Tools,Test Equipment and
For The New Ham Radio
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
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
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
You will notice that individual sizes usually are not
mentioned. The choice will be yours and depends on the
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
can't have toooo many!
(not listed in any
1. A good set of screw drivers.
Look for a phillips head type and a flat blade type.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
Amazon.com for Hand Tools!
Suggested Test Equipment for the New
(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!
are some suggested Watt and Swr Meters!
2. A good multimeter.
Multimeters Click link to see a wide
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
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
4. Optional. Antenna analyzer.
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,
outside the HAM bands! A must have for
Get More Info From MCM
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
items of test equipment not on the list will come as you
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
Extra connectors for coax
ends. Always good to have on hand. PL-259 types are used
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.
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
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:
Uniden 4 Inch Communications Speaker:
4" Plastic Cone
Maximum Power: 12 Watts
Wire: 10 ft. cord with , AWG 18
Plug Type: 1/8" or 3.5mm Plug
(Tailored to voice
Includes ratchet type
mounting bracket & hardware
Get it Here!
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
How to save money being a true
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!
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
Don't forget about ham
fests....loaded with all the "good stuff" that
other hams are trying to unload on you! Let the buyer
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
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
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
73, Don - N4UJW at
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