Well, I promised to keep you up to date on my NC-2030 building. I received mine a few weeks before Christmas and held off starting them until later. I had a few reasons.

First, I didn’t really care to make a contest out of building them. I’m not afraid of surface mount. I’ve never built a kit using them, but I have worked with SM parts before. But my workspace at home was such a mess, I didn’t want to just dive in before I cleaned it up. I had two weeks off around Christmas, with the first week due to some minor surgery and I thought I’d get to it then. Ha. Yeah right.

Plus I thought I would wait for comments from the other builders on QRP-L. In the past, with the NC-20 and the K2 I built, there were plenty of comments on the email reflector about people’s progress as they built theirs. Well, in this case, I was right and I was wrong. Only one person really gave a lot of comments on building their 2030, but the quality of the comments was such that it made up for the quantity. Of course I’m talking about Steve, KD1JV’s posts. Mr. Melt Solder himself dug right into the kit and kept notes and gave great errata and comments during the process. His notes are a greaat addition to the manual.

Speaking of the manual, it was not included with the kit. It was provided as a PDF on the Norcal web site before the kits even shipped. This was a cost-effective thing that kept the cost of the kit down, not to mention the time and trouble of getting them printed up. Without the constraints of printing costs and weight, they could go all out on the manual and it is a work of art. Heathkits manuals weren’t this good. Numerous photos, diagrams and step by step building instructions are all in it. And updates are as close as the internet.

But you still want a paper copy to build from. I took the PDF file and sent it to my local Office Max for printing. I ordered two copies and they came to a bit less than $20 each. Actually, I think I spent $38 including two three ring binders and some other stuff, so It wasn’t bad. I could hav eprinted pages myself as I went, but it would have cost as much in ink. Actually, I did print about 50 pages, and it’s nice to have color photos, but it’s easier to let someone else do it.

But I finally decided to get into the kit. I took one of them in to work with me and started the assembly process. The very first part out is a tiny IC for the power supply. I soldered it down to the board and kept on going. I completed the whole power supply board in a couple hours with interruptions for work. (How dare they!) When I got to the test stage, I decided to stick the board under the stereo microscope in out instrument shop. (One of the reasons I brought it in to work.) I noticed that there might be a solder bridge between two pins on the IC. It was so easy to see under the scope. I tried to clean it off. Solder wick. Stainless steel probe. couldn’t really get it right. I noticed it looked like the end pin was kind of bent inwards toward the other pin. I decided to try to bend it with the pick. I heated up the solder and pried. The pin moved. It moved and fell off. Shoot.

Well, at least there was no need to test the circuit that night. I can borrow the IC from the other kit, but I needed to find a replacement for it. I looked online and didn’t find anything. A lot of places listed it, but only would give a quote for a quantity purchase. All the usual places, Allied, Mouser, Digi-Key, etc. didn’t carry it. So I put a post on the QRP-L list and got a few replies.

One gave a link to a site that seemed to sell manufacturing surplus. it was a big list of items with a button after each one to click to order. No logo, no information on the parts, no frills at all, just click to buy. The IC was $5 there. Not too bad.

But most of the replies advised me to simply go to the manufacturers web site, Maxim, and order an engineering sample. I hadn’t thought of that, but recalled that that company was pretty generous with their samples. I found the part and ordered a sample. It wasn’t the exact one, it was the other model in the same series. The only difference I saw was the maximum current was higher.

So I won’t say that my first try with surface mount assembly was a didaster. I can’t go that far. I’ve broken parts before and don’t let that upset me. The rest of the board, which was all discrete SM parts went much easier. It looks good. I just can’t try it out yet. Fortunately, the Maxim IC was the only one that small. I think every other part in the kit, even ICs, are the larger type surface mount devices. I found I got into a regular routine puttin the parts in. Tin the pad for one end. Place the part on or just next to it. Heat the pad to flow the solder and line the part up. Let cool. Solder the other end. Tidy up the first end if it needs it. That’s all. Easier than leaded parts, actually. No leads to trim off. I found the stainless probe or my fingernail was the best tool for moving the part around. I need to let my nails grow a bit longer, though. Ouch!

My hamfest special magnifiying visor was also indespensable. I had the stereoscpe available, but didn’t want to work under it. There isn’t that much room and I didn’t really need that much detail. I saved it for final inspection. It’s amazing how a little point of solder looks huge, like a rhinoceros horn under the microscope. A bit of flux looks like a pool of tar. Weird.

So that’s it. I may get into the next stage soon. I’m not going to hurry through this kit. I think I’ll savor it.