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Troubleshooting 101: Your toolkit
Having the right tool for the repair at hand is important. Life being what it is, you never know what you might be called upon to fix, and being an amateur radio operator most definitely opens up possibilities that the average homeowner will not encounter! While a typical household toolkit will include hand tools like a few sets of pliers, a hammer, perhaps a wood saw and a hacksaw, screwdrivers and some wrenches among other simple tools, the ham’s toolkit will add a few tools related to electronics.
When I was growing up, my dad made a living by selling and repairing office machines, particularly typewriters. That work was mostly dealing with mechanical devices, and dad had plenty of tools specific to the job. There were lots of screwdrivers, specialty pliers and other hand tools designed to get at small parts in tight places. Typewriters of the day were both mechanical and electric. Mechanical calculators were such an amazing conglomeration of cogs and tiny moving parts that I still stand in amazement when I think of how the clattering devices could come up with solutions to math problems! Anyway, dad had collected and organized all of his tools and his workspaces to complete diagnoses and repairs on these machines as efficiently as possible.
It takes time and experience to build a workshop and collect the right tools for an activity like amateur radio. I started decades ago with some of my own hand tools, like wrenches, which I needed to do antenna work. I didn’t want to have to borrow my dad’s tools. Not having much to spend as a teenager, I bought a set of “Globemaster” wrenches. They were stamped “Made in India” and I still have some of them today. I couldn’t even begin to guess how many miles they have on them just going up and down towers! Of course I acquired a multimeter from Radio Shack when I felt that I could really afford to splurge. A cheap SWR bridge of the type used with CB radios worked for my antenna needs, and dad helped me choose a soldering pencil and showed me how to correctly heat and flow the solder over a clean joint to make a solid connection. Dad used a propane torch for some of his parts soldering, so I learned how to use that to make outdoor connections, soldering my antenna wires.
Over the years I have collected lots of tools. I have a frequency counter, an oscilloscope, a transistor tester, several multimeters – both analog and digital, SWR meters, a logic probe, a frequency generator with selectable waveforms, lots of hand and power tools, and those old Globemaster wrenches. It’s worth noting that most of these tools really are not what I call “core” tools. Using an oscilloscope is a rare thing for me, but the small hand tools like side cutters and screwdrivers get used all the time. That’s partly because they have to do service in the repair of typical household items. You can get started building your tool collection logically by getting a good set of screwdrivers, nut drivers, and pliers, including needle nose pliers. You will need a couple of side cutters, probably a miniature pair and a larger pair for cutting and stripping wires. A multimeter is a definite plus as an early purchase, because you will use it for household repairs as well as for radio work. Many of them include an audible continuity tester, something that really comes in handy when checking coaxial cables for shorts and open circuits. Good quality electrical tape, such as that made by 3M, is a useful item to have in your toolbox. And speaking of a toolbox, you might want to have several of those as well. I like the smaller plastic ones with a couple of trays to help keep things sorted out. A bigger metal one may be the best bet for tools like hammers, saws, and plumbing tools.
One thing you will learn by experience is which tools to put in a small toolbox to take along on most of your projects. When you get good at doing simple repairs, you likely have gotten the hang of grabbing the right tools before setting out for the garage or back yard, or the Field Day site. If you have ever been working on a Field Day antenna and needed a wrench that you forgot to bring, you know how frustrating a poorly-stocked toolbox can be. Going to Field Day? Why not start a checklist so that you are sure you’ll have all the tools you need?
Don’t forget about safety! Whether you are working on projects around the house or yard or at the Field Day site, you will still sometimes need gloves or eye protection – and yes, even if you are blind you do need eye protection. Some basic safety gear to consider as you build your tool collection might be:
Safety glasses or goggles – use for lots of stuff around the house, and for antenna work or during soldering.
Gloves – great for hand protection while gardening or installing masts!
Extension cords with third wire for ground – help to prevent electric shock when using power tools.
Hearing protection – perfect for saving your hearing while vacuuming the carpets or while using power tools.
Hard hat – protects your noggin while trimming trees or while working on a tower project when someone drops a wrench from 30 feet up.
Ground fault interrupters – excellent shock protection!
Proceed logically with your tool collecting. Acquire the usual household tools and safety gear first, then add the meters and other less often used gear later on. If your capabilities in tool use are limited, start simple and learn what works for you and what doesn’t. Asking for help through your local radio club is usually an option, and actually makes a lot of sense for anyone, because there will be times when you only need some esoteric and expensive tool once, so why not ask a fellow club member who owns one to help you out? Everyone should have at least one pair of hearing protectors around the house, but it is perfectly understandable if you don’t care to own a chain saw or an oscilloscope.
Know your limitations. If you cannot see to use some power tools safely, you can concentrate on building a collection of hand tools that you can use independently. If you are unable to lift and climb, you are not going to need a climbing harness. This is not rocket science, but it does bear mentioning because we don’t always know our own limitations without trying something first. This is a very individual thing, so I recommend keeping an open mind and trying new things – but with someone experienced in operating that new power tool or doing soldering. Having a spotter available during a project like using a table saw or climbing a tower is essential. I recall one of my ham radio friends who severed his fingers with a power saw. Thankfully there was help nearby! Using tools when you are tired or not feeing well, or – heaven forbid – when you have been drinking alcohol, is a prescription for disaster.
Having a good, basic set of tools that you are comfortable using should be your goal. Now, let’s get out there and fix something!
Send your ideas about troubleshooting for possible inclusion in this column to:
Patrick Tice [email protected] Handiham Manager
Looking for a TS-480SAT? Here’s your chance!
Tom Behler, KB8TYJ, writes:
I think I’m just about ready here to take the plunge and order a Kenwood TS-590S HF transceiver. Before doing so, however, I am going to have to sell one of my TS480’s. You know: It’s the old “radio in, radio out” principle.
So, here’s what I’ve got, and what I’m proposing:
TS-480 SAT, which includes the mobile mounting bracket and all original accessories plus the VGS1 voice guide, and a 500 HZ CW filter. I also have a number of Braille and electronic documentation files on the radio, including the manual, a key-chart, menu list, and other assorted goodies. I bought this TS480 slightly used back in the Spring of 2008, and it has served me well. It is in good working order, and I’ve never had a problem with it.
I’m asking $900 for the entire package, and that will include shipping within the USA. If the VGS1 is not needed, I’ll take it out of the unit, and drop the price down to $850. I would prefer payment in the form of either a postal money order, or certified cashier’s check. I have advertised the rig in other places, but really would prefer it to go to a fellow blind ham, or other Handiham member who could take full advantage of its great accessibility. If you have questions, or want more specifics, please e-mail me personally at: [email protected]
Blind users: Call for assistance with Elecraft K3 screenreader project
The Elecraft K3 has earned a reputation as an excellent, high-performance 160 through 6 meter rig. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a software program to collect data from the radio and return it in a blind-accessible format? Well, listen to what Mike, NF4L, says:
I’m Mike Reublin NF4L. I have written a program that collects the responses that an Elecraft K3 can return, and puts it on the computer screen, so a user’s screen reader can say it. I’m in late testing, and it was suggested that some of the Handiham members might be interested in helping me test. And to use it when it’s released.
If this is of interest to you, how can I make the request to the sight impaired community?
This has the backing of Elecraft, and it’s free.
73, Mike NF4L
Can you help Mike with this project? If so, he would like to hear from you. Contact him via email at nf4l at nf4l dot com.
Please feel free to share this story with the blind ham community. Let’s get the word out to as many potential beta testers as we can!