Monday, April 9, 2012

Brewing Up Some Fun

Thought for the day:  Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.  [Mary Lou Cook]

[THEME: Amateur radio]

Today, it's all about HOMEBREW.

Um, not THIS kind.

Well, yeah, I suppose amateur radio operators could brew their own adult beverages, but the kind of homebrew I'm talking about is equipment ... equipment they build with a healthy dollop of ingenuity, odds and ends from their junk boxes, and their own two hands. (Or perhaps with an all-parts-included kit, and a keen ability to follow instructions.)

In the early days of radio, amateurs had little recourse but to build their own stuff. Very little was available commercially, and what was available was too high-dollar for most to afford. So amateur radio enthusiasts started out with a can-do do-it-yourself attitude that remains with many in the hobby today. 

I'm no master builder, but I've even built a few things.

Like this simple crystal set. And I only bloodied my fingers a little bit while unkinking and winding the wire around that piece of PVC pipe, too. (My helpful hubby told me after the fact that I should've fed the wire through a vice.) Anyhow, a crystal set is easy enough for a child to build, and hey! It's "free radio!" (Man, I need to get the "maid" to dust that thing!)

I've also built a 20M CW receiver and matching transmitter. That was a lot of fun, too, because I had to learn how to differentiate the components, and even got to be pretty darned good with a soldering iron. Once they were completed, and we verified that they actually worked (!) I set them aside. Where they are now? Beats me. For me, the fun was in the building. The only other thing I've ever built was a really neat antenna to use for fox hunting. That was fun, too, but I ended up donating it to an auction to raise money for a scholarship. Surprised me. Once the guys learned I was the one who built it, some of them actually WANTED it. How cool is that? A "bidding war" just because their "illustrious" Section Manager built the thing. Still amazes me.

But my husband is the REAL builder in the family. He can build darned near anything, and has an extensive collection of  equipment and parts. (A junk box extraordinaire.) When a visiting South African ham toured our house,  his eyes got bigger and bigger, and he kept saying, "Holy cow!"  Finally he declared, "Radio Shack must send people to YOU!" 

At left is an antenna tuner my hubby built. Cool, huh? That's a shot of it from the front.

                                                  And here's a picture of it from the TOP ...

Yeah, he built it on a wooden toilet seat lid. (He has a wacky sense of humor, too, which is one of the reasons we get along so well.)

This is a less-than-stellar shot of one of the more-than-stellar amplifiers he built. It is B-I-G and with the tubes he put in it, should pretty much last forever.

But amateur radio projects don't have to be B-I-G. Many hams enjoy building tiny CW transmitters inside of Altoids cans, and if you can believe it,  in even smaller containers than that. These little transmitters are for operating QRP, or low power. (around 5 watts) Some transmit on even less power, and that's called  QRPP. (I know. Makes me giggle, too.)

Amateurs love to build and experiment with antennas, too. This picture appeared on our radio club's Facebook page, and the fella who posted it gave me permission to use it. It was taken in the '50s of his wife's uncle, playing with an antenna he'd built and designed.

Today's amateurs have access to all kinds of equipment, both new and used. Some radio clubs even have loaner radios to help new hams get on the air. So, bottom line is, nobody HAS to build his own equipment nowadays. But then again, nobody HAS to make his own wine, either. But for a lot of people, homebrewing is too darned much fun to resist.


  1. Cool you! So awesome. Maybe you can share the steps to the one in the Altoids box someday?

  2. I am so impressed that both you and your husband are so creative, and can build so many different models in all shapes and sizes! The toilet seat model is classic! Julie

  3. Woman, I look at these pictures and I'm in awe of the stuff you can build - stuff that works, no less :-)

  4. Cool hobby. I have a good friend who was a HAM and a graduate electronics engineer. He's had a great career with the FCC. Was head of communications for the Utah Olympics.

  5. Dang. I was all excited when I saw the title of your post...

    Oh, well. Adult beverages or not, it's still a good post. :)

  6. So you are more than just a pretty face (or pretty voice over the air waves).

  7. Susan, I'm so impressed -- even if the simple crystal set can't be built by a child. Point is, you built it!

    I was also impressed by the scope of the large unit your husband built as well as the tiny transmitters in the Altoids tins. The title of your post made me think of Steve Wozniak and the Homebrew Computer Club in the '70s.

  8. "homebrew" I will have to use that on my hubby and his father...they both homebrew everything and I watched my hubby make a spring for a gas-powered auger this weekend because it's neutral position wasn't working...I still don't know what any of that means!

  9. That is so WAY cool! I am envious of people that can build things...I feel like my brain just doesn't work that way. I am impressed! Love the Altoid box ones too. Have a great day!!

  10. Talk about impressive. That is so cool! You and your husband seem like a perfect match. And I'm glad I knew what 'fox hunting' was! :)

  11. Effervescencia- Building isn't all that difficult. Like anything else, it takes practice, patience, and perseverance. But once that first project is completed and it works(!), the ol' building bug can really sink his teeth into your hide.

    Julie- My hubby is the creative one when it comes to electronics. Me, I can follow directions.

    Sarah- I have no doubt that you could build these things too, if you gave it a whirl.

    Mr. C- Oh, my. Are you feeling okay? No smart ass remarks today? (HA!) Lots of people with electronics backgrounds get into the hobby, and hams are always happy to encounter other hams within the FCC. It IS a cool hobby. Betcha you'd enjoy it ...

    Linda- Thanks. (We can talk about the OTHER kind of homebrew another time.)

    Arleen- Jill of all trades, and mistress of none?

    Delores- I sure hope so. The "pretty face" stuff only lasts for the first 45 years or so ...

    Suze- My hubby and one of our sons built a computer in the '70s. (Worked, too!)

    Jaimee- Dontcha just LOVE that your husband can do that sort of thing?

    Tracy Jo- I suspect you could do anything you set your mind to, including building. But you have such an artistic way of looking at the world, and such a wonderful way of expressing it through your photographs, I'd say you already build things... things of beauty.

  12. Carrie- I dunno if we're a "perfect match", but after 43 years, we're still going strong and still having fun together.

  13. How creative! Pretty cool posting :)

  14. Hi Susan and hubby .. amazing junkophobes you must both be .. my uncle would have loved you .. he was the engineer, mind you the other brother was the ear nose and throat surgeon and was always building and doing things .. they both were 'builders' - and my aunt (their baby sister) 'built/revamped their house' (not her hubby!) - I guess my Dad would have done too - but life was tricky ..

    Such fun to read .. Mum used to make wine from the hedgerows .. but not beer ... Cheers Hilary

  15. MiChelle- Thanks. Glad ya liked it, and thanks for stopping by. I do appreciate it.

    Hilary- When we were young my hubby used to say, half-kiddingly, that he wanted to own a junk yard. Well, we don't have THAT, but we sure have managed to amass a bunch of cool stuff over the years, which we're in the process of weeding out a bit now. (Alas, our kids wouldn't have a clue what to do with all our "treasures" after we're gone.)

  16. wow...what a great post for H! And I'm so impressed! Very cool and fun!

  17. wow, that's impressive. It's so cool what amateurs can put together.

  18. Lynda- I'm really tickled so many people seem to think this info is "cool." (Can't say that hams are generally accused of possessing a whole heckuva lot of "coolness.") Anyway, thank you so much for visiting my blog, and for signing on as a new follower. I'll be visiting your blog asap to return the favor.