Tuesday, August 15, 2017

New Life to All American Five - Part 3: Patient Survives.

Where we started two days ago...


The rest of the repairs were comprised of changing out all of the paper capacitors with modern mylar film components.  This is a pretty boring process and I'll spare you the blow-by-blow description, suffice it to say that I replace one at a time (unless one cap is blocked by another - in that case, two at a time...) and test the set after replacing each one.  This isn't so much to see if the new part improved performance as much as it is to catch any mistakes - I must have been paying attention while working on this one because I didn't screw anything up.

The cosmetic "restoration" was primarily just cleaning 70 years worth of crud off of everything and replacing the speaker cloth.  The veneer and original lacquer finish weren't terrible, so I opted to refresh rather than refinish it.  That's the nice thing about lacquer - you can clean, repair and "reflow" it - what I like to call a "scuff and blast".  I prefer to do this whenever possible, not only because it's a hell of a lot less work, but it usually looks more appropriate when some of the scars of age show through.

Here's a short video clip of the set in action:


So, that's that.  As you can see in the background, my bench is utter chaos and I really need to spend a few days reorganizing the junk.  Don't think I'll be blogging about that - but my plans for my next project are starting to gel.  I'll drop a hint because I'm kind of excited about it:  It'll be a combination of traditional radio technology and software definition - stay tuned!

73 - Steve N8NM

Monday, August 14, 2017

New Life to All American Five Part II - Filter Capacitor Replacement.

Easily the most common failure point with vintage radios are the electrolytic capacitors, primarily those in the power supply.  In anything over 40-50 years old, it's virtually guaranteed that the filter capacitors have either failed or are soon going to.  While I generally abhor the "shotgun" method of replacing anything that could possibly be bad, I do replace filter caps before powering up any piece of ancient electronics. 

This set uses a fairly typical arrangement for All-American Five tube sets: A single cylinder containing three electrolytics - Two 40 uF 160 Volt capacitors to filter the power supply and one 20 uF/25 volt capacitor used to bypass the cathode of the audio power amplifier tube.  I've heard that there are vendors who can supply original-style replacements, but the original can be "restuffed" with new replacement parts for about the cost of shipping of the original-style replacement.  So, being cheap, that's what I'll do with this set.

This is the "before" shot of the capacitor mounted on the top of the chassis.  Note the phenolic insulator at the base - this must be re-used and care taken that the capacitor housing doesn't short to the chassis as it actually "rests" a couple volts below ground potential.

The view from below.  This is where I scribble notes detailing what goes where before I warm up the iron - I'm not going to remember how it's wired, and tracing from a .pdf scan of a photocopied schematic is a drag.

The cardboard cover of the capacitor is typically held to the aluminum cylinder by a blob of tar.  This was the hot-glue of the day!  

To get at the guts, I carefully undo the crimp where the cylinder is attached to the base. 

The dried-out capacitor elements can usually be removed by pulling it out by the terminals using a pair of pliers.  Some fight harder than others, and you have to be careful not to damage the terminals as we're going to reuse them.  In this cap, the guts were held to the cylinder with another tar blob - pretty typical.

The new caps are installed to the original terminals.  In order to wire them, drill small holes in the base plate and route the leads to the underside.  The original wires extending from the terminals are aluminum and won't take solder.  With a bit of care, the holes/wires can be all but invisible. 

I secure the caps and wiring with a little tape, just in case someone ever decides to operate the radio in a paint shaker.

The guts are stuffed back into the cylinder and the cylinder is re-crimped to the base.

Bottom view.  The crimp isn't pretty, but it's not going to show.

All the wires get reconnected according to the notes taken earlier.  Notice the yellow capacitor with the green leads - This was connected to one of the terminals on the electrolytic, and since I intend to replace all of the old paper caps anyway, I replaced it while it was halfway disconnected.

And the "After" shot.  Looks the same as the before - which is exactly what I want!

This is where I stop, visually inspect everything and - using an isolation transformer - apply power to the set and check performance before proceeding to replacement of the paper caps. Most of the time, the set will come to life somewhat - there are bound to be other problems.  These should be noted before continuing.  This set was pretty typical, it played well at first, but slowly crapped out over time.  Troubleshooting revealed a bad rectifier tube - no big deal, got one coming!  Meanwhile, I cobbled together a solid-state replacement so that I'll be able to continue refurbishing it while waiting on the tube.

This looks like a good stopping point - More to come!


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Giving New Life to an All American Five - Part 1.

I have a weakness for old radios.  I don't know how many I have - easily more than 100 - but I still don't consider myself a collector because I don't have the desire to accumulate specific makes or models.  Nope.  I just like working on them and, when something interesting comes up at the right price, I have a hard time walking away.

Earlier today, my wife and I met friends Sean, WX8L and Jeff, KF8XO and their wives Andrea and Karen for a trip up to Port Huron where there was a ham radio "trunk sale" being held along the shore (seawall, actually) of the St. Clair River.  While it wasn't a "full blown" hamfest, there were some cool items, including several boat anchors, being offered up for sale at reasonable prices.

While I was able to resist the siren song of the R-390A (already have one), NC-300 (Wife would kill me) and Mosley CM-1 (that one was tough to resist), I couldn't pass up the grimy little Silvertone 7054-J with the $12 price tag, especially when the seller said I could have it for $10.

For whatever reason, this little set "spoke to me", so while I'm pondering on my next homebrew project, bringing this fellow back from the dead will give me something to keep myself busy (and keep this blog active.)  

So, where do you start on something like this?  I like to start by cleaning the heavy dust and crud from the chassis, and, as you can see above, this set had more than it's fair share.  I'm not out to detail the chassis - just get it to where it's not as gross to work on.  a few minutes with a semi-firm bristle brush makes a big difference:

While cleaning, I noticed that the #47 dial lamp was open, so I replaced it.  Low hanging fruit; one less thing to deal with later.

This set has push-button presets that operate mechanically, and, as you'd expect, the mechanism was gummed-up with 70 year old grease.  Another low-hanging fruit: cleaned, adjusted and re-lubed the mechanism, including the tuning capacitor. 

The most common failure item in old radios is not, as most people assume, the tubes.  Nope, it's the capacitors.  In a radio this age, it's a virtual certainty that the electrolytic capacitors in the power supply will be shot, so I checked the value of the originals and made sure I had suitable replacements on-hand.  

The "can" in the above picture contains the aforementioned power supply caps - it's a "three-in-one" affair: The can contains two 40 uF, 150 volt caps and a 20 uF, 25 volt cap.  Pretty typical - what I'll do is "restuff" this can with modern replacements (47 uF/160V and 20 uF/35V.)  You can usually go a bit higher in capacitance (within reason) and can always go higher in working volts, and those will be fine replacements.

But, it's 2300 hours and I'm not going to get into that tonight.

73 - Steve N8NM

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Discreet Transistor Keyer - Part 5: Stick A Fork In It - It's Done.

The DTK sitting atop the SR-16.

After spraying the scrap metal enclosure with a coat of paint (to match the SR-16), it doesn't look bad at all. 

Getting reacquainted with the "TO" style of keyer hasn't been as daunting as I'd expected; I'm getting better at it now that I've learned to simply slow down and not "get ahead" of the keyer; by that, I mean wait until the break after a dit or dah before pressing the paddle to start the next (unless sending a series of dits or dahs, in which case you just hold the key closed as with a "Curtis" style keyer.)

In the meantime, I've discovered a new digital mode: FT-8, and have become somewhat addicted to it.  The mode is available in the WSJT-X version 1.8 release candidate that's available at: https://physics.princeton.edu/pulsar/k1jt/wsjtx.html

If you're familiar with JT-65, FT-8 is a lot like JT-65 after too much espresso.  Transmissions take place every 15 seconds as opposed to ever minute, so the pace is much quicker - almost contest-like.  The trade-off is that the ultra-weak signal performance isn't there and QSOs with signals much lower than 15 dB below the noise floor often require repeats to complete.  Still, it's loads of fun!

73 - Steve N8NM

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Discreet Transistor Keyer Part 4 - Building the "scrap metal" enclosure.

In my last post, I mentioned Master Homebrewer Pete, N6QW's recent blog showing how he builds beautiful enclosures using an inexpensive bending brake.  Pete, a true craftsman, did a marvelous job, as any craftsman who takes pride in his work would.

Now, I'm going to show you the other side - how to quickly bend up a simple enclosure from a piece of scrap 22 ga. aluminum.  Because for some projects, simply being good enough is good enough!

I started with a couple of scrap "rails" that I had left over from another project and the keyer's circuit board:
Laying the bits on the bench, I took a couple of measurements and determined that the box would be about 4 1/2 inches square by 1 1/2 inches high.  The easiest enclosure to make (in my opinion) is the simple "clam shell", where you have  top and bottom panels that slip over one another to form a box.  Since I already had the rails for the front and rear, this one will be easy because I only need two bends in each panel. 

For the bottom, I laid out the dimensions on the scrap aluminum sheet.  Since the dimensions are 4 1/2" square and I'll need about a 1/2" "lip" on the left and right sides, I cut the piece to 4 1/2 x 5 1/2" using a pair of shears.

In the last picture, you can see the lines drawn on the soon-to-be bottom panel that show where the bends will be, um, bent.  Now, it's off the the "back room" to do the bending!
Lined up and clamped in the brake.  For a small bit like this, a single vise-grip is enough to hold it in place.  I use multiple C-clamps when working with larger pieces.

One side bent - square bend in seconds, try doing that the way the old handbooks tell you to. 

And repeat for the other side...

The top is formed the same way, except that I left a full-height (1 1/2") "overhang" on each side instead of the 1/2" used on the bottom panel.
The components, ready for assembly.

When I'm in the mood, I've got a jig that I made to drill mounting holes in the corner of PCB with some degree of precision.  This isn't one of those times, so I laid the board where I wanted it to go, drilled the hole for one corner and fastened it with a screw and nut.
The single screw/nut hold the board in place while I drill the other three, and then all four corners get fastened.

Next, I fastened the front and rear panels to the bottom with pop-rivets.  Unfortunately, I didn't capture the excitement photographically, but trust me, it happened.

Now for the only "exotic" piece of hardware in this entire project: Rivnuts! 
Fastening the top of the enclosure to the box means that I'm not going to be able to use screws with nuts, and if I use rivets, then I'll invariably have to drill them out to fix something.  I could use sheet-metal screws, but they eventually get sloppy after being undone-redone a few times.  Rivnuts are cool; they're threaded inserts that attach like a rivet - the tool looks like a pop-rivet tool that, rather than having a hole for the rivet "lead", has a threaded stud.  Installation is a snap - drill the hole (for #6-32 inserts, drill a 9/16" hole), screw the Rivnut onto the tool, insert, squeeze the handle and bingo!

And that's it.  The finished product is certainly "good enough"; with a little body-work (filing the edges smooth and massaging out any dents) and paint, nobody will know that it was whipped together in about 45 minutes from a piece of scrap.


Monday, July 31, 2017

Discreet Transistor Keyer, Part 3 - Final design, Up and Running!

In Part 1, I mentioned that this wasn't going to be a clone of an older design.  Well, I lied... Kind of.

For the past few nights, I've been trying different circuits and deep-diving the design of Jim Ricks' (W9TO) original tube keyer, the Hallicrafters HA-1 and HA-4 variants, Heath's HD-10 and W2YM's keyer from the Spring, 1964 edition of RCA's Ham Tips.  I gotta tell you, that Jim Ricks was a brilliant son of a gun!  While, in my various prototypes, I certainly succeeded in making the keyer more complicated, I failed to make it better!  So, rather than reinvent the wheel, I merely adapted the design to use the modern parts that I have on-hand.

The schematic diagram below shows the sum of my efforts:

Those familiar with the circuits I mentioned earlier will immediately find mine familiar, the main difference is that I've "scaled" the circuit to operate from a single-ended 9 volt supply, while the earlier designs required "split" positive and negative supplies; those circuits used "negative logic" PNP transistors and the positive supply created cut-off bias for the bi-stable "DAH" flip-flop. 

I could go into the Theory of Operation, but that would mean a lot of typing and I haven't taken any photos to break it up yet, so I'll suggest anyone interested either drop me a line or check-out the Hallicrafters HA-4 manual (available on the BAMA site.)

So, what's it like to use?  In one word: humbling.  I cut my teeth on a HA-1, but it's been years since I used a non-iambic keyer and let me tell you: modern (Curtis A or B) keyers can masquerade your lack of rhythm.  You have to sync yourself up with the timing of a "TO" keyer, but once you get in the zone, it's not a problem - and the guy at the other end will certainly appreciate your perfectly timed fist.  I'm not ashamed to admit that it's going to take some practice before I'm ready to put this thing on the air!

So, my next entry will detail fabricating the chassis and enclosure from sheet metal.  If you follow N6QW's blog, he posted his method for doing this about a month ago, and frankly, mine's not much different.  Pete's corners are probably much more square than mine, but I don't think anyone's awarding style-points.  Seriously, though, the $40 18" Harbor Freight bending brake is a worthwhile investment - have you priced pre-fab boxes lately? Ouch!

Time for me to practice my sending...

73 - Steve N8NM 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Discreet Transistor Keyer - Part 2 - Refinements.

After building a prototype of the first circuit, I found a few things that weren't very good:  First, the speed and weight pots interacted significantly due to a flaw in my design.  I'll call it a brain fart.  The adjustment range was pretty much unusable as well, and the output waveform was pretty funky.

 Since it kind of worked, I did some further noodling and came up with the tweaks shown in the circuit above.  While I haven't built it in the physical world yet, I've modeled it in LT Spice and it looks pretty good.  The adjustment range for the speed control doesn't go as slowly as I'd like (about 13 WPM), but I seldom send any slower than that anyway, and the mid-scale speed of about 25 WPM suits me just fine. If I find that I need it to go slower, I can always add a "range" switch to add more R or C to the circuit - not a big deal.

With any luck, I'll have time to build this tomorrow and see if it works as designed.  Stay tuned!