Connecting Two Keys to the KX3

When operating in the field, I often like to alternate between a straight key for SKCC contacts and paddles for everything else. I found a quick and easy way to do this, courtesy of an excellent article by Rich AG6QR.

In the past, I would sometimes run an external keyer and connect a straight key in parallel with the keyer’s output. I have often used this as a way to use both computer keying and paddles during Field Day. I have also resorted to putting the CW KEY1 jack into the straight key mode and turning my Palm Mini paddles on their side to simulate a straight key. I could have used the Elecraft paddles designed for the KX3 but that arrangement isn’t very comfortable for me.

I did some searching and found a neat little adapter on the Pignology website. Unfortunately, at the current time, they aren’t accepting orders. A little more searching produced AG6QR ‘s article, which provided a perfectly workable solution. Best of all, I had everything I needed in my junk box.

Inspired by Rich’s article, I assembled a two-pin, female header connector (with standard 0.1-inch spacing) by crimping on a short length of two-conductor wire. On the other end, I soldered on an in-line 1/8-inch stereo jack. (I connected to the tip and sleeve terminals, leaving the ring terminal open.)

This is the 2-pin female header connector. It’s an Amphenol part but, unfortunately, I don’t have the specific part number.
This is the 2-pin female header connector. It’s an Amphenol part but, unfortunately, I don’t have the specific part number.

After setting the CW KEY2 jack to the “HAND” setting, I connected my header connector to the two right-most pins on the front connector and a straight key to the stereo jack. Voila! It worked just fine. As is my usual practice, I used a little Goop sealant/adhesive to add a little extra strain relief and make the connectors more rugged for field use.

This is the straight key adapter connected to my KX3.
This is the straight key adapter connected to my KX3.

So until Pignology reopens, I have a great (cheap) solution for simultaneously connecting a straight key and paddles. Be sure to check out AG6QR’s page for a more detailed description (and better photography).

72, Craig WB3GCK

A “Cooler” Idea

When I was in need of a container to transport my QRP rig, my XYL came up with an inexpensive solution. The answer was as close as the nearby grocery store.

A few years ago, I was using a plastic food container to keep my little YouKits HB-1B and accessories organized and protected in transit. It had enough room for the radio, a Li-Ion battery, keyer, paddles, K1 tuner, earphones, my clipboard/paddle mount, and assorted cables and connectors. Life was good until I cracked the plastic box while out in the field for a QRP Skeeter Hunt contest. I started searching for a replacement.

I mentioned my dilemma to my XYL. She came back into the room carrying a nifty insulated lunch box that she was using for a first-aid kit. I emptied out the first aid stuff and found that it could hold all of my radio stuff. I was particularly happy that my clipboard/paddle mount fit in there perfectly. I made a trip to the grocery store where she found the container and bought one for myself.

Arctic Zone Upright HardBody® Lunch Box. This one has seen years of use and now holds my KX3 and accessories.
Arctic Zone Upright HardBody® Lunch Box. This one has seen years of use and now holds my KX3 and accessories.

The box my XYL found was the Upright HardBody® Lunch Box made by Arctic Zone. The outer material is padded for insulation and it has a rigid plastic liner that provides some extra protection. It also comes with an adjustable divider, which might be useful in some cases. There’s an outside pocket that I use to hold a notebook and pencil for logging. At the time, I paid less than $10 USD for it.

Last year, when I bought my KX3, I went through the same trial and error with the lunch box. I was able to get the KX3, Palm Mini paddles, MS2 straight key, microphone, earphones, clipboard and assorted cables and adapters in there. It holds everything but my LiFePO4 battery and antenna. (These items can vary from trip to trip, so this isn’t much of an inconvenience for me.)  So, off to our local KMart store I went. I bought two of the lunch boxes this time — one for the KX3 and one for a first-aid kit for in my truck.

This is the lunch box with the KX3 and accessories packed up. Out of sheer paranoia, I normally wrap the KX3 in a layer of bubble wrap for extra protection. When placed on top of everything, the clipboard provides another rigid surface for even more protection.
This is the lunch box with the KX3 and accessories packed up. Out of sheer paranoia, I normally wrap the KX3 in a layer of bubble wrap for extra protection. When placed on top of everything, the clipboard provides another rigid surface for even more protection.

When I load up the KX3 box, the other items keep the radio for shifting around while in transit. Out of sheer paranoia, I put a layer of bubble wrap around the KX3. I’m not really sure that’s necessary though. When I’m ready to head out to the field, I just grab the KX3 box, my battery, and antenna of choice for the day and I’m all set.

There are certainly better, more expensive containers available. For the price, it’s hard to beat these lunch boxes. Maybe I should buy another one to hold my lunch and a couple of cold ones when I go into the field.  Hmmm…

73, Craig WB3GCK

Murphy and MacGyver

My XYL and I traveled out to the Harrisburg, PA, area over the weekend to spend some time with our daughter and her family.  Yesterday, I set up my KX3 and Alexloop in the backyard to make a few SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contacts.  Ol’ Murphy was certainly with me.

First, I had a problem with my little American Morse MS2 straight key.  Well, not the key itself, but rather a bad connector or cable.  I spent some time playing around with it but I had no multimeter to  troubleshoot it and no parts to repair it.

Tuning around the bands, I couldn’t hear a lot of activity.  The SKCC stations I heard seemed pretty weak and I wasn’t having any luck making contacts.  I checked the Band Conditions website and saw that the bands were in bad shape.  At that point, I threw in the towel and chalked up a win for Murphy.

Tough going on the bands
Tough going on the bands

Today I decided to give it another shot.  The bands sounded better and I could hear some WES activity.  I remembered a trick that Burke N0HYD employed to pull off an SKCC contact with me a while back.  So, I channeled my inner MacGyver and set up the KX3 for a straight key and connected my Palm mini paddles.  I turned the paddles over on their side and used one lever as a straight key.  The straight key workaround worked surprisingly well.  The “feel” wasn’t half-bad, actually.

My sideways paddles. The top paddle was used as the straight key.
My sideways paddles. The top paddle was used as the straight key.

With the improved band conditions and the straight key workaround, I made several SKCC WES contacts, including one with Bert F6HKA.  Bert has great ears and has managed to pull my puny QRP signal out of the noise on several occasions.  I finished my session with a nice two-way QRP QSO with Mac NN4NC down in North Carolina on 40 meters.  I was only on for an hour or so but it was fun.

Despite my lack of a functioning straight key, I managed to put a few new SKCC stations in my log today.  MacGyver would have been proud.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Backyard-Portable in Central PA

My XYL and I spent the weekend with our daughter and her family near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  I spent most of my time enjoying the company of my grandson but I did manage to get on the air for a bit this afternoon.

I set up my KX3 and AlexLoop antenna out in the backyard at the picnic table.  Since the Straight Key Century Club’s Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest was going on, I hooked up my little MS2 straight key to make a few contacts.

Operating “backyard-portable” near Harrisburg, PA (Photo by Amy Duchesne)
Operating “backyard-portable” near Harrisburg, PA (Photo by Amy Duchesne)

This was my first time using the AlexLoop with my KX3 and it worked well.  Operating “search and pounce” during a contest was tricky with the AlexLoop but not impossible.  I just tuned the KX3 about 500Hz off of the station I wanted to work, tuned the loop and then moved back to the station’s frequency.

I worked a half-dozen SKCC stations from Maine to Florida and as far west as Missouri.  The last QSO was with W3CEI.  His signal was so strong I had to turn the KX3’s preamp off and kick in the attenuator.  As it turns out, Larry was only a half mile away or so from me.  That was my big DX contact of the day!

It was a short outing but it was a beautiful day to be out playing radio under a shady tree.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Holiday Weekend Bike Ride

For a long, holiday weekend, it’s been pretty busy around here.  I managed to get in a bike ride this morning on the nearby Perkiomen Trail.

On my way back to the trailhead, I stopped for a brief QRP session.  I tossed a line up over an opportune branch and hoisted up a 29.5-foot wire.  It wasn’t the highest branch but it let me operate under a shady tree.  I laid another 29.5-foot wire out on the ground for a counterpoise.  I’ve had very good success with this configuration on many occasions, while feeding it through a 4:1 unun.  Today, I tried attaching the wires directly to my KX3 using a BNC-to-binding post adapter.  The KX3 managed to tune it with an SWR less than 2:1 on 40 and 30 meters.  On 20 meters, however, I couldn’t get it below 5:1.  So, I quickly hooked up the 4:1 unun and about 6 feet of coax.

Once again, I pressed my bike into service as an antenna support. One handlebar grip has a 4:1 unun attached to it. The other grip is where I tied off the line used to hoist the antenna.
Once again, I pressed my bike into service as an antenna support. One handlebar grip has a 4:1 unun attached to it. The other grip is where I tied off the line used to hoist the antenna.

Not hearing much activity on 20 meters, I tuned around 30 meters and heard W9CBT calling CQ from the Chicago area.  The QSB was bad and we just couldn’t complete the QSO.

My station setup today. The food storage container houses LiFePO4 battery.
My station setup today. The food storage container houses LiFePO4 battery.

Down on 40 meters, I had a quick exchange with K2D in Connecticut, one of the 13 Colonies special event stations.  I called CQ on 7.030 and wound up having a nice two-way QRP QSO with John, W3FSA, in Portland, Maine.  We managed to hang in there despite some deep fading at times.

After that, I quickly packed up and rode the last few miles back to the trailhead.  The weather was perfect and I would have liked to stay longer.  However, I needed to get home to put some ribs on the smoker.  I have my priorities in order!

I wish all of my U.S. ham friends a happy and safe 4th of July.

72, Craig WB3GCK

International Field Radio Event Recap

I operated in the first-ever International Field Radio Event on May 28th.  (See my earlier post for information on this event.)  A few days before the event, I decided to operate near the Hopewell Fire Tower in French Creek State Park.  The day before the event, my XYL and two of our grandchildren accompanied me on a hike to scout out operating locations.  I found a small clearing in the woods near the fire tower.  It was off the beaten path and looked like it would work out for me.

Hopewell Fire Tower
Hopewell Fire Tower

The next day I got off to an early start and headed back to the little clearing.  There wasn’t enough room to toss a line up in a tree, so I used two Velcro® straps to secure my 31-foot Jackite pole to a tree.  I set up a 29.5-foot vertical wire supported by the pole and laid out two radials on the ground.  I fed the antenna through a 4:1 unun and a short length of coax.  I set up my KX3 on a small table near the tree and was soon ready to get started.

My operating position for the International Field Radio Event.
My operating position for the International Field Radio Event.

It was tough going for this event.  Band conditions were less than stellar and 20 meters was wall-to-wall with CQ WW WPX CW Contest stations.  I spent my time searching for other Field Radio Event stations, both CW and (gulp) SSB.  After a few hours, I only had 3 CW contacts on 30 meters in my log.  None of them were Field Radio stations.  One was a National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) activation in Kentucky and the other two were rag chews with stations in Florida and Michigan.

WB3GCK hard at work searching for other Field Radio Event stations
WB3GCK hard at work searching for other Field Radio Event stations

One pleasant surprise was an eyeball QSO with Jerry K3BZ.  Jerry was walking near my location and noticed me back in the woods.  He stopped by to say hello and introduce himself.  After chatting with Jerry for a bit, I packed up and headed home.

I was somewhat disappointed that I didn’t work any other Field Radio Event stations.  On the Field Radio group page on Facebook, many other stations reported similar disappointing results.  There is talk about conducting another International Field Radio Event later this year.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed that band conditions will be better and that there won’t be a major contest going on that weekend.

73/72, Craig WB3GCK

A Brief Break in the Weather

I was itching to get out for some portable operating but the weather this weekend had been pretty lousy.  I checked the weather radar this morning and saw that there was some clearing coming.  I figured I had a couple of hours before the next band of rain moved in.

I threw my backpack into my truck and headed out to nearby Upper Schuylkill Valley Park.  Given the dreary weather, there was no one in the picnic area.  I headed for a picnic table that I had used once before and set up my equipment.

This was the first outing for my new KX3 and I was using a new LiFePO4 battery for the first time.  I connected a straight key with the hope of making a few Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) contacts.  I strapped my 31-foot Jackite pole to a wooden sign post and strung up a 30-foot vertical wire fed through a 9:1 unun.

My setup at Upper Schuylkill Valley Park. The food storage container is holding a 6 A-H LiFePO4 battery.
My setup at Upper Schuylkill Valley Park. The food storage container is holding a 6 A-H LiFePO4 battery.

There wasn’t a lot of activity on the bands.  I eventually had a 2-way QRP SKCC QSO on 20 meters with K4ARQ in Florida.  That turned out to be my only QSO today.  I had a couple of “almost” QSOs that were either disrupted by QSB or QRM.  In particular, NP3CW in Puerto Rico heard me calling CQ on 17 meters and gave me a call.  As soon as I answered, a station in Mexico came on frequency and started calling CQ.  A few other SKCC members attempted QSOs with me but propagation just wasn’t working in my favor today.

Dark clouds starting rolling in, so I packed up and headed back to my truck.  My timing was excellent; it started raining on my drive home.

It wasn’t the greatest field trip I’ve had but it was a good practice session with the KX3.

72, Craig WB3GCK