Building the Breadboard Radio “Splinter” – Part I


I started my first kit build tonight with the “Splinter” CW transceiver from Breadboard Radio. The Splinter was designed by Bill, W4FSV, as a project for the Columbia Amateur Radio Club back in 2011. If memory serves me right, nearly 30 members of our club put one of these kits together during weekend workshops over a three month period.

Sadly, I joined the club too late to get in on the fun, but I’d always intended to build one of these neat little rigs. Bill has turned the club project into a nice side business, and he mentioned to us recently that his QRPp kits were being used on five continents. At our board meeting last week, I asked Bill if I could buy a Splinter from him. On Monday, he delivered the goods, along with an extra crystal to play with.

I looked up a few videos on YouTube this morning to get the basics of soldering. Some months back my brother-in-law graciously gave me everything I needed to start soldering in exchange for one of my old cameras. He gave me a few lessons too.

The Splinter's components are sorted into five bags for easy assembly.

The Splinter’s components are sorted into five bags for easy assembly.

Tonight I started the project. First off, everything is smaller than it looks in photos. The circuit board itself is only 2×4 inches. The entire kit fits in a sandwich bag, with room to spare. Bill ships the Splinter divided into five bags: #1, power and sidetone; #2, the audio amplifier, #3 receiver and mixer, #4, the transmitter, and #5, hardware for the final assembly.

I decided to take it easy and just tackle getting the sidetone working tonight, so I emptied the contents of the first bag into a tray and sorted the pieces, with the printed documentation in front of me.

Keep in mind, I’ve never built anything. I’ve never soldered. This kit has a lot of parts. We’re not talking Lego blocks here…

The trickiest step is the very first one (a diode has to be mounted on the rear of the board), but the directions were very clear on what needed to be done. I had to use a magnifying glass to read the capacitors, and I eventually called in my wife to sort the five resistors in this first stage, simply because I’m red-green color blind and don’t trust myself to interpret the color-coding on the resistors.

The solder flowed easily for the most part. I had a few ugly joints, but nothing critical. There were 22 components to mount in this first stage and I reckon it took me about two hours from start to finish. I connected a 12V battery and followed the instructions to test the sidetone generator. To my delight, it worked!

I look forward to assembling the amp tomorrow.

This is where I stopped tonight: The sidetone and power connections appear to be working. Many more components to be installed...

This is where I stopped tonight: The sidetone and power connections appear to be working. Many more components to be installed…

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