As much as I tweet about my fondness for building things in Altoids (or Altoids-type) tins, I have just 3 projects in these useful and affordable enclosures;
a Softrock 40:
an antenna switch:
and a morse code practice buzzer:
When Altoids first became popular, I saved my tins and ended up with around 15-20 of them, figuring that one day they’d be useful. Then during a move, I decided to get rid of them and now of course, wish I hadn’t. I like the older tins because the top lids are not embossed as the current ones are – better for sticking labels on, if I ever want to do that.
Enter the latest Altoids tin project – the AA0ZZ Keyer, a kit from the 4 States QRP Group, and a Christmas gift from my friend Antoinette:
I haven’t put any labelling on this keyer, as is suggested in the instructions. They even provide you with artwork in pdf form in many different color schemes, to match the different Altoids tins. Perhaps I’ll get around to it, but I quite the look of leaving the tins as they are. Construction is straight forward – there are very few parts:
I did have one small challenge, and that was in mounting the 3 small pushbuttons. The manual advises the use of superglue in gel form. Regular superglue is too runny, and can easily wick up into the actual switch mechanism, gluing it shut. I bought some superglue brand-named “Caliber” that claimed to be a gel. On squeezing out a little onto the first pushbutton, it proved not to have the consistency of a gel, ran into the switch mechanism and glued it firm. It was at this point I wished that an extra pushbutton had been included for mishaps like this. Luckily, 4SQRP will send you 3 extra pushbuttons for $4 inc shipping. I put the order through and set about gluing the other 2 pushbuttons, using what had been in my mind to use all along – epoxy. I like using epoxy because you have plenty of time to move things around if they are not right the first time, and when it does set, it sets rock solid. I don’t mind that you have to wait a few hours for it to set – waiting takes no effort :-)
The 3 extra pushbuttons arrived in a few days. I sent the order on Friday afternoon and they arrived the folllowing Wednesday. Here’s a close-up of the pushbuttons fixed firmly in place with epoxy. It doesn’t look too pretty, but it’s very functional:
And a complete inside view of the keyer:
So far I’m pretty happy with it, but I have noticed two things. Firstly, it is not possible to change the ratio of character speed to spacing when sending from the memories. I like to send characters at a slightly higher speed than the spacing between them. I learnt the code this way – by learning characters sent at 20 wpm with bigger spaces between them. Then when I wanted to increase my speed I simply closed the gaps between the characters. I like sending this way as it encourages the listener to think of each letter as a particular sound rather than a series of dits and dahs. Ideally I would like to program the memories in this keyer to send with a character speed of 15-18 wpm and a spacing of about 12 wpm.
The other thing, which I’m going to have to find an answer to so that I can use the keyer in the way I’ve been wanting to, and that is that I can’t get the straight key mode to work. I want to be able to send CQ’s from the keyer memory (on 7030 most of the time) and then break in with a straight key to answer calls. I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong. The manual says that in straight key mode, either the dit or the dah paddle can be used. I’m pretty sure I have the dit and dah paddles wired up correctly, as the paddle works fine with the keyer in iambic mode. All the other commands on the keyer work except the straight key mode. I wonder if there’s a problem with the PIC programming?
I just joined the 4SQRP e-mail reflector and plan to ask the folks there to see if they can help me out. Otherwise, this is a fun little kit (and it only costs $17 at the time of writing).