Elecraft K1 Display DIY LED Backlight

Update 8/4/2020:

I had occasion to take the front off my K1 to check something so I went ahead and added some appropriately sized heat shrink over the ATTN/RIT LED and now absolutely no light spill from the LED’s. 

Well, I have a thing for K1’s and have built several over the years. For me, it’s everything a QRP rig should be.

I sold my last one that was totally tricked out with everything you could possibly put on a K1 including the spot filter LED, ATU, Noise blanker and Elecraft backlight kit.

Well that was a stupid move which I regretted. A friend of a friend had one on the shelf that he wanted to get rid of but it was totally stock with NO added features. I set out to bring it up to snuff.

My first task was to make a display backlight because the display is very hard to read without some direct light on it. Since there are no more backlight kits available from Elecraft I went looking for some ideas. I found some posts on the Elecraft reflector about using LEDs on either side of the display. That seemed like a good idea so I ordered some green LEDs. Since LEDs come in different voltages, I got some small LEDs rated at 3V. Using 2 on each side of the display wired in series, it enabled me to tap into the 12V supply on the display board without using any resistors to modify the voltage.

I used some stiff white paper and cut a couple of strips on either side of the display allowing for a couple of cutouts for a capacitor and resistor on the board and laid the paper down with a couple of very small dots of 3M blue tak (if you never heard of it, get some…it’s very handy stuff). I mapped out the positions of the leds making sure I got the sequence of the leads correctly; Cathode(-) to Anode (+) to Cathode to Anode and so on until the last LED lead was + which connected to the ground of the board on the left.

I finished it off with an 8mm strip of velcro material which was still enough to hold its shape and yet allow me to snake it around the components. I used the blue tak to keep it in place. This helps with light spill from the LEDs. It’s not perfect and there still is some minor light spill but for me it’s perfectly acceptable.

Here’s a picture of the final layout. The 12V is coming from pin 16 of the IC at the bottom right of the board to the ground (red wire top left).

Here’s a picture of what it looks like from the front panel with power on. There’s still a slight amount of spillover to the RIT/XIT LED but when RIT of XIT is activated the spillover is completely overridden. I decided to live with that instead of further attempts too completely eliminate spillover. A simple solution would be a length of heatshrink from the base of that LED to the underside of the front panel.

LED Backlight DIY

7 thoughts on “Elecraft K1 Display DIY LED Backlight

      • Steve, that looks great! A little bleed on the RIT LED but that tells me to paint the sides with testor black and that solves that problem. I have a K1 and a fella has an autotuner kit for $200 for sale. Is that too much do you think?

        Mike kj4pom

        On Fri, May 8, 2020, 09:06 W1SFR Handmade Torsion Bar Morse Code Keys wrote:

        > Steve Roberts commented: “Hi Mike. I just posted a picture of the front > panel. You can find it here on the original post.” >


      • Hi Mike, Yep…that sounds like a good idea as well. Elecraft still has tuner kits and they are $197.00 plus shipping, so that’s no bargain really. Maybe offer $150 and see what happens? I was happy to build mine and have it work without any issues. Steve, W1SFR


  1. Would a little heat shrink (or even a bit of Sharpie painting) on the sides of the RIT/XIT LEDs eliminate the light spillover from the LCD backlight LEDs? I have a couple of K1’s (that will never leave me) and want to add the LCD backlight to them, so this is important to me. I’m also thinking some really dim LEDs for the LCD backlight would work.

    Any thoughts?


    • Yes, I chose to use a piece of heat shrink (without actually shrinking it) that fit snuggly over the other LED’s. You want to make sure that it’s just long enough to keep out the spill of the backlight LED’s yet allow the front panel to mate with the chassis properly. Worked great. No more spillover. 73, Steve, W1SFR


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