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Building your own service bench

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Dawn

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I don't know if a topic like this can make any traction here. Based on what I see on youtube, many of these posters are absolutely cluless what they're doing. The guys doing mods/upgrades and truck stop shops are excruciating to listen to. A glance around their benches often reveals a lot. Either they don't have necessary equipment to properly service or have equipment that's totally inappropriate and there more for eye candy to prospective clients who don't know any better.

I managed to do a very good business from around '72-'75 with a relatively small investment, but do the repairs right and unlike most cb shops of the time. I worked by day in land mobile as a tech around premium service and lab grade equipment. By night my bench wasn't lab grade, but by transfer calibration from our shops equipment to inexpensive kit and cb grade equipment,along with some home brew items, I could get precision results with them.

Time have changed and there's a lot of industrial and service surplus since the past 35 years. From ebay alone, one can assemble a pretty decent bench if you concentrate on perfromance rather then eye candy. This isn't about trying to impress anyone as above. Your work speaks volumes for itself. You don't need a fancy and overpriced DOSY lightshow when some separate, but excellent components are almost a few bucks plus shipping.

Could this be a conversation we can have here? Maybe take one piece of necessary equipment and discuss it at a time. What you need and what you think you might need are two different things. Also, some pieces of equipment are deceivingly good that go for little or nothing or have particular quirks that make them suitable or not suitable.
 

prcguy

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Sounds like a good topic I would like to hear what others are using to service equipment. I can add to the discussion with some of my experiences.

I started out in the early 70s modifying and repairing CBs as a hobby using mostly consumer/amateur grade test equipment like a surplus Navy OS-8BU oscilloscope, some off brand watt/SWR meter, a drift-omatic Heathkit signal generator, etc. After working for a large CB manufacturer in the mid 70s I got spoiled using their equipment and started amassing some better stuff like a Bird 43 wattmeter, a better scope and signal generator and my first major purchase was a new HP 80MHz freq counter. I was living large with the HP counter in 1976.

After progressing to land mobile radios at work with a growing radio hobby at home I started buying more appropriate equipment for commercial FM radios like a used Singer FM-10C, buckets of slugs for the Bird 43, synthesized tone generator for testing PLs and a SINAD meter, upgrading the scope, etc.

Then later with a budding commercial repeater business of my own came a slightly used IFR-1200S, a 3GHz HP Spectrum Analyzer with tracking generator with return loss bridges and lots of portable test equipment like Fluke LCD scope, better DMMs, etc, and lots of backup equipment. If I was going on a service run to a mountain top I would load the truck down with equipment because if (God forbid) you forgot something, its a couple of hours driving back down the mountain to fetch it.

Just last week I was checking out an old Motorola Mocat CB I found in the garage and wired a commercial Motorola desk mic to it. I remember chuckling to myself for using an expensive service monitor just to check out a $20 CB and what overkill that must be. For me its a coincidence this thread came up around this time to drive that thought home.

Over the years I've realized you don't really need that much test equipment to do quality repairs, just a few key items will do fine if you have the knowledge and experience with both the test equipment and the radios you are working on. I also realize an amount of expensive equipment I bought was more for impressing the customer or to speed up the troubleshooting a little, but in the end I could have done without some of it.
prcguy
 
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WA0CBW

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Shawnee Kansas (Kansas City)
The test equipment you need will generally revolve around what equipment and frequencies you will be working on. In general everyone will probably have several meters to measure volts, ohms, amperes, and power. Although almost all of todays meters are digital having an old analog meter can be quite useful when trying to observe or find a "peak" or "null". A digital can be very difficult to use in that situation.
After I got my first meter I realized that I really wanted to "see" what I was measuring with my meter so an oscilloscope appeared on my bench. That 0-5MHz non-triggered, non-calibrated scope didn't last long as I wanted triggering and calibration and delayed sweep. But that old scope opened a whole new world to me of being able to see the shape of the signals I was measuring.
You have to be able to "stimulate" the equipment you are working one with a signal it expects to see. So appeared on the bench a Knight Kit signal generator. I learned from my first scope to buy a few more features with the generator like a "crystal calibrator" and a calibrated output. Wow! does it get any better than this?
Yes! I now have over 16 linear feet of bench space with three shelves filled with scopes, meters, generators, service monitors, spectrum analyzers, transistor curve tracer, capacitor checkers, RCL bridges, and power supplies. And a whole lot of specialty items like SWR meters, antenna analyzers, watt meters, dummy loads, power supply loads, AM-FM stereo analyzer, CB analyzer and a lot of other specialized testing equipment.
Did I mention tools, and soldering/de-soldering equipment?
BB
 

Dawn

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Pinecrest,Fl
Sounds much like my shop. Over 40 years worth of accumulation and the residual from my service shop and much more in storage. Odd though. People outside the comm service trade, but in other areas of electronics can't seem to grasp why one would need several types of voltmeters or why sometime an analog piece of gear trumps a digital one. I have two HP/Agilent service monitors in the shop as well as an older Singer FM10cs. The Singer doesn't do AM without a separate plug in and the HP's generally suck at it. It's often easier to reach up to the old, analog urm-25 that sits on the upper shelf then bother with programmable steps and spend 10 minutes going through menus. Bar graphs and numerical increments just don't cut it sometimes. As far as rework, I have SMT capability down to hot air and IR.
First desoldering station I bought in '78 from Pace lasted 30+ years and probably would still be on the bench if I could find heating elements and expendables. Probably made more money with that station compared to the investment made then any other piece of service equipment.

I'd like to see where we can go with this thread. Maybe discuss a particular piece of test equipment at a time and what's ideal vs what the popular perception is. That's not limited to CB either. You couldn't convince most amateurs around here that if a tech doesn't "put it on the IFR", then somehow any other piece of test equipment is illegitimate. I'd stack my old Singer that I bought over 35 years ago up against any IFR '1200 or '1500 or any of my old Cushman's from years past. Not saying they're bad, I worked with a '1500 on the bench and a '500 in the field for many years. I wouldn't want to own and have one serviced on my dime though. The HP's were a great investment and run rings around an IFR with fantastic service records, yet there's this fetishization amongst amateurs that these 30 year old
machines are the ultimate piece of test gear. Just a glance at ebay tells you the story what these machines are commanding over much better and newer equipment. Somebody is paying these prices and if you were to listen in on the local repeaters, it now becomes the big status thing to have one. These clowns have no clue what to do with them besides punch in a frequency and see the needle center and entertain themselves and others with a 3+ grand light show just to be the Man. In the years of being in the business, I never heard of a commercial or marine client inquire what type of equipment we had in the shop as a requisite for properly servicing their radios.

I digress though. Thinking back to my original shop I set up as an extension of my amateur station/work bench with a lot of homebrew equipment and hamfest finds. There's a lot you can do and do very well with little money, but a good foundation in theory and a fertile mind. That used to be how amateurs used to be before everything became a push button appliance. Expensive test sets are nice if you can justify the cost and maximize bench hour throughput.

CB service from what I see now over the last few years has devolved into mostly idiots with no clue. No reason to go into this as we've covered this before. An hour on Youtube listening to self proclaimed techs is both amusing and revolting. Amazing they can put up a shingle. Based on the comments below the videos, there's a lot of people that buy into their BS and hold them in awe.
 

LoyalServant

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Aug 2, 2014
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SC
Hello all,

This thread enticed me to register... I have read many forums off and on over the years and decided to bite.
Go easy on me.

Long story short.. I got my start in NY back in the early 90s as a high schooler.
I was noticed by some local people because of my mischievous ways with a radio.
I studied everything radio from a very young age and by the time I was 13 I was making really dirty radios for the sole purpose of bleeding channels and just being disruptive.
I made noise toys with PWMs... pulled as much filtering out of a radio as possible, tweaking modulation sections of the radio, etc.

As I said... mischief....

Now, people wanted me to do that for them too.... so some of the local shop owners too interest.
I went to work for one and at the time they had better gear than I did.. all I had was an old Hitachi scope, few VOMs, crappy RF wattmeter and a homemade dummy load.

Now.. your early 90s CB shops were all about how many crappy wattmeters they could stuff between your radio and a dummy load. Some just used an antenna....
It was all about how far that needle sat when the radio was keyed and how far it deflected when you whistled, which I started to really learn as an aspiring engineer that it was BS.
It was all about an illusion that shop owners would have... make it look good to get that $50 to peak a radio and tell customers to get it peaked regularly for max power... another BS story.

The staples of some CB shops were those para dynamics wattmeters and frequency counters. Some had older "black cat" "catalyzers" - they loved that old wawasee electronics gear and swore it was "the best" for peaking a radio or had the most accurate frequency counter.

I was curious about how accurate that back cat was one day... so I borrowed an HP 5384 and an HP function generator... I think an 8656?
Both of which had recent cal certificates so I knew they were right.
That black cat that I was using there to work on radios... naturally it was off.

I was never able to persuade my boss and owner of the shop to buy some "real" test gear even after I demonstrated that the frequency counter on his beloved black cat was off by a good margin... blamed the calibrated HP gear for being off (!!)
Eventually I got mocked for only wanting to use "cadillac" test gear.
In fact, I would use the black cat stuff if the damned gear was accurate... it did not have to be HP/Agilent.
I just wanted it to be right. I did calibrate that black cat to be as close as possible with the HP generator so it was good enough after that I suppose. Never told the boss.... but I never had a radio that was off frequency as much after that either.

Here we are 25 years later.... and bad test gear being used is an issue still....
Don't even get me started about these youtube videos showing these quacks using the wrong solder, lifting traces on boards, cutting ICs off the board because they cannot desolder them... or turning random pots/slugs on a board without knowing their purpose.

I guess I should not be surprised that things have not changed much in the last 20-30 years.

Or have I just gotten snobby as an EE....
Who knows.
 

KANE4109

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Deer Park, TX
I am sorry to see that this thread died out so long ago. I don't know if anyone will see this but I am certainly thinking of setting up a bench just to get a few of my old radios up and cooking.

Some things I have thought of:

What is a good reason that one could not take an old radio with a dead driver/final, pull out all of that circuitry, build in a little buffering/output conditioning/level control and use it as a signal generator for rx alignment? Build an outboard audio oscillator/switch to patch into the mic jack for modulation. It would seem too me that this would work.

Also. ... these inexpensive Usb SDR dongles.... could you use one as a rough spectrum analyzer? Again I know it isn't lab quality. ..... but it would seem that you could tune down that 54mhz spike and at least see if you have any other spurious emissions.....

And. ... these inexpensive component checkers....... lab quality? Nope. .. but they seem to compare favorably especially when you count the price point. ...

Just fishing for possibilities. ..
 

prcguy

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So Cal - Richardson, TX - Tewksbury, MA
I've used all kinds of RF signal generators over the years from 1950s General Radio and Heathkit to the best HP/Agilent and everything in between. You can get older vernier VFO types very cheap or free these days but you really want to have a stable frequency counter to make sure you are on the the right frequency. Unless its been recently calibrated you almost need an RF millivolt meter or RF power meter to go with it, which starts to complicate what was an inexpensive purchase.

I recently bought a new little signal generator from Elecraft that would be just fine for testing and aligning any HF through VHF radio and its not very expensive. The XG3 signal source is computer programmable and puts out a very stable and accurate signal on any frequency between 1.8 and 200MHz with precise levels of -107dBm (1uv), -73dBm (50uv for S9), -33dBm (S9+40dB) and 0dBm.

The XG3 cost $179 new, which is not bad for someone setting up a new test bench or who needs a very simple and portable but accurate generator. Elecraft® Hands-On Ham Radio™
prcguy


I am sorry to see that this thread died out so long ago. I don't know if anyone will see this but I am certainly thinking of setting up a bench just to get a few of my old radios up and cooking.

Some things I have thought of:

What is a good reason that one could not take an old radio with a dead driver/final, pull out all of that circuitry, build in a little buffering/output conditioning/level control and use it as a signal generator for rx alignment? Build an outboard audio oscillator/switch to patch into the mic jack for modulation. It would seem too me that this would work.

Also. ... these inexpensive Usb SDR dongles.... could you use one as a rough spectrum analyzer? Again I know it isn't lab quality. ..... but it would seem that you could tune down that 54mhz spike and at least see if you have any other spurious emissions.....

And. ... these inexpensive component checkers....... lab quality? Nope. .. but they seem to compare favorably especially when you count the price point. ...

Just fishing for possibilities. ..
 

KANE4109

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Joined
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Messages
45
Location
Deer Park, TX
No sir, not bad at all.
The thing that has me "mentally" about vernier dial RF Generators is that the area between 26 & 27 MHz is a tiny little portion of sweep. Even with a freq. counter... is it a realistic expectation that you can get that thing set right-spot-on a channel frequency? That's why I was pondering an old "beater" radio. Get the PLL aligned so that the frequency is correct and I would THINK (now this may tip you off as to EXPERIENCE ;) ) that the CB would be more accurate than trying to get these ham-handed fingers to be delicate enough with that dial.

Any thoughts on that?
 

prcguy

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So Cal - Richardson, TX - Tewksbury, MA
Some old VFO type signal generators were very crude and are difficult to accurately set up on 27MHz, plus they can drift a lot. Its best to move on and get something that's actually usable for the job you want to do, the frustration and time wasted is just not worth it.

You have to be confidant in your test equipment, otherwise if the radio your working on is doing something strange, is it the radio or your setup? The worst feeling you can have besides accidentally shorting something out and damaging it is not having faith in your test equipment.

If all you will be working on is CB, there are lots of choices on Ebay and ham radio swap meets.
prcguy

No sir, not bad at all.
The thing that has me "mentally" about vernier dial RF Generators is that the area between 26 & 27 MHz is a tiny little portion of sweep. Even with a freq. counter... is it a realistic expectation that you can get that thing set right-spot-on a channel frequency? That's why I was pondering an old "beater" radio. Get the PLL aligned so that the frequency is correct and I would THINK (now this may tip you off as to EXPERIENCE ;) ) that the CB would be more accurate than trying to get these ham-handed fingers to be delicate enough with that dial.

Any thoughts on that?
 
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Traditionally I never really did much service wise. Last 3 or so years I've had various R8000's issues to me as I primarily one did FM or DMR/P25. Then I began playing…rescued and R2001 and pull it out occasionally. It's a dynamic bench though. Usually more networking gear than anything.


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