While we’re waiting for the market to crater tomorrow… [May load slow due to length and a zillion graphics] This may be a bit on the “longish” today, so if you need to pee or get coffee…better do that first. We’ll wait for you….
Four topics this morning: Best first ham radio stations, how to bug-out program a 2-meter rig, one of our “Lost Industrial Arts” discussions of tool sharpening, and last but now least (under “learning from the kids”) a dandy shopping tip. Ready?
First Ham Radio Equipment
A newish reader (and potential ham) asked a great question this week:
“I found your website attractive in its perspective of events unfolding. I note you have ham radio commentary; I am below novice level understanding of the subject but want to acquire a system (in a just-in-case way.) Will you offer any guidance? Thank you…”
You would think this would be simple as (pick any) pie, pi, of phi. But, it’s not.
I mean sure…when I was learning radio (1963-present)…there were only “just so many” choices. You had shortwave, AM, Morse code, with smatterings of single-sideband, a bite of FM (mainly for commercial and police & fire). Most people don’t realize that when I got my first FM engineering job (1967) stereo was still a new thing. And Aurlex foam for studios? We were stapling up egg cartons and hanging used moving truck mats 4-inches out from walls, ISYN!
Where to begin, then?
Like any big project, we need first to “blue sky” things a bit. Then, pound in some “corner post” and then begin to fence in this perfect radio solution. Got to warn you, though: Even getting the “corner posts” in is a bitch: There’re just too damn many problems.
“Even for basic prepping, though?”
Oh, hell yeah. Let me give you some prepping scenarios and let you fill in the blanks as they might fit with your situation. First part of the Blue Sky is to write down an answer to the question: “What are you prepping for?”
- Disturbances after the election and civil disorder.
- Sub question: At home or on the go?
- Sub-sub question: Phone or computer available?
- Sub-sub-sub question: What kind of endurance?
- Sub-sub-sub-sub-sub question: Active transmit and if so, what portion of the time? (This will define battery size…see?)
Whew. And this is only ONE prepping scenario.
Others (like weather, hard grid down, family health and welfare will generate long strings of dependencies (use case specific) that will then define the “right” choice (or 20!)
A simple answer would be jump on Amazon and pick up a Baofeng two-pack with mics and the programming cable. $75 bucks.
Well, not so fast, bubba.
Owning a radio isn’t going to turn you into a ham – or even a functional radio listener. Let alone operator.
Because you need to understand the process to get the radios programmed. This also applies to people who want to have bug-out radios.
Assuming you want to have simple (easy license) ham ticket and talk around the town a bit – maybe hit the social nets and get one of the kids (or spouse, same diff, lol) involved – the road map to getting the radio programmed and on the air is:
- Get the ham license. Drag the child, spouse, or other along, too.
- Get the radios.
- Collect all the frequency information you will need. (this is a GOSUB routine – you can get as complicated or simple as you want here). Basically you want to include:
- Local simplex frequencies (146.42 and 146.52 on 2-meters)
- Local Ham frequencies (RepeaterBook)
- NOAA weather (Google it, but around 162.55 Mhz.
- Local fire and police (search web)
- A couple of FM stations (go for ones with heavy news content)
- Marine channel 16 if near the coast.
- [If you are planning for home city and bug out use, the list will be longer. Make one set of channels, like 1-49, for city #1 and 50-99 for City #2. Any more channels can be for shared services like weather or that regional FM news station…
- Charge radios, become familiar with basis controls.
- Download CHIRP to program radios. Click here for Windows or, if you’re like us with a back-up Linux machine, load this:
- sudo apt-add-repository ppa:dansmith/chirp-snapshots
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install chirp-daily
- sudo apt-add-repository ppa:dansmith/chirp-snapshots
- Next you will copy your frequency information into CHIRP and hit Google for the fine points of programming the radio. (Been a while: Activate Chirp, turn on radio….yada yada…”
That’s the basic (home town only) VHF/UHF (line of sight radio comms).
What About Long Distance?
Local comms are the norm with a technician class license. One-day quickie class will suffice for most. Download Dan Romanchik’s study guide (read once) and go to a local ham club one-day class. You’ll nail it.
The “grown up” license from here is the General class – with that you get tons of additional privileges. Like use of the HF (3-20 MHz bands where long distance comms live) bands.
The ULTIMATE license is an Extra Class. Where questions like “What term indicates the frequency at which the grounded-base current gain of a transistor has decreased to 0.7 of the gain obtainable at 1 kHz?” (answer: Alpha cutoff frequency).
If you really think you’re ready for the “Extra ticket” try this: “What is the effective radiated power relative to a dipole of a repeater station with 200 watts transmitter power output, 4 dB feed line loss, 3.2 dB duplexer loss, 0.8 dB circulator loss, and 10 dBd antenna gain?” (Answer: 317 watts)
License Needed to Transmit
At least in “normal” times. When “life and property” are in danger, the rules may bend or get tossed.
If the elected government fails? Well, then here comes the junta question: Does the FCC have power or authority if the country is out of control? Harder question. Err on the side of avoiding enforcement actions. Avoidance of the coup (and other people) is your best course, likely. Use the radio as “ears” with big range. Transmit? You mean so someone like me can “direction-find” on your signal? Not to smart…
Would you have transmitted during the Civil War? Key point: Silence is not only Golden but life-saving. Why does SF send their radio ops out 1/4 to 1/2 mile to send traffic back to command? Think about this stuff. So says Comandante Morse.
Sheesh – now we get into that whole mode and HF operator skill thing. How competent do you want to get?
- Basic HF operator: 200-mile day, international range night on voice (single sideband). Try something like an Icom 718 transceiver and a Buckmaster off-center-fed dipole (OCFD). I shop at Gigaparts.com because they have good prices. Remember, the distance (and therefore pleasure) from an HF radio will depend hugely on how high your antenna is hung (100 feet is nice, but 30-35 feet is OK. Much lower is difficult unless you go to a semi-exotic antennas (like a CCD [continuous current distribution] antennas, which are hard to find. Or you could make a large horizontal loop at 30-40 feet, but now you need an antenna tuner and you just blew out of the low-priced, not too complicated ham station.
- Basic HF with some Digital. OK, back to Gigaparts for the Icom version of the Tigertronics sound card interface to the radio.
- Buy the American Radio Relay League book on Digital Communications.
- Download FL-Digi. Get radio and computer “talking.” Even then, some modes (like FT-8) are not exactly “sporting.” (In Ure’s cranky view…)
- HF, Digital, and moving pictures around... OK, step up to Ham Radio Deluxe for your digital control. No, not free. Neither are Porsches…your point?
#1 VHF-UHF with a couple of Baofengs. Tech license. Local ham club.
#2 HF license study and pass at the local club.
#3 Go Shopping!
Icom 718 for HF – new (Gigaparts.com) or used on eBay. You can listen on broadcast band, too…oh and shortwave and time standards for as long as they last, given dem House people wanted to budget axe WWV and such…
#4 Focus on Kick-Ass Wire Antennas. Getting an antenna 50-feet up in trees and talking to Europe on HF is kinda cool.
#5 Get it with a Morse key and paddle. Key until you can do 20 words a minute Morse by hand (straight key) writing it down. Then get on they keyer and stay there until you hit 35 coping in your head. At this level, Morse is another language. You become a digital human.
Now with a regular camera, and all your new radio gear, you can move pictures around, too, though some of the arrogant you call this an “antique art” since large graphics move easily on the web. This moving of slow scan TV images (SSTV) is one of those “arts to prepping” – like char cloth – that you aren’t supposed to “need” but there is no substitute when time comes (if it ever does).
Ham Radio and OCD
Asked some advice from a fellow reader – I was asking which of my two-dozen ham radios I should keep, since I collect and love to work on tube-type gear – he said something to the effect..
“Despite the ‘prevailing wisdom’…. I think you have TOO MUCH HAM GEAR! Most of it is beyond my ken or usage. I really cannot say what would be good or not. I hear the Icom 761 is a good rig, but never used one. I have an Icom 7300 and love it to death. In my later years I have become a huge fan of solid state stuff like that…”
Icom 7300 is a GREAT radio – but about 2X the price of the 718. Deep pockets? Go for it. Unlimited deep pockets? Have you priced the Icom 7851 bundles? $12,500 for the basic radio but toss in a 90-foot tower, several big antennas, rotators, linear amplifiers…. to $35,000 and up. (Careful, your marriage may depend on this decision!) [See why Ure doesn’t live in an HOA restricted area?]
The OCD Part
Laughably, my son’s callsign is KF7OCD – “kay-eff-seven-obsessive compulsive disorder” – but in reality, that’s me.
You may not need 21 complete ham stations. When an experienced retired broadcast engineer can be happy with an Icom-7300, several notches up from the 718…then what people like (Ure) have is not a hobby so much as a disease.
Having just one VHF-UHF radio and ONE HF set-up indicates you still have a social life, may have time for friends still, and may be fully integrated into the workaday world. Try to work on that.
Serially? I’m slowly coming to realize that “prepping” and “hoarding” are next-door neighbors. On the other hand, hoarding works as when CV-19 came along and we had toilet paper and Clorox…that’s when OCD pays off.
I hope this helps…The great “growing up” part of aging is that if you count your pennies, and are thrifty you Can Have It All.
Sure, there are people who point to seven figure bank accounts and call that success. But to me, “He who dies with the most [tools, toys, or ham gear, and let’s not forget the former bunny] wins.”
A huge-long discussion of SDR radios will be along one of these days…
Industrial Arts Sunday
Always wanted to have the ultimate maker’s shop where I could build or repair almost anything. Dream is coming together now as that 2-by-4 laminating job that looked like a dining room table is now emerging as my “sharpening bench.” Tour time!
Every bench needs a “workhorse” grinder. The one above was picked up at one of those traveling tool sales, what…10-years ago? Still works. The cover is off the right side so I can easily change off the medium-hard wheel there for a wire brush set-up. Ferrous? Non-ferrous…who cares – this is the “beater-grinder!”
For more precise grinding…
We’ll see how quickly this one gets a little “shop patina” going. Notice the clear plastic wraps back onto the magnifiers to keep ’em clean?
Two things to rip out of the spouse-house supplies for your shop: Sandwich bags (great for storing went paint brushes between coats so you don’t trash the brush. The other is the roll of Saran Wrap for things like covering plastics and metal to keep it from rusting. Get the real “clingy” stuff. Be stealthy about your supply runs to the house.
Now let’s say you want to do a little knife work:
There’s a belt sander left and a small (5″ I think it is) on the right. Variable speed. When using this (or any) kind of grinder, N-95 mask (N-100 is better) is in order since silica plus metal (triple-especially if aluminum) is bad shit for the lungs.
There’s also a leather strop and some “green rouge” (sorry I forget the grit number) for hair-splitting sharp. (This is the South, so hare-splitting works, mostly. For everything else, there’s a chainsaw.)
Ure’s Sharpening Secret Weapons
Get thee to the wood chop saw and cut as follows: A 30-degree angle, a 25-degree and a 27.5-degree. Marketh yee such and so:
To use them, lean your knife against the “leaning angle” and apply to belt sander like so:
From time to time, you will want to touch up more blunt things like (my wit, or ) a cold chisel: They’re best around 60-degrees. So you flip the 30-degree up on end, like so:
Now you can nail perfect angles. 27.5–degrees is the most popular – so far – among readers for general every-day carry knives.
Sure, 25-degrees is sharper, BUT it doesn’t hold the edge as well. Seriously, are you going to a knife fight or work?
Speak of “plane speaking” – make sure (when you build your own ultimate shop sharpening dept.) not to overlook a plane hone. Not too spendy and ought to come with some oil and a plane blade holder, like so…
You will also need a set of “diamond hones” for this and that. Not expensive but hard to find a good substitute.
There are some purists who really get a deep satisfaction out of working for hours putting the perfect edge on a tool. Me? More the “turn on machine, finish hone, strop and where’s the beer?” But for those who appreciate the art, maybe a…
Nice combo tool – and unlike Bitcoin – it works when the power fails.
Can you guess what this is?
Time’s up: It’s a diamond grinding wheel dressing bar. When you change wheels on a grinder, they can mount ever so slightly out of round. Gently moving this into the wheel (evenly or you won’t fix anything!) will dramatically reduce vibration.
Also…and for projects like lawnmower blades, you can pick up a blade balancer on eBay for under $10-bucks. And for a few bucks more, the pre-angled grinder for a 1/4-inch power drill if your “sharpening bench” is still a waste of resource in the future somewhere. Like $15 bucks on eBay.
The cone-thingy sits on the pointy end and the blade sits down on the cone…One side of the blade will sag. Remove material from the saggy side.
To see all this, you need good lighting. So I got around to putting up “Sky Hook Lighting” this week:
Easy to move around. Three hunks of 2-by-4 with a 3 1/2-inch hunk of 1 3/4 wide 2-by ripped down for the spacer part. (2-by-4’s are 1-1/2″ by 3-1/2″ in the modern world.) Four drywall screws and a dollop of Titebond III and the roof will come down before the hooks holding the lights do.
Still lots of room on the bench, so the other machines are landing there include a chainsaw sharpener:
Place blade in lower chain holder, bring down spinning cutting wheel in “chop saw-like” fashion. Repeat endlessly until you have worn out chain for good.
Another hint: Sharpen slowly. Generates less heat. Take time and “save your (metal’s) temper.
Here’s a sharpener for 8 to 14 inch circular saw blades:
The rest of the bench includes a small Taig metal lathe (a bonus from happy client www.emachineshop.com some 10-years ago…) and a metal chop saw, plus a 24 inch box and pan brake for bending up metal. May be room for the tile saw, too. Gotta find somewhere to store it.
Not a screaming “perfect” sharpening bench, but sure works great so far. When using things now, I use squeeze (bar) clamps to keep the machines from vibrating off the table. Over time, they will get bolted on. Just depends how much they interfere with one another during workflow.
Two Other Shop Tips
First is if you look around on Amazon you can find a variety of cheap clear plastic bags that will do a better job of keeping moisture off your tools than canvas tool covers. They are look a lot “less busy” to my eye… $10-bucks for a hundred bags. About twice the thickness of dry cleaner bags. (Anyone else remember dry cleaners, or is that showing my age again?) Machine bags!
The other thing to keep handy is a bottle of mineral oil (and a small sprayer with water in it, too…). The mineral oil – and a spray can of “sticker remover” or “road and tar remover” works well getting sticky adhesives off your favorite “sharps.” It also got some epoxy off my fingers…so very useful stuff. (Follow with good soap and water and nail brush scrubbing, of course.)
Totally enjoyable process. More as it happens…
Adventures of Gradyvarius
Few realize that chief Nostracodeus programmer Grady up in Canada is also a master violin maker. Here’s his latest project with some notes:
“I found this at a place named “Good Will”. People drop off odds and ends for resale there. It was a Chinese made(ugh!) painted(ugh!) violin in an old violin case that also contained two bows, all for forty dollars. I spent a few days removing the paint from the body, then removed the finger board etcetera and sanded the parts to remove remaining traces of paint and glue then reassembled it. I stained the spruce the redish brown standard violin color. When it dried I hand rubbed the body with three layers of Tung oil, lightly sanding between the coats when each dried.”
What craftsmanship. huh?
Pet peeve around here is how long good finished (tung oil is one, high UV resistant spar varnish is another) takes to really cure out. In my office, six coats of Helmsman spar varnish didn’t cure (fully, rock hard) for like 90 days. I tried heat and all manner of speedo’s but no joy. So if you have found the magic finish (thick as a casting resin, slight yellowish cast for UV, cures fully in 27-minues) could you let me know?
Ultimate Shopping Tip
Prepping tip from super-prepper “daughter #2” –
“Went to Safeway this morning and got a free half pound of potatoes. How? Because when you buy a 3 or 5 pound bag, that’s usually the minimum weight . But, if you weigh a few bags, you can get the Big One.”
Now that’s just dandy! Goes to show that even in our 70’s it is still possible to learn a thing, or two from our children. Now if they would listen on politics….
Back to shop work – may be a bit off our usual schedule this week due to Beta rolling through starting tonight or Monday… and good luck to our friends in Houston with that.
Write when you get rich,