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Blog - Maintaining and Adding To Your Shack

A few weeks ago, Bobby Hedge, AE5FZ, stopped by the YL NTX Weekly Net to give a brief technical topic on annual station maintenance and buying used equipment. Since Hedge is one of the original founders and net control operators for the Swap Net, he should be an authority on the subject. The Swap Net is a great place to go if you’re looking to buy or sell equipment, have technical questions, need schematics or manuals, or to make general announcements. Check them out on Wednesday nights at 8pm on 146.94 (110.9 tone).

Anytime you have gear, whether new or used, you will have maintenance. As my friend Bill Galloway, KF5YIV, likes to say, “If you own something, you’re gonna to be fixin’ something.” The rub, of course, is if you do timely maintenance to your shack (or cars, or house, or boat, or kids), you will have less to do in terms of the fixin’ part later.

Here are a few things you can do to keep your shack up and running.

If you have a tower, once a year, climb that sucker and grease the rotator. Let me back up one step. Ensure guy wires are nice and snug and do a visual inspection of the tower. THEN climb the tower. Also, loosen and re-tighten all PL259 / SO239 or N style connectors, and replace any weatherproofing tape on connectors, antenna joints, etc.

For inside the shack maintenance, purchase a high quality paint brush (such Purdee), unplug your radio, remove the cover and give the whole thing a good dusting with your handy new dusting tool, AKA paint brush.

See? Easy enough. You’re done. If you want to go the extra mile, check the SWR of your entire system. Then attach a dummy load and check the SWR of your coax. It’s good idea not to forget that we live in Texas. Coax degrades over time and summer heat and ultraviolet light are coax’s mortal enemy.

Now that we’ve taken care of the existing shack, let’s look for brand-used gear. Or as I like to call it, new-to-you gear.

Here are Hedge’s tips on buying used:

Shop locally if you can. You are more likely to know the seller and they are more likely to know you. In other words, there’s an accountability factor. Dealers tend to work the same shows each and every year and they have a reputation to uphold. But, if you decide to shop on-line through sites such as EBay, do your homework. Check out the seller’s ratings. How much have they sold and over what period of time? Read the fine print. What’s their return policy?

Whether you shop locally or on-line, remember to ask direct, pertinent questions about the equipment you are considering. Questions like: As far as you know does everything work, is this a fully-functioning unit? Do you know where this equipment came from? (Most people are honest and if they don’t know, they will tell you so.) A more important question is: What’s your return policy? If you purchase the gear and it doesn’t work, can you return it for a full refund? Also, be sure and get the seller’s contact information either way. You may have a question later.

When inspecting gear, notice if the original receipt, box and manual are present. This doesn’t guarantee perfect equipment, but it does indicate sound ownership principles. Which would *you* rather buy? A radio in its original packaging or a radio that’s been chunked into an old brown milk crate? I know which one I’d go with.

Investigate the back and undersides of the radio. Is the rear antenna connector tightly mounted and does it appear undamaged? How about external wear and tear? Scratches happen, but dents could be a warning sign. Your visual survey is a good indication of how the equipment has been cared for over time. Another tip my Elmer, KB0DBJ, mentioned. When giving it the once-over, look for missing or loose screws. Or evidence that screws have been turned. If someone has been into the cover, they’ve been into it for a reason.

Always test expensive gear before you buy it. If you go to a hamfest with the express purpose of buying a radio, bring test equipment with you, such as a dummy load and a wattmeter. At a minimum, be sure the rig powers up and that all controls, switches and knobs operate as the manufacturer intended. No reputable seller should have a problem with you testing equipment and if they do…take it as a sign and move on.

Handie-talkies might be easier to check if the battery is fully charged. Which brings up another question… Where is the charging unit and is it included with your purchase?

Don’t overlook older equipment.

Just like classic cars, older radios are easier to repair yourself. If there is an issue with a new radio, it will have to be shipped off for repair. Other things to consider when buying older...All HF rigs have some drift and older rigs are more likely to drift until they warm up. So if you're looking at an older rig, give it a little time to get the creaks out before testing it. Older mobile units may or may not have a tone board. Use your smart phone to go on-line and cyber snoop. Plugging in the make and model and "tone board" will help determine if a mobile unit has a factory tone board installed.

Realistically, there are three ways to buy used gear. The riskiest option is to buy on-line. The next riskiest option is to buy at a hamfest or swap meet. The least risky is probably to buy from an individual seller. Mostly because they are more likely to know the history of the piece in question.

Used gear should be priced accordingly because in the end, it is a risk to the buyer. Vendors expect some haggling and price is usually flexible by 10-15%. Be friendly with your offer, be reasonable with counter-offers, and stick to your budget. Reserve your power to walk away. Arrive early and stay late. The best deals are made in the first and last hours of the day. As the day wanes on, the deals get better. Wait too long, though, and that in-demand tri-bander you had your eye on will be gone.

One thing to keep in mind, especially if you are a new ham. The BEST thing you can bring along is a friend or an Elmer who knows a little more than you do. After that, all you can do is enjoy the process.