Prepping: Your Electronics, Robotics, and Ham Workbench

OK, you wake up tomorrow morning and the SHTF has actually happened.  People have gone crazy and there’s been a surprise EMP blast. Phones are down, your power is “iffy:” and you don’t know what will happen next…

You whip out your EMP Emergency kit – and what’s in it?

Good-quality shortwave radio.  A couple of FRS radios for neighbors.  A couple of 2-meter ham handhelds – preprogammed with local fire, sheriffs, police and EMS.  NOAA Weather Radio?  Yep.  Tons of batteries in the Fridge?  Check.

Night-vision gear still working?  IR illuminators?

What else would be in the :”dream kit?”

Well, for one thing, a small generator – something on the order of 1,000 watts and enough gasoline to give you 20+ hours of run time.  Stabilized gas, naturally!

This metal monster has everything you’ll need to recover at least your “mission critical” electronics. Comms and NVG – check with anyone who’s got “sandbox” time – these things matter.

There’s no point with trying to fix surface mounted micro-components short of a microscope and experience.  A de-soldering station is a must, also, but at #200 a whack, how many people have them?

Are You Toast?

Maybe not:  In the garbage can  are a bunch of general purpose diodes at ratings up to 10 amps.  And you have that trusty electronics workbench where you’ve been tinkering….  You’ve been using it for things like electronics ham radio perhaps, and maybe robotics – the Raspberry Pi 2 has been  a hoot…now if the GPIB could just drive a linear actuator and…

What’s going to work?

Probably, most of it since you had the brains to keep your bench equipment on a single breaker or power strip.  You bench also happened to be in a part of your home with foil insulation, as well…no?  Basement, then?  This may not be a bad place to set up shop helping people with electronic recovery efforts.

But you’ll need to have thought well-ahead since overnight parts will be a thing of history books for a while…

Test Equipment

Most electronics can be fixed with fairly simple tools IF you know what you’re doing.  With jobs shut down, you’ll have time to figure things out.  Let’s look at a few of the major pieces of test gear that will be useful:  Curtain #1?

On our bench, these are all old-school tube-type pieces of test equipment that have a place in fixing almost anything electronic.  (Left to Right)  An  old vacuum-tube voltmeter (VTVM) which in our case is an elderly RCA VoltOhmyst Senior.  Center, we find an old Heath-Kit signal tracer.  Plug the ground lead onto a piece of equipment under test and turn up the amplifier gain.  You can hear both audio as well as radio-frequency energy.  Just remember to flip the switch on the probe tip.  On left unit is an AC Voltmeter.  This one (optional) is used for peaking (aligning) old radio equipment.  You plug the audio output of something in and instead of “tuning by ear” – what hams call the “Golden Screwdriver Approach” you are actually able to measure the change.  The meter is accurate to withing a fraction of a decibel.  The human ear?  People with studio engineering experience can nail 2.6-3.5 db – with lots of experience.  Absent that, average humans are good for about 6-decibels.  Not so hot…

Where WWV?

The US Government operates a ton of time and frequency standards, the most accessible (low tech) are the shortwave standards at 2.5, 5, 10, 15, and 20 MHz shortwave.  In addition to geomagnetic conditions and forecasts, other useful emergency information might be found there.

Just uno problemo:  If the SHTF involves a glowing atmospheric mushroom, the HF bands may be out of commission for a long time.  You may find a local frequency standard useful.  Something like what we keep behind curtain #2:

That, my friend is a useful piece of equipment and yes, it’s kept unplugged when not in use.  Rhode and Schwarz, 9 KHz to somewhere up near daylight…this is ideal for the kind of communications which will prevail after EMP.  Say hello to FRS, CB, and ham radio.

Sure, cell towers will still be physically present, but remember how much of that infrastructure depends on central office, power grids and working cell phones.

You can pick one of these up for several hundred dollars if you’re diligent shopping.

So, how good is a Rhode?  Well, let me tell you a story.

I was recently working on a piece of equipment – an old TenTec 540 Triton SSB transceiver.  Traced the trouble back to a 40-year old cold solder joint on the RF Bandpass board (the group of four silver coil cans in the foreground here:):

When I put it back together again, the Rhode said the sensitivity was only -98 worked, sure, and for an emergency it would have been fine.  But it just wasn’t right, if you know what I mean.

A little “something” gnawed at the back of my mind.  This was not what I was expecting – after all, I’m an electronics expert and no way in hell should it have been -98 dBm…should have been -120 dBm or better.

Sure enough, I hooked up the EMP Kit radio (A Kenwood TS-430) and tested it.  Again, the radio showed sensitivity of only -95 to -100 dBm.

“Hmmm…what the hell gives?” I thought to myself.  As a former Porsche owner, my faith in German engineering is intense.

Suddenly, it dawned on me:  Could the test lead itself be bad?

Sure as hell…took off the low-end cheap lead and put on one I’d made up myself out of RG-58 cable and better-quality crimp connectors.  Suddenly, the Kenwood was heading -134.7 dBm – about perfect on 40-meters.

Lessons learned?  If the SHTF, and you have any kind of skills in electronics, don’t just pack the garbage can with EMP goodies like new style equipment.  There’s a reason for the brisk trade on eBay in ham radio circles for 30-80 year old tube-type equipment.  Most of the components (*like tubes and capacitors) can still be found at reasonable prices.

And, if you’re addicted to a particular brand of equipment, you’ll quickly find sources like where you can find the same “can type” capacitors (with modern guts to ’em) and it really makes for first-class restorations.

The discussion doesn’t stop with ham gear.  What would be the potential after-EMP value of a few dozen Raspberry Pi‘s and some old laptops with fresh batteries that are able to load code and maybe converted over to Linux and a couple of spare power supplies?  Fortunes have sprung from more humble beginnings.

See it?  People plan for the “One Second After” but it’s the two months after that scares us.  We plan on being able to field (out of the blue) for our surroundings, a whole low=frequency emergency system that will be comprised of GMRS, CB, and ham radios.  The antennas are easy, but the comms could be critical.

One Last Hint

If you’re planning for the Great Recovery, then it makes sense to enjoy electronics as a hobby long before you’ll need it as a life-skill.  For Mr. ADHD, the biggest problem with electronics is the billions of small parts.  Here are two simple ideas how to cope with “parts overflow”

Idea #1

Elaine doesn’t take any medicines and I only take 2-pills a day.  BUT, if you catch the people at the pharmacy in a good mood…the larger pill bottles serve as perfect small parts containers.

Since we recommended a label printer as a “second printer” long ago, it’s simple to keep things nearly organized and it makes the troubleshootizing and restorification (we like the sound of those two words) a lot easier and more enjoyable.

Idea #2:

You can get component kits (resistors, capacitors, inductors, zener diodes, and all manner of goodies including, oh, alligator clips of assorted sizes, in nice plastic boxes if you shop around a bit.  Here in the upper left (above picture) you can see part of my “stash.”  End label them so you know what you’re pawing through.

Most used kit so far?  The assorted pre-cut different diameter shrink-wrap tubing.

BTW, got 50 propane lighters in your SHTF kit?  They ought to go for many favors and such because he who has fire…well, you read history, I assume.  Paraffin waterproofed stirke-anywhere matches are good, too.  Plumbers candles, 24-hour oil lamps…oh-=oh…off the beaten path again…

Back to Resilient electronics to wrap up:  Yes, you can beat the shit out of the piggy bank and toss a Fluke 115 Compact True-RMS Digital Multimeter in your EMP Can, Case of batteries, too.  But you can spent a lot less to measure things, and get yourself into serous learning mode.  Whether it’s robotics, ham radio, or just collecting a few old low–memory slow laptops to play with, there’s no substitue for learning which is what hands-on electronics is all about.

Any damn fool can toss $150 in the garbage can.  Takes advanced fools like us to figure-out a way to learn and enjoy the process while doing so…

An idiot with a Fluke, manual, not parts and no experience?  Or the old-school that got us this far?  Doesn’t seem like a hard bet to place, does it?

Write when you get rich,

de AC7X

18 thoughts on “Prepping: Your Electronics, Robotics, and Ham Workbench”

  1. Great article! All I can add is maybe think about propane for the generator – stores forever(?). I have 2 that run on gas or propane and propane works great.

      • That’s why George , you get one of those Tri-Fuel jobs. Runs on household gas , propane and gasoline. ( There’s a place in Maine that will retrofit your carbs to run on all three. )

        Think too of all of the backyard BBQ’s with those cylinders. If we’re at the point of siphoning cars , those canisters must be considered. Lots of propane tanks around town too.

        Here’s one situation I have never heard mentioned in all of the preparing talk about EMP’s. So I’m a bad guy. I have the US in my sites. If I have one device , certainly you would have two. ( “they” can operate under the thought of “one is none , two is one” ). We’re hit. Give it time , let us rebuild. Break out all of our preps , then BAM , hit us again to wipe out all of the gizmos hidden in the faraday cages.

        I can only see prepping as something one would do for eq’s , hurricanes etc. Mid level events. If we go big big big , we’re all screwed.

        My .02

    • George, you mention throwing some batteries in the can as well??? I have never been concerned with an EMP on bstteries. Should I be? And from what I read the jury is still out on solar cells, except maybe the return flow blocking diode??

      • Virtually all “advanced energy cells” (Li-Ion and Ni-MH batteries) are chipped, even the ones which have the shape and packaging of a “conventional battery.”

      • There again it depends on where you are..from the last projected strike zones see how far..500 miles no worries just make sure you can stop the back flash surge. If its 0-50 miles then assume the position and kiss your azz good buy. If your in a major city then sweat the wrath of everyone that hasn’t prepared.
        Make sure your can is grounded as to will absorb and collect the energy

      • It won’t actually be the blast that will get you.. but the aftermath.. lets say five get off in the upper atmosphere it would start a domino drop.. around the epicenter you would have rampant fires from the backflash of energy going through the wires thrusting us back five thousand years.. we would have to start all over..
        industry.. hmm we have pretty much screwed ourselves there to.. in the search for money and riches we shipped the vast majority of our industry over seas.. the last time I had read anything the projected time to retool america was over five years.. for electrical components to rebuild the grid would be ten years.. oh hey.. the ones that build the parts for us to rebuild with a time period of ten years or more is the same country that probably would devistate our country with an emp strike.. not to mention the earthquake machine.. hmm.. deep sound vibrations.. if you hit the right frequency burst it could make everything even worse.. do it before winter.. by spring they would be able to just walk in offer assistance to anyone left standing or take that last ten percent out.. then seal up the DUMB ( deep underground military bunkers) let those in tombed stay there.. I have been in a couple of them in the past.. they are nice but they still are nothing more than a fancy crypt many are in lava flow fields and fault lines.. LOL..( that took some real deep thinking huh ) .. fuel.. if you can make it.. know how to make it.. how to distil it.. you won’t have any troubles.. If anyone had any brains they would legalize Marijuana.. hmm why you might ask.. it is one of the most versatile plants on the planet. eats radio active waste like no tomorrow and replaces it with useful bi-products.. can be made into building materials fuel food clothing paper etc.. and pharmaceuticals..
        History has taught us that someone wanting to use it for recreational purposes will whether or not it is legal.. the same thing with alcohol.. and the versatility of that one plant is so vast that on a list of good and bad the good out lists the bad but such a margin that it cannot even be compared.. In a SHTF scenario building materials can be made without the use of heavy machines in ninety days.. hempcrete is just one of many of them.. not to mention carbon fibers etc.. batteries.. for me in a SHTF scenario that is what I want growing in a field close would be able to rebuild in no time at all.. and fuel.. generators lamps cooking oils clothing.. simple and elegant..

  2. Well.. I’m with cave on the a real SHTF scenario where ever infrastructure is sound enough to allow it the natural gas spigot will be opened for everyone.
    The tuner lol lol..I loved that one long time ago in a time I’d rather forget..I was laid up the best part of a year. A friend of mine heard of a guy that built himself a data life on a journey several hundred miles was winters goal was to build one so I wouldn’t be forced to stomach soap operas to radio shack get three,dc,and rf, circuitry..a cigar box project was born..since I did etching and diamond wheel liths it wasn’t hard making the boards. It was harder finding a marker and gluing the gold Leaf to the the gold leaf would stick to my hands..after all the work of building it came time to calibrate it..a piece of equipment that at the time was way over a half million..I barely made two dollars an hour.. So i would sit on top of the ladder and make micro adjustments and yell..can you see anything yet…lol lol lol..what’s even funnier is I would catch myself looking up in the sky as if I could see the satalites…lol lol lol..needless to say I won’t be doing that again..the dish I build was as big as my house

    There are many ways to make fuel..during the gas rationing days farmers would buy gassifiers and mount them on the front of their tractors and in the back of their trucks.
    Then you have alcohol or trash. Everything is energy..but that Styrofoam cup the soap bottle etc. Isn’t anything more than spun and stabilized oil product. That’s why they say not to microwave it. And it can easily be reconverted to oil gas etc. With low energy consumption on the process. We daily dump enough oil in our trash for hundreds of years.
    If you live near oil sands better yet..

    EMP.. A real threat and hat I would suspect would be how an attack would be carried out.
    First start with series of rhythmic deep earth vibrations..then as earthquack swarms begin pop a few off over power grids..then let nature to sort out. Projected 90% death..then come in as the saviors to the survivors and seal up the DUMB bunkers for the military and the wealthy that’s invited to stay there.
    Efficient and doesn’t destroy the land and natural resources.

    Now how big of a threat does that pose on the average home..
    It depends.. If you take a fluorescent light bulb and walk towards a power distribution center the closer you get the bulb will light up. That’s an EMP in high altitude nuclear blast that wave is stronger at the epicenter and spreads out. The power lines act like a tesla antenna and absorb and distribute that energy. Because of its strength it would burn up the lines and power stems like dead short.
    Which is why view our department of mercy as drooling idiots. They pile everything in one place. They should b pushing solar and wind to everyone making it easy to acquire and install. Who cares what it costs those numbers are just made up anyway. Put smaller solar collection towers at every lift station..(China is doing just that as we talk about it)
    Instead of national security they’re more interested in the profits of a very few people

    • God I hate auto correct on the phone..satellite, department of energy instead of mercy… Lol and I view them as drooling idiots.
      But then who in the heck am I..some dink in the middle if no where a bank account that matches my ugly hat and cowlick hair that always looks like I just electrocuted myself.
      What I think doesn’t mean a thing.

  3. Pill Bottles?! OMG I have sorted resistors, caps, diodes, transistors, into brown kraft ‘coin envelopes’ 2-1/4″x 3-1/2″. Each envelope is marked with the value or part number. These are stood in rows in cardboard file boxes, and grouped into larger plastic tubs for each type of part. Importantly… they are all filed, and I can find anything by numeric search of the filed envelopes.

    Bulkier stuff like switches and connectors get their own plastic drawer in the ‘parts bureau’.

  4. A few points, in no particular order:

    I’ve been building and fixing things for about
    the last 300 years it seems, so I have some
    experience to draw upon.

    A Very Large Percentage of the time The Problem
    with a “broken” device is electro-MECANICAL,
    and not some subtle deep electronic thing. Chips
    and sophisticated parts will be UNobtanium when
    SHTF is in effect. Kits of basic-basic parts, caps,
    resistors, connectors, etc are available from ‘Zon.
    Now is the time to stock up.

    People with a logical mind, and some very basic
    tools and measurement instruments can fix an
    amazing percentage of busted gizomos with some
    Method, and Persistance. (I plan to make this a
    business in my garage when/if SHTF on a First
    Echeleon, Best Effort basis for “money” or for
    barter — depending on how bad/long The Thing
    has been going on.)

    To the fellow thinking about EMP effect on
    batteries. (In storage in cardboard boxes is
    assumed) Not to worry. Damn near immune.

    “The D-minus Extra”

  5. Save…I am fairly sure that’s how they have them sequenced..
    Once the clock is ticking wham.. Then wave two..hammer them hard and continue..
    It would be mutual though..they slam us we slam them. If history has any credibility we would be the ones to initiate any aggression and they would be the defenders.. Of course we would be the aggressors in the name of peace and tranquility though.. Not because they have something someone wants.
    The difference is prep..china, has bunkers for 4th he general population. They have routine drills. They have been aggressive in stabilizing their grid. Through solar coal wind..spreading out the power production..Russia the same thing. Along with distributing their Klub-k defense system. Beck a missile launch pad could be next to you now along with their remote controlled tanks helicopters etc. Many of the world’s countries have similar drills and provisions for their population..
    What do we have here.. A few years ago they had a drill..were you instructed to go to the shelter do you even know where the nearest one is..I know where the nearest one is from me I also know I am not invited…lol lol..
    A few years ago there was a regional meeting around here where they wanted each community to write up a plan in the event of a catastrophic event. I helped write ours..what I proposed was not a basic lets hide strategy but a lets work together plan. Know who does what where everything is. The old civil defense books pushed that as a strategy decades ago.
    Since then the country has moved away from that. The Mormon church sort of has that in mind..I think it was Monson that wrote an article on whether everyone was willing to pool their resources for those that didn’t have the foresight to prep. Instead I think the people took the NOAH approach..I built the boat you can’t come in..

  6. Last I heard the proposed budget cut WWV & WWVH out just to save $7M !!! Google ” save WWV ” and go sign petitions like at and etc.


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