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Image: A venerable and still useful Heathkit HM-102 SWR/Wattmeter poses proudly amid my Icom gear. These days, it is an occasional test instrument rather than a device that is used every day.
Kits - electronic kits - have always been a part of my ham radio world since I was licensed as a teenager in the late 1960's. Kits were around before that, and hearken back to the long tradition of amateur radio operators building their own equipment. While not the same as designing and building one's own gear from scratch, kits do allow those who want to feel more vested in their radio equipment to enjoy the "hands-on" experience of assembling the radio and learning more about the layout and circuitry than if they had simply unpacked a new rig and put it on the air. I can't think of a time when I haven't owned at least several kits. Some of them have been transceivers or transmitters, while others have been accessories or test gear.
The motivation for owning kits has changed through the years. Back in 1967, when I got my Novice ticket, and a year later, when I upgraded to General, it was more important to me to find affordable gear so that I could just get on the air. Kits like the Knight T-60 transmitter filled the bill. Paired with a Lafayette receiver that drifted like a rowboat in a hurricane until it warmed up, this little station was the source of more on the air fun than you could ever imagine. I was already familiar with Knight-Kits, having built a two tube regenerative receiver, the "Span Master", while in high school. When I made the inevitable move to SSB, the Heathkit HW-100 was the kit of choice. It's 20 tube circuit was challenging to assemble, but I laid everything out on our family's ping-pong table in the basement and just followed the directions. It worked the first time, and after alignment and installation of the case, provided my first really solid experience with phone operation, though I had plenty of fun working DX on CW.
Over the years I built other kits, some of which were test gear that I still own and occasionally use today. Some kits, like a Heathkit SB-201 linear amplifier, were purchased assembled on the used market. Later on I donated that amp to Handihams, having decided that high power wasn't really all that fun or useful. There are plenty of good used radios and accessories on the market, originally built from kits but working well today.
Today's kit builder is motivated less by the need for economy and more by the desire to experience the fun of putting some of one's own effort into the station equipment. However, there is an important new niche in amateur radio kits - that of simply offering equipment that isn't available any other way. A third development is the evolution of superior kit radios that rival or best the already-assembled competition! Cost does not necessarily enter into the decision making for any of these three kit builders.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear from a group of kit builders here in the Midwest. The Four State QRP Group has a kit building service and has built kits for hams who are blind or who just can't see well enough to complete a kit themselves. They do not charge for their service and would like to offer their services to our members. This is an option for those who cannot build a kit on their own but who would like to experience the fun of operating with a transmitter that would not otherwise be available to them. A link to their website follows after my identification.
But what about kits that can be assembled by blind hams? One inquiry that intrigued me recently came from K9EYE, who would like to find a kit for a QRP A.M. transmitter that is possible to assemble with minimal soldering. Pierre and I both remember as kids having electronics kits or "labs" that were designed to allow for experimentation with a variety of circuits. Since they were designed with clip and plug connectors, they lent themselves to assembly by just about anyone. For some reason you couldn't trust kids with hot soldering irons but wood burning sets seemed to be okay. Anyway, we all survived to tell about it today! But we would like to find some blind-friendly kits. If anyone has sources or ideas, please let us know.
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