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Posted: 27 December 2003
Laurence Rudolf is a member of the Telecommunications Heritage Group (THG) in the UK and had no prior experience in building electronic kits. Nevertheless, he wanted to build his own Enigma-E and describes his experiences below.

Enigma-E review by Laurence Rudolf
Since the first T.H.G. visit to Bletchley Park seven or eight years ago I have wanted my own Enigma machine. I guess many other members have said the same thing. One of our members after our visit to Bletchley Park came across a genuine Enigma machine for sale at a fair. He spun the rotors and they worked. He enquired how much and it was for sale for £25. He decided not to buy it. I will not say who it was as it might cause him some minor embarrassment and the following information will be of no interest to him. For the other 499+ of our members please read on.

Enigma machines do come up for sale and a few are sold each year. If you thought telephones were expensive then you might be shocked to find out what an Enigma machine sells for. I had all but given up on owning an Enigma and then I had one of my periodic looks at the Bletchley Park website You can then click on shop or introducing Enigma-E.

Your very own working enigma machine for £100. Fantastic I thought but it is a kit. Could I do it. Now most of us at some time would have had to solder a joint in an old telephone to make it work again. I have and I must say that my soldering skills are pretty pathetic but I do manage to get the job done. As far as printed circuit boards my knowledge was zero. I desperately wanted an enigma machine so I followed the link from Bletchley Park to the developers of the machine . I looked at all the web pages and decided to give it a go. You can only purchase an Enigma-E from Bletchley Park so off I went. The shop is now in a building of its own when you enter the park. If you want to just use the shop you can without an admission ticket. They have a working Enigma-E on display in the shop. I looked at it and was hooked and handed over my £100.

When all the items were unpacked it did look very daunting and I did want to cry. I was a complete novice with a P.C.B. So many components and I had so little knowledge. I will say that the instruction manual is first class and I would give it 11 out of 10. This boosted my confidence and gave me hope that I could do it. I realised quickly from the manual that there was no room for the slightest error. One mistake and the project is doomed. If you solder one of the 300 plus joints wrong you are stuck. The work area on a printed circuit board is small and to try to desolder a joint would more than likely destroy the component and damage the P.C.B. The simple answer is not to make a mistake.

I decided to buy a cheap P.C.P. kit with L.E.D. from Maplin Electronics for £7.50. This was money well spent as it was my first encounter with a P.C.B. It taught me how to do the joints and it worked and the lights flashed. The kind people at Maplin also advised me to use a lower voltage 18 watt soldering iron with a very fine soldering tip, with this there is less chance of damaging the P.C.B. The only other thing I needed was a large piece of foam. This is very useful as when you are soldering all the joints on the back of the board it will protect the components on the front.

I was now ready. I have no workshop facilities other than the dinning room table. My Wife was thrilled to bits about this as we had no place to eat our dinner for three days. As I said I am a novice and I could not afford to make a mistake. The manual is very easy to follow and before I soldered each joint I checked, re-checked and then checked again. Some components must only be fitted one way round so you must get it right. I constructed the kit in 10 hours and spread this over three days. If you are new to P.C.B.'s then I would advise against trying to do it all in one go. You would loose your concentration.

When I did the last joint there was nothing for it but to plug it in. It worked first time as I had hoped it would. It does everything a genuine Enigma machine would. It is a fantastic thing and I am very happy with it. If you want to treat yourself to a good X-Mas present then what could be better. I know that this is like a huge plug for the developers but I have no connection to them other than gratitude.

Now has anyone thought of producing a self build Gower Bell kit!

Laurence Rudolf

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