We are beginning our HAM radio journey. Having had a father who has been involved for years, it would seem second hand for me, but it’s not. We’re not only excited about the learning experience of science, but the practical skill set we’ll be learning and the additional communications we’ll be gaining.
We don’t see my Dad near enough. But, we got to spend a day and a half with him earlier this week when he came to stay over, and it was wonderful! The boys adore him, and having all that 1:1 time with him was great!
Dad has been a HAM radio operator for many years, though not active now. He helped us set up our Morse code keyer practice rig – so that we could practice sending and receiving Morse code on our way to our ham radio licenses. While having our Morse Code certification isn’t necessary in getting our General License, it is something we feel strongly about knowing, so we’re beginning here.
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Key Rigs were used early on to help people practice their code before they had to take their license test that required it. Some had an old fashioned build like ours where you pressed down for contact called a Practice Oscillator (as in the image above). Some have a paddle that you can adjust to go either way, and was considered faster. They allow you to send and receive and practice your code, at your speed, and build your fluency.
Sure, it would’ve been easy to drop a few bucks online to have this delivered to us, but part of the learning process was for the kids to build their own rig.
Build Your Own Morse Code Practice Oscillator
- 6v battery
- hacksaw blade
- wooden drawer pull
- electrical wire
- doorbell buzzer
- wire strippers
- wood scraps
- Lego (any small bit of wood, metal, or plastic will do to build that bridge)
- Drill with small bit if needed
This is a 9v battery attached to a doorbell buzzer, attached to a hacksaw blade that is sitting on a ‘ledge (or a Lego piece) to make it spring, attached to a drawer knob connected by a screw to the hacksaw blade, and a screw is mounted into the wood base below the knob, connected back to the battery (follow the blue line to envision the circuit). Use a small drill bit to put a hole into the hacksaw blade if you need to for the screws. When the circuit is closed between the two screws, you get a buzz.
So you now have a key rig to practice Morse Code.
We made this for about $15. We already had the wood scraps on hand, and the Home Depot Electric Department manager gave us the wire for free when we told him that it was part of a science project for this semester – he was pretty impressed with the project.
Once we got the rig set up and began working through our first group of letters, it was time to get the radio set up and tuned up. Dad taught us how to work through the bands, listening for other morse code operators, and how to find where they are located. We’ll have a map available to begin marking our contacts (just listening in now until we get our licenses). We’ll probably set this up more permanently in our office so that we can have a full space to write, code and have our microphone available, and mount the map to the wall.
This was a great project to learn code, electronic circuitry, some building skills and and spend some time learning from Grandpa. That’s an invaluable lesson.
More to come on our race to get our Ham licenses!
If you’d like to learn more about Ham radio and alternative forms of communication, visit my Pinterest board!