  It was observed that the addition of the 3.9uH inductance added to the range when using the whip:  If you were to connect the BNC connector to a 50 ohm load (e.g. an antenna that was already resonant) then the shell of the BNC connector would be grounded and 3.9uH inductor would be omitted.

Note that there is no low-pass filter anywhere on this design - other than the very slight effect of L1 - so caveat emptor!

A few comments about the design:

Messing with the mixer:

When I used the RMS-11X mixer - which is surface-mount - you'll see from careful scrutiny of Figure 4  that I used tinned (#26 AWG) hookup wire to mount it upside-down ("dead bug") on the prototype board, bridging the three common "ground" connections and taking them to the bottom of the board along with the other three connections, namely the LO (Local Oscillator), RF (typically the signal input or output) and the IF.

As is typical I connected the "LO" port of the mixer to the crystal oscillator via C3, the capacitor being used to block the DC component of the oscillator and reduce the current consumption since it is a DC short and the output of that oscillator is a square wave with a DC component.  Meanwhile, the mixer's "RF" port was connected to the antenna with the "IF" port going to transformer T1 as the audio source.

I was, however, surprised when I got no modulation at all and decided to investigate.

Figure 4:
The Top of the "Pointless 10 meter DSB QRP transmitter.  U2, the oscillator,
is the square can while U1, the mixer, is the white, square block to the left
of it, just above the transformer.
Click on the image for a larger version.
Typically, these doubly-balanced mixers are connected such that the connections to the diode "ring" inside of them are brought out via the "IF" port - which makes since since, in many cases, the "IF" can include audio - or even DC - but when I measured the "IF" port I found a DC "short".  Re-checking the data sheet, I verified that I'd not messed up the pin-out - something easy to do when you are using a device upside-down - but then I remembered something in the back of my mind from a previous time that I'd used one of these RMS-11X mixers:  Checking another connection, I found the tell-tale (approximately) 0.225 volt bi-directional "Shottky" diode drop on the "RF" pin instead - something that I'd apparently noticed in the past, but only dimly just remembered!

Why the data sheet shows the connection in the what that it does is beyond me.  Perhaps it is an error, but it could also be because the "RF" port is sometimes so-designated because it may that which that has the greatest amount of isolation to the "LO" port over most of the frequency range of the device - a fact implicitly bolstered by the fact that "DC" is not included in the "official" frequency range of any of this mixer's ports.

Swapping the positions of the "antenna" and "audio" leads was easy enough and upon doing so I suddenly had modulation, but not very much, so I added the Q1 amplifier, a simple common-emitter, self-biasing design that draws around a milliamp, but provides a lot of gain:  Now, instead of having to yell at the transmitter to drive it into clipping and not get much power, I can talk fairly quietly, up-close, drive it into clipping, and not get much power!

Fighting with Farads:

As noted in the May 2012 blog post, the only reason that these "shake lights" were usable by the consumer at all was that they actually contained a pair of lithium coin cells!  If you removed those coin cells, the magnet and coil assembly did actually work to provide power, but it took a few minutes of shaking to bring the voltage from zero up to the 2.4 volt or so just to get the LED in the original flashlight to shine very dimly - and another couple of minutes to get enough charge before it would shine brightly for, perhaps, a few 10's of seconds.

Even though this entire circuit drew less than 10 milliamps I noted that it dragged the original 0.22 Farad capacitor from a 5 volt charge (provided by an external power supply) instantly down to about 2.25 volts due to its internal resistance, requiring the addition of C4, a physically-larger capacitor with much lower internal resistance.  Dropping only about 0.15 volts under load, this meant that not only would I get better run time, but charging would likely be a bit more efficient since less power would be lost in resistance within the capacitor itself.

How long does it take to charge the entire thing from zero volts?

I'll admit that I've never run this completely down and then tried to charge it up again using the shake light (I'm not a teenager anymore!) but I did do a bit of experimentation and have determined that for every 5 seconds of talking, it takes about 60 seconds of shaking to restore that amount of charge on the capacitor, once it it has already been charged to 4-5 volts.  Based on those numbers it would probably take at least 15 minutes of vigorous shaking with a completely discharged capacitor before one would start to get usable results!

Is this transmitter, powered by a "shake light" practical?

No, not really!

If you wanted a means of mechanically powering low-power transmitter (or even a transceiver!) - one that could produce much power power than this - you would be far better-off using one of those crank-powered flashlights and scavenging power from its mechanically superior means of energy production, instead!

Concluding thoughts:

This transmitter project was built in just a couple of hours in a single evening using parts entirely from my junk box:  The only part that I had to buy (but I had on-hand, anyway) was the 1k-to-8 ohm Radio Shack audio transformer.  The entire reason for building it was to demonstrate that the mcHF transceiver was capable if "hearing" a signal - and to get some laughs - at the UARC Homebrew meeting.

One of these days I'll see how far it will transmit.  I suspect that it will go, perhaps, a couple of thousand meters (or yards) using the whip antenna and a trailing wire for a ground/counterpoise - particularly if the antenna matching is optimized, but being that it is capable of only a few thousandths of a watt output, it will never break a DX pileup on its own!

Practically speaking, an NE602 could have been used instead of the diode-ring, doubly-balanced mixer with many other changes since the impedances for the '602 are radically different from the 50 ohms of the diode mixer.  One difficulty would have been placing a '602 on 10 meters:  Fundamental-mode 10 meter crystals are pretty rare, so an overtone crystal and oscillator would have to have been configured - plus the additional matching components and the likely need of at least one RF amplifier stage to make its output power comparable to that of the circuit above:

Although "different" and, perhaps a bit more current-efficient, the NE602 version would not have been "simpler"!


This page stolen from

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

What to do if your IFR 1200 Service Monitor display just shows "@" signs on the display - and if your deviation meter goes non-linear...

Figure 1.  A properly-working IFR-1200 in receive mode.
A few months ago the old IFR FM/AM-1200S service monitor on the bench at work started getting flaky.  If you turned it on, cold, it would just display a string of "@@@@@@@@@@@@@" ("at" signs) on the display and would not do anything else.

If it was allowed to sit in this state for a while and warm up, another power cycle could often bring it to life, but eventually this trick stopped working and it was completely dead.

Because we had another IFR 1200 kicking around, we used that for a while - but it had a nagging problem with its deviation meter in that it didn't read quite correctly so, eventually, I decided to tear into them both and fix the problems:  More on the deviation meter problem, later...

Fixing the "At sign" problem:

Figure 2:  The display showing "at" signs, indicating
that the CPU cannot properly start.
Click on the image for a larger version.
Pulling the Processor board I noticed immediately that there were exactly FOUR electrolytic capacitors - at least two of them were the typical power supply bypass capacitors, but one of them was related to a line that had something to do with the CPU's startup/reset - in this case, C6, the one near the upper-right corner.  This particular capacitor, if it becomes leaky, tends to hold the CPU's RST line high and the internal pull-down resistor cannot take it out of reset and you get it out of the "@@@@@@" mode.

Since, on old equipment, you can almost always blame the capacitor - and be right much of the time - I decided just to replace them all.  The picture below shows the board and the four capacitors:

The four capacitors are easy to spot:  Three of them are clustered together near the bottom-left corner and the other (C6) is just to the left of the CPU, the large chip in the upper-right corner of Figure 3.

All four of these capacitors should be replaced while you are at it.  Note that your circuit board may also be of the "blue" variety and if so, it may be a bit fragile:  When removing the capacitors use a temperature-controlled soldering iron and proper techniques as these types of boards (e.g. the "blue" ones) are reportedly easy to damage.  I didn't have any trouble when working on this board, but this is good advice, nonetheless!

Figure 3
The Processor board from the IFR FM/AM-1200S (the older "A-3" version).  The culprit is C6, the capacitor just to the left of the CPU near the upper-right corner.  The newer version of the board looks completely different and may/may not have a similar problem.  If it does, it would be due to C3, a 4.7uF capacitor along the top edge of its board.
Click on the picture for a larger version.
I replaced these capacitors with 47uF, high-temperature 105C devices.  It is important to note that the capacitor that you use to replace it must be either:
  • Shorter than the height of the tallest chip+socket on the board, or
  • If the capacitor is taller, you must use extra lead length and lay it on its side, using spaghetti tubing to insulate the extra leads.
The reason for this is that there is very limited clearance between this board and its neighbor:  If the capacitor is too tall it will hit the next board, either making the installation of this (or the adjacent) board impossible, or the aluminum end of the capacitor will short out components on the other board!

By the way, the capacitor that causes the problem with the version of the board shown in Figure 3 is C6, the one in the upper-right corner!

Another reason why your IFR-1200 may be throwing "At" signs:

There is another reason why your IFR-1200 may be throwing "At" signs:  Its SRAM backup cell may be dead, or nearly so!

If you look at Figure 3 you will see a lithium coin cell in the lower-left corner:  Measure the voltage between the top of the cell and the ground plane of the board:  If it is lower than about 2.8 volts you should really replace it while you are at it and if it is lower than 2.6 volts, that is too low for reliable operation.

What happens is this:  When you power off the IFR the backup battery is supposed to hold the contents of the RAM, but when the battery gets too low (below approx. 2.6 volts) there is a reasonable chance of corruption at some point.  The way the software is written it seems possible that the SRAM could be corrupted in a way that the CPU  cannot start up and detect this condition and the unit "hangs".

The only way to "fix" this condition once it occurs is to clear the SRAM's contents, which may be done one of two ways:
  • Under anti-static conditions, remove the SRAM chip.  This is the chip to the left of the windowed chip in Figure 3 that, in the picture, is labeled "TC5517APL-2".  The SRAM chip in your unit may have different nomenclature.  When this chip is removed, stick it in a "bug rug" (conductive foam) or set its pins on a wet paper towel for a few seconds to completely discharge it as its intrinsic capacitance can actually hold its (corrupted!) contents for a while - even out of the socket!
  • Momentarily (for no more than 1 second) short pins 14 and 28 of the SRAM chip to clear the memory.
Unless you replace the cell, this problem is likely to happen again, so you have two options:
  • Remove the cell completely.  You will get a "Checksum Failed" type of error whenever you power it up - and occasionally you may not be able to power it up without turning it off again and waiting a minute or two - but you shouldn't have to take it apart.
  • Replace the cell.
Clearly, the latter option is preferred.  In this unit the cell was a "2325" type lithium coin cell with tabs on it and it had lasted well over 20 years.  This sort of tabbed cell may be ordered directly from Digi-Key (you will have to specially-order it with solder tabs!) but you could substitute it with the more readily-available 2025 or 2032 type of cell, particularly if you were to use a plastic coin cell holder - keeping in mind the available clearance between the two boards.

While the 2325 cell is a 160-210maH cell (typically), the 2032, even though it is smaller, has approximately the same specifications (190maH) and the 2025 has around 160maH if you choose a cell with a known, good brand.  If you used one of these smaller cells, instead of 20 or so years, it may last only 15 or so - still a reasonable lifetime!

Note that you cannot solder wires to one of these coin cells without damaging it, reducing its lifetime significantly:  The only real way to attach one of these cells to the circuit would be to spot weld tabs to it or to use a holder.

* * *

About that problem on the "other" IFR-1200S:  Non-linearity on the deviation meter.

It was noticed that the deviation reading on the other IFR-1200S wasn't "linear".  In other words, if I did a first Bessel Null with a 905.8 Hz tone and set the deviation meter for a reading of 2.18 kHz, it would read higher than 5.00 kHz at the second Bessel null of the same 905.8 Hz tone.

Interestingly, the deviation as displayed on the oscilloscope was correct, but the deviation meter was "off" by an ever-increasing, non-linear amount as the deviation went up.  I then noticed that this was NOT true if I switched to the "Medium" bandwidth mode - which is actually the "Wide" filter with a low-pass filter in the audio path.

What it turned out to be was one or more of the 10.7 MHz crystal filters on the IF on the "10.7 MHz Gen/Rec" board - and the reason that I determined this was that I noticed that the audio coming from the FM demodulator was variously distorted in the "FM Narrow" mode, but not distorted at all in the "FM Mid" or "FM Wide" modes.

Because, as we know, the "Mid" and "Wide" share the same filter (a fairly wide ceramic filter) we could rule out the demodulator itself as the culprit for the source of the distortion.  I also noted that the actual amount of distortion varied with the amount of deviation:  Because the location and amplitude of the sidebands of an FM signal vary with the amount of deviation (and modulation frequency) this also told me that there was something in the signal path that was asymmetrically disturbing this signal as it passed through - and it could only be one thing:  The "FM Narrow" IF filter!

Fortunately, I was able to use an off-the-shelf 2-pole ECS 10.7 MHz 15 kHz wide monolithic crystal filter to replace it with, retune the filter for lowest distortion (as indicated on the IFR's own distortion meter) and this fixed the problem!  Fortunately, these components are fairly cheap and as of the time of writing, still readily available.

For reference, these are Mouser part:  520-107-15B  - This comes as a matched pair of two 2-pole filters, which is exactly what you need - in other words, you buy "one" of these items and get two devices that have been matched at the factory. The Digi-Key part number for the exact, same item is:  X704-ND.

Because these new filters operate at 1.8k ohms instead of the higher impedance of the original crystal filters I had to parallel the input/output (R4 and R10) resistors with resistors to achieve the 1.8k source/termination impedance to properly match these filters:  For this I used 3.0k resistors in parallel with R4, R80, R6 and R81.

The specified ratings for the above pair of filters are 15 kHz at the -3dB points and at least -40dB at +/- 25 kHz.

The input/output termination transformers for these filters should be readjusted (using a non-metallic tool to prevent breakage of the core) according to the manual, although adjusting for minimum distortion with a 1 kHz tone set for 5-6 kHz deviation (using the unit's own distortion or SINAD meter, which also measures distortion/noise, but presents it differently) and then do similar for the "discrimination" coils on the demodulator, as well as slightly adjusting the various bandpass transformers along the signal path as well.  Please note that you will need to check/readjust the deviation for all three ranges of the deviation meter when you are done.

After I did this the deviation meter, once recalibrated according to the manual, behaved normally!

The two filters related to the FM signal path are YFL1 and YFL2.  These are the two metal-can crystal filters located closest to the top of the board (nearest to the connectors) in the center, un-sheilded area.

Note about the AM signal path and filter: 

The "AM" signal path uses a still-narrower filter that is not used in FM demodulation.  If this goes bad a suitable substitute may possibly be one of the narrowband FM filters of the same product line as the above.

It won't have the exact same bandwidth as the original filter, but the input/output impedance of these filters appears to be the same as the original.

The Mouser part number for the single device is 520-107-7.5A while the matched pair is 520-107.7.5B.  The Digi-Key part number for the X701-ND for the single device and X702-ND for the matched pair.

The devices noted above, when used as a pair, are rated at 7.5 kHz bandwidth at the -3dB points and -40dB at +/- 14 kHz with an input/output impedance of 1.8k.

The AM filters are YFL3 and YFL4 and these are the "crystal cans" located just below YFL1 and YFL2 noted above.  There may be small chip ceramic capacitors connected directly to the leads of these crystal filters on the bottom side of the board:  When you remove them, note exactly where they went.  Unless you have the test equipment to "sweep" the AM IF filter precisely, to not worry about putting these capacitors back into place as they were matched with the original crystal filters and the properties of those specific units when they were new.

Since the aforementioned replacements are slightly wider in bandwidth, and since AM is generally more "forgiving" than FM in terms of and phase imbalance across the passband when measuring things like distortion (but not necessarily frequency response) - and the fact that many amateur radio operators would not really be using it for AM very much anyway - just plopping in new filters to replace obviously-defective units will probably result in reasonable performance, anyway!


This page stolen from

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Assembling the mcHF transceiver boards - getting ready.

If you remember last time, a few of the parts were still on their way - but since then, all have arrived and I have assembled one set of boards and gotten the transceiver operational.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Starting the build:

As noted before, there are 480-ish parts - most of them being 0805-sized surface-mount resistors and capacitors - these being somewhat smaller than grains of rice - so I set about putting together my assembly area by buying a shallow baking pan.

The thing about these tiny parts is that no matter how cheap or expensive they are, they are equally invisible when they fly away accidentally -  or just fall off the board, and even if the part costs less than a cent, if you don't have any more, it will then cost you several dollars to get more of them.  (For the really inexpensive parts, you should just get several times the quantity that you need!)

I lined the bottom of the baking pan with white paper for both electrical and thermal insulation and started putting parts on the UI (User Interface) board.

At this point I should say that having put it together, I learned something that anyone putting one of these together should consider:

A few mistakes - and lessons learned:

Assemble the RF Board FIRST, then assemble the UI board!

The reason for this is quite simple:  There are no really tricky parts on the RF board and by the time you finish it, your SMD soldering skills - whatever state they might have been in when you started - will be much improved - and this will come in handy when you solder the fine-pitched 100 pin microcontroller on that main board to it!

I didn't do that.

In following the recommendation of someone else who'd put one of these together, one of the first things that I'd put on the board was, in fact, the microcontroller.  Although I have soldered a fair amount of SMD before, it had been several months since I'd done it and I was a bit rusty.

Also, when I started soldering the microcontroller, I'd not noticed that the PC board was somewhat warped, probably a result of having been through the post from the UK, and that after I'd finished soldering the pins down a large percentage of them did not actually make contact to their pads because of the warpage!  Had I my wits about me I would have removed the microcontroller, clamped the board down to flatten it and done it again, but I didn't do that:  Instead, I went around, pin-by-pin with an extremely fine-tipped iron and tacked each one down, laboriously checking it and its destination for continuity until I'd finally gotten them all - a process that took over an hour and actually resulted in my ripping one of the pads off and a bit of microsurgery on the board to make the connection.

To reiterate:

1) Build the RF board first to get practice at soldering SMD components
2) Before soldering the microcontoller, clamp the board down to assure that it is perfectly flat!

Additionally, be very careful when handling the microcontroller:  DO NOT handle it by the pins - not because of the static, but because they are very easy to bend and once you bend them, they can be extremely difficult to get back into their required sub-millimeter, precise (in all three axes!) position - so just DON'T BEND THEM!

Figure 1:
The UI (User Interface) board - the side with the MCU on it, before adding the connectors, switches and the connector along the top edge.
You might notice that I installed both U5 and Y1 along with C93 asnd C94 as I wasn't watching what I was doing:  You need only purchase either Y1 or U5 (U5 gives a bit better sample rate accuracy and stability, but Y1 is probably perfectly adequate).   If you use U5, you do not need to get Y1 or C93/C94.
Click on the image for a larger version.


I employed several methods in populating the boards.

The first thing that I did was to wash the boards in soap and water, scrubbing fairly vigorously then patting them dry, followed by wiping them down with denatured alcohol to remove adhesive tape residue from the packing and residual oils - followed by another wash with soap and water and a good rinse and dry.

For soldering equipment, I would recommend, at a very minimum,  the following:
  1. A TEMPERATURE-CONTROLLED iron.  The iron should have a closed-loop feedback in it to maintain a constant temperature and not merely a dial to make it hotter or colder.  DO NOT attempt to solder this sort of thing if your iron does not have the ability to maintain its temperature to within 10 degrees C (about 20 degrees F) or so of its setpoint or you can damage the board.  Such irons are pretty cheap and plentiful these days so there's really no excuse for not having one if you are building these sorts of projects!
  2. A TEMPERATURE-CONTROLLED iron.  This is so important that I thought that I'd say it twice!
  3. A really fine tip for your soldering iron.  This tip should be almost needle-thin at its point - and that is no exaggeration!  This tip would not be used for soldering many of the larger components - for that you would be using just a "small" tip:  You would change to this really fine tip when you need to do a bit of re-work, such as tack down a single pin (or two) that didn't flow properly, or use it to "wick up" a bit of solder that might have bridged some pins.
  4. Fine (small) solder braid.  This is the small, thin solder braid (the trade name being "Solder Wick") that is roughly 2.5mm (1/8") or so wide or smaller.  It really needs to be this small in order to fit between pins of SMD devices to suck up extra solder.
  5. Small-diameter solder.  This would be the solder that is anywhere from the diameter of a hair to the diameter of #24 AWG wire.  In the U.S. you can still get the 60/40 or 63/37 Tin/Lead solder - which melts at a lower temperature and has better longevity and chemical stability - but good-quality lead-free solder will also work.  If you do not use rosin core solder, read the instructions with the solder carefully as some of the "organic" fluxes MUST be immediately washed off after soldering to prevent electrically conductive residue and/or corrosion from occurring!
  6. Good-quality tweezers.  I have both metal and bamboo tweezers that are helpful for both picking up parts and holding them down during soldering.  The bamboo tweezers, bought for less than $1.00 on EvilBay (including shipping), are nice in that they are insulating both electrically and heat-wise, the latter making it easier to solder down parts.  Flat toothpicks also work very nicely for holding down components for soldering.
  7. Magnifiers!  Unless you have extraordinarily good close-up vision, you will want some good magnifiers.  These can be in the form of very strong glasses or binocular goggles - some of which have extra flip-down lenses to change magnification - for hands-free use as well as jeweler's loupes and strong magnifying glasses for extreme close-up examination of solder joints and circuit board traces.
  8. Volt-Ohm Meter.  An absolute must for troubleshooting, measuring voltages and resistance to determine if something is amiss.  It need not be fancy, but a cheap, $5 digital meter is probably better than a $10 automotive-type analog meter!
You SHOULD NOT start construction until you have ALL of the items above!

Figure 2:
 One side of the the partially assembled RF board.
Click on the image for a larger version.

A few very nice things to have:
  1. Solder Paste.  Using a dispenser - often in a small, hypodermic syringe with a large-ish gauge needle, this contains both paste and flux.  This is applied to the pads and then the part applied into the paste and then heated with hot air - see below.  If you are in the U.S. you can get a small amount (but more than you need for this project) for a reasonable price from Cash Olsen, KD5SSJ.  (Google him for more info, or see the link below.)
  2. Hot air rework tool.  These are essentially a miniature heat gun, but with fairly precise temperature control and the ability to be fitted with different tips to heat various areas and shapes.  If you need to remove a multi-pin chip such as the 100 pin microcontroller, this is going to be the ONLY way that you going to be able to do it without damaging either the chip or the board!  This also allows you to solder many components at once if paste has been applied to their pads and then the components applied to them.  These units are not terribly expensive, available for much less than $100 U.S. for a decent one if you look around.  I paid about $90 for one about 10 years ago from Circuit Specialists and they have become cheaper and better since then, with many different types available from both Circuit Specialists, EvilBay and many other places.
  3. Flux pen.  This looks like a felt-tip pen, but filled with liquid solder flux.  It is a good idea to apply this to each solder pad on the board to make it easier to solder, making better and more-reliable joints.

There are (literally) hundreds of web pages and YouTube videos on how to solder - specifically, how to do surface-mount soldering, so I won't explain the exact methods - just name them.

 The "dab, place and solder" method:

For the individual, small, passive components such as resistors, capacitors and inductors I generally did the "dab, place and solder" method in which I would apply the solder paste to the pads of 4-8 components, place the components on those pads, and then, with the fine-tipped iron and either a toothpick or the bamboo tweezers, hold the component down while soldering.

When doing this it important to only place 4-8 components at a time because:
  • It is best to place the component in paste when it is still "wet" so that it sticks the component to the board better.
  • Doing a batch of 4-8 components is more efficient than doing one at a time, but not so many that you are likely to forget where each component that you just place is!
This last point is actually quite important because one tends to place all of the same types of components at a time.  For example, say your project has 25 0.1uF capacitors in it, scattered all over the board:  If you just place 4-8 of them (I would always place 6 components - an easy number to remember) then those 6 components are easier to find, particularly when a lot of components have already been placed on the board and it is getting harder to tell, at a glance, one that is soldered from one that has not been soldered!  By counting exactly 6 each time (or fewer, if you didn't have 6 of whatever it is to solder) you can be sure that you found them all!

After soldering them down, I would then run my finger over the board to discover any "loose" components - that is, ones that were stuck to the board with paste, but not soldered, and hopefully I'd be able to quickly discover where it was supposed to go!

For soldering multi-pin ICs, there are many methods using soldering irons.  Most of these involve tacking a corner pin or two and going from there, sometimes soldering each pin at a time if the pin pitch isn't too small.

One of the more popular methods involves "flooding" the pins with solder, often by dragging the tip across them all to distribute it to all of the connections and then sucking up the excess with solder braid:  You can find web pages and YouTube video describing this "Drag" method in detail.

Of course, if you don't have solder paste, the use of very fine wire solder works fine as well with the appropriate adaptations of the above techniques.

The hot air method:

The above method works well if you are soldering same-value components scattered all over the board, or if you are attaching components with larger pin counts.  If, however, you are able to populate a lot of components in a small area of a board it will be quicker and easier if you were to use the hot-air tool.

In that case, you would apply paste to the pads and then place the components into the paste - this time, for (possibly) many more components.  Then, very gradually, heat up the area with the components until the solder flowed completely.  In this case, with the components concentrated in one small area rather than all over the board, it makes sense to spend the time to bring up the temperature gradually.

One point of concern with the paste - particularly if it is heated too quickly - is that the liquids within it can flash-vaporize and bubble within:  When these bubbles pop, it can cause the part being heated to jump off the board, or at least out of position, requiring you to stop what you are doing and relocate the part.  If you are finding that the parts jump around when you are heating them, you are probably heating them too quickly!

For soldering larger devices such as multi-pin ICs, the typical methods include laying a thin line of solder paste along the line of pads rather than a dot on each pad:  Methods for doing this may be found on many web pages and YouTube, and you can look at the page of Cash Olsen, KD5SSJ -   (Note:  I have not pecuniary interest in Mr. Olsen's web page or offerings other than I did buy some solder paste from him several years ago and was satified with his product.)

Figure 3:
 The "other" side of the RF board, also partially assembled.
Click on the image for a larger version.
One advantage of having a hot air gun is that even if you do use a soldering iron, if the solder masks were applied properly, reheating components that were previously soldered with an iron will often make them re-align and straighten up and make their joints look more uniform.  It also has the advantage that if you happened to miss soldering a joint to which you'd applied paste, it will now be soldered!

Next time on this topic:  A few pictures and comments on the actual assembly!


This page stolen from

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

YAFP - The mcHF SDR HF Transceiver

Those who know me are already familiar with a four-letter acronym that I've used for many years:


Which stands for:


What, exactly the "F" stands for is up to you, but the sentiment is the same, regardless:  Too many fun projects, too little ($#!+) time!

Falling into this category is one that a friend of mine, Brett, N7KG, made me aware of and that is the "mcHF", a small, (relatively) inexpensive SDR-based HF (10 watts, 80-10 meter, SSB-CW) transceiver, based around the STM32F4 processor, designed by U.K. amateur Chris, M0NKA - see the web site:

This radio is definitely NOT a kit.

What you can get from from Chris is:

  • Two circuit boards
  • A full-color TFT LCD display
And from the web site:
  • Documented source code
  • Information on how to use the bootloader
  • Where to get the compiler and the various utilities.
  • Pre-compiled binaries
  • How to compile your own binaries
And that's it!

If you want to build the radio, you must get - on your own - all of the other parts to populate the board - which numbers around 480 or so!  Fortunately, the vast majority of these (numerically speaking) are things like surface-mount resistors and capacitors that are on the order of a penny or two each.

The web site above contains a "BOM" (Bill Of Materials) but for the U.S. amateurs, this is a bit awkward to use as it uses mostly Farnell U.K. part numbers.

Figure 1: 
The boards and LCD supplied by M0NKA.  At the bottom-left is the RF board while
the upper-right is the CPU/User-Interface board.
Other than source code, instructions and some binaries, everything else is up to YOU, including
the case which you must figure out how to get made using someone's 3-D printer!
Click on the picture for a larger version.
For the convenience of others, I've gone through the pains of cross-referencing those parts to Mouser Electronics part numbers (in most cases providing several alternates for the same part) and where the part was not available from Mouser, offered a Digi-Key alternative and some may even be obtained on Ebay:  This alternate Bill of Materials may be found in the "KA7OEI" folder of the FILES section on the M0NKA mcHF Yahoo Group which requires membership access, or you could send an email to me and I could pass it along.  Even if you were to choose not to obtain the parts from Mouser and/or Digi-Key, at least you can figure out the specifications of these parts and figure out what, exactly, they are and where to get them.

There are a few parts, notably the ferrites, RF output transistors that are not available from either Mouser or Digi-Key, and these may be obtained either via Ebay or other suppliers.  There are a few specific parts, however - the 3.5mm connectors for the audio input, output and key connectors and for the DC power connector - that do NOT seem to be available from ANY U.S. supplier and unless one "kludges" alternatives must simply be ordered via Newark/Farnell from their U.K. distributor!

There is some "support" in the form of a Yahoo group mentioned above and some exchange of ideas on the website forum itself, but this is, as they say, open source in terms of both hardware and software.

At the moment the only source of circuit boards is from Chris, M0NKA himself and a set of these, shipped to the U.S. along with an LCD will run about $68 (as of August 2014) - if he has them in stock.  As of this posting he does not currently plan to make the board layout files available, but since the schematic diagrams are published, there's nothing stopping anyone from laying out their own board!

This sort of project is definitely NOT for everyone as this is very far from "plug and play":  The software is a bit rough around the edges and the feature set presently extant is a bit sparse, but it is reportedly functional and open-source and a quick look at the source code reveals that it shouldn't be too terribly hard to add user-interface bells and whistles while the addition of other features like additional audio filter bandwidths shouldn't be too difficult, either.

What would take a bit more work would be the addition of things like DSP noise reduction, other operational modes like AM and FM and the addition of stand-alone support for digital modes like PSK-31, RTTY (to name but two) and the self-copying of CW, for example, although this sort of thing should be possible... in theory...

Where it stands:
Figure 2: 
The box into which the accumulating parts for the
radios are being tossed as they arrive!

Myself, Brett and Bryan, W7CBM are putting together four of these radios between us (I'm building two) and we have almost all of the parts on hand, missing only a few components on the RF board:  Those are on their way from Mouser or from the EvilBay vendor.  Meanwhile, the 3.5mm and power connectors are reportedly on their way from the U.K. at this moment.

The next step - which might be the most difficult of all - will be finding time for the three of us to get together and get these small parts on the board and do some assembly and testing!

As I said before:



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