ARRL -- The national association for Amateur Radio ARRL -- The national association for Amateur Radio
Books, Coax, and a whole lot more -- Ad
Find on this site...
Site Index 
Search site:
Call sign search:
ARRL Member Login...
Username:   Password:

Quick Links...
·Join or Renew
·Catalog & Store
·ARRL Courses
·Getting Started
Current Feature Articles

  • Jan 13 Surfin': PSK31 On Line
  • Jan 06 ARRL In Action: What Have We Been Up To Lately?
  • Jan 03 Surfin': Why Try RTTY?
  • Jan 01 It Seems to Us . . . A Little Perspective, Please
  • Dec 27 QRP Community: Construction--Kits, Homebrew and Other QRP Projects
  • Dec 20 Surfin': NORAD Tracks Jolly Old Elf
  • Dec 19 The Net that's Helped Thousands See
  • Dec 13 Surfin': Digitizing Voice at Temple University
  • Dec 11 How "The Big Project" Came To Michigan
  • Dec 10 The Amateur Amateur: The HF Chronicles--EC-001 and Contacting NTS

    ARRL Products:


    Nova for Windows -- A popular Windows-based satellite tracking program, used by thousands of hams. Realistic maps show satellite positions, ground tracks, orbital paths, and star background.

    AMSAT 20th Space Symposium--2002 -- Proceedings of the AMSAT-NA 20th Space Symposium and AMSAT-NA Annual Meeting. November 7-11, 2002. Fort Worth, TX.

    The Radio Amateur's Satellite Handbook -- The most informative and most useful book ever written about ham radio satellites!

    The ARRL Satellite Anthology -- Fifth Edition
    With several new amateur satellites now in orbit, and more in the planning stages, you'll want to "read all about them"--and this book is the best way to do just that!

    SETICon 01, Proceedings of--2001 -- Proceedings of the first SETI League Technical Symposium. April 28-29, 2001. Ewing, NJ.


    QRP Community: Construction--Kits, Homebrew and Other QRP Projects

    By Anthony A. Luscre, K8ZT
    Contributing Editor
    December 27, 2002

    This installment focuses on the construction side of QRP with projects, kits and homebrewing. We also plan ways to melt some solder to keep warm here in the cold Ohio winter.

    Elecraft K2

    The Elecraft K2, a transceiver built from a kit The view inside shows a large number of parts.

    In Amateur Radio's earlier years, before the days of easily available factory-built gear, most hams built their own transmitting and receiving equipment--a process that came to be known as "homebrewing." In the latter decades of the last century, some hams turned to constructing their stations from kits put out by Heath, Johnson, Knight, World Radio Labs and other suppliers. (Who hasn't seen a classic Heathkit--silver and gray in the early years, and, most commonly, two-tone green during its ham radio heyday?)

    These days, of course, hardly anyone has a homebrew station, and kits went out when Heath left the Amateur Radio market. Right? Not exactly.

    News flash: There are probably more ham radio kit producers now than any time since the early days of broadcast receiver kits in the 1920s, and homebrewing is alive and thriving in the QRP Community. And, at least here in Ohio, winter is a great time to build, and your hands keep warm from the soldering iron.

    Let's take a brief tour of some of the "roll-your-own" radio construction options available.

    Kits--Parts, Instructions and Engineering in a Single Package

    K2 instructions

    Step-by-step assembly and detailed instructions ease the K2 construction process. (View a larger copy.)

    If you bemoan the fact that you missed the glory days of kit building, don't worry. Kits are back and many are better than ever. Today's kits can be divided into two categories--commercial kits and kits put together by various QRP and other clubs. Sometimes the line between the two blurs, such as when a club introduces a kit and a commercial vendor later continues its production, sometimes with a few modifications or tweaks. Kits come in a variety of styles: Complete (with all parts, printed circuit board, case, knobs and full documentation necessary to complete the project); Complete minus case (a so-called "board kit" that also may lack knobs, jacks, connectors and other hardware); Partial kits (that include only the harder-to-find parts or parts that require computer preprogramming); and Homebrew-style kits (all the parts and sometimes a printed-circuit board, but with only a schematic diagram and no step-by-step assembly instructions.)

    Across the wide variety of above styles, kits can also be divided based on complexity of building, aligning and packaging. A few years back, Doug Hendricks, KI6DS, generated an excellent series of e-mails entitled "What Kit to Build." Although the material is a bit dated, it's still a great read. For a list sampling currently available kits, visit the QRP Community page on my Web site.

    Homebrewing from Published Plans

    Want a little more challenge or just can't find just the right kit for you? You don't need to be an electrical engineer to homebrew. You can find plenty of plans for equipment to build by reading QST and other ham radio magazines.

    For more QRP-focused projects, the various QRP club publications are the best source. Yes, this is yet another great reason to join a QRP club or even two or three! There is even a special magazine devoted exclusively to homebrewing and QRP, QRP Homebrewer, published by New Jersey QRP Club. For a wide variety of web resource links on homebrewing you might want to visit DXZone Homebrew Links, Electronic Construction from A to Z, The Homebrewing Zone by VU2MSY, EI9GQ's Homebrew Page, DMOZ's Homebrew section, Dave Metz, WA0AUQ's Twelve Rules to Organize Homebrew Projects, Homebrewing for the Novice, Monty Northrup, N5FC's site, the G-QRP Club site and the NorCal QRP Club site.

    One way to differentiate homebrew projects refers to the way the components are connected. Point to point wiring was very popular in the tube days. Components are connected to the pins on the tube sockets, other chassis mounted parts and isolated metal tabs on terminal strips. Point-to-point wiring (sometimes called "ugly style") is often used when prototyping a new project. Two more recent incarnations of point-to-point wiring are "dead bug" and "Manhattan" style.

    In dead bug construction integrated circuits (ICs) and transistors are glued upside down on a circuit board and their leads are used to mount other components. Manhattan style uses small "punched out" circles or cut pieces of circuit board glued to the surface of the main circuit board. These pads and the circuit board surface are used to solder parts in place. For examples of Manhattan construction, visit the Web site of James Kortge, K8IQY and that of Jerry Hall, W0PWE.

    Perforated insulating board can be used to lay out components. Their leads are then soldered together. For comparisons of various styles of construction methods check out "Building From Schematics--Prototyping Systems Compared," by Russ Carpenter, AA7QU.

    Although etched printed circuit boards can make for very neat construction, the time and effort consumed in making single copies often outweighs the benefits. Fortunately for fans of printed circuit boards, many authors make arrangements to have boards "mass produced" for their projects. One common source for these boards is FAR Circuits.

    Glowbug 40

    A simple transmitter kit with a single tube is an easy and quickly assembled kit with a touch of nostalgia and modern construction techniques.

    One of the newest methods of construction is surface mount. Using very small components allows for miniaturization but requires different soldering techniques. Interesting facets of homebrewing are the retro projects using tubes. For resources on tube homebrewing visit Gary Johanson, WD4NKA's Web site, Kenneth Gordon, W7EKB's Glowbugs and DMOZ Boat Anchors Homebrew. For a simple tube kit, try the Glowbug 40 by Dwight Morrison, KG4HSY.

    Homebrewing from Scratch

    If you want to homebrew and design, this is the route for you. Here is a five-step process to get you started. As a first step I would suggest a good library on electronics and radio theory. Good choices include The ARRL Handbook for Radio Communications, Introduction to Radio Frequency Design by Wes Hayward, W7ZOI, W1FB's Design Notebooks by Doug DeMaw, W1FB, and RF Components and Circuits by Joe Carr, K4IPV.

    The second step is to study other's designs. Borrowing portions of circuits from predecessors is an honorable ham radio tradition (think of those names we give circuits, such as Colpitts Oscillator.)

    The third step, which I'll call experimentation, requires the acquisition of common values of electronics components (a well-stocked junk box) and a good system for quick, easy prototyping.

    The fourth step is testing, sharing your ideas with others for critique and then improving your circuit.

    The fifth step is to repeat the first four steps until your project meets your goals.

    Tools and Parts

    Tool assortment

    An assortment of tools useful in kit building or homebrewing. [Photo by author]

    For our construction project, you will need a few simple tools (and some fancy ones if you like.) Depending on whether you go the kit route or homebrew will determine if you will also need to buy electronics components. For information on acquiring tools and parts visit my previous columns Hamfests--Shopping for QRP Parts and Supplies Part-1 and Part-2.

    Here is a list for tools.


    B=basic, A=Advanced


    Soldering iron and solder (rosin-core, small diameter)


    Bite the bullet and buy a simple soldering station (preferably with adjustable temperature). You won't be sorry. Although these can be expensive, you don't need to spend hundreds of dollars. You can find them marked down or even on the used market

    Small side cutting pliers (diagonal)


    Small needle nose pliers


    Assortment of screwdrivers


    Volt-Ohm Meter (VOM)


    Desoldering tool (solder sucker)


    Small "third hand" table clamp or vise


    Bright lamp on an adjustable arm


    Makes work with small parts much easier. You can even get fancier ones with magnifying lens, fluorescent and incandescent bulbs.

    Hand ream


    Drill bits


    Knives (X-Acto type)


    Metal files (one flat, one round)


    Wire stripper


    Wire connector crimping tool


    Magnifying headset or lens


    Precision miniature screwdrivers


    Get a set with Straight, Phillips and Torx blades

    Drill bits for circuit board holes


    Stepper drill bit


    For round holes of various sizes in chassis and cases

    Chassis punches


    For round holes of various sizes in chassis and cases

    Soldering gun or higher-power iron


    For soldering large objects

    Frequency counter




    Solder Popper

    Snap Vacuum Solder Popper combines heating element and vacuum system to melt and remove solder from parts that are installed in the wrong holes on a printed circuit board. [Photo by author]

    Reader Feedback and Author Comments

    I hope you all had a good holiday season and received many of the gifts you chose from last month's column. I have received a number of e-mails from QRP Community readers asking about working DX using QRP, so that will be the subject of a future column. If you have any hints for QRP DXing or tales of DXing success with QRP, please e-mail them to me. Share your questions, comments and suggestions for future columns via e-mail too.

    On a personal note, I was able to meet the goals of the Flying Pigs QRP Club 2002 WAS/DXCC Challenge. I also was able to meet my personal goal of working 200 DXCC entities during 2002 using QRP. It was a blast to start again from scratch at the beginning of 2002 and rework QRP WAS and DXCC.

    So, my New Year's advice to all my readers is to get on the air and "Work some QRP in '03!"

    Editor's note: Anthony Luscre, K8ZT, an ARRL member, lives in Stow, Ohio. He has worked in the field of medical microbiology for 18 years and is now a Technology and Computer Coordinator for a local school district. Luscre is an avid QRP operator having earned DXCC, WAS and WAC using no more that 5 W output. Readers are invited to contact the author via e-mail, or visit his Web site.


    Page last modified: 12:46 PM, 31 Dec 2002 ET
    Page author:
    Copyright © 2002, American Radio Relay League, Inc. All Rights Reserved.