|WA3RNC Penntek TR-35 4 Band, 5 Watt Transceiver|
One of the things that drew me to amateur radio is the kit building aspect. Only weeks into the hobby, and before I had my hands on an HF rig I was ordering parts for an End fed random wire build I found on the AARL site. The first build went well but I haven’t been very impressed with the performance from the QTH. Since it’s a random wire antenna, it requires a tuner in the field, which I don’t have with me normally so it hasn’t seen much use.
I’ve built a couple of other antennas since with the K6ARK EFHW being my favorite but I wanted to up the challenge. I love the Icom IC-705 but its a bit heavy for SOTA Ops so I decided I wanted to build something smaller. I’ve been learning CW so I shopped for a really small, simple CW only kit. I looked at several packages and settled on the QCX Mini from QRPLabs. I ordered the package with the aluminum case and ACG module at a total of $84 before shipping, seemed like a good deal except for the 2 month wait.
Not long after I ordered the first radio I saw a video from Thomas, K4SWL, on the Penntek TR-35. I had looked at the radio previously but thought it a lot of money for a CW only radio that didn’t have any memory. One thing I love about my IC-705 is that is has 10 recorded memories for both voice and CW, which is almost a requirement for calling CQ lest one get a hand cramp in the field. Everything else about the radio looked fantastic, 4-Band, 5 Watt transceiver in a nice plastic case to reduce weight. There are a lot of features packed into this little radio and you can even have it assembled by pro’s at the factory if building isn’t your thing. WA3RNC continually adds to the software and the latest update includes two memory channels that Thomas demonstrated during and activation and I was sold. I ordered a kit before finishing the video and it arrived in less that a week.
The kits is really, really well put together. The instructions are very clear and verbose. The parts are packed in sealed strips, with each step’s parts in a separate little “bubble”, so as long as you only open the current steps parts and complete that step prior to opening the next, you will never loose parts. I found this very, very helpful as this was the most complex kit I have assembled to date.
The instructions are broken into four discrete parts:
- READ ME FIRST
- TR-35 Upper Board Assembly Instructions
- TR-35 Lower Board Assembly Instructions
- TR-35 Preliminary Checks, Tests and Final Assembly
The entire build took me ~ 5 hours, though that was spread out across a couple of weeks as I had a trip and lots of work to do during that time. Usually when I build a kit I want to sit down and complete it start to finish so I don’t loose anything but as I mentioned previously, the way this is packaged made it easy to complete a step when I had 10-15 minutes of free time over the course of the build. Since the toroids are pre-wound, it is mostly a soldering build. Having a good quality, heat controlled iron, good solder (Kester 60/40 lead) and flux (not a requirement) and side clippers are a must. The only other tool I used was my multimeter during initial testing.
Once completed, I let it set for a few days so as not to rush the testing. I re-read the Preliminary Checks guide and made a checklist of each of the tests so I didn’t miss anything. Testing took me an hour or so, other than having to wait for new fuses for my Multimeter’s ampere testing circuit so I could do the Final RF amplifier bias adjustment. Everything checked out, so I decided to power it on and make the final adjustments before testing it on the air. With those final steps completed and the final assembly of the case, knobs, buttons, switch covers done, I hooked it up to the 20 M dipole I have on the roof and listened. I was astonished that it worked and I managed to not screw anything up.
I’ve now had it out in the field a couple of times and used it in the backyard several times and am very impressed. My only gripe right now is that the output volume of the keyer and the overall output are linked, so when listening to faint signals I have to remember to turn the volume down before I key lest I blow out my eardrums. This may be something I can adjust but I haven’t investigated yet. I have made a couple of contacts on 20M and intend to do several SOTA activations in my neighborhood in the near future as well as build the QCX Mini and do a comparison.