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Hardware Hacking Robotics Hardware Build

Heathkit DIY Kits Are Coming Back 197

Posted by timothy
from the golden-age-returns dept.
donberryman writes "IEEE Times reports that Heathkit, the fabled electronics kits company, is going back into that business after a two-decade hiatus. The Heathkit website says that they will be releasing Garage Parking Assistant kit (GPA-100) in late September followed by a Wireless Swimming Pool Monitor kit. Amateur radio kits may be coming by the end of the year." I hope for real this time — I never saw for sale the HERO kit they promised a few years ago.
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Heathkit DIY Kits Are Coming Back

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  • by tgd (2822) on Thursday September 08, 2011 @01:54PM (#37343524)

    For reminding me I'm old today.

    (I think its great they're coming back... but gone for 20 years?! Ugh. I made a lot of them when I was young!)

    • by GregC63 (1564363)

      YES! I loved HeatKit! My dad and myself would work on those kits when I was young.

      Glad to see they're making a comeback. Get Kids interested in electronics and a great way for them and their fathers (and possibly mothers) to bond. Something we are sorely missing these days.

      • by cayenne8 (626475)
        I hope they start putting out high quality tube amplifier kits again!!!

        They made some old kits that had quite good quality for audio....many still sell on eBay....

        That would be cool..build your own audio or even guitar tube amp!!!!!!!!!

        • If you want a tube amp kit, you don't have to wait for Heathkit to get around to it. Check out Paia's web site [paia.com] (no, I do not have any association with the company...other than lusting after the FatMan analog synth and a few other kits).
    • by fyngyrz (762201)

      Not only did I make a few of them, I am still using some of them, particularly some of the test equipment -- a transistor/FET checker, a few other things. And I still have a working two-channel digital scope that takes a waveform sample and provides it to a host computer; I bought it, built it, created Amiga drivers for it and used it for quite a while.

      You know what I'd like to see? That new el-cheapo $25/$35 PC board working with some Heathkit designs for measuring house AC power consumption, maybe some wa

      • by darrylo (97569)

        You know what I'd like to see? That new el-cheapo $25/$35 PC board working with some Heathkit designs for measuring house AC power consumption, maybe some water detectors, things like that. Perhaps an alarm system interface. Fun!

        As much as I loved Heathkit, you don't need Heathkit, as people have already done projects like these (perhaps not as cheaply, though):

        * Whole-house power monitoring: http://openenergymonitor.org/emon/node/43 [openenergymonitor.org]

        * Single-outlet monitoring: http://www.ladyada.net/make/tweetawatt/ [ladyada.net]

        Hacking together a remote water detector should be pretty easy, too, with an xbee (it has built-in ADC and digital inputs).

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      They're soliciting ideas for new kits. Personally, I want to see the old kits come back, preferably as unchanged as is practical. Maybe it's just nostalgia, but I thought they did a dandy job.

    • For reminding me I'm old today.

      This post made you feel old? Good thing you we're wasting time here a few hours ago:
      http://tech.slashdot.org/story/11/09/08/1510250/1970s-Polaroid-SX-70-Cameras-Make-a-Comeback [slashdot.org]

      Related? Maybe. Taco and Jobs came and left together...

  • by tmosley (996283)
    I was too young for these when they went out of business, but now I want some! This would be a great substitute for home chemistry kits which are now "too dangerous" for kids. A great tool for getting kids interested in science.
    • by wiggles (30088)
      Just wait until people realize how many heavy metals and toxic chemicals are used in electronics components.
      • by tmosley (996283)
        SHHHHHHHHHHHH.
      • by cruff (171569)

        And sometimes dangerous voltages too. I put together a Heathkit oscilloscope without any problem, it just took a while. The only problem was that the designers had chosen some transistors with marginal specifications for the high voltage supply (only about 3KV) and the transistors kept failing even though everything was adjusted to the specifications by the Heathkit service center itself!

        They should issue a do it yourself laser-based fusion reactor kit! Plenty of danger in all areas!

        • Those 20 ton stainless steel containment domes are going to be hell on shipping charges. And the DIY route is going to be hard as well. Scavenging every piece of metal in a 10 mile radius and welding it together is going to piss off my neighbors a bit.

      • Don't worry: They can just update to the "Heathkit: 21st century skills" collection, where you learn the art and science of hiring Chinese subcontractors to assemble the kit, and the CAD skills necessary to design a case with your branding and logo to contain the finished product.
      • Too late they already have. The consumer protection bill from a few years ago that banned lead in children's toys ended up causing all sorts of problems for the youth ATV and dirt bike producers because of the lead acid batteries in them. There was a story in the local paper about this when it went into effect as Minnesota is home to Arctic Cat [wikipedia.org], and Polaris [wikipedia.org] which made vehicles that were caught by this ban.
        • by geekoid (135745)

          That sounds like an urban myth. I'm sorry, but how many 5 year old are buying ATV and dirt bikes?All sorts of problems? you mean like having them clarify that ATVs sold to 12-15 year old weren't considered children's toys?

          Yeah, that was a really dilly of a pickle.

          A clarification that was made before the first phase of the law was even implemented, I might ad..and did.

      • And then shrug, and fire up the soldering iron anyway.

    • Re:Wow (Score:4, Funny)

      by Dachannien (617929) on Thursday September 08, 2011 @02:49PM (#37344254)

      I was too young for these when they went out of business, but now I want some!

      I was old enough to want them before they stopped making them, but too young to be able to afford them. Now that I have disposable income, look out, shelves! Prepare to be filled with half-finished projects.

  • by Iphtashu Fitz (263795) on Thursday September 08, 2011 @01:54PM (#37343530)

    I still have a Heathkit multimeter that I built in the late 80's. Still works like a charm. I think I also have an LED clock sitting in a box in a closet somewhere.
    I built a lot of their kits as a kid, from shortwave radios to speakerphones. My dad was a ham radio operator and he got me hooked on them. I'd love to see them make a comeback in this arena.

    • Oh, the nostalgia. I also built quite a few kits, including a Dolby ProLogic decoder that's still in use today...

    • by FudRucker (866063)
      thats what i want to see is a good AM/SSB 100Khz to 30Mhz) superhetrodyne shortwave receiver,

      and a retro style multi-band tube type regenerative receiver (500khz to 10.01Mhz) like the old days http://www.ohio.edu/people/postr/bapix/GR81.htm [ohio.edu]

      if they do that i will buy one of each.
    • by TheCarp (96830)

      Put together? Hell, I have bought equipment at flea markets that was actually an old heathkit someone put together. In fact, just the other day I was rearranging stuff in my basement and found the old HeathKit capacitance meter that I got at the MIT Flea like 15 years ago. It was probably older than I am now, back when I bought it, but, last time I pulled needed it.... it worked just fine (once it warmed up....ahhh....tubes)

      Actually.... just found one on EBAY.... http://www.ebay.com/itm/Heathkit-IT-22-Antiq [ebay.com]

    • LOL. I could have written this message; multimeter works, father was ham radio operator, etc. I built a lot of the kits, wouldn't mind trying them again.
  • You know, I think there could be a good emerging market for DIY home control stuff...

  • I had to go and look at the wikipedia site for Heathkit, as the name sounded familiar but I couldn't place anything. Once I brought the pictures up though, memories of my dads work shop came flooding back to me and I recognized several of the kits that my dad had in there. He was an radio/electronics guy in the Coast Guard and a ham radio operator. If nothing else, thanks for some dredging up some fond memories of my father. :o)
  • My first PC was a Heathkit H8. I remember soldering lots and lots of DIP sockets to the boards and putting the case, PSU and terminal together. The terminal, an H/Z-19, had a more powerful processor than the CPU itself. I also remember keying in programs through the front panel to test it out before I attached the floppy drive so I could boot CP/M.

    Are they making kits in Benton Harbor? That town could sure use the help.

    • by Pope (17780)

      Heh, I learned AutoCad in the highschool drafting shop on a Heathkit Z80 PC. Later in 19th grade I sourced some superconducting material for a friends' Physics paper. Had no idea they only went OOB in 1991!

    • A Z-19 and a US Robotics modem got me through graduate school in the early 1980's. Wrote most of my dissertation at home (in troff, yet).

      I never had to modify the Z-19, but the Z80 processor would have been a piece of cake to hack if necessary.

      • by idontgno (624372)

        I played around with a friend's H89 back in the day. (I sort-of had access to another friend's H8/H9 combo, but he was a bit less laid back; he really didn't like it when I opened the case of the H8. So I stopped bothering him.)

        The H89 was a fairly schweet machine; a standard Z19/H19 terminal complete with its own Z-80, and then a second single-board computer embedded in it with a second Z-80. Booted CPM/80 off the internal floppy. Very cool.

        Actually, after I made my big decision in life at the age of 15 ("

  • by PPH (736903) on Thursday September 08, 2011 @02:21PM (#37343916)

    My Heathkit IT-3117 vacuum tube tester still works great. When the tubes in my TV set need checking, I don't have to make a trip to Radio Shack.

    Now get off my lawn, kid!

    • My Heathkit IT-3117 vacuum tube tester still works great. When the tubes in my TV set need checking, I don't have to make a trip to Radio Shack.

      My TV set is about 1 inch thick... how do they fit the tubes in there?

    • by batquux (323697)

      That's good. You'd be in for quite a ride if you took your tubes to Radio Shack.

      • by Achra (846023)
        Seriously.

        "Is that some kind of fancy lightbulb, mister? Can I interest you in a cellphone?"
        Actually, the last time I was in radio shack, they had a line of small PIC based kits on the shelves. I think that radioshack might be trying to get in on this whole kit building idea too. I'd love it if they did. I order all of my parts from mouser or digikey, but it sure would be nice to have a place to go to buy a few odds and ends when I needed without having them shipped.
  • I always wanted to make the PDP11 kit, but could not afford it! Maybe I can now!
    • by Temkin (112574)

      I got the opportunity to buy one back in the 80's, and couldn't pass it up. But I hate to disappoint you, it was just a linear power supply and a Q-bus backplane kit. The PDP-11/03 board, memory card, and serial interface were all straight from the DEC plant.

      That said... It ate TRS-80 model 1's for breakfast! :)

    • I always wanted to make the PDP11 kit, but could not afford it! Maybe I can now!

      I bet I still have the old Star Trek game on paper tape! Man, that really chewed through the tractor feed paper on those DEC terminals...

  • by MindPrison (864299) on Thursday September 08, 2011 @02:33PM (#37344058) Journal

    ...numerous exploits by various idiot companies that have no or little relation to the time-honored companies of christmas past.

    Wanna bet?

    • Nope, because even crappy kits would be better then no-kits, whereas the Commodore and Amiga "come backs" didn't fill any gaps. I find it an indictment of Australian culture (and most other Western countries aren't that much different) that the main source of basic kits like crystal radios is dodgy Chinese copies with incomprehensible instructions.

      These kinds of kits is how you get kids interested in engineering, and how you educate others on basic principles of the technology we rely on.

      It is lucky DIY was

  • TFA talked about the proliferation of cheap components post WWII that really made the kits practical from a cost perspective. With modern manufacturing technology all geared towards surface mount mass production, I wonder how easy it will be to find cheap components to use in the kits. Small surface mount parts are fine for manufacturing but it takes a lot more dexterity to solder them correctly than it does with the old through-hole technology. There's no way I want to even think about attaching a BGA s

    • by fermion (181285)
      With the heathkit stuff, one could build products equal or better to store-bought assembled stuff because so much of retail products were still assembled by humans and the components were manufactured with that assumption. So you would pay a little more for components, but you would save by doing the labor yourself. And it was fun.

      Even when it came to PCB, etching yourself was not a huge problem. Try doing that now. For instance, by the late 80's with surface mount technology, who could do that without

    • There's no way I want to even think about attaching a BGA socket on a board by hand.

      Still, I would have a hard time believing that there is no demand for the through-hole components any more.

      Perhaps that is part of the business plan. First kit you need to build is the "Chip Shooter" kit. Next, the "Stencil Solder" kit. Finally, the "Reflow Oven" is added to your list of projects. After that, the rest of the projects are cake!

      • I recently read somewhere (maybe at Sparkfun?) that a $30 hotplate from Target actually works better than a $3,000 reflow oven for small SMT jobs!
      • by bws111 (1216812)

        Now, why'd you go and say that? I want those kits now!

      • Well, that would make it an interesting project if you had to build the tools first. And that's probably not an unreasonable idea for Heathkit to look into given their target market...

    • Depends on the component. Passives are still widely available in thru-hole versions. Some semiconductors are as well (e.g. there's still a pretty reasonable selection of transistors, op amps, discrete logic), but obviously anything with a lot of pins is surface-mount only.

      I've recently been playing around with some of Microchip's PIC microcontrollers. Their low pin count (up to 28 pins) 8- and 16-bit devices are still available in through-hole DIP packages, so amazingly enough those old solderless breadboar

    • by artor3 (1344997)

      They are still available. They generally cost 3-5 times as much as the SMT equivalents, but that doesn't make them expensive. Paying 5 cents for an axial resistor versus 1 cent for an 0402, or $3 for a DIP instead of $1 for the same chip in a BGA isn't going to break the bank for a hobbyist. The price differences are actually more significant for the big companies that sell a million widgets, where shaving a dollar of the BOM means a sizable boost to the bottom line.

      • That sounds entirely reasonable for cost. I last bought a resistor back in 2004 and had a difficult time finding one that wasn't through mail order. The sales monkey at Radio Shack didn't even know what one was. I half expected that no one made them any more. But I suppose they will never completely die out. It's good to hear that they're not prohibitively expensive.

    • by epine (68316)

      There's no way I want to even think about attaching a BGA socket on a board by hand.

      Well, times change. The kit everyone is demanding these days is the handy-dandy DIY BGA oven.

      With a bit of ingenuity, Heathkit could come out with an entire DIY benchtop SMT line, with stereoscopic pick-and-place. A low-intensity X-ray laser would be a nice upgrade, if it could image BGA pads in under 15 minutes per pin.

      But then again, they'd probably apply the HP pricing model to the custom DIY BGA oven almost-lead-free

  • Great stuff. Hopefully, they will not be using Chinese parts. I would pay more to get Western parts.
  • ...don't even know how to use a soldering iron. What's this world coming to? ;-)

    People used to actually fix failed electronics back in the 60s...

    Heh... I still fix failed electronics today! Just this past weekend I repaired my daughter's failed video card by replacing all of the crummy leaking and exploded electrolytic capacitors in the VRM circuit. I refuse to pitch an otherwise perfectly good card into the landfill just because a half-dozen 50 cent capacitors have decided to commit suicide.

    • by artor3 (1344997)

      Sadly you can't do much more than that these days. BGAs and COBs are great for making tiny, low cost electronics, but they're almost impossible to tinker with.

      • BGAs aren't that big of a deal when it comes to tinkering, the worst problem for tinkering is blind and buried vias.
    • by MadCow42 (243108)

      I hear ya... I was almost embarassed that my son thought I was amazing because I knew how to boost my wife's car. "You can DO that? Wow!"

      (and this from a kid that knows I'm already a Mr. Fixit type guy around the house)

    • I'm impressed. Not because you knew how to fix the caps on a video card, but because you were actually able to remove them cleanly enough to install the new caps. I had a Dell USFF Optiplex fail because three electrolytics had blown and were leaking. I was able to get the old caps out of the board, but I couldn't heat up both sides of the board to remove all the solder, no matter what tools I used. Consequently, I was unable to get the replacement caps in the board (sigh...)

      Fortunately, I had better
      • The ground and power planes in a modern multi-layer PCB are quite efficient heat sinks! The key is to use a higher wattage soldering iron than you think you need. I first figured this out about 8 years ago when the capacitor plague hit with a vengeance and I had multiple dead motherboards on my hands. My old Radio Shack 40W (or maybe it is 45W?) iron plus one of those spring loaded solder suckers are the only tools I use for removing the blown caps and clearing the holes. I kept meaning to buy a better (tem

        • Thanks for the advice -- I'll keep it in mind if I see another mobo with a blow cap :) IIRC, I tried using a 30W soldering iron with desoldering braid and a spring-loaded solder sucker like you described and another 30W (I think...) soldering iron with a rubber bulb solder sucker attached (Radio Shack used to sell them; don't know if they still do).
          • Yeah, IIRC a 30W iron didn't quite cut it; the solder never got liquid enough to flow freely, making it nearly impossible to clear the holes. Going to a slightly higher wattage than the one I'm using now would probably make things even easier, but I'm worried about lifting traces.
      • Forgot to mention, I've also read that heating the pad from one side and jamming the tip of a dental pick through the hole from the other side is pretty effective.
    • I know its not on par with soldering parts on a video card, but I've taken to replacing screens in cell phones. Seems like almost no one these days realizes you can get a 10$ replacement screen, and turn your busted 300$ electric brick back into a phone with 10 minutes work. hell, you can even do iPhones (sure, it voids warranties, but if your doing it, it was probably already out anyways) The DIY/fix it tinkering spirit has largely been replaced with the 'buy a new one' spirit.
  • Back in the early 50's (Korean war) I built my first kit (crystal set), and more in the following years, AM/FM/SW radio, reel to reel tape recorder, Morse HAM unit, I loved them!

  • They advertised [samstoybox.com] in the back of comic books. A couple dollars a month got a incremental kit every month for a year. The bulk of it was an electronic subsystem progressing through amplifiers until built a whole ham radio. I remember a dry ice cloud chamber too. Good enough to help me get into M.I.T.

    I am jealous of what kids got today. All the science kits have been dumbed down for safety reasons, I'd be hacking together computers and software. Which I do now.
  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Thursday September 08, 2011 @03:54PM (#37345072)
    The Heathkit oscilloscopes were of very good quality. These days you can spend a fortune on a digital scope, but many of them are only good for digital signals, and many don't go over a few Mhz.
  • by LifesABeach (234436) on Thursday September 08, 2011 @04:17PM (#37345292)
    A Heathkit Hero Kit.
    A kit for converting Solar DC to the Community Power Grid AC.
    A Heathkit Hero Kit.
    A kit to plug in my electric car to charge up with.
    A Heathkit Hero Kit.
    A Heathkit Hero Kit.

    My P.O. says that I haven't been all that bad this year.
  • Is it to learn what it's like to work in an overseas sweatshop, stuffing components into a PCB? (But in the comfort of your home, and under no pressure?)

    Stuffing requires no knowledge of electronics.

    It takes less skill than, say, knitting (a much better hobby that all kit assemblers should seriously consider).

    If you wanna do electronics, design something, build it and debug it.

    • by imric (6240)

      Yeah, you'll be much more successful designing stuff then building it without any skills in building stuff in the first place. And craftsmanship has no value, after all, right?

  • If you want to order a kit similar to a Heathkit right now this evening, try TenTec http://www.tentec.com/ [tentec.com] Their kits are mostly radio related and the manuals aren't quite up to what I remember from Heathkit, but they are pretty good.

  • Will this be a true return with quality kits that actually required you do do something and 1/2 way understand what you were doing? Or more like the later cheapy 'insert chip into this socket here beacuse we told you so' type of kits? ( or worse.. insert card here and pretend you built something.. )

  • My dad built a Heathkit combined hi-fi amplifier/FM receiver when I was about 9 or 10. I got interested and he let me learn soldering using the soldering practice board that came with the kit (he could solder already). That went OK, so next birthday I got a small portable AM radio kit, Heathkit again. I never got it to work - the small audio power stage was very touchy, and used germanium transistors, so it was extremely easy to blow the transistors when setting it up. Nevertheless I did get interested in
    • by GrahamCox (741991)
      Gah! Would it really be so hard for Slashdot to convert line breaks into paragraphs? And My title had a '-->' between the two words. Expecting us to write raw HTML is stupid, even if we are geeks.
  • For those musically inclined DIY slashdotters, PAIA has been around for ever. Theremins, tube preamps, effects pedals, analog synths, they could keep you busy for years! They have all sorts of neat kits.
    http://paia.com/

  • by russotto (537200) on Thursday September 08, 2011 @06:14PM (#37346522) Journal

    The garage parking assistant consists of a tennis ball, a string, and a booklet of warnings about how hanging it should only be done by a skilled professional and to not depend on it as your sole method of parking your car, and you should keep your eyes open at all times while parking, etc.

  • by Miamicanes (730264) on Thursday September 08, 2011 @10:28PM (#37348022)

    You know what I want to see from Heathkit? A wideband-FM component video modulator (and companion demodulator) for cheap whole-house HD video distribution. Instead of screwing around with HDCP, or getting tangled up with Hollywood, DRM, and $200 worth of DSP hardware to try and transform 720p60 and 1080i60 into realtime MPEG-2/4, just leave them as analog signals. Take the "Y"(luminance) baseband signal, and modulate it onto a wideband FM carrier somewhere around 200MHz. Then do the same with the "Pb" and "Pr" signals, on wideband FM carriers of their own. Then take the analog stereo input, and run it through a commodity FM stereo modulator chip at something like 88MHz. Feed the signal into a dedicated 75-ohm cable (like the slightly ratty coax buried inside the walls that was put there when the house got built during the 70s or 80s, and hasn't been used since the 90s because it's only RG-59 and falls off rapidly above 500MHz), and use an equally cheap tuner box at each TV throughout the house to tune the modulated wideband FM Y, Pb, and Pr signals back down to component video, tune the FM stereo signal and output analog left and right, and connect it to the TV of interest.

    I'm guessing that a kit project for something like this could profitably sell for around $50 for the transmitter (about $20 worth of parts), and around $40-50 per demodulator box. Not trivially cheap, but if you've ever seen the price of anything intended for transmission of whole-house HD video via HDMI... well, something like this is utterly dirt cheap by comparison.

    It blows my mind that nobody has ever seriously considered making something like this (unless, of course, there's something unusually hard about throwing a ~50MHz baseband signal onto a wideband FM carrier that I'm not aware of). Everybody thinks transmission of uncompressed analog HD video is impossible just because it would take too much bandwidth to do for BROADCAST video. In this case, it's closed circuit, using a dedicated coax cable that's currently buried in the walls doing nothing besides oxidize. It doesn't *matter* if it takes as much bandwidth as the entire broadcast UHF band to send a single channel, because that's all that NEEDS to fit through that one cable.

    There are plenty of expensive ways to distribute HD video to other TVs in the house. There are a few decent ways to do it via cat5 if you can pull new cable. There's basically no way at all to do it cheaply (as HD video) if the only cable that's conveniently at your disposal is an old, abandoned 75-ohm RG59 coax buried inside the walls.

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