Building Ham Radio Equipment from Scratch

By H. Ward Silver

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can build your own ham radio equipment from scratch. Building something by starting with a blank piece of paper or a magazine article and then putting it to use in your own station is a real accomplishment. Building from scratch isn’t too different from building from a kit, except that you have to make your own kit.

Your first electronic project should be a copy of a circuit in a magazine or handbook — one that’s known to work and that comes with assembly and test directions. If a blank printed circuit board is available, you should order one. You might also want to try building an antenna like a dipole or vertical.

Imagine that you have to make a kit for someone else based on the instructions, schematic, and list of components. Photocopy the article, and highlight all the instructions. If an assembly drawing is included, enlarge it for guidance. Make extra copies so you can mark them up as you go. Read the article carefully to identify any critical steps.

When you get your components together, sort them by type and value, and place them in jars or the cups of an old muffin pan. Keep a notebook handy so that you can take notes for later use. As you build and test the unit and finally put it to use, everything is completely documented.

If you choose to design a circuit from scratch, that’s great! Documenting your work in a notebook is even more important for a project that starts with design. Take care to make your schematics complete and well-labeled. Record whatever calculations you must make so that if you have to revisit some part of the design later, you have a record of how you arrived at the original values. Take a few high-resolution, in-focus, well-lit photos at important milestones of construction. When you finish, record any tests that you make to verify that the equipment works.

Don’t let failure get you down! First designs hardly ever work out exactly right, and sometimes, you even wind up letting all the smoke out of a component or two. If a design doesn’t work, figure out why and then move on to the next version. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to try a different angle. Ham radio isn’t a job, so keep things fun. After all, it’s amateur radio!