The Butler Did It ! - First VHF Experiments 2011

The Professor

Venturing into VHF, I felt like a beginner with no experience or confidence — however, the excitement and allure of new parts and circuits kept me going.

After performing a literature review, talking to some colleagues and renovating my QRP work bench, my first tasks involved buying some VHF parts + exploring the Butler crystal oscillator. Specifically, I'll cover my experiences with the common base version of the Butler oscillator.

Like HF, the VHF knowledge base contains ever-present lore. Consider the Butler oscillator — I have read arguments stating that the emitter follower version of the Butler oscillattor is vastly superior to the common base version because the latter is prone to UHF and other spurs. These comments seem to have originated from a good book entitled Crystal Oscillator Circuits.
Revised Edition by Robert J. Matthys published in 1992 by the Krieger Publishing Company.

While examining the schematics of professional/world class gear using a Butler, the common base version clearly dominates. Spectrum analysis and other measurements indicate that when common UHF oscillation management techniques are applied, common base Butler crystal oscillators work well.

Suppressing UHF oscillations with ferrite beads (and small value resistors), feedback, neutralization, limiting gain, etcetera are routine practices for us experimenters applying active devices that have strong gain into UHF on up. This is vanilla, or matter-of-fact construction for us; no worries. While fun and often convenient, lore ultimately stifles our progress.

Increasingly, I'm adopting the philosophy of Bob, K3NHI; "TMITK"  — to measure is to know. Consider, too, you have to know what to measure and possess the required gear.

For BJTS, I purchased PN5179, MPSH10, 2SC3355, BF199, 2SC3357-RE, 2N5109/2N3866 and NE46134. The PNP part = MPSH81.

For JFETs, the J310 in TO-92 and SMT will remain my workhorse FET part along with a couple of other low noise JFETs and 2-gate MOSFETs. At VHF, the noise figure in a receiver chain is established by the first amplifier so a low noise preamp ranks important.

A collection of 100 volt NP0 capacitors ranging from 1 pF to 22 pF were added along with some chip and SMT caps as low as 0.5 pF. You might need a few air trimmer capacitors with a minimum capacitance ~ 2 pf — I applied 2 - 20 pF trimmer capacitors in most of the circuits that follow.

1.  Experiments with a Butler Oscillator with a 23.3 MHz Fundamental Crystal

Fundamental Frequency

Long ago, I pulled a crystal marked 70.00000 MHz from a Drake Transmitter. I keep a fundamental oscillator based upon EMRFD Figure 4.23 on hand and verifed the fundamental frrequency at 23.3 MHz.

Above — A Butler oscillator arranged for output at the fundamental crystal frequency. While commonly arranged as an overtone oscillator, the Butler is a good oscillator for any application. Consider, for example, EMRFD Figure 7.32. Wes applied the Butler at a 14 MHz fundamental because he wanted the lowest phase noise and IMD prone signal source possible. Tellingly, his buffer circuitry also conforms to this high standard.

My initial waveform looked distorted and prompted a solution. My experience yields that the L value needs to be adjusted for the best looking waveform in the Butler circuit. The inductor wire, wrapped around a T30-6 toroid was either scrunched to increase the inductance, or expanded to decrease the L while re-peaking the trimmer cap. Eventually, with patience, a beautiful sine wave emerged on my 'scope. I removed and measured the L with an ADE inductance meter. Consider all of my reported inductance values as nominal — gentle expansion or contraction of the inductor coils might be required to get an agreeable sine wave.

Click for the oscillocope tracing at 23.3 MHz.

The Butler at Overtone Frequencies

Above — A template (of sorts) for calculating Butler capacitor and coil values. The concept, rather than the absolute value matters most. I examined some well-designed Butler oscillators from professional equipment and determined their average XL and XC values. From the reactances shown, calculate the L and C values for the overtone frequency of interest with the 2 formulas in orange boxes. Remember these XL or XC values just serve as starting values for experiments.

For example : At 50 MHz with an XL of 108 Ω :  L = 108 Ω / (6.28 * 50000000 Hz) = 0.000000344 H or 344 nH.

Fine tuning of the capacitor and inductor values might be required since factors including buffer input resistance +/- reactances, the overtone frequency and/or your breadboard layout may affect your Butler oscilator function.

In the experiments from the 3rd to 9th overtone frequency, the L = an air inductor wound with 21 to 22 AWG wire on a bolt.

Third Overtone Frequency

Above — The Butler oscillator now arranged for output at the third overtone. Click and click for the 'scope outputs at the third crystal overtone. The first scope tracing was slightly mistuned. Once again, the inductor had to be gently squished or contracted to obtain a pristine sine wave.

Fifth Overtone Frequency

Above — The Butler oscillator at the 23.3 Mhz crystal's 5th overtone. Here's the 'scope tracing and an Ugly
Construction photograph. The output = 7 dBm — very cool.

Some authors directly connect the attenuated output to the Local Oscillator port of a diode ring mixer. The signal is adjusted to the desired 7 dBm power by tweaking the 50 Ω pad attenuation, and/or the NPN's current. A good example = Single-Conversion Microwave SSB/CW Transceivers by Rick Campbell in QST for May, 1993.

The circuit above was measured with a 50 Ω terminated oscilloscope however, I also tested it with a 10X probe attached to termination resistors from 51 to 1 Meg ohms. When changing the 51 ohm termination resistor to a higher value such as as 47K, a previously working Butler may stop oscillating.  The buffer input impedance and capacitance greatly affected the oscillator in my experiments.

When I wired up a Butler, 1 of 3 things happened: it did not oscillate, it gave a distorted output waveform, or it wowed me with a nice sine wave. Tuning the L-C tank is critical + finicky and may test your patience.

Adding an Inductor Across the Crystal

Above — The 5th overtone Butler with an inductor in parallel with the crystal

Above — My 116.8 MHz oscillator breadboard with an inductor wound on a T50-6 with wide spacing to allow
scrunching and expanding of the windings across the crystal. I roughly determined my L should be ~ 400 nH and wound this on a # 6 toroid. While observing the output in my scope, I scrunched and then expanded its windings and adjusted the trimmer capacitor. The goal was to find a clean signal that snuffed out immediately when the trimmer cap was tuned off resonance. After finding the optimal L, I later removed and measured the coil. There is very little "wiggle room" — the oscillator tunes up and then dies very sharply as you tweak the trimmer cap. No sidebands were observed.

The inductor across the crystal is optional — some suggest it might only be needed above ~ 70 MHz.

At frequencies above ~70 MHz, the parallel capacitance of the xtal (C par) approaches the internal series
resistance of the xtal and this provides an alternate path around the crystal for the signal and may short-
circuit the crystal. The parallel inductor resonates with the crystal’s parallel capacitance and tunes it out,
so the crystal remains unbypassed.

Our teacher, Wes, W7ZOI published a document covering the Butler parallel crystal inductor here.

Simply put — the inductor allows clean tuning and output. That is, when you tune the trimmer to one side or another, the
oscillator just dies and doesn't produce the sidebands that are shown in Wes' web article.

Since many of us choose computer, or other surplus crystals, a high C par + low Q crystal might give you tuning
woes depending on your overtone frequency. In this case, adding the L to your circuit may improve tuning and ward off any unwanted sidebands.

With my particular crystal the parallel inductor is not needed, however, I can report that even slight mistuning
just snuffed out my oscillator with the added inductor.

Seventh and Ninth Overtone Frequency

Above — I decided to take the Butler up to the 7th and 9th overtones. The 1 pF coupling capacitor proved the
most critical part; for example, if I raised it to 5 pF, the oscillator would not tune above the 5th overtone. I
wound the inductors on bolts and then compressed or stretched the links to get the perfect inductance. At these
frequencies, stray inductance becomes quite significant and my coils were 1 to 1.5 turns less than indicated on
a spreadsheet coil inductance calculator. Click for the seventh overtone 'scope shot. Click for the ninth OT 'scope

I'm confident that if my 'scope bandwidth was higher, I could have resonated the 11th overtone.

2.  Butler Oscillator-based 50 MHz Signal Generator

Lacking a 6 Meter band signal generator, I decided to build a 1 frequency device employing a Butler oscillator. Some may laugh at a 1 frequency signal generator — I won't since I'll use it to design and align amplifers, filters, a new 6 Meter band VCO and measure scattering parameters. Besides, you can double, triple, VXO or mix single frequency generators with another variable oscillator — this web site has roots in humble, simple test equipment.

In my bag, I found a crystal labelled 50.0000 MHz and measured its fundamental at 16.67 MHz in a simple Colpitt's oscillator — perfect . Design goals included variable amplitude, strong reverse isolation + reasonable shielding and return loss. Since, I lack another 6 Meter band signal generator I could not measure return loss, however, choosing proven circuits + a terminal attenuator pad will help.

Above — Butler oscillator + hycas buffer. The 22 pF cap in the Butler was originally 15 pF, but when tested with various coils, oscillations proved a litle sluggish, so the 22 pF was substituted. I experimented with the coil, but ran out of time, so I wound a few turns of wire on a T50-10 toroid and soldered it in. After some careful manipulation of the windings, a glorious sine wave arose. I removed the L, measured it at 343 nH and then re-soldered it in place. An air coil or other size 6 or 10 powdered iron inductor should work fine.

Click for a moderate resolution photograph of the entire project.

Above — The final amplifier and low-pass filter. The maximum output of the Q2/Q3 amp is hot and can overdrive the 2N5109, therefore a 4 dB pad was added. This pad also improves the input return loss of the 2N5109. An alternate technique might be to further reduce the maximal DC bias voltage into the Q3 base and remove the 4 dB pad.

Click for the minimum and maximum output voltage waveforms from my 'scope

Above — Spectrum analysis with the generator output at -10 dBm. I placed Marker # 2 on the 2nd harmonic peak (100 MHz) and measured the power. The low-pass filter only attenuates the 2nd harmonic by ~ 25 dB, however, with the nice sine wave from the Butler, the 2nd harmonic measured -66.51 dBm = -56.51 dBc.

The 37.8 resistance indicated in the pad = 2 resistors in series. Many just use a 37 or 39 Ω R.

I look forward to advancing my VHF skills with this little signal generator.

3.  Doubler for the 50 MHz Signal Generator

Above — An experimental frequency doubler for the Butler Oscillator-based 50 MHz Signal Generator shown above.

After trying a few circuits, I settled on a simple full-wave doubler featuring matched 1N4148 diodes driven by a JFET amplifier. Chapter 3 of Solid State Design for the Radio Amateur by Hayward and DeMaw for the ARRL = my key reference. Matched diodes (and a little luck), may suppress the 50 MHz signal up to 60 dB so only a single-tuned circuit follows the diodes.

The first JFET amp drives the diodes to improve harmonics + output voltage — an L-C-C Tee network matches the 2K7 Ω input to the 50 MHz signal generator output. I designed this matching network on the bench with the 2 diodes disconnected to avoid distortion during signal measurements. Using a 10X probe, I peaked the capactors for the greatest signal amplitude after finding the optimal L by educated trial and error. The inductor wound on a T37-6 was scrunched a little to further peak the L-C-C network.

I wound L1 with bare copper 26 AWG wire on a #8 bolt with coarse threads. To make enough space to solder on the 1/2 turn tap,  I stretched the last turn with the other 3 turns still on the bolt to prevent stretching these coils. Click for a 'scope tracing at Point A. My 10X scope probe has ~ 15 pF capacitance and this affected the tuning — you can see some harmonics in the signal. With the 10X probe at Point B, I was nearly able to turn the circuit to 100.0 mHz, but still the 10:1 probe upsets the circuit somewhat.

This L - C tank tunes sharply and best with a non-conductive screw driver. I final tuned the L1 tank when the hycas amp was completed and connected to a 50 Ω terminated 'scope — eliminating the earlier tuning problems caused by the 10X probe. It seems that VHF requires more thought and care than HF when tuning resonators (tanks).

Point C is the maximum output (10.34 dBm) into a 50 ohm terminated 'scope. The 100.0 MHz signal is okay, but some builders might want to add low-pass filtering +/- an attenuator pad; or perhaps drive another feedback amp?