Sunday, November 30, 2014

Extra Capacity Battery for the FT-817ND

After getting some recommendations from the Arfcom Ham Forum, I ordered a 5,000 mAh battery for the FT-817ND, a battery tester/low voltage alarm, and a battery charger from, who sells it in for use in radio controlled cars.
In contrast, the Yaesu FNB-85 NiMH battery pack has a capacity of only 1,400 mAh.
Lithium-polymer batteries have been adopted by many hams for portable use because they pack a lot more amp hours into a smaller, lighter package than AGM or SLA batteries.
I’m really looking forward to getting the FT-817ND into the field.

Edit 12/3/14:

I ordered the battery, charger, and voltage tester on Sunday 11/30, and received it from Hobbyking today, Wednesday, 12/3. When I got it I was confused at first because the Molex-type connector doesn't match the one on the radio. It turns out that it is the connector for charging the battery. The large red and black wires with bullet connectors are for powering other devices. I'm planning to cut off the bullet plugs and replace them with Anderson Power Poles.

Edit 12/4/14:

Here it is, with Power Poles installed.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Yaesu FT-817ND

For awhile I’ve been looking for a small ham HF transceiver that I can bring with me on hikes or while camping. Some features I was looking for include:

  • Good battery life
  • Light weight/small size
  • Can transmit and receive on both 80M and 40M, for NVIS use.
  • SSB capability, since I don’t know code (maybe someday).
  • Reasonable cost.

I really wanted the Youkits TJ5A to meet my needs, but unfortunately it doesn’t do 80M. There are a lot of QRP rigs for under $1,000 but most of them are for CW. MFJ makes the 94xx series (9417 for 17M, 9420 for 20M, and the 9440 for 40M, etc.) but from what I’ve read they aren’t suitable for digital modes due to too much drift.

So, the two leading contenders for my use were the Yaesu FT-817ND and FT-857D. Both of them not only support HF ops, but also 2M and 70cm, and are all-mode. E.g, I’ll be able to try out 2M SSB, whereas most VHF radios are FM-only.

I would up getting an FT-817ND at the Delaware Ham Radio Outlet. I chose it over the 857D because it is tiny and has less current draw. Along with the radio I got an LDG Z-817H tuner, which is rated for up to 50W, in case I ever get an amp for the rig.


In the picture above I put my Victorinox Farmer Swiss Army Knife on top of the rig for scale. It’s 3.5” long.

The rig can be powered via 8 AA cells in an internal bay, a rechargeable battery pack that goes in the same bay, or an external DC power source.

The DC power cord that ships with the FT-817ND has a plug that connects into the radio and bares wires on the other end. I’m currently using one of these adapters from Powerwerx to connect the rig to my power supply. Quicksilver Radio sells a replacement cord with Power Poles already installed on the ends, which I’ll get if I can’t install the APPs to my satisfaction.

Since the FT-817ND is all-mode capable on all bands, that means you can use SSB on 2M or 70cm. The vast majority of 2M/70cm rigs are FM-only, but the 817 opens up the possibility of not just SSB but digital modes like PSK-31 and MT63, for which you normally have the rig set to SSB. In a SHTF/WROL situation, this has the potential for increasing COMSEC, since most folks won’t be looking for it, nor be capable of decyphering your signals.

After I’ve had the chance to use the rig for awhile I’ll post a more in-depth article about it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Winter Tarp Shelter

I just ran across this video by IA Woodsman on how to construct a winter tarp shelter. It’s well worth watching.

Winter Tarp Shelter by IA Woodsman

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Building a Bucket Ham Repeater

As found at

The “Bucket Repeater” is a battery powered cross-band VHF/UHF repeater in a weather proof enclosure that can operate unattended for a week or more, and be remotely activated or deactivated from miles away as needed.


I will say that he's probably get better performance by substituting a 1/4 ground plane or copper J-pole for the magnet mount antenna. The latter has the advantage of easy mounting, not to mention the fact that you can buy a decent one from Amazon for around $20, already assembled.

A cross-band repeater like this is valuable for groups who want to communicate over distances or terrain which would normally block an FM signal. For example, you might have two people who need to communicate via UHF or VHF, but one's home is located in a hollow, the sides of which block the radio signal. A cross-band repeater like the one described in the linked article could be placed up in a tree on an intervening hill, allowing two-way communication.

An alternative if you do not have a radio capable of cross band repeat is a simplex repeater like the MFJ-662 or Argent Data Systems ADS-SR1, which use the store-and-forward technique. A simplex repeater might be easier to setup, but cross band repeaters provide better realtime commo.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Hausbell Cree and Harbor Freight Flashlights

One of the most important items in a survival kit is a good light. Sometimes, you don’t need the blinding power of modern LED tactical lights, just a handy flashlight to help you navigate in the dark, find the keys you dropped, or light up a noise in the yard.

For around the house use I have picked up a bunch of the small, AAA-powered 9-LED flashlights from Harbor Freight. I always get HF coupons in the mail, paper, or the American Rifleman, and there’s usually one for a free light with any purchase. I don’t think I’ve paid for any of the at least six HF flashlights that I have.

That said, the HF lights are cheap, as in chintzy. They use three AAA cells rather than AAs, which I’ve tried to standardize on. The size is very handy, though, so I decided to try the similar AA-powered Cree LED lights from China available from places like Deal Extreme or Amazon.

Also, one of my friends who uses flashlights more than I do gave up on the HF lights after several of them failed, and switched over to the little Cree single AA cell lights.

The first order I placed was for 4 of the lights from an Amazon seller shipping from China. I waited a week past the expected delivery date without them showing, then got a refund from Amazon. I then ordered a pair from a supplier based in the US, Hausbell. They came in two days via Amazon Prime Sunday delivery. In the first picture I have one of the HF lights, one of the Hausbells, and my Victorinox Pioneer Farmer SAK for scale (it is 3.5” long).


(The small blue light attached to the knife is by eGear. I bought it at REI for about ten bucks. It’s come in handy on numerous occasions and I hardly notice carrying it.)

The specs provided by the importer are 7W, 300 Lumen output. It’s supposed to be waterproof. Powered is provided by a single AA cell.

The Hausbell light feels more substantial in the hand than the HF light. The HF light has a small loop attached to it, while the Hausbell has a pocket clip. I wanted to see if the Hausbell would work as a headlamp, so I attache it to the brim of my cap, but it’s too heavy. If it was a little lighter I’d reattach the clip pointing the other way (after drilling and tapping two hole) but I’m not going to bother.

Both lights have tailcap switches but the Hausbell’s is recessed to prevent it from being activated by accident. This also allows the Hausbell to stand on end, while the HF light has to lean on something.


This shows the one Cree  LED emitter of the Hausbell and the nine of the HF light. I don’t have a good pic but the light color of the Hausbell is a bit nicer, with less of a blue tint than the HF’s.


You can change the focus of the Cree LED by moving the bezel in or out. When in, the light is more of a flood. Extended, it’s a narrower beam and when shone on a surface you actually see the outline of the emitter. The HF beam is not adjustable.

The Hausbell is much brighter than the HF light. The latter is good for use up close, but doesn’t throw very far. In flood mode the Hausbell will light up most of my suburban backyard, and when focused down it will cast a beam at least 75 yards.

A few different versions of the Cree-based lights are available. E.g., different case colors, multi-mode units, and some come packaged with # 14500 cells and a recharger. There are also mounts that will clamp the Cree lights to a bicycle handlebar, making it into an inexpensive but reasonably powerful headlight.

As part of my effort to lose weight and get in better shape, I’ve been walking laps of my neighborhood after dinner. I’ve been carrying either a Rayovac, HF, or Fenix light. The Rayovac and the Fenix are both longer and heavier than the Hausbell. I’m switching to the new light. It’s more than bright enough and easier to carry in my pocket.

Both lights are useful. The Hausbell is more substantial and better made. The HF light weighs a little less, and can be picked up for free with a coupon if you’re buying something at Harbor Freight. The HF lights are good for around the house and for giving to kids or other people who tend to lose things. They are almost disposable. In contrast, the Hausbell feels like a solid unit that will give years of service, and comes at low cost.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Improvements on the USGI Poncho Liner

One of the most popular pieces of gear issued to American troops is the poncho liner, or “woobie.” Developed in the 1960s or 70s, it’s basically a lightweight quilt with ties around the perimeter, allowing you to tie it into a poncho and use them together as a warm weather sleeping bag. It can be used to add a bit more warmth to a sleeping bag, and you can also use the ties to secure the woobie as a sunshade.

I’ve used an old ERDL camo VietNam-vintage woobie for camping off and on since the late 1980s. Lately, I’ve been sleeping in a recliner at home because of back issues, and dug it out of my camping gear to serve as a blanket.

Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Brigade Quartermaster offered a poncho liner with Thinsulate instead of the old fashioned polyester batting insulation. They are long out of production, but other vendors now sell poncho liners/woobies that are both warmer and more compressible than the GI poncho liner.  Among them are:

All of them are quality pieces of gear.  The Woobie Express and Mountain Serape are designed so that can wear them as a great coat. Of these newer designs, I decided to try out the Jungle Blanket.

I chose the JB for its reasonable price, the good reputation of the manufacturer, and it’s feature set. Specifically, I wanted a blanket, I don’t mind the lack of ties, it’s very compressible and comes with a stuff sack, and one side is wind proof and water resistant.

Snugpak gives it a comfort rating of 45 degrees with a low of 36 degrees.

Even using it in the house, the increased warmth of the Jungle Blanket over my four decade old GI poncho liner is noticeable.

I also took it out on my back patio while it was in the upper 30s, and wrapped myself up, using it like a matchcoat over just a T-shirt and dress shirt. There wasn’t much of a breeze and after a few minutes it warmed up nicely.

Due to the texture of the material, I had to hold the JB in place.  With a belt or cord to hold it in place around your waist, and maybe a safety pin to keep it up around your chest, it would make a pretty decent survival blanket/coat down into the upper 30s.

I remain a fan of the GI poncho liner for warm weather or for adding a little bit of warmth to a sleeping bag, and doing it at a low price. However, the Snugpak Jungle Blanket is a definite improvement offering more warmth with less bulk, and at a price point just a little north of the old woobie.

CCI Quiet .22 LR

I got the chance to fire off a few rounds of CCI Quiet .22 LR yesterday. It's a 40 grain lead round nose bullet at 710 FPS. Last month I got 2 bricks of it from Midway.

From my daughter's Savage Rascal with a 16.25" barrel, it makes less noise than a high powered spring piston air rifle. Remington CBee loads are louder.

From my Beretta 71 pistol it's a lot louder and sounds like a gun. It did not have enough oomph to cycle the action. I'm looking forward to trying it in my Ruger 22/45 with suppressor. I'm hoping the can will add enough back pressure to allow the gun to cycle.

I didn't test for accuracy as we were in a friend's yard plinking.

If you can find some and you have a gun that shoots it well, the CCI Quiet should make a good load for discrete pest control or small game hunting.