- Well you’re booked in for your Foundation Exam – you have your dates and location – Check.
- Done all the study possible – you have even passed the trial exams you found – Check.
- You have read and re-read everything you needed to do to prepare for the exam – Check
Now it’s time to relax. Now, that doesn’t mean forgetting about it until exam time comes around, but what is does mean is getting yourself prepared to enjoy amateur radio without the pressure of having to have it ready right now.
In the few months while you wait to sit your exam and then the month or so whilst waiting for the results, Take the time to do some of the following :-
Whilst waiting to do your exam
- Purchase an SDR Radio ($US39)
- Build and install a 15m Dipole (approx $20 for insulators and wire)
- Build a 3W 40m CW Transmitter ($AU16)
- Build a 1W 40m CW Transceiver ($AU10) *
- Build a dummy load (buy a few 250W Dummy load resistors and mount) – ($AU10) *
- Build a QRP Antenna Tuner ($AU10) – Great way to learn about Antenna Matching
- Build an Dual Paddle Key (Printed it on a 3D printer) (AU$5 for magnets) *
- Build an Electronic keyer (mostly require an Arduino) *
After completing your exam but waiting for your licence (just over a month)
- Purchase a VHF/UHF HT $AU40
- Purchase a NanoVNA-H $AU83
- Build a Flowerpot VHF/UHF Antenna $AU20
Now, you might look at this and feel that this is a little more than you want to chew and you don’t have to do it all, it is something you can constructively do while you are waiting. If you look at the money spent especially over the the first two and a half months. it was almost like spending $10 per week, the price of a couple of cups of coffee a week. You could probably drop off the lines with an asterisk at the end, as the rest will keep you busy.
But what you don’t realise when you are having so much fun, whether its soldering a kit, installing an antenna, reading instructions, is that you are naturally learning, and actually what you are learning is being retained better than what it would just reading text.
Lets look at the benefits of building these projects (separate to the learning that takes place)
SDR Radio – The main purpose of this was so that I could listen to what was on the shortwave and amateur radio bands. It was low cost and would be something that I could use in the future. Worst case, it is something that I could pass on if I decide I want to upgrade, or don’t have a use for it. It came with a simple rabbits ears antenna (which outside of the shack worked quite well), but I needed a better antenna.
Airspy HF+ Discovery – My next SDR with a good reputation – mainly for the HF Bands
15m Dipole – The reason for the 15m Dipole came from immediate space available. I would have loved to put up a 10m Dipole, 40m dipole and even an 80m dipole as well. I took the time to understand the quarter and half wave lengths, and also picked up that it was a contentious subject amongst hams, each with their views. Even though it was tuned for 15m, it served as a better antenna than the rabbits ears for all frequencies, especially as it was higher up.
Nice site on the basics of HF Dipole building and lengths. I couple of things to investigate yourself is the A factor in the calculations. Whilst you do not have the ability to determine this exactly yourself, you need to know its there. Most people just over estimate the size, and cut the length back using an Antenna Analyzer, or an OpenVNA, and some with just a SWR meter.
CW Transceivers – I purchased these with eyes wide open, but the ultimate goal was a bit of soldering practice, with a secondary interest in something to push me to learn my Morse code. I took a bit of time to build them, mainly doing them on rainy days. I found that Transmissions was ok into a dummy load however reception was average, so I was using the SDR for reception. As I said, I went in with eyes wide open, and every component that could be tested was tested before using. The Pixie is below average, and the Frogs main attribute was the transmitter, but as I mentioned they were soldering projects that offered a little more excitement than a coloured LED lighting up, and I learnt to either buy parts locally or test everything that comes in from overseas.
Dummy load – I was going to make a dummy load suitable for 100W – I already had a die-cast case and few heat sinks. Actually paused on this project, but learnt a lot on the research into dummy loads, including heat dissipation, oil cooling etc. I had another 25w commercial dummy load on order. A project for another day and when I need it.
QRP Antenna Tuner – Another project entered into with eyes wide open and low cost, but what I learnt out of it was immense and far past the money spent on it. To come out of it understanding that the Antenna Tuner/Matcher was not this magic box that made everything perfect and has limitations.
Building such a unit will provide an understanding of SWR Bridges including Wheatstone bridges, capacitive behaviour, inductive behaviour, losses, impedance matching. There is nothing better than a unit in front of you to understand, learn from, even if it is just identifying what your circuit uses and what its limitations are.
You will also learn there are those that feel an antenna tuner should not be used, and that the antenna should be made resonant, but you will find those hams are still living on a half acre block, which they bought in the 1970’s, and they have the space for such antenna’s. Many of us would be luck to get quarter of an acre, so antenna tuners are a way of life.
Dual Paddle Key – Wanted to get into CW so I thought it might be better with a Dual Paddle key, with clear distinctions between the Dah and Dit (the two sides of the paddle). Again cost was negligible as I could build most of it myself, but even buying one (that actually is 3D printed anyhow) is only $AU18. If I can get myself back into CW, then I am happy to buy something a little better, but this will get me started.
Again you will learn that some earlier rigs are not capable of directly interfacing to a dual paddle key, so you may need an electronic device called a keyer. These keyers may also generate the side tone so you can hear what you are sending. Most recent rigs will work with straight or Paddle keys.
Electronic Keyer – As you have probably already read, to do IAMBIC keying, you are going most likely going to need an Electronic Keyer (some Later model Transceivers provide IAMBIC keying). However if you want to use a key combination to initiate a CW sequence e.g. CQ CQ CQ, then unless this is built into the transceiver, you are going to need an Electronic Keyer.
By now, you have completed your exams, and you are feeling confident that your results will be favourable
Now you can make some of those purchases that involve a little more money with some confidence that your licence will come through, and these purchases are going to get some use (hey even if you have to do your exam again, I am sure you will pass next time, especially if you keep yourself involved in Amateur Radio)
This is usually the first radio that you might buy. The price of these units is quite low, particularly for the Chinese manufactured units. They will allow you to get on, listen to other hams, and due to the limited range, you will also generally be listening to local hams (quite often hams in the same club).
Now these devices only come with a small antenna, so if you are a reasonable distance to your nearest repeater, then go for a drive to a park nearby and get outdoors nearer to the repeater. This will let you know that distance to repeater is your main issue, which will lead you onto your next project.
Build a Flowerpot VHF/UHF antenna
What a perfect project to commence working on, your first Antenna build and a great introduction before getting on to bigger antenna builds. This project can be completed in afternoon, and provide great results being able to listen to other hams without needing to for a drive. Whats even better, is when your licence comes through, you will be able to start transmitting and talking straight away.
Most of the parts for the Antenna can be found at Bunnings (similar to Home Depot) and Jaycar (local Electronics store).
Purchase a NanoVNA-H
For the new ham these are a nice little product that will allow you to test your Antenna builds, The most common thing you will use it for is to confirm your SWR across a frequency range, of if you are really off in your design or measurements, you will be working out what frequency your SWR dip is located, so you can make the call on whether to add or remove a length of wire to your antenna.
This is perfect for your Flowerpot Antenna, but you will also use it for almost any other Antenna build.
These units will also interface to your PC, so if you don’t enjoy the small screens, you can see it on a software product called Saver.
They are not as convenient as Antenna and cable Vector Analyzer, particularly products like Rig Expert or lower cost options such as Sark100, but for the new ham, they are at a decent price and you know what you are looking for when you spend a little more money later on.
There are many more projects and ideas that you can get involved in whilst waiting the few months from deciding to do your licence, till you have your licence in your hand. These are just a few ideas, you may have different ideas, but the idea is to prepare yourself, so you are ready to go.
Now you have your licence, you decide what you want to do, you decide where you want to go.