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Author Topic: Beginner's DIY Project: Building a Breakout Box  (Read 10533 times)

raybiker73

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Beginner's DIY Project: Building a Breakout Box
« on: October 08, 2012, 05:06:24 AM »
I know there are a lot of people here who?ve been building their own stuff for years, but there are also a lot of people (myself included) who don?t have as much experience. In fact, a lot of people I?ve talked to, particularly new hams, are hesitant to tackle anything that requires a soldering iron and wires.

A big part of prepping is self-reliance. What happens if TSHTF and you can no longer run to Radio Shack for a part, or ask for advice on an internet forum? Self-reliance in your communications planning is just as important as self-reliance in other aspects of your planning, so every prepper ham should be able to do some basic construction and repair. I?m certainly no engineer, so I need to learn as much as anyone else. To that end, I?ve put together a very easy project that even a complete beginner can complete in just a couple hours.

I have two HF rigs, an Icom IC-7200 and a Heathkit HW-8. I love them both, but they share one major inconvenience: rear-mounted jacks. On the Icom, the headphone jack is easily accessible on the front of the transceiver, but the CW key jack is on the back. On the Heathkit, both the key and phone jacks are on the back of the transceiver. I hate cable clutter, and I hate having to mess around trying to blindly fumble a connection at the back of the units, so I made a simple breakout box to put those often-used jacks at the front of my desk.



I didn?t really want to spend any money on this project, so I went through my guitar junk box for parts. These are all parts I happened to have on hand, but you can get them all pretty cheaply at Radio Shack or any other electronics store. Here?s what I used:

(2) 1/4? stereo jacks (for the IC-7200 key connection)
(4) 1/4? mono jacks (for the HW-8 key and headphones connections)
(1) Plastic project box (I think I was originally going to make a guitar pedal out of it)
2 scraps of wire from the bottom of my wiring box (NEVER throw anything away :-)  )



The first thing I needed to do was to figure out if I could fit all 6 jacks in this little box without having them touch each other. They fit? but just barely.



Now that I know they?ll fit, I need to clean up the inside of the box a little. This box has several molded slots for holding printed circuit boards, and 4 little nubs to use as standoffs. They?re in the way for this project, though, so they?ll have to go.



I used a Dremel with a medium-grit sanding drum and just flattened them all out. When you?re done, it?s a good idea to rub the inside of the box with a small scrap of fine grit sandpaper to remove any clingy pieces of plastic, then use a paper towel and rubbing alcohol to clean out the plastic dust.


raybiker73

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Re: Beginner's DIY Project: Building a Breakout Box
« Reply #1 on: October 08, 2012, 05:09:06 AM »
The next step is to mark out the holes for the jacks. See the third picture above: I rested the jacks on the edge of the box, then marked the center of the jacks on each side. You don?t want any of these to touch each other after they?re installed!



A quick run out to the shop to use the drill press, and we?re ready to test fit. When you?re drilling the holes in this plastic box, it?s a good idea to start by drilling small holes, then gradually use larger bits until you get the holes the size you want. If you start with a large bit, the plastic box might flake or chip. I also drilled two holes in the large sides of the box so that I can mount it under a shelf. After your holes are drilled, slip in the jacks and test fit everything.



When I was test fitting, I found that the lid would no longer go on the box, as the orange insulators on the jacks were in the way. I put the sanding drum back on the Dremel, and scooped out the edges a little bit, then tried again. A perfect fit!



You need to think about how to label this box when it?s finished. Ideally, I?d have used dry transfer lettering, which has a much more ?store-bought? look, but I didn?t have enough letters to make all the words, so I just used a Dymo labelmaker instead.



The labels will be pretty big for this box, even using the small print setting, so trim them to size with an X-Acto knife.


raybiker73

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Re: Beginner's DIY Project: Building a Breakout Box
« Reply #2 on: October 08, 2012, 05:12:21 AM »
OK, it?s time to put this thing together. Use a light duty 15W or 30W soldering iron, and 60/40 rosin core solder for best results. Also, make sure you keep a damp sponge nearby, and frequently wipe the iron across it to keep the tip clean.

Soldering might seem hard if you?ve never done it before, but it isn?t. It just takes a little practice. The first thing you want to do after the iron is hot is to ?tin? the tip. Just touch the solder to the tip and it will flow right on, nice and shiny.

You also need to tin the surfaces you plan to solder. First, you?ll tin the wire ends. I cut the small pieces of wire to length, then hold them in a handi-vise. hold the tip of the soldering iron to the exposed wire for a second or so, then touch the solder to the point where the tip and the wire are touching. You?ll see the solder flow right onto the wire and tin it.



After you tin the wires, you?ll want to do the same thing to the pads on your jacks. Again, hold the soldering iron to the pad for a second, then touch the solder to the point where the tip and the pad are touching. You?ll see the solder flow onto the pad and tin it, the same as with the wire.



Now, you?ll attach the wires. With both the wires and the pads tinned, you won?t need any additional solder. Use a spring tweezer or a pair of needle-nosed pliers to hold the bit of wire. Hold the tinned wire end to the tinned pad on the jack, then heat it with the iron. They?ll flow right together. Repeat this for the other jacks, making sure to wire the correct corresponding pads on each jack.

After you?ve got a set installed, test them to make sure they?re connected correctly. Put a plug in each jack, then break out your multimeter. This particular multimeter has an ?audible continuity? setting - if there?s a connection, it beeps. Insert the plugs, then use the multimeter to check the corresponding pins on each plug. Corresponding pins should beep when touched with the leads. Non-corresponding pins should NOT beep when touched with the leads - if they do, you?ve got an incorrect connection somewhere.



Go ahead and install the rest of the jacks, and the guts of this project are now complete! Install the lid on the box and install your labels.



If you?re mounting it with wood screws as I am, you?ll want to bevel the edges of the screw holes so that the screw heads sit flush. You can use a large drill bit by hand-twisting it into the hole a little bit, or you can do as I did and just bevel the plastic with an X-Acto knife.



Install your box in a convenient place, and you?re done. Congratulations, you?ve just finished your first DIY radio project!


White Tiger

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Re: Beginner's DIY Project: Building a Breakout Box
« Reply #3 on: October 08, 2012, 05:50:43 AM »
I love this Ray, and fantastic pictures of the process, thanks!

I agree that we have to become self-reliant. I am also thinking of a build project of my own - an antenna feed line switcher for an antenna farm (multiple feedlines coming into one point, tied to one/two transceivers) - any ideas?
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gil

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Re: Beginner's DIY Project: Building a Breakout Box
« Reply #4 on: October 08, 2012, 12:08:19 PM »
Excellent post, thank you!

Gil.

raybiker73

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Re: Beginner's DIY Project: Building a Breakout Box
« Reply #5 on: October 08, 2012, 07:41:04 PM »
White Tiger: There are plenty of antenna switches on the market, but they are all kind of expensive. I've seen really nice antenna switches made from a tuna can, a rotary switch and a few SO239 bulkhead connectors. Pretty simple project, but you'd need to make two of them, I think. Make one switchbox for your antennas, go from the output of that to your tuner (if you use the same tuner for multiple rigs) or to the next switchbox which will go to your transceivers. Might not be the perfect solution, but that's how I'd do it. Here's a fast-and-dirty picture.


gil

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Re: Beginner's DIY Project: Building a Breakout Box
« Reply #6 on: October 08, 2012, 07:46:47 PM »
You should have one position of the switch short the input... This way you protect the radio against static spikes..

Gil.

cockpitbob

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Re: Beginner's DIY Project: Building a Breakout Box
« Reply #7 on: October 08, 2012, 10:32:39 PM »
Ray,
Outstanding post.  This is the kind of contribution that really makes a forum.
Keep up the great work.

cockpitbob

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Re: Beginner's DIY Project: Building a Breakout Box
« Reply #8 on: October 08, 2012, 10:36:19 PM »
You should have one position of the switch short the input... This way you protect the radio against static spikes..

Gil.
I have an old Heathkit antenna switch.  This is essentially how it is made.  A simple rotary switch in a box.  I wouldn't put 1.5KW through it, but any rotary switch will probably take 100W and will take QRP power all year long.

White Tiger

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Beginner's DIY Project: Building a Breakout Box
« Reply #9 on: October 10, 2012, 02:10:20 AM »
White Tiger: There are plenty of antenna switches on the market, but they are all kind of expensive. I've seen really nice antenna switches made from a tuna can, a rotary switch and a few SO239 bulkhead connectors. Pretty simple project, but you'd need to make two of them, I think. Make one switchbox for your antennas, go from the output of that to your tuner (if you use the same tuner for multiple rigs) or to the next switchbox which will go to your transceivers. Might not be the perfect solution, but that's how I'd do it. Here's a fast-and-dirty picture.



Oh yeah, the minute I showed my son he said "that's a guitar pedal box..." He's had a couple years of "electrical sound & lighting" for music, and has also been playing zee rock&roll for several years. He instantly became interested.

Love the switching schematic, off to look up the project on the interwebs!

Thanks Ray!
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raybiker73

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Re: Beginner's DIY Project: Building a Breakout Box
« Reply #10 on: October 10, 2012, 03:18:07 AM »
He should have a copy of Anderton's "Electronic Projects for Musicians." I had a copy when I was playing in bands through high school and college, and it was pretty dog-eared after a while. Lots of great stuff (including building a talk box, which was a lot of fun and really great if you like Peter Frampton).

http://www.amazon.com/Electronic-Projects-Musicians-Craig-Anderton/dp/0825695023

White Tiger

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Beginner's DIY Project: Building a Breakout Box
« Reply #11 on: October 10, 2012, 04:17:10 AM »
He just celebrated his birthday - I'll see if he knows about it - if not, my be something for a stocking stuffer!

This time last year he built a Metro amp kit that is a dead ringer for an old Plexi...

When the kit showed up it was a cabinet, a board, and a bazillion diodes, triodes, transistors, etc., gave me the hives, and I thought my son was going to be sick.

I went out on a weeklong business trip and when I came home he was asking me to help him finish off some final solderings!? He finished the whole project! He doesn't want to build as complex a project as THAT for awhile...but some of the more simple radio projects (like the antenna switch) would be fun for us both - provided we have a schematic to follow!
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Sunflower

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Re: Beginner's DIY Project: Building a Breakout Box
« Reply #12 on: October 13, 2012, 11:47:48 PM »
Ray, is there a quilter in the house? I noticed your graph cutting board in the pics. Nice Project.

raybiker73

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Re: Beginner's DIY Project: Building a Breakout Box
« Reply #13 on: October 14, 2012, 04:37:04 AM »
Nope, no quilting, although I can knit a little - nothing fancy, maybe a hat or a pair of socks. I always used the mat for working on model railroad projects. It's solder-proof, X-Acto proof and has handy built-in measurements.

WA4STO

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Re: Beginner's DIY Project: Building a Breakout Box
« Reply #14 on: October 14, 2012, 01:45:25 PM »
I always used the mat for working on model railroad projects.

Ooh!  What gauge???