Author Topic: Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit  (Read 15707 times)

Offline Alan Georges

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Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
« on: March 28, 2012, 09:58:57 PM »
There’s an old thread over on the solar board about these (http://thesurvivalpodcast.com/forum/index.php?topic=18423.msg220922#msg220922), but after dealing with them for a couple of years I figured I’d write a full review.  Maybe some of this is redundant, but hopefully there’s enough new stuff to make it worth reading.

Pro: All-in-one gets-you-off-the-dime small turnkey system.  Good for small amounts of emergency electricity.  Three independent panels give you some room for error.

Con: Not the best build quality.  Don’t expect this to run your whole house.

I bought one of these systems almost two years ago and, living within its limitations, it works.  But its limitations are pretty severe.  Here’s a link to the site, so that you can see what I’m talking about: http://www.harborfreight.com/interests/solar-power/45-watt-solar-panel-kit-90599.html  What you get in the kit is three 15 watt panels, a rudimentary charge controller, battery clips, and a couple of pre-wired compact fluorescent lights.  The charge controller also serves as a junction box, with a auto cigarette lighter plug-in and several output voltage options.  The CFLs plug in with 1/4” phono-plug-looking things.  It’s all pretty easy and color coded.

The panels are... OK.  They’re cheap amorphous silicon cells mounted in cheap aluminum frames.  The connectors on the back don’t look especially weather tight.  It’s not something you’d want to permanently mount on your roof, it’s more of a “put it in the yard on a nice day when you need it” proposition.  As a backup to get you a little electricity for a couple of weeks after a hurricane, it’d be fine but you might consider bringing things in at night.  After nearly two years of rattling around the shed and getting intermittent use and a few surprise rainstorms, mine are pretty much like new.  And they do put out something close to the rated power.  On a recent sunny-with-a-few-clouds weekend, I measured their output at 35 watts, and have little doubt that on an wow-it’s-bright day they’d put out something close enough to 45 watts.  No worries there.

One thing that I do like is having three panels, there is some redundancy built in.  If one panel breaks, it can be taken offline and you rock on at 30 watts.  Everybody with kids knows what I’m talking about.

How big a battery?  35 watts / 12 volts = about 3 amps.  3 amps x 8 hours (optimistic, I know) = 24 amp-hours.  The usual recommendation is two+ days of capacity, so something in the 50 amp-hour range would be about right.

About the rest of it, the controller box is pretty rudimentary.  I’m not sure that it would prevent over-charging or over-discharging the battery, and the manual isn’t particularly helpful on that point.  It might be worth picking up a $25 controller to keep from over-charging.

Which brings us to the next question: how’s it stack up in price/performance to better grade systems?  Well, here’s a 45 watt panel for $150 (http://www.solar-electric.com/spm040.html), and a probably better controller for $25 (http://www.solar-electric.com/sg-4.html), or a lot better controller for $48 (http://www.solar-electric.com/ss-6l.html).  Right there, we’re up around the list price of this Harbor Freight thing’s $190 tag, but you still have to buy the lamps, cigarette lighter connect, and battery clamps, and then wire things up yourself.  Easy for many of us, but my brother wouldn’t know where to begin.  It would be a much better system though, and it probably wouldn’t be hard to find similar stuff at a better price.  (Remember, it’s all 12 volt, and 12v gear doesn’t hit the sale table too often.)  On the other hand, Harbor Freight is always running sales and coupon deals, so you can probably come in well under $190.  (I think mine was $160 with a coupon.)

Which takes us to the wrap-up: what good is this system?  It’s OK for a back-up to give a little electricity when there’s none to be had.  It’ll charge a cell phone and run a couple of lights, run a CB or ham radio, maybe turn a shallow well pump or a fan.  It comes in one box as a kit, and most people can put it together.  It’s modular and can be upgraded in bits.  (That’s what I’ve done, and now I’ve got an entirely separate “good” 140 watt system, with the Harbor Fright sitting ready as a spare.)  But best of all, this system got me off the dime and into small solar all at once, and got me started building a real system.  Thinking of it as both a hands-on learning tool and a power source may make it worth the money.  Call it 3 out of 5 stars, give or take a star depending on your situation.
Build it or buy it, start it up and try it, maybe even fry it.  Otherwise you'll never know if it works.

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Offline fasteddie

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Re: Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
« Reply #1 on: March 29, 2012, 01:47:00 AM »
I thank you for your assesment and think your pretty acurate, I have used these systems on sheds and barns for a couple of years and I like them for that. Every time I go out to a shed or barn I got electricity far away from the electricity grid. I keep mine mounted on the roof tops year round and so far I haven't had any negative issues with moisture or breakage but I will tell you that these are made with regular glass and a hail storm of good size could do some damage but I have been fortunate. We have had several storms with dime size hail in the last couple years but so far no breakage. These work perfect for this application I run drills, saws, shop vac, whatever I want for a couple hours and then I leave and the next day it recharges my batteries , sometimes it may take a couple days if I really use a lot of power but since I only occasionally work out there its perfect for me. And I to learned from it and went on to build real systems.

Offline Alan Georges

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Re: Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
« Reply #2 on: March 29, 2012, 08:35:07 AM »
I keep mine mounted on the roof tops year round and so far I haven't had any negative issues with moisture or breakage but I will tell you that these are made with regular glass and a hail storm of good size could do some damage but I have been fortunate.
Thanks fasteddie, I'm glad to know these things keep working out in weather.  Standing up through dime sized hail though, wow, I'm glad they can handle that.  Thanks for the real world report!
Build it or buy it, start it up and try it, maybe even fry it.  Otherwise you'll never know if it works.

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Offline RUReady

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Re: Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
« Reply #3 on: March 29, 2012, 10:32:13 AM »
NRA mags have a 1 item 20% coupon in a Harbor Freight add.
Worked for me.

Dave

Offline julio

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Re: Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
« Reply #4 on: March 30, 2012, 04:26:06 PM »
Solarblvd.com has 40 watt panels on sale for 55.

Offline mxitman

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Re: Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
« Reply #5 on: March 30, 2012, 05:23:44 PM »
I helped a friend install 2 of the HF $149 Solar kits, we linked them all together and ran them through a 30-40 Amp solar charge controller...i'm pretty sure that was around the size. We hooked up 2- 200 AH UPS batteries in parallel...so all still 12V. He uses it on a small off grid cabin. We framed them in a wood panel so he could easily attache to his roof &  add a 1/8" lexan plastic panel on top and screwed that to the wood frame to protect it from hail etc.

Overall this will be going into the 3rd year, no problems so far, he has used it mostly for 12V led lighting and has a smaller converter for plugging in 120V items.
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I'd rather have it and not need it, than not have it when I do need it.

Offline Alan Georges

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Re: Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
« Reply #6 on: March 30, 2012, 10:01:39 PM »
Solarblvd.com has 40 watt panels on sale for 55.
That's pretty cool!  And they have other deals, 80 watts for $108, etc.  I'm out of the market right now, but it's definitely a bookmark.  Thanks!
Build it or buy it, start it up and try it, maybe even fry it.  Otherwise you'll never know if it works.

I swear, there are times it seems like "Baofeng" is Cantonese for "hot mess."

Offline smuglydawg

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Re: Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
« Reply #7 on: March 30, 2012, 10:09:02 PM »
Sounds good, thought about getting one. Maybe in the future I will pick one up and test it out.

Offline Alan Georges

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Re: Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
« Reply #8 on: April 10, 2012, 09:16:10 PM »
Thinking of it as both a hands-on learning tool and a power source may make it worth the money.
Before this thread floats off into the Great Pile at the Bottom of The Server, I'm going to add a suggested reading link about small solar systems: http://www.backwoodshome.com/articles2/yago116.html
If you're buying one of these kits as a learning tool, the article's a nice tutorial to accompany the kit.
(and yeah, I've posted the same link before over at the solar power forum; may be helpful over here too)
Build it or buy it, start it up and try it, maybe even fry it.  Otherwise you'll never know if it works.

I swear, there are times it seems like "Baofeng" is Cantonese for "hot mess."

Offline Cryptozoic

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Re: Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
« Reply #9 on: July 08, 2012, 01:30:03 AM »
Great review, thanks!
I got their 5 watt solar battery charger, designed to keep stored RV batteries charged. 
It couldn't quite keep up with my 4 watt Coleman 12v ice chest, but of course that was running 24/7 and solar only works in sunlight.  The ice chest sucked the (spare, car) battery dry in 24 hours.  Obviously I need an upgrade.
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Offline WVMan73

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Re: Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
« Reply #10 on: July 19, 2012, 09:25:14 PM »
Thanks for the review Alan! It's really helpful to hear from someone who actually has experience with them.  I've been thinking about trying one of these kits out. Thought it would be a good way to get my feet wet in solar. lol

Do you think one of these setups would be enough to run a fan? I'm wanting something that would run something like a 20" box fan in the summer and a small wood stove blower in the winter. Would this kit, plus 1 or 2 deep cycle RV type batteries attached to it, do that? Or would I need more power than this kit would give me?
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Offline TexGuy

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Re: Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
« Reply #11 on: July 19, 2012, 10:31:45 PM »
I've had mine for over two years and they are junk. Don't waste your money.

You need 90 watts to charge a normal battery and this charge controller is pure trash because it is not weather resistant. The LEDs that come with this are fine but you have to use the controller. You don't really need a controller with this if you are using it.

Offline cmxterra

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Re: Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
« Reply #12 on: July 19, 2012, 10:50:27 PM »
I've had mine for over two years and they are junk. Don't waste your money.

You need 90 watts to charge a normal battery and this charge controller is pure trash because it is not weather resistant. The LEDs that come with this are fine but you have to use the controller. You don't really need a controller with this if you are using it.

I'm going to have to agree with you. I did not have this exact kit but I have played with some of the panels. They are underpowered and fragile fragile fragile. You would be better served to save up a little longer and get better quality panels and controllers.
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Offline Alan Georges

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Re: Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
« Reply #13 on: July 19, 2012, 11:27:27 PM »
I wouldn't go so far as to call it junk, but I think with the help on this board you could do a lot better for the same money.  Mostly it's a starter kit that can get people off the dime and into a little solar self-sufficiency.

How much of a system to drive a fan?  Depends on the watt draw of the fan and how many hours a day you plan to run it.  It'd probably be cheaper to use 12v fans, over a conventional box fan and an inverter.  You may find something useful over at this discussion: http://thesurvivalpodcast.com/forum/index.php?topic=35083.0
And better prices on panels over here: http://thesurvivalpodcast.com/forum/index.php?topic=36371.0
Build it or buy it, start it up and try it, maybe even fry it.  Otherwise you'll never know if it works.

I swear, there are times it seems like "Baofeng" is Cantonese for "hot mess."

Offline cmxterra

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Re: Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
« Reply #14 on: July 19, 2012, 11:39:06 PM »
I wouldn't go so far as to call it junk, but I think with the help on this board you could do a lot better for the same money.  Mostly it's a starter kit that can get people off the dime and into a little solar self-sufficiency.



For sure it is a starter kit. I think that the people that have used them now for a while are the ones that took the hit on what they are really good for and are suggesting, having started out with them, that you can do MUCH better for not much more money. And end up with a much higher quality product that is easier to expand and produces much more power.
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Offline PrepperJim

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Re: Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
« Reply #15 on: July 20, 2012, 06:43:21 AM »
I have a set myself. I bought it as a learning kit because it had everything in the kit. Now that I know how to set up a system, I would probably buy something different. I have a tote that houses the charge controller and deep cycle battery. That works pretty well to keep the weather out.

If I had the time and money, I would shoot for minimum 200W and a high quality charge controller. I have three good batteries so plenty of storage.
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Offline WVMan73

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Re: Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
« Reply #16 on: July 20, 2012, 10:28:30 AM »
Ok, that's basically what I thought the answer would be, but wanted to ask anyway. The kits do sound like  a good learning tool and would definitely help make getting started in solar easier. I'll probably just try to save up a little longer and try to get a system that will give me more power though. Choices, choices, choices... lol

Thanks for those links Alan. I had read that thread about the fans and had pretty much figured out that I'd need more power, but it never hurts to ask. lol I'll keep researching and work on figuring out just what I need.

Thanks for the help everyone!
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Mal: "I look out for me and mine. That don't include you 'less I conjure it does. Now you stuck a thorn in the Alliance's paw -- that tickles me a bit. But it also means I gotta step twice as fast to avoid 'em, and that means turnin' down plenty of jobs. Even honest ones. Put this crew together with the promise of work, which the Alliance makes harder every year. Come a day there won't be room for naughty men like us to slip about at all. This job goes south, there well not be another. So here's us, on the raggedy edge."

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tuum caput ne tibi refunderet - sagittariis

Offline wilddoc

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Re: Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
« Reply #17 on: August 29, 2012, 07:28:34 PM »

Offline WV Hillbilly

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Re: Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
« Reply #18 on: August 30, 2012, 06:58:49 AM »
Alan
 thanks for all of the links
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Offline Clanmclain

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Re: Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
« Reply #19 on: December 29, 2012, 08:27:37 PM »
I have four Harbor Freight 45-watt kits daisy gained together. My question is, how do I connect my inverter? Do I connect it to the charge controller or directly to the battery? If the battery, then not sure how I should connect it since I've got four 6v Trojan batteries connected in a series/parallel and not sure which pos and neg I should connect the inverter to, any ideas?

Offline ncjeeper

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Re: Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
« Reply #20 on: December 29, 2012, 10:29:35 PM »
I have four Harbor Freight 45-watt kits daisy gained together. My question is, how do I connect my inverter? Do I connect it to the charge controller or directly to the battery? If the battery, then not sure how I should connect it since I've got four 6v Trojan batteries connected in a series/parallel and not sure which pos and neg I should connect the inverter to, any ideas?
Panels connected to the charger controller. Charge controller connected to your battery bank. Battery bank connected to you inverter. Im assuming you have 2 6v batteries in a series for 12 volts and then each battery pack connected parallel?
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Offline ForgedPatriot

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Re: Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
« Reply #21 on: January 01, 2013, 07:02:45 AM »
Looks like there is a new link for the kit. The original one you posted does not work now. Here is the new one.

http://www.harborfreight.com/solar-panel-kit-45-watt-68751.html

lol, now I will go back and read the post! Thanks for putting it up, looking forward to reading up on this.
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Offline oktheniknow

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Re: Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
« Reply #22 on: February 16, 2013, 12:51:05 PM »
Hmmmmm---
http://www.solarblvd.com/p2522/Kaneka-60-60W-Thinfilm-Solar-Panel---Broken/product_info.html
That's as cheap as they get...assume that the panels underneath could still work if you somehow replaced the glass.

Has anyone installed thin film laminate panels such as unisolar? They went bankrupt but can still find the panels. Supposed to peel and stick to metal roofs. Have thought about putting on barn or RV.

 

Offline 4bull

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Re: Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
« Reply #23 on: February 16, 2013, 08:37:28 PM »
http://www.harborfreight.com/solar-panel-kit-45-watt-68751.html
I just bought the kit . 134.00 with coupon .
i have mine wired to my deep cycle battery  mounted to a dolly with my inverter .
I really like the lights that come with it . still playing with it .

Offline Erigorn

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Re: Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
« Reply #24 on: February 17, 2013, 09:59:06 PM »
I have seen the coupon as well. 130 plus tax if applicable.
It seems to have pretty good reviews.
One thing I did notice is the panels are not very efficient. I know a watt is a watt but if you are limited on space these provide 45 wats in 9 square feet. (i don't have one but the single 15 watt panel says 12.5x36.5). This is quite a bit different from the 60-65 watts i get from my panel at right around 5 square feet. (DIY panel from cells on ebay). Price is about $1 a watt DIY but still about $3 a watt (bit less considering the extras you get, but many say the controller isn't great)
That being said if you have space its a pretty decent little mostly full system. Generally for roof mounted space isn't much of an issue.

Offline TexasGal

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Re: Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
« Reply #25 on: March 20, 2013, 07:00:56 AM »
 :popcorn:

Offline yipykyah

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Re: Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
« Reply #26 on: May 22, 2013, 08:15:16 PM »
Just bought the HF 45W kit.  I agree, the controller is kinda cheesy.  Would a 20 Amp, 12 Volt charge controller be sufficient?  Reason I am asking is the HF optional accessories card shows a 30 amp, and I already have a 20A controller.  Also, if you charge two 12vdc batteries (in paralell) does it take twice as much time as just charging one? 

ETA:  Any inputs on the 12V 35AH SLA Battery from Harbor Freight?  Right now, they are under $60 with coupon.

TIA
« Last Edit: May 22, 2013, 08:25:50 PM by yipykyah »

Offline thewarriorhunter

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Re: Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
« Reply #27 on: May 22, 2013, 08:27:36 PM »
I have seen the coupon as well. 130 plus tax if applicable.
It seems to have pretty good reviews.
One thing I did notice is the panels are not very efficient. I know a watt is a watt but if you are limited on space these provide 45 wats in 9 square feet. (i don't have one but the single 15 watt panel says 12.5x36.5). This is quite a bit different from the 60-65 watts i get from my panel at right around 5 square feet. (DIY panel from cells on ebay). Price is about $1 a watt DIY but still about $3 a watt (bit less considering the extras you get, but many say the controller isn't great)
That being said if you have space its a pretty decent little mostly full system. Generally for roof mounted space isn't much of an issue.

erigon, do you have sources for info on building your own cells? i've looked into it in the past but never was able to find relaly good stuff.


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Offline Alan Georges

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Re: Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
« Reply #28 on: May 22, 2013, 08:34:11 PM »
Would a 20 Amp, 12 Volt charge controller be sufficient?
More than!  45 Watts / 12 Volts = ~4 Amps.  And that's under best conditions, usually it'll be more like half.  A 20 Amp controller is way overkill, but if you've got it you might as well use it.

Quote
Also, if you charge two 12vdc batteries (in paralell) does it take twice as much time as just charging one?
Yes.
Caveat: Before you hook two batteries in parallel to make a bank, listen to Steven Harris's interview with Jack about battery banks (http://www.battery1234.com/).  Chief points he makes that are relevant to your questions here are that (a) the batteries should be the same kind bought at the same time, and (b) before hooking things up, they should be in the same charge state.  If one battery is fully charged and the other fully discharged, when hooked in parallel, big current is gonna flow and that is a Bad Thing.  But I'm sure I left something out, so go listen to the podcast.
Build it or buy it, start it up and try it, maybe even fry it.  Otherwise you'll never know if it works.

I swear, there are times it seems like "Baofeng" is Cantonese for "hot mess."