Design & Build Part 2: Multi-Band, Phasing SSB, and SDR

 

Amateur radio is the ultimate hacker’s hobby. You can design, build, and put on the air your own high power transceivers. And with this homemade gear you are able to reach out directly, not relying on any infrastructure whatsoever, to connect with people all over the world. It is a thrilling experience to communicate with that long distance station using equipment you created, where you know at that instant what every single transistor is doing as you key down the mic.

In a previous post I described how SSB radio equipment worked and provided an example of a single-band 20m SSB transceiver. In this post I will discuss a multi-band SSB transceiver, an entire homemade amateur station including amplifiers, and conclude with software defined radio (SDR) that you can make in one weekend.

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Low-Voltage Tesla Coil Uses a Relay Instead of a Spark Gap

[Teodor] writes in with a unique Tesla coil he designed and built. Unlike most Tesla coils, [Teodor]’s design is able to run with a fairly low input voltage because it doesn’t use a static spark gap like most Tesla coils. Instead, his coil uses a relay in place of a spark gap.

[Teodor] built his coil using leftover components from his old school, making good use of some parts that might have otherwise been thrown away. The most critical component of his circuit, the relay, is just a standard normally-closed relay that is rated at 20A. [Teodor] wired the relay so that it energizes its own coil whenever it is shut. This causes the relay to briefly open every time the coil is energized, creating a resonant circuit. The resonant circuit charges a tank capacitor and places it in series with the primary coil inductor every time the relay closes, forming the tank circuit of his design.

With [Teodor]’s design, the resonant frequency of the secondary is nearly identical to that of the primary. This creates a significant voltage boost, helping produce very high voltages from such a low input voltage. The only downside to this design that [Teodor] recently discovered is that the relay contacts get red-hot after a few minutes of operation. Not optimal, but it still works! Check out [Teodor]’s writeup for more details and instructions on how to build your own.

Turning Plastic Milk Jugs into a Useful Tool

[Peter] obviously enjoys getting to work in his wood shop. He also likes turning things into other things. With his latest project, he combines his two hobbies by turning plastic milk jugs into a plastic joiner’s mallet.

[Peter] started out by collecting and “processing” the milk jugs. Milk jugs are commonly made with HDPE. HDPE is a petroleum-based plastic with a high strength-to-density ratio. It’s easy to recycle, which makes it perfect for this type of project. We’ve even seen this stuff recycled into 3D printer filament in the past. The “processing” routine actually just consists of cutting apart the jugs with a razor blade. [Peter] mentions in the past that he’s used a blender to do this with much success, but he’s unfortunately been banned from using the blender.

Next, all of the plastic pieces are piled up on a metal try to placed into a small toaster oven. They are melted into one relatively flat, solid chunk. This process is performed three times. The final step was to pile all three chunks on top of each other and melt them into one massive chunk of plastic.

While waiting for the plastic to melt together, [Peter] got to work on the handle. He put his woodworking skills to good use by carving out a nice wooden handle from a piece of cherry wood.  The handle was carefully shaped and sanded with a variety of tools. It is finished with some linseed oil for a nice professional look.

When the plastic was mostly melted together, [Peter] had to get to work quickly while the plastic was still soft. He pried the plastic off of the metal tray and stuffed it into a rectangular mold he made from some fiber board. He used a heat gun to soften the plastic as needed while he crammed it all into the mold. With the mold suitably stuffed, he closed it up and clamped it all shut.

Once the plastic cooled, [Peter] had to cut it into the correct shape and size. He took the solid chunk of plastic to his band saw to cut all the appropriate angles. He then used both a drill press and a chisel to cut the rectangular mounting hole for the handle. The plastic piece was then shaped into its final form using a belt sander. All that [Peter] had left to do was slide it up and only the handle. The shape of the handle and mounting hole prevent the plastic piece from flying off of the top of the handle. Check out the video below to see the whole process. Continue reading “Turning Plastic Milk Jugs into a Useful Tool”

Castellated Breakout is Pitchin’ Brilliant!

Radio, WiFi and similar modules are getting smaller by the day. Trouble is, they end up having non-DIY-friendly, odd pitch, mounting pads. Sometimes, though, simple hacks come around to help save the day.

[Hemal] over at Black Electronics came up with a hack to convert odd-pitch modules to standard 2.54mm / 0.1″. The process looks simple once you see the detailed pictures on his blog. He’s using the technique to add 2mm pitch modules like the ESP8266 and XBee by soldering them to standard perf board. Once they are hooked to the board, just add a row of male header pins, trim the perf board and you’re done. Couldn’t get simpler.

Another technique that we’ve seen is to solder straight across the legs and cut the wire afterward. That technique is also for protoyping board, but custom-sized breakout boards are one good reason to still keep those etchants hanging around. If you have other techniques or hacks for doing this, let us know in the comments.

Hack allows ESP-01 to go to Deep Sleep

The ESP-01 module based on the ESP8266 is all the rage with IoT folks at the moment – and why not. For about 5 bucks, it can’t be beat on price for the features it offers. The one thing that such radios do a lot is suck power. So, it’s no surprise that ways to cut down on the juice that this device consumes is top priority for many people. [Tim] figured out a simple hardware hack to get the ESP-01 to go to deep sleep, effectively reducing its current draw to 78uA – low enough to allow battery powered deployment.

While [Tim] was working on understanding the ESP8266 tool chain (NodeMCU firmware > Lua interpreter > ESPlorer IDE), he realized that some essential pins weren’t accessible on the ESP-01 module. [Tim] built a Dev board on perf board that let him access these pins and also added some frills while at it. We’re guessing he (or someone else) will come up with a proper PCB to make things easier. But the real hack is on the ESP-01 module itself. [Tim] needed to hardwire the ‘post-sleep-reset-pin’ on the MCU to the Reset terminal. That, and also pry off the indicator LED’s with a screw driver! That sounds a bit drastic, and we’d recommend pulling out your soldering iron instead. If you’re one of the unlucky one’s to receive the “magic smoke” releasing ESP8266 modules, then you don’t need the LED anyway.

Get Serious with Amateur Radio; Design & Build a Single-Sideband Transceiver from Scratch Part 1

Amateur radio is the only hobby that offers its licensed operators the chance to legally design, build, and operate high power radio transceivers connected to unlimited antenna arrays for the purpose of communicating anywhere in the world. The most complicated part of this communication system is the single-sideband (SSB) high frequency (HF) transceiver. In reality, due to the proliferation of low-cost amateur equipment, there only exists a very small group of die-hards who actually design, build from scratch, and operate their own SSB transceivers. I am one of those die-hards, and in this post I will show you how to get started.

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A Primer on Buck (and Boost) Converters

We all know that the reason the electrical system uses alternating current is because it’s easy to step the voltage up and down using a transformer, a feature which just isn’t possible with a DC system… or is it? Perhaps you’ve heard of mysterious DC-DC transformers before but never really wanted to look at the wizardry that makes them possible. Now, SparkFun Director of Engineering [Pete Dokter] has a tutorial which explains how these mysterious devices work.

Known as buck converters if they step the input voltage down and boost converters if they step the voltage up, [Pete] explains how these circuits exploit the properties of an inductor to resist changes in current flow. He goes into exquisite detail to explain how components like transistors or MOSFETs are used to switch the current flow to the inductor very rapidly, and just exactly what happens to the magnetic field which makes these devices possible.

The video gives a good amount of background knowledge if you’ve always wanted to understand these devices a little bit better. There are also a few projects floating around that exploit these devices, such as one that uses an AVR microcontroller to perform the switching for a small circuit, or another that uses the interesting properties of these circuits to follow the I-V curve of a solar panel to help charge a bank of batteries. The possibilities are endless!

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