Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Working on the bottom of the RF board

There are no pictures to post today, because there's not that much to see ... a modest number of parts distributed all across the bottom side of the RF board. It has turned out that installing parts on the bottom of the board has been the most difficult part of the project so far.

I found Elecraft's standard instruction to stuff some large number of components on bottom side of the board and then go and solder them all really didn't work for me. It almost seemed like I needed to customize in some fashion the installation of each component ... a bit of exaggeration, but I certainly did need to assess how I was going to install each component.

There were two main issues to deal with:

  1. Crowding on the top side of the board can make it necessary to solder a component on the bottom side of the board.
  2. You have to insure that no component is higher than the 2-D fasteners on the bottom of the board, so as to insure that nothing touches the bottom panel of the case when the K2 is assembled.

The instructions for installing components on the bottom board are prefaced with a brief paragraph that says basically "you may have to solder to the bottom of the board." In actuality, I soldered all the components in the last batch on page 59 on the bottom of the board, and I probably would have been better off soldering most of the components from the first batch on the bottom as well.

Soldering on the bottom was only really problematic for the monolithic capacitors, since they sit flush with the PC board and there is no lead exposed to solder to. For a lot of these, I ended up soldering them to the top of the board, even under some alarmingly crowded conditions. It turned out the solution was to put a 90° bend in the lead a very short distance away from the capacitor's body, trim the leads off, and then stuff them into their pads. The bend would expose the lead and then it was easy to solder. Depending on the size and location of the capacitor, it could then be bent upright or just left alone.

Thanks to Gary at Elecraft for helping me out with a couple of questions about bottom-side construction this week. In particular, he pointed out that C133's leads can be formed such that it sits lower than the nearby 2-D fastener and there is therefore no need to bend its body (which was a good thing, because there's really no place to bend it to!).

I took a day off from stuffing/soldering earlier in the week (I really needed a break!), and went ahead and wound L16 to L24 (on page 70). These will all now be waiting for me when I get to that stage of construction.

At the top of page 60 ...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

RF Board Top Front Completed

With L30 and L34, I stuffed the last two components on the front half of the top side of the RF board. The next step starts stuffing components starting in the left rear of the board, near the key jack.

I've wound six inductors so far, 3 RFCs and 3 transformers (one of which, T6, had a bifilar winding). Having figured out how to strip and tin the winding wire, I actually find winding the inductors to be very soothing. It's time-consuming, but the time passes very pleasantly and calmly.

Nearing the bottom of page 58 ...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

First two RFCs

Today I started on the first of many RFCs and transformers to be wound on toroidal cores. This came with very specific instructions about how to strip the insulation off the enamel-coated wire. I practiced on a piece of scrap wire, but somehow couldn't manage to get the "blob on the tip of the soldering iron" method to work.

So, I took a look at the K2 forum, and found a variety of tips, none of which seemed like the answer to me, until I came across one response which referred to this awesome video (does require RealPlayer). Using an 800° tip on my Weller, the "scraping" step wasn't even necessary; I just held the tip of the iron there and stuffed solder in until ... voilà ... it "wet out" (to quote the guy in the video), and then I could just slide the tip and the solder down to the end of the lead. As the guy said, "solder is cheap" and I kept just stuffing it in there. Anyway, this worked like a charm; installing the RFCs, etc., has moved from the "scary" column to the "piece of cake" column.

By the way, the first RFC to be installed is RFC14, in that little space next to the thermistor daughter board. It was really no problem fitting it in; there again was "plenty" of room.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Grounding the crystals

Today was "install crystals on the RF board" day, including the scary instructions for double-grounding X7 to X11.

First, though, here's a picture of the current state of RF board construction. You can see X7 to X11 at the extreme right hand side of the picture.

After struggling to get the first ground wire on X7, I then went and checked the K2 forums to see what hints I could find. I wish I had looked there first! I used the following tips which various folks contributed to the forum, and it was pretty straightforward after that:

  • This was probably the most helpful hint (and non-intuitive, considering the dire warnings about overheating the crystals!!), namely to use an 800° tip, instead of the 700° tip I've been using.
  • I used some really fine grit sandpaper on the side of the crystal can (can't say it necessarily helped, but probably didn't hurt and may have helped).
  • I then applied a little solder to the side of the can.
  • I also had decided on my own to apply solder to each of the leads prior to installation.
  • Someone had a great hint about dropping the leads into the holes from the bottom of the board and soldering them to the board first. This was really the enabler for handling the inside leads (between the crystals and RP4).
  • I trimmed the leads in place to the correct length and used the "press it down with the flat end of a screwdriver" hint.
Anyway, there are all in, all grounded, and hopefully not overheated!

Next ... on to winding toroids!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Middle of page 54

I've completed the section in which all the ICs are installed, along with some other odds and ends. The pile of un-installed components is noticeably smaller! Rather than post a "big picture" picture, I thought I'd post two detail shots.

Here's how the PLL stabilization modification to the RF board came out. This was apparently a design change made after the latest rev. of the RF board was frozen. It wasn't too hard to do; I must be getting more skilled at assembly!
Here's how it looks in the vicinity of that thermistor daughter board. It turned out the U6 (just to the left of the daughter board) fit in easily, and that there was still "plenty" of room to spare between the board and U6. So, I was able to bend the daughter board even more in the direction of U6, thus opening up more room to the right and actually putting a tiny bit more space between the thermistor board and C87.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lots of capacitors ...

Two fairly lengthy sessions and one shorter one resulted in my installing most of the front half of the RF board's diodes, transistors, and capacitors (all 68 of them!).

The instructions for stuffing the diodes and transistors emphasized the need to minimize lead length by getting the components as close to the board as possible. For all of these, I soldered one lead, then reheated it while pushing in the component, then soldered the remained leads.

With some practice, I'm getting better at forming the leads for the tiniest capacitors. They really need to be bent out at 90° from the body of the component, and then 90° again. The trick is to get the two "down" bends the correct distance apart; I'm getting better at it with practice.

I also installed the two components in the vicinity of the thermistor board that I was concerned about. Q19 was not a problem at all; it's very close to the thermistor board, but did not touch. Installing C87 did require, as the instructions suggested, bending the thermistor board slightly in the direction of U6. I was able to install C87, but its body just touches one of the soldered connections on the bottom of the thermistor board. That should not be a problem electrically, but I put a little piece of electrical tape between them anyway (visible in the photo). If I ever do this again, I'll really try to minimize the amount of solder I use on the thermistor board.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Lots of resistors and the thermistor board

I've completed installation of lots of resistors and a few resistor networks on the front half of the RF board. The last several steps of this were devoted to construction and installation of a small daughter board, first introduced in 2003 (as far as I can tell), which replaces RP3 and provides temperature compensation to the PLL, thus greatly reducing warm-up drift.

Here's the daughter board. It's quite small, occupying a space only slightly larger than an 8-pin resistor network. It in fact is installed on the motherboard in the same space as the original RP3. It was a bit tedious installing the 8 leads; I ended up doing the 90° bend first, then taping the lead down on the component side, and then soldering it in place.
Here's the thermistor board installed in the front left quadrant of the RF board.

It looks like getting C87 and RFC14 installed without shorting out to the back of the thermistor board will be difficult. Postings to the K2 forum all say "don't worry, it will all fit", but I think it may be necessary to put some electrical tape on the back of the thermistor board. It also looks like spacing for Q19 will be very tight. The instructions talk about checking to make sure that the thermistor board isn't shorting out to other components; this is not helpful at this point because the components haven't been installed yet!

For those keeping track ... just completed page 50.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

K2 lives!

I took two deep breaths, held my breath, and then pushed the power button. I was rewarded with the sound of relays clicking, the INFO 201 message informing me that EEPROM is being initialized, followed by the initial default display you see in the picture.

I ran through all the test procedures for this initial integration test, and everything worked fine. It was really fun to plug in headphones, hear and adjust the sidetone, plug in a keyer paddle and play with the built-in keyer, etc. The LCD display and bargraph both work/look terrific (all the scary directions about the LCD installation paid off!). I built and tested the frequency counter probe. And finally, I was happy to be able to make the AGC threshold adjustment to 3.80 volts without resorting to the "AGC Level Application Note."

Monday, September 6, 2010

Ready for first integration testing!

Remarkably few components were needed on the RF board to support the first chunk of "live" testing and alignment. I've included some low resolution pictures (didn't seem to warrant higher resolution, somehow) showing the RF board's connections to the outside world and front and back views of the K2 to date, ready to be powered up and tested.

Here's the front of the RF board, showing the three multi-pin connectors to the Control Board, the headphone jack, on-off switch, and speaker connector (on the right).
Here's the back of the board, showing the power connector, antenna connector (BNC, strangely enough!), and the CW key or keyer paddle jack on the left.
Here's a front view of the K2, ready for initial test and alignment.
... and here's the rear view. You can see the Control Board, mounted just behind the Front Panel board, with its component side pointed towards the rear of the K2.

I encountered the most difficult task to date, and that was getting the tilt stand installed. It extends about 1/2" past its mounting holes on the bottom panel and considerable force was required to compress it sufficiently to, with some luck and persistence, get its mounting screws to drop through the holes.

I also had the most satisfying moment to date, namely seeing how precisely all the connectors lined up and how smoothly the Front Panel and Control Boards plugged into the RF board.

I've decided that if there is a problem with construction, I don't want to know about it today. I plan to power it up tomorrow. Hopefully, there will be a happy post and picture to follow!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Started the RF board

After a lengthy session yesterday of sorting out the components for the RF board (there a lot of them!! .. and fortunately I had done some presorting when I first inventoried the kit), I started assembly of the RF board. You can see a lot of the sorted components in the background of the picture, and the RF board itself in the foreground, showing the results of the first few construction steps (some hardware, an IC socket, and 17 relays).

Friday, September 3, 2010

Front Panel Completed

I managed both an afternoon and evening construction session yesterday and finished the K2's front panel. The left-hand view shows the completed front panel board at the end of the afternoon session, while the right-hand view shows the completed front panel.

Despite the scariness of the instructions for the LCD backlight/diffuser and the LCD itself, construction was very straight-forward. The lesson again seems to be: "follow the instructions very carefully and all will be well." There was really nothing difficult about getting these components in correctly, including the "exactly 1/8 in." directive for placing the backlight assembly; using the provided spacers, you really couldn't go wrong. I did have the same moment's pause that other builder's reported on whether or not the LCD had a protective film on the back (and I actually just checked again that nowhere does it say to remove the backing from either side of the backlight assembly!).

Only glitch: the double-sided tape for holding the green bargraph filter in place crumbled when I tried to remove the second backing paper. Fortunately, I have double-sided tape around the house, which did the trick. Actually, I needed the double-sided tape to hold the two "self-adhesive rubber pads" in place as well.

Hint: used one of the LCD backlight spacers to position all the little knobs.

Next: sort out the all the parts for the RF board.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Front Panel Board - J1

Stuffed a few more parts today (R1-R5) and got U1 installed in its socket (took a fair amount of force to get it in, using thumbs on the front of the board ... it really is a good thing U1 is installed before the LCD assembly on the front!).

J1 is the 20-pin connector through which the RF board connects to the Front Panel board. It really needs to be mounted at right angles to the Front Panel board. What I did was hold J1 in temporarily with some tape and soldered only one end pin down. I then held the board and J1 in one hand, reheated the pin with the other hand, and settled J1 in flush with the board and perpendicular to it (I used a right angle on the end of a small metal ruler that I have to check). Then I soldered the other end pin, checked again, and then soldered the other 18 pins. (Oh, and I checked 4 times that I was installing it on the correct side of the board!).

Pics next time.