Jan 23, 2010

Tools and Test Equipment For The New Ham Radio Operator

A state-of-the-art HAM Repair Shack, offcourse under Indian conditions this might be little too much for households.

This article is tailored for the new ham radio operator so if you have been a ham for many years, you already know that there are a few required tools and test equipment you need to be able to maintain your station, it's accessories and your antenna setup.

Hand Tools: You can't have toooo many!

(not listed in any particular priority)

1. A good set of screw drivers. Look for a phillips head type and a flat blade type. There are many different sizes of screw drivers out there. Pick and assortment of the sizes you think you may need. Multi-use screw drivers are vary handy and they have usually 4 different blades that can be interchanged in the handle and one tool will do the job of 4 saving you space in your tool box.

A good set of Jewelers screw drivers is needed when it comes to those tiny screws on knobs and controls and also putting on mic connectors, etc. Remember those tiny screws in the hinges of your glasses.......that just justified the purchase of them. They will come loose eventually and you just saved yourself a trip in the car.

2. Tool Box...as mentioned in #1 above. The size and type depends on the amount of tools you may want to add in the future.

3. Wire cutters. These vary in size according to the wire size that you will be cutting. As a general rule of thumb, many wire type antennas that you may build, require #12 or #14 gauge wire, so the wire cutters should be of appropriate size. Wire crimpers would be a good tool to have latter on. These aid in the connection of various connectors to wire ends and splices. Some even have small bolt cutters built in....very handy when you need them.

4. Wrenches and socket sets. Adjustable wrenchs are recommend as they are multipurpose and fit many different size nuts or you can get the open end types or closed end types to suit your taste. Many choices are yours in socket and wrench sets that come in handy carrying cases for good prices with a wide assortment of sizes to fit "all". Wrenches are usually needed when mounting many antennas on supports depending on their construction and the mfg's ecommendations and many other variables.

5. Pliers. These come in many different sizes and shapes according to their intended use. A couple of different sizes of "Channel Lock" types are very handy along with regular hand sizes. Some come with wire cutter ends. "Needle nose" types are very handy also and come in many sizes. "Ignition pliers" are very handy for small jobs and fit in your pocket. A pair of "Vice Grips" is a help.

6. Tape measure. 12 feet or longer depending on your needs. Great aid for antenna work!

7. Electrical Tape. Not really considered a hand tool, but you will certainly use it.
Again, don't buy the cheap stuff, especially if it will be used outdoors.

8. A good sharp pocket knife or utility knife. Used for trimming insulation from wire, coax, etc. Use as needed and be careful.

9. Soldering iron and/or gun. This will depend on your ability to solder. Many times in your ham radio lifetime, you will need to be able to solder, so if you don't know how....just get a ham friend who knows how to help you learn or search the internet. There are many good "How to Solder" web sites out there. When soldering, practice, practice and lots more practice for the inexperienced!

10. All of those tools I left off of this list that will come as time passes and you get more acquainted with exactly what you may need depending on how far you want to go with your station and your ability......don't forget a good ladder that will safely reach your job.

11. SAFETY FIRST! Hand tools, ladders, test equipment, other ham equipment, etc, can get you hurt, or worse. Metal ladders should NEVER be used when working with ANY electrical job. Get help if you don't know what you are doing or are not mechanically inclined...be safe, not sorry! Remember Antenna Safety and the lethal levels of electricity you may be working with in or around your ham station!

Suggested Test Equipment for the New Ham:
(Again, not presented in any particular order of importance)

It refers to an external swr/power meter. Yes, you may have a built in unit in your radio, but how do you know it is accurate? An external meter is invaluable in trouble shooting station problems!
This will strictly be an individual choice. It must cover the frequency range and potential rf power level that your station will be operating on. Some are built into different radios, some are external. As a general rule, most external swr/power meters are more accurate than the little ones built into the face of many radios. The external types come in many sizes, frequency ranges and power levels. An swr/power meter that covers up to 30mhz...will usually not work on 6 meters and higher frequencies with any sort of accuracy. Assure yourself your meter is the right one for your station by reading the specifications of it. You need accuracy....not guess work!

2. A good multimeter.

Again, your choice. It can be either digital or analog. It needs to be able to measure at least continuity, voltage (AC and DC), current, (preferably AC and DC), and resistance (ohms), up to the expected levels you may need to measure with a safety margin to spare. It is also assumed you know how to use one....if you don't, read the instructions and then get a good ham friend who knows how to help you learn more about how to use it. DANGER.....you COULD BE ELECTROCUTED if you don't know what you are doing. You can also destroy your meter if it is not used properly. The voltage, current and resistance range must be higher than your "expected" working ranges!

3. Dummy load.

Used for a substitute "perfect" or near perfect antenna load.
Very helpful in determining if your transmitter has output without connecting the transmitter to the antenna and the resulting harmful interference this causes. When used in conjunction with a power (rf watt meter) it will tell you if your radio is up to specifications on it's output. It must also be designed for the frequency range you will be using it for. Many hams have one for the hf frequencies and then another for VHF/UHF use. Your choice depending on your station and your future plans for operating.

4. Optional. Antenna analyzer.
Very helpful and time saving when working with antennas and their design and tuning.

5. Other items of test equipment not on the list will come as you progress.

Assorted items you may want to keep on hand:
A small vice. Comes in handy when you need that third hand!
Sealer for weather proofing outside connectors and joints, splices, etc.


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