note: This article first appeared in May 2015.
In Part #1 (posted day before yesterday) of this series I covered the mission of this Ham-In-The-Box project, requirements and limitations, and the initial challenges that I faced. I also outlined each piece of equipment that would make up the final product.
In Part #2 (posted yesterday) of this series I started relating the actual step-by-step build process. I went from prepping the box itself, building the internal frame and getting all the way through installing the remote head to the radio.
In this post I will finish out the building of this project. It was a great project, took much longer than I expected, I picked up some valuable experience and knowledge, and I learned another great lesson along the way. But when it was all over, the project functioned exactly as designed!
Just a reminder of the mission of this project –
To be able to rapidly field deploy a Ham radio, for which I am licensed to use, in the event of any emergency while maintaining a secure and protective storage environment.
~ The “Build” (continued) ~
Step 9 –
This was one of the weirdest parts that I fabricated, the front panel frame. I wanted the frame sturdy, rigid but not heavy. And I couldn’t have it too large or it would get in the way of the fan and other accessories. So I went with 3/4” angle aluminum. While I was measuring the different pieces I found there was a small “notch” or pocket in toolbox’s corner that a piece of the aluminum fit into perfectly. So I took advantage of that and used it to hold the frame in-place and semi-attached to the toolbox. The side benefit was making the whole structural frame kind of like a part of the toolbox without really attaching it. So that is the reason for the one slightly longer side to the frame. If you are looking at the box with the lid opening towards you, the longer leg would go into the notch on the front left side right under the “lip” of the toolbox. I used rivets to secure the pieces.
Then I was working on the solution to attaching the front panel to the frame. I really wanted to be able to remove the front panel to access the components underneath. But exactly how to do that securely while maintaining convenience was a bit difficult to figure out. Then it dawned on me to use JB Weld to bond the bolt heads to the frame. Then it was a matter of drilling out the holes in the front panel to match the bolts.
Note: The 2″ notch in the front panel frame was not intentional. When I was laying out the frame and the front panel I forgot the “offset” from the left side of the box and didn’t line-up the fan to the frame correctly. I had to cut the notch so the fan wouldn’t interfere with the frame, or visa-versa.
Step 10 –
I really wanted the front panel to look sharp as well as be functional and lightweight. I went shopping for possible materials and found everything expensive. Then a moment of inspiration! I headed off to the local Goodwill and purchased a used VCR with a metal case. The metal that the case was made of was sturdy steel, thin, and a nicely painted black with a bit of texture to it. Perfect!
Note: I used masking tape place over the metal to help prevent damage while drilling the hole. I also used a good hole-punch and gave it a sharp whack with a hammer to make a serious starter hole so the drill wouldn’t “wander” when I was starting the hole.
I used Gorilla Tape to finish off the edges and give it a slightly cleaner look than rough-cut exposed edges. Yes, I like Gorilla Tape better than Duct Tape.
The fan had to be positioned directly over the PWRgate to blow air directly at its heat sink, so I had little choice to its location on the front panel. Then I mounted a switch next to it. I figured there would be times when the air movement might not be required so why not have the capability to turn the fan off. When I attached the fan to the back of the panel I used Gorilla Tape around the hole to create a bit of a “stand-off” from the metal panel to make sure the fan blades didn’t come into contact with the metal. The tape also works a little like a rubber washer absorbing vibration from the fan. To cut the hole for the fan I used a hole saw with the correct diameter cutter. Using a hole saw made a much cleaner hole than other methods. The switch hole was drilled out with a regular drill bit as per the instructions that came with the switch.
The next requirement was the “through the case” antenna lead connector. I thought at first about just having it loose and connect it. But then I thought I wanted the box to look as professional as possible so I mounted it on the front panel. The hole for the male-to-male connector was drilled out with a regular drill bit.
Then I positioned my remaining two accessories; the cigarette lighter socket and the USB charging port. I decided to mount cigarette lighter socket lowest on the front panel thinking it might have the heavier item plugged into it. Mounting it lower on the panel might make less weight/torque on panel. The other socket would be for charging USB devices. I figured they would be lighter weight and less of a Wight/torque problem. The larger holes for the cases were cut using a hole saw which made a much cleaner hole than other methods. I use my hole punch to punch a hole through the case and then screwed in the sheet metal screws through the panel.
Front panel wiring. This is where I struggled just a bit. I am not particularly good with making Anderson Powerpole connections with heavy or real lightweight wire. And my fears proved to be true. I also had to figure out how to distribute the power as well.
I wanted the cigarette lighter socket and the USB charger ports to only be available when working off of shore power not battery power. When on battery power I only want to use valuable battery amps for the radio and cooling fan. So the power to those two accessories had to be “distributed” before sending the power to the PWRgate. For that job I originally choose a Powerwerx Red-Dee-2 Connector 4-way (PS4) connector in a star pattern.
But when I installed it in the box the wires just were a mess and it was difficult to get them into place. So I looked again and saw the same identification for a different part that made a lot more sense. It worked just fine.
I used fuses for each of the cigarette lighter socket and the USB charger port to make sure I protected any devices that I might be using/charging. I chose a simple 15amp glass fuse.
I took this picture to make it easier to see how the front panel was wired. I swapped out the Powerwerx distribution part after the picture was taken. The two heavy 10gauge wires carry the power from the PWRgate to the battery booster. That ensures that the fan will always have power, even if on battery power.
Note: The red tape on the fuse wires is just a visual reminder that they are “hot” wires. I did that since the fuse wires are black.
This is what it looks liked when I put the heavier wires together with their Powerpoles connected. I put zip ties on them to make the wires easier to manage and reduce tension and torque as the wires were being handled. Don’t get confused, the red/black pair doesn’t attach to the distribution device, it goes from the PWRgate to the batter booster so it always has power. The wires going to the cigarette lighter socket and the USB charger port only have power with on shore power.
Step 12 –
So with all the wiring done it was time to get the multimeter out and check it. When it comes to something like this I check things in stages, only hooking one device up at a time to power. So the only thing that I turned on initially was the AC power supply. I checked its output with the multimeter and it was fine.
Then I plugged in the power supply to the Powerwerx 4-way. Each output worked fine. Then hooked up each of the accessory ports (cigarette & USB), they worked fine. Then the big test, I hooked up the PWRgate. It came on, the right lights were on so all was good. Then the fan test, hit the switch and the fan didn’t work. Turns out I had the wires hooked up wrong. Here is the switch and the wiring diagram.
KC HiLiTES Oval Rocker Switch with Red LED Indicator 30 Amp – Black – KC #3116
Next to get hooked up and tested was the battery booster. All was fine, the right lights were on and all was good. I had to laugh though, when I turned on the AC power supply to make the next connection the battery boost gave the “low voltage” warning signal. Surprised me.
Now the big test, the radio. But before I tested the radio I had to hook up an antenna. You must do that or risk burning up your radio. So I got out my rig. You might remember that rig from my article Antenna Stand and Ground Plane for the Yaesu FT-8900R <click here to read article>
I ensured that the fuse in the radio “hot” wire was good, it was. I hooked the radio up to the battery booster, then turned on the AC power supply. All was good, no smell of burnt wiring. Then I hit the button on the Yaesu FT-8900R to power it up. Nothing, dead as a door nail. I turned off the power, turned it back on, hit the button the radio…nothing.
One time before I had screwed-up the remote head cable which made it not power up. I figured I had done the same thing here. But to get to the cable I had to remove the radio. So I took out the radio and checked the cable, all seemed fine. So I thought I would test the radio before installing it back in the box. Same thing, still dead. I was beginning to worry that I had fried my radio somehow. No………..just me being and idiot. I was pushing the wrong button. I pushed the correct button and the radio powered on. I installed it back in the box, hooked everything back up and right the right button. Bingo! Up it comes and I started scanning and listened to folks having a conversation.
Here is the completed product –
Note: An additional bonus is finding out that the lid latches act as box “feet” and cants the box up at a desirable angle.
Wiring Diagram –
I hope the diagram makes sense, I’m not an electrical engineer or anything but I did try to use standards symbols for diagramming it. If you have any questions on the wiring just let me know and I will try and explain it.
For me this was the most ambitious Ham radio project I have undertaken since I built the cross-band repeater a couple years ago. And from a “power” perspective it was a little daunting. But I worked through it and figured it out after doing a whole lot of research.
And just so you know, there is a reason that I used this line of Rigid toolboxes. But the exact “why” will have to wait till I get some more time and money. I am always thinking….
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