My ATS-4 Build Project

Day 5 (8am) 16 Hours and 5 days after Dayton
"Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway."  (John Wayne).  So after 5 days in Dayton, I'm back in the ATS-4 saddle winding toroids!  Is this fun or what? 

Day 4 (Noon) 16 Hours into the Build: Toroids Part Deux
Whew! T-4 is done with 55 turns on layer 1 and 30 turns over-wrapped for a total of 75 turns for the secondary and 5 turns for the primary!  A couple of suggestions:  1)  Wrap the primary of 5 turns first and twist the ends per the picture.  This keeps the primary tight and the ends "out of the way" as you wind the secondary. 2) After completing the intital layer of 50 turns for the secondary, count them and recount them.  Write the count numbers down so you don't forget or get the count confused in case of an interruption.  Because once you start to over-wrap the next 30 turns, you will not be able to count the turns again.  3)  Do the next 30 turns in one step...don't stop.  It's too easy to loose track of your count.  Now, what's next?  Oh, more toroids!

Day 4 (10pm) 15 hours into the Build:  Toroids, Toriods, How I love Them!
Yesterday was a busy Mother's day so I didn't get a lot of bench time to work on my toroids.  I now have a new "whine standard"!  I used to think the Elecraft toriods where challenging. But the ATS-4 toroids set the "whine bar" very high!  This picture is of the 50 turn (pimary plus secondary) T2.  T3 will be 55 turns!  Steve/KD1JV says it "can be done!", albeit with considerable consecration to the patron Saint of patience and persistence.

So here's some feedback:  1)  Follow the instructions carefully.  Do wind the toroids counterclockwise (if right handed) in order to make sure the leads for primary and secondary come out correctly for board placement.  2)  Compact the turns as you "sew" each turn.  I use my fingernail to push the new turn tightly to the previous turn. 3)  MOST IMPORTANT! My tendency was to "pull" harder on the #32 enameled wire in order to make it fit tighter on the toroid, especially as you get above 40 turns or so.  DON'T!  You WILL break the #32 wire.  You can tell I'm speaking from experience here.  So my new goal is to not let angst get the best of me and not to pull too tightly on the wire.  4) Counting turns to confirm proper count is a real pain.  Lock yourself away from any interruptions during your count.  The last thing you want is to be disturbed when you are on turn #43!  More toroids for tomorrow.  I can hardly wait!

Day 3 (8pm) 13 hrs into the Build
It was a good day!  After a careful check (reading glasses and magnifier) of all my SMT and IC solder connections,  I caught a couple of "suspects" and resoldered.  It's really easy to think you get a solder flow but it's on the pad only and doesn't flow over the SMT pin.  So with that "checkpoint" completed I spent an hour installing the top side SMT parts (pg 18 of the manual), completing the board modification to add a bypass SMT cap to the 5v regulator.  This was tricky.  You have to scrape the green PCB solder mask from a trace and the ground side of the board.  I used my hobby knife to "etch" or cut lines in the green solder mask then used a small flat bladed jeweler's screwdriver to get down to copper.  Be careful on the trace line...not too much pressure and go slow.  I then placed a small amount of solder on each copper pad, held the SMT cap in place and resoldered.  Seem to work fine.

Another hour to install the thru-hole filter capacitors on the bottom side of the board.  Install all of one value at a time in order to not mix them up.  Find the 68 pfd cap and set it aside so it doesn't get mixed in with one of the 680 pfd caps.  That went quick with no real problems or confusion. 

Next was major surgery on the 40 pin display socket. My sharp flush mount side cutters cut thru the plastic easily.  I used a small flat file to clean up the edges after the cut. On each of the two-pin sockets, check to make sure they have clearance with adjacent components.  If not file the plastic down until you get a good fit.  Do solder only one pin then check for proper vertical alignment, esp on the 20 pin socket. There is a "high-side" to the socket; make sure the high-side is on the outside of the socket.

Now to the installation of more thru hole parts per page 22.  The instructions are good.  I solder tinned the pad for the X6 crystal to make it easier to get a good solder tack of the case to the ground pad.  I also did NOT install the "long red actuators" instead following the suggestion to wait until some of the final assembly since these actuators are long and could break off.

I was missing (or couldn't find) a small 0.1mfd chip cap.  A quick email to Steve/KD1JV resulted in a replacement in the mail all within a couple of hours!  Great service!

So it WAS a good day!  Tomorrow is 16 Toroid Day!  I love to wind toroids!

Day 2 (7pm) 8 Hrs into the Build:

Wow!  I got  a lot of personal emails encouraging me to plod ahead on my “public” build of the ATS4.  Even though I’ve built a K2 and several K1’s, I’ve also had some trepidation in tackling those kits with lots of really tiny chips and small millipede IC’s with hair-thick pins.  Hmm, sounds like the ATS4!

So it is with a deal of angst and hand-wringing that I continue on with my build.  My biggest fear right now is the obvious:  Will it work?  Especially after I will have put in a lot of hours to create this new radio.

Ok, one goal of this blog is to share what I have learned either fortuitously or the hard way by a mistake.  Here’s a couple of tidbits:

1)    The MANUAL (I emphasize because it is the Holy Grail at this point) is pretty darn good!  It’s easy to read right past some pithy advice that could make/break your day.  Like the sage insight from your Grandmother:  “Be sure to look both ways before crossing the street.”  So read the manual, section by section and highlight the key points.
2)    Here’s an example:  “The number one reason a kit does not work the very first time power is applied is due to soldering issues.”  The bottom line is you have to be able to solder really, really good which means a clean soldering iron tip, the right flat blade tip, proper application of the solder at just the right time so it flows on the circuit board pad and the SMT part without burning up the SMT part.
3)    Or, you are more brave than me, and use the solder paste, hot plate, and hot air gun method which has a whole set of rules for success.

So after placing the IC’s, the chip caps and chip resistors, I’m going to review each solder connection under the magnifying glass.  I’ve already found several “suspects” that were quickly fixed.  How many more are there?

Here’s a picture of my “setup.”  I’m using a 2” deep aluminum casserole pan from the supermarket.  Cheap.  I’ve grounded it for static protection.  I also use a grounded wrist strap.  I have a wooden desk top (actually old door) that I used a small stickpin to lock my pan to the desktop.  The pan is deep enough to “catch” those chips which, like tiddlywinks, do try to fly.

Day 2 (10am) New ATS4 Project from Steve/Kd1JV

Well, I really wanted the PSK31/PSK64 functionality of the new, significantly updated ATS4 from an ultralight, compact HF QRP transceiver designer, Steve/KD1JV (click here for info).  So I purchased the kit, fortunately before it sold out!  This is my first foray into SMT kit building.  So far I've got about 8 hrs and have (I hope) done all the hard work with the placement of the IC's (8), the chip caps, and the chip resistors.  I've elected to handplace and solder each component, partly because that's what I'm more familiar and comfortable with.  Solder paste, hot plates, and hot air guns "seem" daunting and "scary" to me.  I'm sure it's my paranoia about trying a method that I"m not comfortable with.  So I hope this won't be a "project from hell" similar to the trials/tribulations of Larry/W2LJ in the building of his PFR3. So far only one "known" snafu...incorrect orientation of the two mixer chips but a hot air gun quickly "floated" the 8-pin IC (much too my surprise!) for easy removal.  Thanks to the ATS_Sprint reflector for assistance!

During the build, you have to choose between 17m or 15m.  I choose 15m.  15m is a great QRP band when the sunspots are in our favor which I hope will be true for the next 5 to 6 years. 


JCHaywire said...

I had the same experience with my 3B. Here's the photo of that process.

K4UPG said...

Guy! Thanks for posting this. It is a great way to encourage the rest of us to get the iron hot and jump into the next generation of projects. I'm saving pennies for one of these in the future so will be watching and fighting back the covetousness that I am sensing. Grrrrr!
Kelly K4UPG PB #173

W7TMD said...

Good Luck Guy!!!I'm sure it will work Great when your done. I will check back often..

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to gather the courage to start building my own ATS-4. For now, I'll just follow your build ;-)

John AE5X

Unknown said...

Guy, thanks for letting me know about your blog. I will follow along as you finish your ATS4 and maybe I'll do the same as I start building my ATS3. After the FDIM buildathon, I think I have the guts to start. Doing the surface mount parts with solder paste isn't that difficult so I have some solder paste on order and will get started soon.


JCHaywire said...

"A whole set of rules for success." I'm not sure I agree with that assessment of hot air soldering. There are fewer rules than with using a secondary source (hot iron, heats part/pad/solder to varying degrees, then solder flows). Hot air is elegant as it is simple. Too many on the ATS list have added restrictions to the process that simply are not necessary, and have mystified the process for fellow iron-wielding hams like myself. Go with air. After you've tried it, you'll say what I said, "Huh? How could I have not been doing this all along?" Jonathan KC7FYS/XV2OC