Elecraft K3 Final Build Assessment and First On Air Testing
So the Elecraft K3 build is finished ☺ Yes it has been a long process for me but only because of my time and schedule. I think this is a project you could finish in a weekend if you really put dedication into it but I’m not sure you would want to. I will explain this as I go along…
The first questions I got were why would you do this? There are so many radios out there to purchase and some could argue many better. Well, that’s subjective of course and I’m a big fan of my Yeasu 1000mp, which I believe is my third one. I also love what Icom is doing with their new rigs but I remember a hobby that I used to table and build circuit boards, solder resisters and diodes and even build a Heathkit or two. I wanted to regain that experience in the hobby…. Get on air with something I assembled and tuned… something my hands were inside and I know where everything is and could replace if needed. How comfortable would you be installing a filter in your radio? I could do it in 10 mins now ☺ so that is a big part of the why.
The second part – FUN. Yes, if you read my posts you will see some frustration in my build. There are a few reasons but one is I was sick during the first phase… I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis and was in the midst of an episode when I was doing the first few days of assembly. Take that out and I think you would find that I was having much more fun. ☺ Also – I have a really busy with work, life and family so I wanted something that I could have to sit down and take my mind away. This project seemed like a great one.
So here are the videos of assembly if you haven’t seen them and then I will provide you my overall thoughts below:
Now – let’s get into details of this build. My recommendations for you if you’re going to build, Elecraft to make it a better build and those on the fence.
You are going to or getting ready to build an Elecraft K3 here are my recommendations:
• Separate all of the parts and pieces into whatever project box or kit you have. This seems like a small thing but let me tell you that if you have everything separated and organized it will make this project so much easier and fun. It’s also not hard as the bags are very detailed packaged and labeled. Get this step out of the way and you will enjoy it
• Read the manual a few pages forward from where you think your going to build and ensure you do a few things. Find all the places on the Board where the parts are going and make sure that one part you put in isn’t going to block you from putting in another. There are a few things I found in the order that challenged me due to my hand size. There is a small working area inside the rig so you need to ensure your going to have space to move around
• Have anti static mat and wristband as recommended but I would also add that you really need an Anti Static Pair of Needle Nose that are pretty small. When, and you will, drop a nut or washer you will have the ability to get that part our to ensure you don’t cause a short later. I was guilty of tipping the radio upside down to get one out and then I got one caught the same way so I learned my lesson so the needle nose were now the solution.
• Light and space – you will need space to lie out everything and I recommend having good light. There are several paces that become dark if your not careful you could miss things. I had a flashlight and then a I clipped a book light on the side of the radio when I needed more. You won’t see it in my videos and I tried to take that out when I was shooting but the book light became a great help.
• Time – Remember this is something you want to savor so make sure you set aside enough time to work on this project and don’t rush to get it done. Savor it for sure but you also don’t want to miss a step that you will have to take a lot of pieces apart because you missed something. That happened to me and it’s frustrating because some pieces take some finesse to get in place and having to take them out and do it over….. Well I think you get my point ☺
• Testing – Make sure to do all the testing that is directed, make sure to have all the parts correct on the transistor connections to the sides and the bottoms. Remember – Elecraft is known for it’s support and I make sure to call and email when I had questions. They are awesome and it’s critical that you get these parts right.
• Lastly, a good attitude. You will have fun, frustrations and anticipation of completion. Don’t loose focus, rush or get too frustrated if you have trouble getting a part together. It will come, fall in place and then work. It’s not a hard build whatsoever but there are a few tricky parts make sure to not lose focus.
So I would never tell a company like Elecraft with their awesome product and support to change everything. I honestly had a great time and was amazed by the ability to dial a phone number and get an engineer on the phone that knew the radio, the manual and the step I was at. I also caught a great surprise during the middle of the build where I got an email from Walt and another person at Elecraft that mentioned they were following my build and wanted to know what my progress and thoughts were. I was blown away to get that email, the support I got. Knowing how much this company is behind their product that made makes me want to be a life long customer…
My recommendations or suggestions are nuances… I work for one of the largest software companies in the world and I live by process (ITIL, Six Sigma, AGILE to name a few) so when I went though this build I had this lens on myself because it’s so engrained in me that I can’t take if off ☺
• There are several places in the build that it felt like I could have completed before I put the sides and back of the rig on. The reason I would suggest this is purely size of hands vs. how much space there is to work. I would suggest that you look at the as a process improvement.
• Parts to size in the manual. Many times I had to measure bolt sizes to ensure I had the right ones. These are small and there are a lot of parts it would be good to have the manual have an exact scale in the parts section of the manual to help the process.
• Options installation during build – as someone that purchased several options for my radio there was several places where there could have been a pause in the documentation that asked. If you have purchased YYYYY option please consider installing at this point. My reason for this change is once I had the rig all the way together I had to take it apart to get in a few options. If there is a way to add that into the process I think it would be a more enjoyable build. If testing and calibration causes this to be an issue I completely understand. Example of this that came to mind is the fact I purchased the P3 and there was a long process to get this in after the build was complete. I could have save a lot of time by installing this earlier.
I really thing that is it – it was just more process… why can’t install more before I get the sides on, can I get options in earlier so I don’t have to disassemble to put this in.
So onto you if your considering purchasing this radio and building this project. Here are my thoughts for you:
• DO IT – you will have a great experience and there is nothing like being on the air with a radio you built yourself. It is a feeling that I can’t describe.
• Save your money and ensure you get as many options and filters upfront. I will tell you that were the best suggestion that was given to me. I was able to get most of the options I wanted in the first build and now I am so comfortable to install anything else when I have the desire to put it in.
• Have all the right tools, meters and space ready for this project since you will need it. I did it on our kitchen table and packed it up after every day. I’m a little tight on space right now so that is what had to work for me. I would tell you that having enough space is a key (since I have said it like 4 times now)
• Remember there are huge networks of people that have built this radio, support from Elecraft is AWESOME and you have great documentation. I can’t say how many times that Elecraft support is world class… I don’t know that I could say this personal touch is available from any other company or at least I haven’t experienced it.
• Install the software and have the USB cable to program, calibrate and test with Elecraft’s software. This was a huge step because it made things so easy if your not a computer person or having a hard time programming rigs. I did a few of the calibration steps onscreen to try and then once I moved to the software I didn’t look back.
Now on the radio being complete. Some have asked why I haven’t posted a video of getting the 100-watt amp in since that was my last step to completion. The simple fact is… I didn’t have time ☺ I had the amp sitting on my desk and I had a short window of time between building and going to traveling soccer for my daughter. Life is busy and as much as I want to be an Internet star ☺ my family comes first so I just didn’t have time to get the camera setup and really wanted to get the radio done.
Operating this rig has been a dream. It’s very easy to tune – my friend AK5X Bill told me that this ATU could tune a paperclip and I have to tell you he is right. I have a simple wire in my attic that many radios struggle with. The Elecraft K3 took care of it on the first try. You will see in the below video that I was able to get the radio up and running, tuned up and tried different filters on 20 Meters. Audio Quality is good but I was using a Canon EOS M with no external MIC so take that into account.
Final assessment of the Elecraft K3 Build –
After hours of building, testing and ensuring that the radio was ready for prime time I have moved it into my second radio position to do some more testing and comparisons. I have ordered cables from wireman so I could connect this and the 1000mp side by side but also I like to have two stations setup at all times. Will I move this into station number one position? It could easily – I love this radio the operation is simple, I connected it to my computer and the computer control just worked the first time.
I want to do some more testing and tuning in but I really am hopeful that this will become my primary digital mode radio… The problem is that it has to knock off my 1000mp as my primary rig and that is going to be hard for it to do… but not impossible and is pretty likely. So far I haven’t turned on the MP since putting this radio on air – I haven’t made any contacts yet due to the antenna situation not the radio. I have a Buddipole that is setup outside (Yes HOA restrictions) and I need to get the coax run to it. My old coax got snipped by the lawn crew (my fault I didn’t get it out of their way). Once I do and get the jumper cables configured between the two rigs and antennas I’m going to do a shoot out between the two. I will tell you that the size is really appealing the MP takes up a lot of desk space and that is a premium for me. The display is really nice on the K3 and has a lot of information available and easy to read.
I’m not sure my words will do it justice any more I think you could tell that I loved the build. I loved the process. I loved the support I received and the quick operation I have done with it so far. I believe the true tell of how happy I am that I just purchased the KX3 (replacing my 817) and the P3 for the K3. I am going to attempt to move to a full Elecraft shack. If that doesn’t give you my final assessment I don’t know what else will. Words could only say so much… speaking with your purchases say it all.
I wanted to thank everyone for reading, responding and hopefully enjoying my process but even bigger I hope you speak to you soon on the air. Thank you Elecraft for helping me see that Ham Radio could still be about getting on the air with a radio you build and thank you for being a part of this community.
73’s all until I start the next build… P3 is on deck and then the KX3… More videos coming soon ☺
de N1IC Nick