Dave Richards AA7EE

September 30, 2012

Building and Installing The Internal ATU, SSB Adapter and 160M Receive Options For the K2

F5VJD’s DSB80 is not completely finished.  I need to get rid of the chirp, and the first step will be to clear up some of my shaky grounding practices. I’d also like to build a sidetone oscillator. However, I spent a lot of time and put quite a bit of work into getting it into the case and wiring it up, and I really needed to take a breather before continuing with it.

In the meantime, Eric WA6HH posted a heads-up to the Elecraft reflector that there would be a slight price increase on several of their products in mid-September.  No more information than that was provided.  I knew that at some point I wanted to assemble several options for my K2 and, not knowing whether the options I wanted would be affected by the price increases, decided to go ahead and order them. As it turns out, mid-September came and went, and the options I ordered are still the same price but that’s OK – I wanted them anyway.

After working on the DSB80, assembling a few Elecraft K2 options would be a nice bit of relaxation. All I had to do was follow the instructions and everything would work – kind of like knitting a sweater according to a pattern. You do what they say and as long as you execute well, it works out perfectly.  That has been my experience with Elecraft so far, and these options were no exception.

The options I ordered were the K160RX 160M receive option, the KAT2 20W internal ATU, and the KSB2 SSB adapter. The 160M receive option was a bit of a no-brainer at just $40. I don’t do that well on 80 with my current antenna, so the chances of me doing OK on 160M are pretty slim, but one day I’ll be in the position to put up an antenna for 160M and on top of that, I was keen to see how far beyond the band edges I’d be able to receive – it was a way to increase the general coverage capabilities of the K2 just a little. Plus, the ability to have a different antenna for receive could be useful. The internal ATU would make operation simpler.  I’d been using an MFJ manual tuner, and wanted to be able to hop bands and frequencies more quickly (yes, lazy I know).

The SSB option wasn’t in my head when I first built the K2. I was so into CW, and loved the simplicity of a high-performance rig assembled solely with CW in mind.  However, very occasionally, I have heard stations on SSB that I wanted to contact. One station in particular was in the Philippines who was calling CQ with no-one coming back to him.  I don’t remember the band, but he was so loud that I knew he’d be able to hear even a QRP signal from me. It was one of those moments where I thought it’d be neat to speak into the mic and make an instant, easy contact with a DX station. Plus, even though I don’t use digital modes much at all, it would allow me to use WSPR occasionally if I so desired. I was also harboring a fantasy that I might want to start rag-chewing on phone one day but in retrospect, that was probably an unrealistic hope :-) As it turned out, the novelty of having SSB was starting to wear off after 2 QSO’s, and was mostly gone after the 3rd.  It’s still a good extra capability to have though, and I do like going through the process of assembling, installing and aligning circuits.

The K160RX 160M receive option is  a simple little board that doesn’t take long to put together, so I decided to have a go at it first. The board is upside-down in the first shot.  Sorry about that. Hmmm – looks like a couple of my foster cat’s hairs made their way onto the relay on the right-hand side. Those long-haired cats leave their marks everywhere…….. :-)   (Scroll to the end of this post to see where those hairs came from.)

Installation of this option is straightforward. On receive it tunes down to about 1600KHz, though with reduced sensitivity.  I’m not yet sure what the upper limit is. The board adds a 160M lowpass filter for the separate RX antenna, and switches in extra capacitance in the bandpass filter on the main RF board for 160M.  I’ve only heard one station on Top Band so far, though I’m sure the next Stew Perry contest will change that. Here’s what it looks like installed in the K2:

Looking from the rear (the plastic “boot” over the antenna connector is to remind the user not to use that BNC when the internal ATU is installed – it is supplied with the internal ATU kit -

Next up was the KAT2 Internal 20W ATU. This next picture of  the top-side of the partially completed LC board (the ATU is comprised of 2 boards) is posted here to illustrate a point.  I had a Twitter conversation recently with a ham who wants to build the K2, yet has a problem with his soldering generating a large amount of residual flux.  He couldn’t figure out why after soldering, his boards have so much flux on them.  I referred him to the Elecraft soldering guide and after reading it, he concluded that he was putting too much solder on his joints. This reminded me of Don W3FPR, who repairs and aligns a lot of K2′s, saying on the Elecraft reflector that he sees a lot of K2′s with way too much solder on them.  If you use a thin and mildly active solder along with a small tip on your soldering iron, you can easily regulate how much solder flows onto the joint, and ensure that you use the right amount and no more.  I use Kester RMA 285 in .02″ diameter (the RMA stands for “Rosin Mildly Active”.)  My tips are 1/32″ and 1/16″ diameter chisel tips – that’s 0.8mm and 1.6mm.   With boards that have plated-through holes, thin solder and a small tip will allow you to apply enough solder to fill up the hole and just a little more. From what I’ve read, ideally, you want to avoid a concave shape of solder in the hole – you should have a very small fillet of solder leading up to the lead, with the operative phrase being “very small”. I veer towards making the joint almost flat with the board – though flush cutters won’t allow me to make the joint totally flat. If you are applying the minimum amount of solder needed to make the joint, you wont have problems with solder bridging adjacent pads and causing unwanted shorts. You also won’t need to clean the flux off with a flux cleaner, because there won’t be much, and mildly active rosin isn’t corrosive enough to cause a problem if left on the board.  I think I did end up applying a little flux cleaner to this board eventually, but this picture was taken before applying it. What little flux there is, is honey-colored and hard to see in this picture, but I hope it illustrates the fact that unless you’re very particular about appearance, you don’t need to use flux cleaner if you’re using the right kind and amount of solder:

Another view of the top-side of the partially completed LC board:

Incidentally, if the board you’re soldering on doesn’t have plated-through holes, you will need to apply more on top of the joint in order to make a reliable connection. The capacitors on the above board are bent over per the instructions in order to achieve the necessary clearance. The underside of the LC board contains all the relays. If you look closely, you’ll see that relay K13 is not quite parallel with the other relays. These kinds of oversights on my part drive me potty but are of no consequence to the performance of the circuit:

I don’t have a picture of the whole of the top-side of the completed control board, but here’s a view from the side. It’s not a very good photo technically either but it’s all I have. Sorry about that. Note that the NPO cap behind the toroidal transformer is not the stock part (in case you were wondering why yours looks different.)  The stock part is a monolithic cap. I thought that I might have damaged mine (long story) so replaced it with this part. As it turned out, the stock part was fine, but as this NPO cap does a perfectly good job in it’s place, I left it in -

The finished KAT2 Internal 20W ATU:

At the bottom is the control board, and on top, the LC board, containing all the capacitors, inductors, and the relays that switch them all in and out of circuit when finding a match. The pink piece of foam underneath was simply to raise the ATU to the right angle to get a good shot.  I have become a bit lackadaisical recently, as I really should have looked for a way to support the board that wouldn’t be visible to the camera. I’m slipping.  Sometimes I just want to take the pictures and get to the next part of the project:

The completed unit showing the underside of the control board, with the 2 trim-pots that set the readings for forward and reflected power:

The KAT2 20W Internal ATU installed in the top cover of the K2. I’ve placed black electrical tape over the unused holes to prevent dust from getting into the K2.  My top cover was supposed to have been supplied with green tape over these holes, but it had already been removed when I received it.  Not a biggie:

Phew – only one more option to go – the KSB2 SSB adapter. I loved assembling the KSB2 board, as it is a little more densely packed than the K2 or any of the other options I had built so far. It’s fun building small things. Here’s the top of the completed board, showing all those lovely crystals (it’s a 7-pole crystal filter) -

The manual says to install the crystals flush with and tight against the board.  I usually try to build my circuits so they will be as reliable as possible and although there was an insulating solder mask on the top of the traces that connect to the crystal terminals, there was, in my estimation, the slightest chance that if the integrity of that solder mask were to be breached, there was a possibility of the pads being shorted out by the metal underside of the crystal casing.  It’s a long shot but why risk it if you can avoid it? I spoke with Richard at Elecraft who confirmed to me that if I were to space the crystals above the board by the thickness of a piece of paper, it wouldn’t adversely affect the performance of the filter. That was all I needed to hear, so that is what I did.

Although I have definite OCD tendencies, I do keep them in check on a regular basis.  Functionality is an important factor and although it’s nice to have all my toroids looking neat, I recognize that there is no difference in functionality between a toroid with perfectly spaced turns and the ones that look like mine in the picture below. Some of my toroids turn out looking really nice and some of them look just OK, but they all work just fine :-)  -

The underside of the SSB adapter board. RFC1 and RFC2, though marked on the underside of the board, are actually installed on the top-side. They are wound on very small FT23-43 cores and the only reticence I had about top-mounting them was that it was hard to avoid the windings coming very close to the metal cases of the adjacent crystals. I know the windings are covered in insulation, but I’m not overly keen on it. Unavoidable though. You can see how close the mini toroidal chokes are to the metal crystal cases in the direct overhead shot of the board, 2 pictures above. Here’s one of the underside of the board -

There are several reasons I post many pictures of my projects. I know there are times when I’m assembling something and I want to know how other people do it.  Occasionally, if an instruction in a manual is unclear to me, or can be interpreted in different ways, I’ll go trolling the internet to see what other people who built the same thing ended up with. Perhaps I can help a few people by offering up my pictures. Also, it’s fun taking pictures!

Before adjusting the carrier balance, the instructions in the manual say to place the wiper of the carrier balance trim-pot at approximately mid-travel. I did this and found that very little further adjustment was necessary to null out the carrier. I have only performed a rough adjustment using the S-meter of the K2 so far, but I’m pretty close.

All these options required a small number of modifications to the main RF board on the K2. Some builders who are reticent about desoldering components from their beloved K2′s have opted to use the Rework Eliminators.  I did think about it but decided against using them for 2 main reasons. Firstly, I’m cheap frugal and was already stretching my finances a bit even by buying just the basic K2. Secondly, I’m quite good at soldering and desoldering and don’t find it a nuisance at all to have to partially disassemble a rig and desolder a few components in order to fit a new option.  I have actually enjoyed the partial disassembly of the K2, as I got a chance to renew my acquaintance with it’s innards. The K2 PCB’s are high quality boards. You’d have to apply an awful lot of heat for a long time in order to damage them.  I did turn the flux darker in color in one or two places, but a quick application of flux remover with a plumbers flux brush took care of that.  The places on the K2 board where I have removed jumpers and desoldered components still look really good.

As a continuation of the last topic,  I hope you’ll allow me to air a few more opinions about soldering and the K2.  I do understand how someone who hasn’t built a K2 before would want to protect their investment. The Rework Eliminators are very appealing in this regard. In my opinion, they could be useful if you are going to be changing options a lot. Even a good board in the hands of an experienced tech will start to look shabby if soldered and desoldered enough times. Now that I have installed the 160M receive, internal ATU and SSB options, I doubt very much that I will need to remove them. If you’re experienced at soldering, the lack of Rework Eliminators  in my opinion is not a problem. If you’re not experienced at soldering, in my opinion also, you shouldn’t be building a K2.

Please don’t interpret the last sentence as a discouragement from building one of these absolutely brilliant rigs. If you have any inkling to build a K2 – please do.  It might be the last chance you’ll get to build this kind of a kit at the component level.  It’s certainly a classic of our times.  If you’ve ever thought that you’d like to build a K2 – definitely do it, but make sure that you can solder well before you start.  $740 plus tax + shipping (at time of writing) is a lot of money to spend on something if you’re just going to drown it in solder!

If your response to this is is something along the lines of “But my soldering isn’t very good and it’s always been that way” then I challenge you to improve it. It can be done.

As part of installing the SSB option, some extra components have to be installed on the control board – some capacitors, a couple of transistors, and a set of header pins for configuring the mic wiring for whatever mic you will use. For configurations that require adjacent header pins to be connected together, you can use jumper blocks.  The mic I decided to use was an old Heil Traveler headset.  I didn’t like the bulk of the thicker wire and adapter cord (that in my case was configured for an FT-817) and the small plastic box that contained a PTT button and freq up/down buttons, so I chopped it all off and got to decide how I was going to wire it to the 8-pin mic plug.  I decided to go with the straightforward configuration that the Elecraft MH2 mic uses i.e. adjacent pins connected to each other.  If I decide in the future to use any different type of mic, I’ll probably use a home-made adapter cable so that I don’t have to go into the K2 and re-configure for each different mic -

Here’s the KSB2 SSB Adapter installed on the K2 main RF board.  There is a hole in the SSB adapter board that allows the frequency counter probe to be attached to TP2, but I’m a little concerned that although it can also still make electrical contact with TP1, if I want to seat it fully into TP1, it looks like I’m going to have to file some of the edge off the KSB2 board -

Those blank holes on the back of the K2 are starting to fill up.  The blank holes are supposed to be covered with green masking tape as supplied, but that tape had already been removed on the covers supplied to me, so I have covered the few remaining holes with black electrical tape. Looks OK and keeps the dust out -

I’ve had a few SSB QSO’s with the K2 so far and out of 5 QSO’s, 4 of the stations gave me unsolicited reports of excellent sounding audio. One station said that perhaps I could use a few more highs and a little less on the low end, but that I should be careful about messing with the audio too much as it already sounded very good.  I may adjust the carrier placement in the filter pass-band just a little to accentuate the highs, but I think I’m pretty close.

Assembling and installing these options has been an enjoyable exercise.  It has given me the opportunity to re-familiarize myself with the insides of the K2 and has only solidified my liking for this rig, as well as my respect for Elecraft. The ham community is very lucky to have this company making these great products for us.   My budget has taken a bit of a beating this month, but I’m hoping to be able to get the K60XV 60M option pretty soon :-)

Oh – and those hairs on the relay in the very first picture in this post? They came from Chala – a 10 year-old kitty that I’m fostering right now. There is a group that goes out every night and feeds the feral population here in Oakland. Chala was amongst those cats, but one of the volunteers brought her into the shelter because she was not doing at all well on the streets. She’s a shy kitty with a very sweet nature, and was unable to defend herself from the other cats. She was in really bad shape when first brought into the shelter, but is slowly starting to settle down and get comfortable here. She’s a sweetheart and as you saw from the photo of the K160RX option (if you were looking carefully), is already starting to leave her mark on my construction projects :-)

Chala is pondering how the K2 will perform on 60M when I build the K60XV option.

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