Catch up to Builders Fest


Builders Fest


Morristown Hamfest


January 6, 2018


How many times have we heard it? I am going to catch up? For get about it! We are Amateurs and we don’t need no stinkin Catchup!

We need a Hamfest, and we need a Builders Fest.

And we need to know more about Jack.  Do you know Jack?

And maybe a few of you want to know more about µBITX…

You might even enjoy seeing some heavily modified BitX40’s…

An indoor Hamfest with fantastic prizes, timely speakers, a very up close and personal Builders Fest and Roundtable, with ‘Best in Show’…..okay….it ain’t 1pm yet…..see you then.

Workstation ? Is it right for you?

What are you waiting for?

Lakeway Amateur Radio Club started a Builders Group. It happened when a new Ham, newly licensed a few weeks shy of a year ago, wanted to sit next to another Ham and Build something. Seems like an easy task, to find another Ham to sit next to and Build Something. But, that wasn’t the case. Building one’s own equipment used to be a big part of Amateur Radio, but, over the years this has changed to a community of appliance operators, with a lot of buttons and dials, even more modes of operation, and a Gazillion QSL cards.  But, for most of the Hams, no clue what is going on in the box.

This generated a lot of excitement. There were Canned Hams (on the hoof), Pixies (not the ones that fly), 49r’s (not the ones looking for gold), BitX’s (a real education of what Amateur Radio is about and can be about), Arduinos ( all kinds of these critters…Nanos, Unos, Megas and who knows what else? ). Then besides choosing soldering irons, what kind of solder, what size of wire, what power supply (plug in or battery), what breadboard, what is a Dupont jumper? Just what seems as an endless list of questions before one can start building.

So, the next step for most was to get online and buy a kit.  Which kit? Well the one that did the mostest, for sure.  After all, we are used to all of those buttons and dials and modes and kilowatts.  Why would one want to build a milliwatt transceiver? Indeed !

There is an ongoing debate whether Amateur Radio is a solo or a team sport…

Clubs are teams, when one is operating alone in their shack…it could be said that they are operating solo….OR…Are they? Are they communicating with themselves?  Just something to think about.

Back to the kits.

So, this club, this Builders Group winds up with a bunch of individuals with different kits and different goals going in different directions…as it should be.  But, what could be is a Club of Hams working together completing their individual projects, instead of what I am seeing….a lot of kits, still in cardboard boxes.

Some of this Chaos was by design, and some of it by inexperience in a new function of old Club.  Today, that changes.

This newly minted Ham of almost a year, who wished this Builders Group into existence, might not know much about Amateur Radio, but he first learned Electronics in the Way Back, also known as the early 70’s, (not to be confused with Old Timers, from the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, which we are fortunate enough to have a few in the Club)….so, back to the new Ham. He had another idea. And he found a few other Hams with ideas, and they are working together to….

Too many kits are sitting in cardboard boxes and are not assembled. This was not the new Hams wish.  How did his electronics journey start? On a workstation…on an Air Force Base, in a room with a about a dozen other electronics newbies, with a one very knowledgable electronics tech roaming around the room, helping light up a bunch of light bulbs…

But, workstations are expensive, and usually they are very specific to a given purpose, or on the other hand they do everything except what one wants…unless we make our own.  Make them simple, make them cheap, but, durable, useable, scalable, functional….basically an ALL workstation by being none of what is available commercially.  Just a foundation for learning and building is what is necessary.

This new Ham is part of a Committee (that still has room and needs more ideas) working on the future of the Builders Group.  We believe that everyone wants to be successful in building what ever kit or home-brew idea that one has.  As a Club, WeCan, help each other get there. If we sit at home and look at a cardboard box, probably not.  If twenty of us show up and everyone wants to do something different, then that will work as well as the cardboard box in the closet.

Or…..we can lay a Foundation….a Workstation.

I hope to see each and every one of you at the next Builders Group meeting:

3rd Saturday of each Month
Jefferson City Library
2pm to 5pm (extended to 7pm)
Plenty of time for building.







RadioShack coming back to Jeff City

Builders News recently visited one of the remaining RS franchise stores and….

discovered that Jefferson City, TN was soon to have a new RadioShack Store.

This is good news for Builders Group members and the Ham Community at large.  It wasn’t very long ago one could drive to either Jefferson City or Morristown and pick up a SO-239 connector or search through the parts drawer for a slim chance (at least) at finding that component needed for your next project.  Then one by one, most of the local RadioShack company stores were liquidated and closed shop.  The end of an era?

Maybe not…

When pulling up a store locator search on the RS website, there still appears to be over a hundred stores that are open…franchise stores. So, I visited the RS in Sieverville, TN and spoke to the manager.  What follows is maybe a glimmer of hope for the Ham Community for a small return to yesteryear….or at least a chance for it.

I asked the manager if he knew why his parts drawer for IRF510 Mosfets was empty? He guessed that it was used in Vaping Machines….and maybe he is right on that count.  But, the IRF510 is also used as the output for the popular project radio, the BitX40.  (Trying to plant back the seed, that half of the company’s name is RADIO) I had his attention then.  We walked around the parts drawer and discussed not only what I would want to see in the parts drawer….but, why I would want the item….how popular and common is repair or construction done that requires that component? Maybe just maybe, some of the ‘new’ RS stores are ready to be a partner with the Ham Community again.  We discussed the good ole days, when there was a technician of sorts and a bench in the back of the ole Radio Shack….

I was told to check out the new RadioShack in Jeff City when it opens in the coming weeks….as there would be a ‘makers’ area in the store.  This is exciting.

We also discussed what a new Ham might be looking for, those inexpensive HT’s, all of the associated connectors, cables, maybe a magnet mount cut for 2 meters, and then all of the Radio Kit builders that out there constantly looking for supplies, whether Radio or Microcontrollers.

So, give them a try again, and tell them what you will buy, maybe next time you to RS you will actually find what you are looking for.

Builders Group Meetings

Building and Soldering – LARC Builders Group
3rd Saturday of Month
2:00 PM to 5:00 PM
Library – Large Conference Room
108 City Center Drive
Jefferson City, TN 37760

Monthly LARC Meeting Schedule
4th Thursday of Month
5:00 pm Builders Group, Room 2
5:00 pm VE Testing, Room 1
6:00 pm Social Gathering and/or extended Builders Group overrun Rm 2
6:00 pm Board Meeting Room 1
7:00 pm Main Program LARC Monthly Meeting Rm 2
7:00 pm Refreshments Rm 1



What is a Breadboard?

How to use a Breadboard?

Fritzing?  Kicad?  Eagle?

How about a Tutorial?

How to use a Breadboard – Sparkfun Site

How to use a LCD with an Arduino?

Arduino – Liquid Crystal – Tutorial



What is Solder?

What is Soldering?

What is needed to Solder?

How about a Tutorial?

“How to Solder: Through-Hole Soldering “ from Sparkfun Site

Soldering two wires together   – from Doc Green’s Woodturner Site

Repairing a broken Trace


Field Day is First Hands On Builders Group Meeting

Field Day and First Hands on Builders Group Meeting

June 24, 2017 – June 25, 2017

All are welcome, Come join us at Lakeway Amateur Radio Club at the Boys and Girls Club on Hyw 92, in Jefferson City, TN

Two Builders Group Sessions will be offered, so all will have a chance to attend. Times to be determined.  Also open time slots, so bring your projects. Also, a test bench will be available to check voltages, resistance, look at waveforms with an O’ Scope…plenty of fun.

Not to conflict with the Purpose of Field Day, this is an Educational Event held ‘AS PART’ of Field Day.  As the Radio Amateur is not only permitted to operate a Radio within the Proper License Class one holds…BUT, one is also ENCOURAGED to experiment within the ‘Spectrum’ that is allocated to Amateur Radio, and it is HUGE, and VAST, and not even imaginable in some ways….yet.

See what Amateur Radio is all about:

  • Watch or actually operate a Ham Radio
  • Build a two transistor Morse Code Radio that not only receives, but you can also transmit, if you have a license.
  • Assemble a MicroController and a LCD that can be combined with a Radio Project, make simple program Code changes to make your little ‘computer’ do what you want it to do.
  • Find out what it takes to become a Ham
  • Socialize
  • So much more….


Computer (Windows, OSX, Linux) with Internet access
Download Arduino IDE
Wire Jumpers (Dupont or standard solid 22 gauge AWG)
Misc: LED’s, Resistors, Switches, Sensors, unlimited circuit add ons.
Arduino (Uno R3 ATMega, Nano or ?)
Not necessary to buy genuine arduino, as clones perform the same function, and clones are the purpose of the Arduino platform. Explained, these devices are open source, which allows anyone to duplicate them and even change them and sell them, as long as they remain open source (no secrets).
USB cable, depends on which Arduino you get. Most devices are sold with correct cable. You probably have one in your junk box.
At first meeting, we will together as Hams, because We Can, work through installing the IDE (Integrated Development Environment) fancy words for where you program your Arduino. We will make our devices blink a LED, at whatever rate and for ever how long you desire, and then change it to something else. So we will learn to make simple code changes.
If you have a LCD screen, a breadboard, the required jumpers, and misc stuff, we can get your Arduino to scroll your Name, or something else across the screen.
LCD: in simplest form and least expensive, a 16 X 2 Display based on HD44780 or IC2, difference being a few dollars and the cheaper one uses more of your Arduinos pins, the cheaper ones are becoming harder to find, but are listed in most projects you will find. Not a problem, either can used in most projects.

Book: Arduino Projects for Amateur Radio by Dr. Jack Purdum and Dennis Kidder.

You may find this book helpful.  We will be using it.


Pixie 40 meter CW transceiver kit. Often listed as Pixie 2. Every vendor circuit board is a little different, NO PROBLEM. It is a 2 transistor circuit, add ons don’t matter. Also, mostly sold as a Extra Class Ham radio, being Rock Bound (crystal controlled with one frequency), BUT, again, NO PROBLEM, as crystals can be obtained for a few dollars for other portions of the 40 meter band, so everyone can play, and that is just more modifications or more building going on.
Get a Pixie kit.

Soldering stations will be available at meetings (at least one) with experienced operator to aid with assistance if necessary. If you want to solder yours at home, thats great, too.
If you don’t know how or what to solder with, just wait until the first Builders group meeting. That will be covered and demonstrated.
If you have soldering equipment, and solder, then bring it. Desoldering gear, too, if you have it. Hand tools, only a few, and small please.


As this is WeCan
It is therefore….we will figure it out. This is a work in progress….

Why these Projects?

As discussed at the Lakeway Amateur Radio Club Monthly meeting in April, one of the ‘Tracks’ in the initial Builds of the Builders Group would be on a Radio Track. This Radio track would be one of increasing complexity.  But, even though it would start with the simplest project that could be found, be short in duration, the Track would ultimately end in a rich featured transceiver that could be understood in its operation, in its theory, and its construction could be tackled by most anyone alone, or anyone with help from others in the Group.

The initial Radio Project will be focused on the Pixie. This little transceiver is found through many sources: from parts lists that you source yourself, to easily assembled kits of through hole components and pre printed PCB’s that can be purchased online for less than the price of a cup of coffee at most places, through a fully assembled kit with a few extra features for less than the price of most fast food sandwich meals.

Pixie Kit
Pixie 40 Meters CW Transceiver Kit

Success ratio of completed kits should be high.  As no one should feel they are going alone on this one.  There are many successful Builds showcased on the internet and in print, and even if unsuccessful in first Build for whatever reason, the cost of a replacement kit is well worth the learning experience if it takes more than one attempt.

One of many Pixie Videos on the Internet.

Another reason the Pixie was chosen as the first Project, is the abundance of Modifications and enhancements that can be found with very little effort.  So, not only will the first Project be one of watching a pile of parts become a functioning Radio, but, also the opportunity to incorporate the enhancements of others to expand the whole experience, with hopefully the addition of something totally new by someone in the Group once the creative process takes over from the mere assembly of parts and following in the footsteps of others.

With the tremendous amount of man hours that have been devoted to Pixie Builds and Documentation, this little Project can be studied for its Radio Theory by following those who have ventured here before us.  Circuits from the Amateur Radio License Tests will come together under the soldering iron, and come alive under the Oscilloscope and DVM.  With only a handful of components and as many circuits that are doing Double Duty by design (we will know why this is by the end of the Project) those who are studying to advance in License Class with undoubtably advance in understanding of Radio Theory.

Pixie Kit on the Bench
Pixie Kit on the Bench

This has only been a ‘few’ of the reasons for choosing the Pixie.  Look for similar Posts for the next two Projects in the Radio Track: the Forty 9er, and the BitX40.  See you on the bench.

16 x 2 LCD Display: To I2C or Not?

I2C or HD44780?

Is that the Question?

After careful consideration…or more like some frustration…I have some recommendations based on my experience.

If just starting out with Arduinos and LCDs, then if possible use a display that is just a HD44780 labeled device.  You will be using a parallel device, meaning you will use more of the I/O pins, either 7 pins in 4 Bit Mode or 11 pins in 8 Bit Mode.  The preferable Mode is 4 Bit Mode for the simple reason that you will be left with more pins to work with.

HD44780 parallel example link…

Then, there will be cases where you need more open I/O pins.  In this case, you want to I2C.  What exactly is I2C, and how is it different, and what is different about how you put one in a circuit?

I2C is a serial wired LCD, that can also be a HD44780.  This is accomplished by a little backpack PCB that rides on the back on the LCD display.  This allows you to use only a total of 4 pins to control the display. There are a few extra steps involved, and if one is a Arduino novice, these can be frustrating. You will have to find the right ‘Library’, learn to use the ‘Arduino Library Manager’ and insure that your ‘Sketch’ has the correct ‘Device Address’ so that the Arduino can find the Display on the ‘Bus Route’.

I2C serial backpack example link…