Dave Richards AA7EE

October 29, 2011

The N0XAS PicoKeyer

I had a very welcome surprise last week when the mailman handed me a package. I was a bit perplexed as I hadn’t ordered anything recently, so wasn’t expecting anything. I had my first clue on seeing the name and callsign of the sender on the front – Darwin Piatt W9HZC. Inside I found a couple of small bags of parts and instructions for building an N0XAS PicoKeyer. What a great gift to receive in the mail! Dar had e-mailed me shortly after I made the blog-post on building the WBR Regen Receiver and we’ve been communicating over e-mail since then.  He is an ARRL Assistant Section Manager for Nebraska, Director of the Nebraska Elmer Squad, and is also a co-founder of the Midwest Homebrewers and QRP Group.  Oh – he also works full-time, teaches at the local Community College and runs Ham Classes.  Ham Radio is not his only hobby either, so I’m not sure how he found time to write his e-mails to me.  Dar wants to make a group build project out of the WBR Receiver for the 2012 OzarkCon.  For the 2011 Build Session, they built the Ham Can.  I think the WBR Receiver is a great idea for a group build project, so am really looking forward to seeing this project unfold.

Anyway, back to the PicoKeyer. It’s a perfect first-time builders’ kit as there are not many parts to solder. Even someone who has never built a kit before could finish this in one evening. For anyone who has built anything before, it goes together quickly and easily:

The pushbutton on the end of the wire came about because I originally intended to use the micro-switch that came with the kit by epoxying it to the inside of the Altoids tin. Unfortunately, I was a bit too liberal with the JB Weld and gummed up the workings of the micro-switch. The only other button I had I didn’t really like, so decided to mount it on the end of a longer piece of cable as shown above. On finding a button I liked better,  the plan was to mount it in the case and trim the longer cable down to make the connection. In practice though,  this current arrangement works quite well as I place the Altoids tin further back from the operating position, alongside the radios, and the button extends out and sits on the desk next to the paddle, so that I can easily trigger CQ calls or whatever other messages I want to play from memory.

Incidentally, the newer version of the PicoKeyer comes with the pot and the pushbutton mounted on the board. Anything that leads to less wiring up of connectors is fine by me! There is also a pre-drilled enclosure available.

My other keyer is an AA0ZZ Keyer from 4SQRP  I like the fact that it has 3 pushbuttons for playing each of 3 pre-recorded messages. The one thing it’s missing that I would like, is a pot for varying the speed;  sending speed is controlled via the paddle through a menu, which makes on-the-fly adjustment of speed during QSO a little trickier. The PicoKeyer has a pot for adjusting the speed. Another nice feature of the speed adjustment pot is that you can set a default speed for the keyer – the speed you most often like to send at.  If you turn the speed control pot fully counter-clockwise, the PicoKeyer reverts to it’s default speed. Nice!

Playback of the 4 message memories is accomplished by briefly pressing the button to play message 1.  If you want to play messages 2, 3 or 4, you press and hold the button in. The keyer will send 2 dits, then 3 dits, then 4 dits. Releasing the button after you’ve heard a certain number of dits will play the relevant message. This is quite intuitive after you’ve done it a few times. Accessing of the various menu items is accomplished by holding in the button and allowing it to cycle past message 4, when it cycles through the various menu items.  A full description of the features of the PicoKeyer can be found here.

After using both the PicoKeyer and the AA0ZZ Keyer, I think I’ve found the perfect duo of mini-keyers. The AA0ZZ Keyer works best for me when working DX stations or DXpeditions with pre-programmed memories.  In the heat of the moment, when trying to snag a rare one, it’s easier to have specific messages accessible by pushing individual buttons rather than hold a button and waiting for it to cycle to a specific message. On the other hand, the rest of the time, I prefer the PicoKeyer, due to the ability to easily change sending speed in QSO by simply turning the pot.

Thank you very much Dar – and have fun with the WBR Receiver group build project. Judging from the response that my build of the WBR generated, I think there will be a lot of people wishing they were taking part in that build.  Note to anyone wishing to build this fine little regen – the group build of the WBR Receiver will be at OzarkCon 2012.

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