Tools,Test Equipment and Shack Accessories
For The New Ham Radio Operator
By N4UJW


This article is tailored for the new ham radio operator so if you have been a ham for many years, you already know that there are a few required tools and test equipment you need to be able to maintain your station, it's accessories and your antenna setup.

And if you are married, your wife may suddenly realize you are smarter than you look and she may think that since you are a ham radio operator, you have suddenly gained the knowledge to repair ANYTHING "electrical" around the house!
This depends on your wife! If you want more operating time on the air, my advice is to reply to a "Can you fix this?" from her....is to just say a polite...."Sorry honey, I don't know anything about it!", and carry on with ham radio or there might be a better option to keep the peace....you would just say "I will take a look at it soon".

And as an added thought, depending on how you handle it, a "fix it" opportunity for her may be to your advantage if every time you needed a new tool or piece of test equipment for ham radio, you could justify the expense of it with her now that you are a ham! Now, maybe you "can" if she thinks you're now "authorized" and have become much "smarter" in household repairs because you are a ham! (insert laugh here!)Read on.....

Many new hams realize that during the initial setup of a ham station that they have to cut wire, coaxial cable, tighten nuts, solder, need a screwdriver, or a wrench or two and test their final antenna installation.

They also realize that in the instructions that came with that new whiz bang antenna they just bought or are tring to build that they need a way to adjust their antenna for lowest swr and then it "dawns" on them, that it has to be mounted on a support of some sort up high! Do you have a means to install it such as a ladder?

All of this requires a minimum of hand tools and accessories to get the job done just to get on the air in most cases!

So...here is a suggested list of some items you WILL need if you don't already have them. The list is NOT all inclusive. Add to the list if and when you see the need.

You will notice that individual sizes usually are not mentioned. The choice will be yours and depends on the application.
Note of wisdom...don't buy the cheap stuff...you will pay for them over and over by having to replace them many times during your ham radio lifetime if you use tools a lot! You will loose one or two along the way. They have a habit of becoming invisible especially if kids are in the family! I lost many of my Dad's tools over my childhood, now it is coming back to me with my family!

Hand Tools: You can't have toooo many!
(not listed in any particular priority)

1. A good set of screw drivers. Look for a phillips head type and a flat blade type.
There are many different sizes of screw drivers out there. Pick and assortment of the sizes you think you may need. Multi-use screw drivers are vary handy and they have usually 4 different blades that can be interchanged in the handle and one tool will do the job of 4 saving you space in your tool box.
A good set of Jewelers Screw Drivers is needed when it comes to those tiny screws on knobs and controls and also putting on mic connectors, etc. Remember those tiny screws in the hinges of your glasses.......that just justified the purchase of them with your wife. They will come loose eventually and you just saved yourself or her a trip in the car to the eye glasses store.

2. Tool Box...as mentioned in #1 above. The size and type depends on the amount of tools you may want to add in the future.

3. Wire cutters. These vary in size according to the wire size that you will be cutting. As a general rule of thumb, many wire type antennas that you may build, require #12 or #14 gauge wire, so the wire cutters should be of appropriate size.
Wire crimpers would be a good tool to have latter on. These aid in the connection of various connectors to wire ends and splices. Some even have small bolt cutters built in....very handy when you need them.

4. Wrenches and socket sets. Adjustable wrenchs are recommend as they are multipurpose and fit many different size nuts or you can get the open end types or closed end types to suit your taste. Many choices are yours in socket and wrench sets that come in handy carrying cases for good prices with a wide assortment of sizes to fit "all". Wrenches are usually needed when mounting many antennas on supports depending on their construction and the mfg's recommendations and many other variables. "Allen" and hex head wrenches also come under this category...available in various assorted sizes. Very handy for removing knobs.

5. Pliers. These come in many different sizes and shapes according to their intended use. A couple of different sizes of "Channel Lock" types are very handy along with regular hand sizes. Some come with wire cutter ends. "Needle nose" types are very handy also and come in many sizes. "Ignition pliers" are very handy for small jobs and fit in your pocket. A pair of "Vice Grips" is a great help.

6. Tape measure. 12 feet or longer depending on your needs. Great aid for antenna work! A 50 foot tape measure is very helpful with building hf antennas.

7. Electrical Tape. Not really considered a hand tool, but you will certainly use it.
Again, don't buy the cheap stuff, especially if it will be used outdoors. 
Scotch Super 33+ Vinyl Electrical Tape  brand is excellent. Many hams swear by it. Your choice should be flexible in cold weather and seal well. Don't buy the cheap stuff.


8.
A good sharp pocket knife or utility knife. Used for trimming insulation from wire, coax, etc. Use as needed and be careful.

9. Soldering iron and/or gun. This will depend on your ability to solder. Many times in your ham radio lifetime, you will need to be able to solder and Soldering Irons  will be needed, so if you don't know how....just get a ham friend who knows how to help you learn or search the internet. There are many good "How to Solder" web sites out there. When soldering, practice, practice and lots more practice for the inexperienced! Soldering Guns are used for larger soldering jobs, like soldering coax connectors, small copper tubing, putting on PL-259 connecters, and the like.

10. All of those tools I left off of this list that will come as time passes and you get more acquainted with exactly what you may need depending on how far you want to go with your station and your ability......don't forget a good ladder that will safely reach your job. Do not use metal ladders near power lines!

11. A good bench Vice  either temporary mounted or permanent. Very handy as a "third" hand, especially when putting on rf connectors, plugs, etc

12. A large supply of....SAFETY FIRST! Hand tools, ladders, test equipment, other ham equipment, etc, can get you hurt, or worse. Metal ladders should NEVER be used when working on ANY electrical job. Get help if you don't know what you are doing or are not mechanically inclined...be safe, not sorry! Remember Antenna Safety and the lethal levels of electricity you may be working with in or around your ham station!


Search Amazon.com for Hand Tools!

Suggested Test Equipment for the New Ham:
(Again, not presented in any particular order of importance)

1. SWR/POWER METER.
  I refer to an external swr/power meter. Yes, you may have a built in unit in your radio, but how do you know it is accurate? An external meter is invaluable in trouble shooting station problems!
This will strictly be an individual choice. It must cover the frequency range and potential rf power level that your station will be operating on. Some are built into different radios, some are external. As a general rule, most external swr/power meters are more accurate than the little ones built into the face of many radios. The external types come in many sizes, frequency ranges and power levels. An swr/power meter that covers up to 30mhz...will usually not work on 6 meters and higher frequencies with any sort of accuracy. Assure yourself your meter is the right one for your station by reading the specifications of it. You need accuracy....not guess work!
Here are some suggested Watt and Swr Meters!

2. A good multimeter.

Digital Multimeters Click link to see a wide selection.
Again, your choice. It can be either digital or analog. It needs to be able to measure at least continuity, voltage (AC and DC), current, (preferably AC and DC), and resistance (ohms), up to the expected levels you may need to measure with a safety margin to spare. It is also assumed you know how to use one....if you don't, read the instructions and then get a good ham friend who knows how to help you learn more about how to use it. DANGER.....you COULD BE ELECTROCUTED if you don't know what you are doing.  You can also destroy your meter if it is not used properly. The voltage, current  and resistance range must be set higher than your "expected" working ranges!

3. Dummy load.

Used for a substitute "perfect" or near perfect antenna load.
Very helpful in determining if your transmitter has output without connecting the transmitter to the antenna and the resulting harmful interference this causes.
When used in conjunction with a power (rf watt meter) it will tell you if your radio is up to specifications on it's output. It must also be designed for the frequency range you will be using it for. Many hams have one for the hf frequencies and then another for VHF/UHF use. They come in "dry" or "wet" types. The wet types usually are submerged in a container containing some type of oil that helps to cool the "load" under very high rf output conditions. Dry types contain the "load" inside a metal container, air cooled, and usually don't handle high power or many hundreds of watts very well. Your choice depends on your station and your future plans for operating.

4. Optional. Antenna analyzer.
 (The MFJ-259b shown)
Very helpful and time saving when working with antennas and their design and tuning.The MFJ-259B gives you a complete picture of your antenna's performance anywhere between 1.8~170MHz,
even outside the HAM bands!
A must have for antenna experimenting!
Get More Info From MCM Electronics!

5. A good standby receiver/s.....It can be either portable or desk top type and should cover the bands and frequencies that you use....It can be used for monitoring your station transmissions. A handheld "police" type scanner radio that has the aircraft band can be used for tracking down noise related problems. The aircraft band uses AM rather than FM and will pick up the noise much better. If the antenna is detachable, then you can build a simple 2 or 3 element Yagi antenna to attach to it for almost pinpoint accuracy for power line noise location. Having a good shortwave receiver, either desktop or portable, can be a great help when monitoring your station's audio or as a simple backup receiver.

6. Other items of test equipment not on the list will come as you progress.

Assorted items you may want to keep on hand:
Sealer for weather proofing outside connectors and joints, splices, etc.
 
"Coax Seal" in the ad below is very popular with many hams! Works much better than tape to seal those connectors outdoors and is not a liquid which takes forever to dry.

 Click the ad to check out "Coax Seal"

Extra connectors for coax ends. Always good to have on hand. PL-259 types are used often and many other types of connectors. A good source and at some great prices can be found by clicking on the banner below.


Wired Communications has some great pricing on all types of rf connectors!



Extra solder if you are into soldering and extra tips for the soldering equipment.
Extra plugs for various connections in your shack. Don't forget an extra mic plug!
Fuses. Have spares for your radio, power supply and other devices that require them. Consult your operators manuals.
Emergency roll of electrical tape. Hide it from the family or it won't be there when you need it! Same goes for your important tools!
Pencil and pad for taking notes.
Assorted nuts, bolts, screws, lock washers and other hardware as needed. Storage containers....Some way to store them separated by size if possible. Old coffee cans, baby food jars, etc make great "catch all" containers but takes a while to find that one screw you need! Many hams that are into repair and kit building use parts bins with many separate slide out container sections. Your containers are your choice.

Magnifying Glass....(or a pair of good eyes)

Accessories for the Shack!

Over The Ear Headphones
As a new ham radio operator, you will most likely be sitting in front of your radio doing an immense amount of listening rather than actual on the air operating. Since most transceivers, have very small speakers facing down, up, or on the side of the radio, this can make the audio coming from the speaker difficult to understand under high noise levels in the shack or due to other noises picked up by your radio. Even the sound of a fan running in the background, family noises, etc can be very distracting when signals are weak and burried in the background noise. Those weak DX stations call signs may be difficult to hear. One way to help with with all of these distractions is to use a pair of over the ear headphones.  The reason I mention "over the ear" rather than the "ear bud, in the ear types" is the fact that they can help block out background noise considerably by acting as a barrier to external noise. They usually have much better clarity and frequency response.

Most transceivers have an external "speaker" or "headphone" jack for attaching external headphones and when plugged in, cut off the internal speaker of the transceiver. This allows you listen to the audio from the transceiver usually much clearer directly from the headphones. The headphone jack of your transceiver usually has an impedance of 8 ohms or so. You will want to match up this impedance properly by getting the same impedance headphones. (Check the specs of your radio and the headphones before you buy them).
Check out some highly recommended Headphones-Over The Ear Types at Amazon.com.

External Speakers! Why is that external speaker jack in the back of your radio?
As you may already know, most radio tranceivers have very small internal speakers that leave lots to be desired in in the way they reproduce voice frequencies transmitted over the air waves. Many are top, bottom or side facing and a limited number of radios have front facing speakers and most sound terrible. Most speakers mounted in the radios "aim" the sound in a direction other than at your ears. This makes for very difficult and muffled low fidelity reproduction of the voice frequencies that you want to hear. By adding an external speaker tailored for voice frequencies, and aimed where YOU want it, you get much better reproduction of the original voice that was transmitted to you via the radio waves. Morse code pops out at you much better than with muffled low fidelity sounding internal speakers.

One very nice external speaker made by Uniden is highly recommended and gets high ratings from those who have actually used them. It can be mounted almost anywhere! More info below:

Fantastic Voice Quality!
Uniden 4 Inch Communications Speaker:
 4" Plastic Cone
Impedance: 8 Ohms
Maximum Power: 12 Watts
Wire: 10 ft. cord with , AWG 18
Plug Type: 1/8" or 3.5mm Plug
Frequency Response: 500Hz-5KHz
(Tailored to voice frequencies)

Includes ratchet type mounting bracket & hardware

Get it Here!

Bench Lamps!
Bench lamps are a must for the shack when it comes to good lighting for those closeup soldering jobs, kit and construction projects and good "spot" lighting in the shack. They will help to reduce eye strain and fatigue. Many come with adjustable arms and give you a choice of lamp types and magnifying lenses suitable for your specific "bench" needs. Many hams also use the less expensive types for attaching microphones to the end by removing the light head!
Recommended Bench Lamps at Amazon.com

How to save money being a true "ham".

Be a scrounger
.....many items of no interest to others can be used in ham radio applications. Although I don't recommend "dumpster diving", sometimes hundreds of feet of wire can be found...antenna paradise! Aluminum and copper tubing, assorted "insulator material" and just too much of other people's "junk" to mention. Construction sites can be loaded....the throw away stuff, I'm talking about....get permission first. Yard and garage sales can be a treasure trove to the ham with a "wise eye". If you decide you're going to upgrade that old VCR....it may be loaded with components you may use in the future. Same goes for that old TV, stereo system, and on and on. Don't pass up on that old CB...loaded with parts. More advanced hams can convert many of these older CB's to 10 meter beacons or 10 meter mono banders also! Now you can see how that one man's junk can be another man's treasure!

Many consumer devices contain very small speakers that can be removed and used for many applications around the ham shack. I have several! Old TV antennas can be used for many ham antenna projects especially on 2 meters and up! Think about all of that free aluminum tubing! All of those small screws, nuts and bolts, mounting brackets, insulators, etc, can be removed and save you much money when you need one...think about not having to crank the car to run to the hardware store for 1 screw or a mast mounting bracket!

Don't forget about ham fests....loaded with all the "good stuff" that other hams are trying to unload on you! Let the buyer beware!

Here are a couple of examples of scrounging that happened while I was writing this article.....My wife was taking apart an old table lamp she no longer wanted....most of it was not usable, even by me with all my scrounging experience....but.....wait....there inside the glass globe (which contained artificial flowers that she did want) was a very looooong threaded brass rod with nuts!
I disposed of it for her.....straight to my junk box! Lucky me!
Another opportunity happened the day after that with her....my son had a novelty glass that had a blinking led array in the bottom. It stopped working and she wanted me to take a look, batteries had become corroded due to water leakage, not worth the cost and effort to replace in her opinion.....she said, just throw away the led "stuff" on the bottom and leave the glass, which was OK....I did....now I have several no cost leds in my junk box! One man's (woman's) junk, another man's treasure!

See the cable guy making an installation next door or down the street? Ask him if he has any roll ends of coax you can dispose of for him. Yes CATV coax can be used in a pinch as a substitute for 50 ohm coax using 100 watts or less and it is very low loss! Many hams use it instead of the regular 50 ohm coax in building  antennas. Sure there may be a difference in the match between the antenna and the coax, but who is to know?
This "Scrounger" list could go on forever, but the point is to keep your eyes and ears open. You may see or hear about a "windfall" for your station. You have to determine your own needs and compare them with what is in your bank roll!

This list of suggested tools, test equipment and accessories for the new ham is in no way "all inclusive", but should help you in the beginning stages of setting up your new ham station and hopefully help you to prepare it for your future adventures in ham radio. What's that.....The wife is calling me.....Now it's time to throw out the trash.......after I look thru it! She throws away trash, I find treasure! (Sometimes)
73, Don - N4UJW at Hamuniverse.com




Great buys in digital multimeters, soldering stations and more!


Ham Radio on Amazon.com