The Muppet-Style Construction of John N8RVE

I have been meaning to write a post featuring the inspiring construction work of John N8RVE for almost a year now but sadly, am only able to think about one thing at a time, and The Sproutie MK II took up a lot of space in my head last year. Then, after finishing that, my one-track mind switched off from home-brewing and blogging activities completely. I am still unable to contemplate any more construction projects, and think that I may have done everything I set out to do with home-brewing, at least for a while.

In the meantime, there are a couple of things I’ve been wanting you to know about, and one of them is the excellent approach that John takes with his projects. John and I first became acquainted when he built a Rugster direct conversion receiver, and a WBR. Then I saw his build of a broadcast band regen, and that classic QRP design, Dave Benson’s SW+40, and really started to take notice.

John uses a form of construction that has been championed by Chuck Adams K7QO, in his QRP-Tech group on Yahoo Groups. Chuck calls it Muppet Construction and it refers to the practice of using an etched PCB, but soldering the components directly to the copper traces, thereby negating the need to drill holes in the board for component leads. It makes the process of creating the board easier, as there are no holes to drill. Also, after the circuit has been constructed, it is easier to look at the component side of the board and figure out what is connected to what – a process that is much harder with conventional through-hole PCB’s.

Back in January of last year, John finished construction of a broadcast band regen receiver, based on a design by Rick Andersen KE3IJ. Here is his very nicely etched “Muppet” PCB –

BCB Regen Receiver (Photo courtesy of John N8RVE)

The board partway through construction –

BCB Regen Receiver (Photo courtesy of John N8RVE)

And the completed regen (note the use of a rubber pinch wheel to achieve slow-motion tuning –

BCB Regen Receiver (Photo courtesy of N8RVE)

John’s next project really caught my attention. It is the classic QRP design, Dave Benson’s SW40+. Dave has retired, and the SW40+ is no longer available as a kit (perhaps sometime in the future it will be again?) I’m sure there are many folk who would love to build a SW40+ but lament the lack of availability of a kit. Luckily, the kit manual, including schematic, is freely available online so the obvious answer is to build your own, which is exactly what John did. You could build it Ugly-style, Manhattan-style or, as John chose, Muppet-style. Here is his fully populated board –

SW40+ (Photo courtesy of N8RVE)

Doesn’t this just look fantastic? This is very inspiring John!

SW40+ (Photo courtesy of N8RVE)

Then, using the same technique, John built a HiMite 20. The HiMite 15 and 20 were next-generation QRP transceivers based on the Rockmites and, like the SW series of rigs, were the brainchild of Dave Benson. This is John’s version of the HiMite 20. When he first e-mailed me with news of this project, he was having some problems with the receiver. I’m not sure if he was able to solve the issues, but I think it looks great –

HiMite 20 (Photo courtesy of N8RVE)

Just before his muppet construction odyssey began, John built a WBR, but ended up giving it to a friend who liked it. What to do? Build another one! This one is for the 31M broadcast band. John has had some issues with the volume level though otherwise, it is working OK –

WBR Receiver (Photo courtesy of N8RVE)

One of the great things about developing the ability to scratch-build (as opposed to assembling projects from kits) is that you can pretty build anything you want, as long as you have the schematic. You can build it using any one of a number of techniques – Ugly Construction, Manhattan, Muppet, or any combination that you wish. You could even design your own PCB and take the drastic measure of drilling holes in it for component leads 🙂

Thank you for sharing the details of some of your projects with us John, and I hope they inspire some readers the way they did me!



15 thoughts on “The Muppet-Style Construction of John N8RVE

    1. Thanks Frank. I enjoy seeing what others are building, and like to share the good news from time to time!


  1. Sent from my iPad Dave,

    Wow, thanks for sharing the fabulous N8RVE info. Beautiful.

    I was thinking about you the other day, hope you and the kitties are all FB. I keep expecting to see you buy an RV and become a gypsy, like you talked about last time I saw you. I will be retired too next year, mixed emotions about that. Lots of projects to work on.

    73. Rob. N7REP / KD7KAR

    1. Great to hear from you Rob, and I hope you’re doing well. Adjusting to retirement is an interesting subject. Some folks experience virtually no adjustment period at all, while others have a tough time not working. You have plenty of interests, so I imagine you’ll have no trouble finding ways to spend your time. Gosh, I think if I could play a musical instrument like you, I’d never get bored!

      The RV plan is still a distinct possibility, though I don’t have a timeline figured out yet. I’m not quite sure whether to place it in the “I definitely want to do this”, or the “This is my plan B” category. Time will tell!

      73 for now, and I’m glad you found John’s construction techniques interesting,


  2. Thank you for showcasing this great work, and an interesting technique. The implementation of the WBR is nice, eh? As well, it is always a pleasure to read your blog posts. Best to you and yours!

    1. Yes, I really enjoyed seeing John’s versions of these circuits. They look great. Good to hear from you again Brad, and I hope you’re doing well!

      73 for now,


  3. Saw this article in one of my Facebook feeds. The board design looks like artwork! I am curious though what method he uses to transfer the image to the board prior to etching. The edges are so clean it looks like it was cut from a film mask.
    I’m definitely going to have to give this a try at some point.

    Cheers! Hendrik VA3HA

    1. Hi Hendrik,
      The method I use to transfer the image is similar to what k7qo uses, but I just use a hobby iron that I had when I used to build RC airplanes. I have been reading about a method that does not use heat but uses a chemical mix to dissolve the toner and have it placed on the board. YouTube videos are great for seeing these processes. I also use express pcb for laying out the boards, very easy to use free program, but I reverse the image with robot rooms design program. Any questions that I didn’t answer please feel free to email me, the qrz email is good.

    1. You’ll have to ask John. I believe he uses the toner-transfer method. There is discussion and information on this style of construction in the QRP-Tech Yahoo Group.


      PS – see John’s reply to Hendrik above.

    2. teeh20, I use the toner transfer method, please see the reply to Hendrik above. If you do a search on youtube for toner transfer and pc boards, you will get more than you ask for as far as information. I use an iron to to heat the board and toner but k7qo’s videos use a laminating machine. I recommend K7QO’s youtube videos, as they are about 10 minutes each and go through the entire process of laying out the board with express pcb, to etching . If I could help you with anything else my, email on is good, or post here and I will reply. Again, I want to thank Dave for the spot on the blog site, and the opportunity to help others as he has done in the past. Take care N8RVE John

  4. Note that N8RVE has posted the muppet board design ExpressPCB file on the qrp-tech files section. His board really looks good and could be used for the a home brew version of the SW rigs.

    al ve3gam

    1. I didn’t know that – thanks for the heads-up Al. Chat With The Designers recently did a limited run version of the SW (I think it was the 40M version) and it sold out fast.


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