K2 build project: Introduction

For those of you not following along at home, I passed my Technician and General license tests over a year ago, having wanted to become a ham since I was about 13 (but never having followed through on it). In the intervening time, I have done precious little operating.

Ham radio appeals to people for a variety of reasons; it's a hobby with a lot of different facets. The two that appealed to me were making HF contacts over long distances, and building my own equipment. When I was in high school I took some electronics classes and learned the fundamentals, but I've long since forgotten them. I also ran an FM pirate radio station (*guilty face*) and built a transmitter, amplifier, and stereo generator from kits. That was the last time (12-13 years ago) that I did any serious electronics work though.

After getting licensed, I spent some time looking into possible HF rigs. My friend Nick loaned me his Norcal 40A QRP CW rig, and my friend Rob loaned me an HF amp that I could use with it. I got good enough at morse code (and found other hams with enough patience) to make three QSOs with these and a somewhat crappy dipole. I also bought a Yaesu VX-7R HT, with the intention of chatting up the local hams on repeaters and using it to make some satellite QSOs. But the diplexer I need to make my home brew satellite antenna work remains unbuilt, and it turns out that most of the local repeaters I can hear are little-used and rather boring. Limited to 40 meters, and with my wedding looming, the HF rig fell into disuse as well.

I decided pretty early on that the Elecraft K2 would be the best full-fledged HF rig for me. A lot of people ask, "Why not a K3?" The reason is that the K3 is basically a Lego radio – it's an amazing piece of equipment by all accounts, but assembly just involves snapping some pre-built boards together. I wanted a kit that would have me melting solder, burning my fingers, and squinting myself into early onset myopia. The K2 fits the bill nicely; it's moderately challenging, probably more so for me since my soldering skills are so rusty, but I'll have some help from friends as I go.

The aforementioned wedding, and then an immediate move to a new apartment, stopped me from ordering the K2 sooner. Then in June, for my 30th birthday, my wife "gave" it to me, but it came with strings attached! I couldn't order the kit until I got my old car put up for sale on Craigslist and got our TV antenna working to her satisfaction. I knew I married a smart woman, but I didn't expect it to bite me in the ass!

Two weeks ago I finished these chores, ordered my K2, and serial number 6991 arrived a few days later (if only I could have gotten #7000!). I also bought myself a Panavise 324 electronics workstation, an anti-static mat, a set of various types of tweezers, some small screwdrivers, and a nice diagonal flush cutter. I'm off work all this week, so I've started the build and will be documenting it here. Stay tuned!

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