If you are in the market for a soldering station you can't really go wrong with MetCal. The are dependable and easy to repair should something happen. Instant heating, well placed heat, and an easy to use hand piece are just a few of the reasons to use an inductive RF soldering station. New stations have come down in price and units from Thermaltronics are compatible.
Big issues are if you haven't seen one or not generally "in the know", finding used units that are usable can be difficult. First, to have a working, station you will need 3 main components. Below is a list of recommendations about how to get everything together. I'm sticking with the high end industrial models and not the smaller units.
Power Supply / RF Unit
RFG-30 - These are the oldest MetCal in this series. Good units. No auto-shutoff. Has one LED Light
PS2e-1 - These are the next version with Auto-Shutoff. Please note that these were produced in 220V and 110V. You want a -1 or -01 unit for 110V. Has 2 LED Lights.
MX-500 - These are one release behind current. They offer two outputs but you can only use one at a time.
Any MX-500 Hand piece will work. MX-RM3E
Newer Metcal MX-H1-AV
Thermaltronics - SHP-1
You will want either the MetCal Stand or the Thermaltronics. They have magnets built it to keep tip cooler when not in use. SHH-1
This tool comes in handy for organizing kicad footprints and modules. Unfortually it doesn't build on osx normally. I have created a homebrew repo and after ignoring some build errors it seems to compile and work great on OSX.
The main site for the tool is at http://www.compuphase.com/electronics/kicadlibrarian_en.htm.
My homebrew repo is located at https://github.com/shaneburrell/homebrew-kicadlibrarian
Prototype boards for testing the RF module along with provisions for a low pass filter have been sent off for manufacture. I'm expecting to see these back in a few weeks. In the meantime below are links to the Gerbers for the test board as well as Kicad Modules for making your own boards that use the DRA818V module.
I've been looking at migrating some of the work I've done on my ComboStar build to VHF/UHF including GSMK and Codec2. With 3D printed case, lithium battery, STM32F405, DRA818V/U, and a nice OLED screen I think its possible to build a DIY 1 Watt radio that support analog, FSK (APRS), and Codec2 GSMK. I already have several working STM32 projects with successfully generating various modulations including GMSK, POCSAG and AFSK. My first step is to play with the DRV818V module and see how difficult it is to implement. From the datasheet I've included a low pass filter in this prototype which I should be able to prototype with my existing STM project board.
It has taken almost 2 years but I finally did a local test on 30 Meters of the modified combo-star radio with a STM32F4 based digital codec board running the last port I could find of Codec2. There is still a lot of work to be done packaging, winding the rest of the filters, and completion of the high power sections. Must of the time was spent on independent projects and assembly of the combo-star was quite a undertaking. Although a hacked combo-star which I'm sure most of them are in the end given the home brew nature, I've got something now I can work with that is all integrated. Eventually I'll even have it in a ready to go box.
If you have trouble getting KICAD to build and haven't checked out homebrew you might want to check it out. I try to keep a current tap for KICAD.
To install first install homebrew if you haven't already:
ruby -e "$(curl -fsSL https://raw.github.com/mxcl/homebrew/go)"
Then tap the KICAD homebrew script to build.
brew tap shaneburrell/homebrew-kicad brew install kicad
To update/upgrade to the latest KICAD as often as you like.
brew update brew upgrade
I found it difficult to find a current build of KICAD for OSX. Below is a build that works with current OSX. Just unzip into Applications and start KICAD. If there is interest I may do more frequent builds.
I've been working on several stepper controller boards for other projects and I needed something small to do testing. The MendelMax 1.5 was a good option so I've started construction. These take a considerable amount of time to source all the parts and I purchased the majority from McMasterCarr and misumi. Both have excellent service, website, and very fast shipping.
I've been working on a XMOS CNC controller board and in the process came up with two prototype designs using two different Texas Instruments stepper driver IC's. The DRV8818 and the DRV8824. Both of these ended up being able to control the NEMA 17 steppers for RepRap and the NEMA 23 for my small CNC router .