I have used different commercial rigs since 1999 - A Kenwood TS-570D, then a Kenwood TS-480SAT on loan from Mike KC2EGL. After that I became one of the many who use and enjoy Elecraft rigs - first a K2 that I bought from Mike, then the latest and greatest - a KX3 I purchased and built in October 2012. All of course, set to 5 watts as soon as I got them with any mic that came with them put away in a drawer somewhere to gather dust. However, I still believe that building your own gear is a big part of the enjoyment of ham radio. The stuff that most of us build may not have all the bells and whistles of the commercial gear, and may not be as convenient to operate, but it is something we made with our own hands and are using to communicate with other people around the world. I had that enjoyment for some 36 years using my homebrew gear mentioned in this section. Currently I use my KX3 virtually 100 percent of the time since as I'm older I enjoy operating more than building, and of everything I've used over 50+ years, the KX3 is the easiest and most enjoyable to operate.
I have been asked how I was able to run mW power with the Kenwoods. I used an RF attenuator between their output and my antennas or antenna tuner to cut the 5 watts out down to 930 mW going into the antenna or tuner.
There is a web site run by NAQCC member Bert PA1B that describes milliwatting and attenuators in detail. Here is Bert's description of his site:
"On the site you find an excellent Power Attenuator Calculator, to design your own attenuator of 3, 10 and 20 dB.
The spreadsheet calculates all the values and the number of resistors needed, to built an attenuator, with good available resistors from the E12-series.
Go beyond the lowest power of 5 watt of your QRP set with an attenuator for 5 watts."
Here's a description of mostly my old main homebrew station, part of which is shown in the pictures. You can see some more of the station including my newer gear on my Station Pictures page.
TRANSMITTER FOR 160-10M: A basic tube type transmitter design with a 6AQ5 buffer amplifier driving a 6Y6 final amplifier. It uses grid block keying which when combined with differential keying of the VFO allows me to operate full break-in.
VFO: A 6BA6 oscillator driving a 6AQ5 output tube through a 6BA6 buffer. This was once a Lafayette VFO, but about all that remains of the original 40+ year old unit is the chassis, cabinet and tuning capacitor. It has been modified so many times over the years it is just like a piece of homebrew gear to me. I have made extensive modifications to reduce the frequency drift common to older tube type VFO's. I modified it for operation on 160 mtrs and the WARC bands that have come into being since the VFO was first built. I changed the power supply to an external unit to reduce heating inside the VFO cabinet. I added circuitry for peaking the output level and for differential keying. These are just some of the changes I have made. I won't list them all.
TRANSMATCH & SWR/POWER METER: A homebrew C-L-C tee circuit that allows me to match the output of my transmitter to just about anything. The SWR/Power meter set into the bottom part of the cabinet is based on an old QST circuit from the 60's. It allows me to read my power output directly from a maximum of 5 watts down to about 70 milliwatts.
KEYER: The excellent CMOS Super Keyer II described in QST and the ARRL Handbook. It is great for contest work with its 4 built in memories, which I also use to call CQ for me while I do other work around the shack.
PADDLE: Instead of buying an expensive paddle, I made this one from two inexpensive straight keys fastened bottom to bottom and mounted sideways. The knobs were then removed and replaced with pieces of bakelite as shown.
STRAIGHT KEY: The old straight key that my uncle used on the railroad many years ago and I started my Novice career with.
RECEIVER: An ICOM R-71A that I bought for SWL use during a period I was inactive on the ham bands. It worked great as a ham band receiver so I continued to use it.
ANTENNAS: See the Antennas page for a description and pictures of my, as Alan KB7MBI put it, 'antenna victory garden'.
TRANSCEIVER: Kenwood TS570D(G) used only in the CW mode and only with 5 watts output. Then the TS480SAT used the same way. The Elecraft K2 followed that, and now it's the Elecraft KX3.