If the BITX40 has taught me anything it’s that you don’t need anything fancy to get your radio on the air, but you do need some tools that you can rely on. If you’re like me, you need to do it on a budget.
In this post, I’m going to show you some recommendations for low budget tools that I’ve been using for a while now, and some tips for building on a budget.
Clearly there is some soldering involved in building radio kits, but it’s not difficult and the worst thing that can happen is that you melt a bit of insulation. Go over to The Mighty Ohm and read their series Soldering Is Easy. Then, buy a soldering iron. My personal favorite is this guy on the left.
It’s a fantastic starter kit, and all you need to complete your kit is a soldering stand and a third hand helper (see below). I made my soldering stand, and you can too. It just needs to hold the iron safely. You don’t need anything fancy. When the little bit of solder it comes with runs out, grab a roll of Kester solder and have enough to last a nice long time.
I run my iron at around 300c for most jobs, turning it up only when I need to heat up a larger object for soldering, or even solder-brazing. The tips are of good quality, especially for such a low budget tools.
“But Multi-tools are terrible!” Many inexpensive multi-tools are useless if not outright dangerous. We’ve all owned those crappy multi-tools you can hardly open the blade on, are bulky and heavy, or are designed with the blades facing outward when using the pliers, hurting your hands when you squeeze. The Gerber Suspension is NONE of those things!!
I’m absolutely in love with my Gerber Suspension. Yes, the Real Tools are better- but I’ve used my Gerber Suspension to do everything from stripping wires to building antennae and working on my cars, and even working on computers and electronics- including my BITX40 and QRP Labs U3S!
Every geek needs a multi-tool, and this is the one I recommend. These low budget tools are affordable, light enough to keep handy, and high quality so that you’ll actually want to use it.
There’s nothing worse than trying to do three things at once- holding a wire, solder, and your soldering iron at the same time trying to tin the wire or soldering a wire to a potentiometer. You need a third hand!
This low budget tool is it. Strip the wire, put in the third hand, and tin it. Put the object you’re soldering to in it next, tin it too, and then connect the two and add some heat. Voila. Get a third hand. It’ll save you so much time and frustration, and they’re very inexpensive. You can even get ones with lighted magnifiers and a soldering holder. Nifty, right?
I went without these Hakko wire cutters for a long time, and I wish I’d spent the few dollars on these a long time ago. They are much handier than the pair of toe nail clippers I was using previously!
The cuts are much better using the Hakko flush cutter tool, and I don’t feel like a total idiot using toe nail clippers to trim wires and thru-hole component leads. Things are a vital piece of kit, so be sure to grab a pair on your next stroll through Amazon.
You might be able to raid your wife’s or kids craft box for these. If not, pick up a high temperature (NOT the lower temperature!) hot glue gun and some glue sticks for it. I’ve found so many uses for mine that I hardly know when to start. I’ve used mine to do everything from building a microphone for my BITX40 to building a dipole center that is weatherproof even in heavy rains.
Scraps and Scavenging
When you’re trying to build up a radio kit, an antenna tuner or you’re trying your hand at home brewing a radio, scraps are vital. Here are a few of the things that I look for when I’m at garage sales, second hand stores, or even Goodwill. They don’t quite qualify as a low budget tool but I think you’ll agree that it’s a great way to save cash on parts, and gives a chance to be creative too!
People can’t GIVE these away these days, but some of them are very nice and have high quality electronics in them. Before throwing out my old 30″ CRT TV, I removed the back cover and ripped out all the circuit boards and speakers. What are old TV’s except radio receivers with a big tube, and they’re rife with great parts, cabling, heat sinks, and wiring, right? Google “disassemble CRT TV Safely” for information on tearing these down safely. If the TV has been used recently, it could seriously SHOCK AND INJURE YOU TO DEATH.
Ancient CB Radios
Old CB radios often have quality parts in them, and are usually very inexpensive. I picked up an old GMC branded CB for $1, and it’s yielded some nice switch/potentiometer combos and knobs, as well as a chassis that may be usable for other projects. Try to get the microphones with them if you can, those are useful as well.
We’re talking about the kind that used to sit in your parents entertainment cabinet connected to 6 foot tall speakers, playing the latest Kenny Rogers/Dolly Parton duet or playing ET on VHS. Clock Radios are fair game too, as they’ll have handy variable capacitors (varicons) worthwhile for QRP. We recently tore one of these down, Check it out Here.
I wouldn’t raid electrolytic capacitors from any of these items, but the rest is fair game and will come in handy when you need a part and don’t want to order it up from Digikey or Mouser and spend $8 shipping for a $1 part.
I hope you’ve found this post useful. Comment and tell us what you’re favorite tools are!