Learning CW – The Beginning

I have decided to learn CW. Why? Because I want to, not because I have to.  Yes I am one of those no-code hams!

Most of this blog post is aimed at newer hams. If someone is thinking about trying to learn CW, I hope this post might help motivate them to go for it and give it a try.

Since I became a more active ham a couple years ago, from a non-active ham, I have thought it would be nice to have a very small portable battery powered radio, and easy & quick to deploy antenna and make some QSO’s when and where I can.

The next question, once I decided to learn CW, was how to learn CW? I know in the past, people used to use cassette tapes, learning at 5 wpm (words per minute). I looked online and found that the “tapes” can still be purchased, but now they are on CD instead of tapes. From the reviews that I have read, the content has not been updated but simply copied on to CD format. So it’s the same lessons that existed in the 60’s, 70’s, 80, etc, just in a little newer delivery format. My goal isn’t 5 wpm. It’s higher. More like the 20 wpm range someday. That then leads to some “newer” methods of learning. The “Koch” method is very popular. It starts with two characters, sent at 20 wpm but with more space between the characters, making the effective overall speed slower but still with faster character speed. The key is learning characters at a faster speed, introducing another letter when you learn the first two. You keep adding letters until you eventually have them all learned. There are many web sites and programs that use this and other methods. There are also a lot of phone apps that people use to learn. A friend of mine learned CW using these apps, and I sat with him on Field Day in 2013 as he worked without a microphone, only CW. He didn’t even bring his microphone to Field Day! He now works CW almost exclusively.

After further research I came across The CW Operators Club web page, http://www.cwops.org.  I found that they have a CW Academy with 3 different levels. Level I is for beginners with no CW experience and Levels II & III are more advanced working on increasing speed and other things. I decided to enroll in their Level I beginner class. I signed up on their web site and weeks later, I was confined for the Level I class that started in January ’16, a few weeks ago. I am now 5 weeks through an 8 week class. The class meets twice a week, using Skype. There are five students in my class, which is lead by an experienced instructor. Homework consists of using a web based CW training program, for receiving practice. Assuming you have a key/paddle or something to send with, there are sending exercises as well.  The curriculum introduces the letters, much like the Koch method, at a 20 wpm pace, but in a different order than the standard Koch trainers. The first session consisted of four letters, and words using those four letters. If you would like more information ther web site is: http://www.cwops.org

Is it working? So far it is working. Five weeks into the class, I now know the whole alphabet, the numbers 0-9 and a few punctuation characters. I say “know” them, but I am not very good at receiving yet. I miss a lot of characters when I try to listen so a real QSO on the air. Like learning anything like another language, it’s going to take some practice to get better at listening in real time. I have recorded a couple QSO’s from a websdr.org station and when I repeat it multiple times, I can figure it all out. Considering 5 weeks ago I didn’t know a single letter, I am making progress.

 

I’ll continue attending class, and practicing. I’ll post again later when I make some more progress and someday pretty soon, I’ll get in the air and attempt a real QSO!

Until then    – – . . .   . . . – –

PS   “- – . . .   . . . – -”  is morse code for “73” in case you wondered!

 

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End Fed Antenna 40-6m

After some research on the Internet, I decided to build another antenna. I figure one can’t have too many antennas and this one would be a quick build. I chose the earchi 40-6m End Fed matchbox. The plans for it are available on the Emergency Amateur Radio Club of Hawaii’s web site. It’s an easy build and from what I have read on the ‘Net about it, it said to work well.

A trip to Radio Shack and Lowe’s provided all the components except for the torrid cores which I had to order online. The first picture is the wound core.

The second picture is the completed matchbox.

The connections are very straight forward is you follow the instructions to the letter.  I cut a 30 ft piece of wire and crimped/soldered a ring terminal to the end of it. According to my research, various people use various lengths of wire with this. I chose 30 ft as that’s is what the club supplies if you purchase a completely built antenna from them.

I though this antenna would be an quick and easy one to deploy in the field if needed.

I have used this antenna a few times. The first time was in June during Field Day. I had my homemade Buddistick in use, and decided to take a break and put this antenna up. I threw some paracord over a branch and hauled up the wire. It worked great, about the same as the Buddistick in terms of signals heard. I have also used it at home a couple times with similar results. It is going to be a nice antenna to have in the kit for certain situations. 

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2015 Field Day

I was able to get out and participate in local Field Day activities with my club, the Benton County Radio Operators. We were out at a private facility out in the country, and ran off of battery and generator power for the event. I worked PSK31 on 20 meters alternating with another club member all day on Saturday. This was the first time I have had my entire station out in the field since building my box. I was also able to use one of my homemade antennas. The chosen antenna for the day was my homemade Buddistick configured for 20 meters. The painters pole holding up the antenna was guyed using parachute cord and three cement blocks as the anchors. The setup was easy to put up and take down and worked well. Since this is the same station and antenna I also use at home, there was really nothing new to try out, so it all had been thoroughly tested before Field Day.

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JT65 – A new mode for me!

A few weeks ago, I decided to try JT65. I had been working a small amount of phone this year, along with a little PSK31. I liked PSK31 because I could watch a football game and work the quiet digital mode at the same time. I was curious about JT65 a few weeks ago, so I downloaded some software and decided to give it a try.

I’ll leave out all the history of the mode as it’s easy to find on the net. Basically it’s a digital mode, that’s great for low power operation. Originally developed for EME (Earth-Moon-Earth, Moon bounce) application, it’s very common to use 5-10 watts making contacts all over the world, depending on the condition of the bands. Information is sent over and over again to provide redundancy

JT65 is not a mode that anyone os going to rag chew on. The messages that are exchanged are very scripted and only 13 characters in length. I wondered for a while what practical use a series of 13 character messages would be, outside of making contacts simply for earning awards. I suppose you could use it when a short message has to absolutely get through. The software will repeat the message over and over again until you tell it to stop.

While there are a few software packages available for JT65, I chose to use WSJT-X. Another popular program that’s available is JT65-HF. WSJT-X will do both JT65 and JT9 but JT65-HF will only do JT65. I am finding that making JT9 contacts, works just like JT65, though the underlying protocols being sent over the air are different. JT9 uses much less bandwidth, and signals can be much closer together than JT65.

Messages are transmitted on alternating minutes. One station might call CQ. That message is sent for 46.8 seconds. There is a 13.2 second decoding period. The reply transmission is sent starting at the beginning of the next minute for the same 46.8 seconds. Again there is a 13.2 second decoding period and it all starts over again. One station ends up transmitting on the odd minutes, while the other station transmits on the even minutes.  A normal JT65 QSO will last 7 minutes. The CQ station sends four messages while the station answering the CQ will send 3. Some stations that call CQ cut out of the messages making for a total of three sent for each station.

The following is an actual QSO that I had with a station in Italy, using 10 watts and a homemade buddipole.

italyqso

The Italian station called CQ and I answered at 1453 UTC time. The entire QSO was over after both of us sent 73 messages!  This is what almost all QSO’s are like.

Since I started JT65 in the middle of December, I have made 108 JT65 QSO’s and 19 JT9 QSO’s. I am slowly working on my basic WAS, trying to get most of the rest with JT65 or JT9. As of Dec 26, I only need 3 more states and I am determined to do it with JT65!

The following are some learning experiences and things I would pass on to anyone interested in trying JT65 for the first time.

While there might be other software packages, JT65-HF an WSJT-X seem to the be the two most popular, based on my reading on the Net and forum posts on eham.net and qrz.com.  I would suggest downloading both and giving them a trial run before deciding. Regardless of which one you choose, I would highly suggest adding JTAlert. It’s a program that works with WSJT-X or JT65-HF alerting you to things like DXCC entities you need, states needed or WAS, stations you have worked before and many other things. I think it makes the mode more fun.

While PSK31 is a SSB mode, JT65 is not. It is an AFSK mode so you have to make sure you set your radio appropriately. Some articles don’t seem to mention this so some beginners miss this point. It does use USB like PSK31, but the modulation is different and the radio needs to be set properly.

I also ran into a configuration issue when setting up my Signalink USB for JT65. While working stations, I occasionally ran into an issue where the radio would key up and transmit, but nothing was sent out. No power on the power meter, nothing.  I had set up the software to control my radio via CAT control.  I found, after a lot of research, that my software was sending a PTT to the radio as was the Signaling USB. I suspect that when the software PTT got there first, that’s when the issue would happen. I set the software to VOX, letting the Signalink send the PTT and everything has been fine ever since. http://www.hamspot.org was a helpful resource to see if I was getting a signal out.

In the end, I am finding JT65 very enjoyable. It’s quiet so it does not bother my wonderful XYL. I can also do other things and not give the radio 100% attention. With JTAlert, it will tell me when someone is calling CQ or a needed state or country poops up. If you have not tried JT65 out, give it a shot and you might find fun.

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Big Soldering Irons & PL259’s

Like a lot of newer, more inexperienced hams, I have had a fair amount of trouble soldering PL259 connectors to coax. In my previous posts, about my portable station, I need some small coax jumpers to bring the antenna connectors down to the lower front of the box. That portion is not show in my posts yet, as I’ll write about that later when it’s done. I tried my 40 watt Weller thinking it would work, but it didn’t hold enough heat. I have come to realize that PL259’s are big heat sinks. They drain heat from the soldering iron tip, so you need something that can hold a lot of heat. Namely a larger tip on the iron.

In the above picture, are my three soldering irons. The center one is a 25 watt model. It has a pencil type tip. No good for PL259’s but it’s good for other things. The bottom one is a 40 watt model with a small chisel tip. While the tip is larger, it’s still much too small. I know on ham forums on the Internet, there will be someone who will claim they can use this iron and successfully put on a PL259, but for most of us mere mortals, it’s not what we need for the job.

The upper iron in the picture is my new soldering iron. It’s a Weller SP120. It’s 120 watts with a huge tip as soldering irons go. I was able to put two PL259’s on and make a jumper cable in about 10 minutes. Most of that time was spent stripping the coax carefully with my x-acto knife. The right tools are sometimes needed and for me and soldering PL259’s, the right tool is a nice larger soldering iron!

73

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Homebrew Buddipole

In a couple earlier posts, I wrote about making a homebrew Buddistick using Budd Drummand’s (W3FF) plans. His plans can be found on his page located here: https://sites.google.com/site/w3ffhomepage/.

I knew when I started building my station that I wanted a couple of portable antennas. I like making things, and decided to give his antennas a shot after deciding that I might be able to actually make an antenna that worked following Budd’s directions. I made the Buddistick first, then later made the Buddipole. Both are easy to make and work well. I use them both (not at the same time) for my main antenna right now, until I can get a full size dipole hung up, and coax run to the house etc. I am fairly new to the HF world and I don’t have my home station complete yet, so these antenna were a quick and easy way for me to get started on HF.

Pictured first are the components of the Buddipole. Starting at the top-left are the two 20 meter coils. To the right, the shorter coil set is for 15 and 17 meters. To their right is the “T” component for mounting the antenna on a painters pole. The black adapter changes the threads from PVC to the painters pole. In the middle are the two antenna whips, mounted in some CPVC with speaker wire coming out of the ends allowing for connections to be made to the whips. The bottom two pieces are CPVC arms with speaker wire running through them, and connectors.

The following picture shows the Buddipole set up with the painters pole extended. The length of the extended painters pole in this picture is about 10 ft.

The plans that Budd published has the coax line ending with the spade connectors. I bought a piece of 50ft coax with PL-259’s installed already on both ends and I did not want to cut one of them off, so I made the following adapter. It is simply a small project box from Radio Shack, with a SO-239 mounted in it and speaker wires connected to the SO-239 center and ground. The orange line is old fly fishing line for hanging the box from the antenna. I use a velcro strip for this.

Here is a table that I made showing how I setup the antenna and the resulting SWR measurements. I think the higher SWR on 20 and 6 meters is due to the proximity of the metal eve troughs that the antenna is near with extended. If I orient the antenna parallel to the gutter, the SWR goes up. My house sits approx SW-NE so pointing the red end of the antenna North puts it at about 45 degrees to the gutter and the SWR goes down. This is the most convenient place to set up the antenna within reach of the radio inside allowing for the 50ft run of coax. The whip column is how many additional sections of the whip I need to extend not counting the 1 section length it is with all the sections pushed in. I think if I got this away from the house a few more feet, the SWR would come down on 20 & 6m.

 

Band Coil Red Whip Black Whip Res Freq Min SWR Height Red Orientation
20M 20M 3 + 10 in 5 14.175 1.5 12 N
17M 15/17 3 + 1.25 in 5 18.127 1.06 12 N
15M 15/17 2 + 2 in 3 21.250 1.24 12 N
10M none 4 + 5 in 4 28.850 1.19 12 N
6M none 0 + 4.375 in 0 51.850 1.2 12 N

 

I have made SSB and PSK31 contacts on 20, 17, & 15 meters. I have not made contacts yet on 10 or 6. Someday I’ll do that.

Below are the graphs from my antenna analyzer showing the antenna setup for each band in the table above.

20 Meter

17 Meter

15 Meter

6 Meter

 

Overall I am happy with the antenna. I don’t expect it to work like a full size dipole, but for the ease of setup and take down, it’s working for me. I have talked to South America, Europe and all over the US with both  the home-brew Buddistick and Buddipoles.

My email address is on my QRZ.com profile. If anyone has questions, I’ll be glad to respond to any email.

 

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Homebrew Buddistick Project – Part 3

I have had a couple of comments regarding the 80m coil for the homebrew Buddistick.  I had a few minutes today to set it up and try to get it tuned into 3.897.5 which is the frequency for the Arkansas Razorback Net. I think the 80m band might be difficult for this antenna. I was able to get it tuned to the right frequency with a SWR of about 1.4. But the low SWR “width” is not very wide. It won’t cover the entire 80m band without having to adjust the radial in or out.  So I think this would be a very narrow bandwidth antenna on this low of a frequency.

This is the note I got from Budd when I asked about 80m to begin with:

The homebrew Buddistick works well on 80 Meters. Use PVC couplers to allow yourself to go to one inch OD for the coil. The coil length I used Is 11″.  Use the same wire suggested for the other coils….insulated wire. Same gauge. If you wind 110 turns on that one inch form, that coil will be about 9 inches long.  The single elevated radial will be about 66′ long and the wire should be stored on a kite line winder.  This coil, with a Long Whip (9′) on top, should resonate on the bottom end of 80 Meters.  Try that info and tell us where it resonates. Your final adjustments will be on the radial. If you want to go up to say 3900 MHZ, take some turns off the coil after you make your initial measurements.
Budd

So the narrowness of the SWR curve was expected. I did turn on my radio to see what I could hear,  but tuning through the 80m band, I couldn’t hear anything.  Not being familiar with 80m, I don’t know what kind of activity to expected at 4:3o in the afternoon.  I won’t give up. I’ll work on it again but it’ll be a few days.

I am still happy with the homemade Buddistick antenna and my homemade Buddipole. I have also made the homemade Buddipole. I will write a post about that in the near future.

K5UNX

 

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