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Author Topic: What key did you start on  (Read 2003 times)
W2DAB
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« on: February 27, 2008, 09:11:25 PM »

I am currently bidding on a J-38 key on eBay because I read about it being very popular and the price is right for my budget so far.

Anyone out there use this key, or even start on it?

Also, what make someone prefer the paddles, "bugs" and whatever else to the old fashioned straight key?

thanks for feedback

73
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WQ3T
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« Reply #1 on: February 28, 2008, 05:54:09 AM »

I started out on a Vibroplex Vibrokeyer Iambic, bought it mail order new for a hundred bucks. I still have it glued on the desk with rubber cement, and use it occasionally. By far the key I use most now is the computer keyboard. I made a serial optoisolator cable, but timing could be better for my old computer. So, I ordered a Winkey USB. If you know how to touch type, keyboard it the way to go. Perfect fist every time, very easy for others to copy, send at any speed, no fatigue. The other day, I made a qso with each of my keys. I ended up using the computer keyboard. Also, if you use a computer keyboard then go back to a manual key, your timing will be closer to perfect. I find I start to merge words together if I get away from the computer keyboard for too long. A serial optoisolator cable costs about $5, and is way better than the best Italian begali ever made.
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K8GU
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« Reply #2 on: February 28, 2008, 06:46:35 AM »

I started out with a Nye-Viking straight key.  But, I moved quickly to Bencher paddles with a Curtis keyer.
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WB2WIK
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« Reply #3 on: February 28, 2008, 07:58:41 AM »

The J-38 is not a great hand key.  They're becoming a bit "collectable" as a nostalgia piece because they were mostly made during WW2.  They vary in quality and features, while still being called "J-38."

I bought my first J-38 brand new in a sealed box, made for the U.S. Army, at an Army-Navy Surplus store in 1964.  It was already 20 years old by then, but new surplus and it cost $1.

Many hand keys are far better.  Bencher makes a very nice hand key that operates more nicely, with less strain.

The reason people use automatic or semi-automatic keys instead is to send faster.  Or, in my case (and I'm sure there are many others), just because it's easier, even at low speeds.  I haven't used a hand key in over 40 years, but I work CW every day.  An electronic keyer with a good paddle can be set up so virtually no effort is required to send: Just a very tiny motion of the index or middle finger and thumb of one hand -- and I mean a very tiny motion, like 1mm -- is all that's required to send code slowly, quickly or very fast.  The *skill* required is only a bit of coordination and comes with practice; but one can send all day long this way and never get "tired," or feel any strain on their fingers, hand, wrist or arm because the fingers are barely working and the hand, wrist and arm aren't doing anything at all except resting on the desk.

In the hand of a skilled operator, using a keyer and paddle it's pretty easy to send 50 wpm.  Some very skilled can send faster than that.

WB2WIK/6
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W5ESE
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« Reply #4 on: February 28, 2008, 08:01:25 AM »

You'll do just fine to start with a J-38.

I started with a "Japanese Ball Bearing" straight
key that used to be sold in Radio Shack stores.

The same key is now available as the Ameco AM-K4.

http://www.mtechnologies.com/ameco/keyosc.htm

But a J-38 in working condition will do just as
well, and is really a better made key.

> Also, what make someone prefer the paddles,
> "bugs" and whatever else to the old fashioned
> straight key?

It's possible to send much faster, and with less
effort, using paddles and a keyer, or a "bug".

When you are able to operate consistently at
about 16 wpm, that's good time to begin
shopping for paddles.

I would save the "bug" for last. It is a semi-
automatic key that was developed about 100 years
ago, and is more challenging to master than
paddles with a keyer.

Most mainstream CW operators today use paddles,
at least once they reach a middle level of
proficiency.

Hope this helps!

73
Scott
W5ESE

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N3EF
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« Reply #5 on: February 28, 2008, 08:38:42 AM »

"Also, what make someone prefer the paddles, "bugs" and whatever else to the old fashioned straight key?"

  For me, I can send much faster with paddles than with the SK. It's also much less tiring. I started out using paddles but occasionally use my grandfathers old 1920's Bunnell Radio Key. My problem now is that I can copy way faster than I can send so I too sometimes use a keyboard. My sending is good up to 30wpm but start making too many mistakes above that. I'm in awe of you guys sending at 50+ with paddles.

Eric N3EF
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W2DAB
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« Reply #6 on: February 28, 2008, 08:41:51 AM »

thanks* Yeah, I read in different places that the J-38 is a very basic key, but for now I don't feel that my mental skills will suffer having to wait for my hands to keep up. Quite the opposite*

Thanks Scott, for the link as well... the other basic key looks very nice for the price and I assume that I will upgrade when I find out what my CW preferences are later on.

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AA4PB
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« Reply #7 on: February 28, 2008, 06:40:54 PM »

I've used a number of J38 keys. In the 50's they were a standard that almost every novice started with. Aaron's Surplus in Detroit used to have them in 55 gal drums - pick out your own - for a dollar.

ARC5 transmitters and receivers, by the way were $10 each, still sealed in the original factory boxes.

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W2DAB
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« Reply #8 on: February 28, 2008, 06:49:50 PM »

Wow. A dollar a key, now those really were the golden years of amateur radio!  I just finished buying my first on eBay, now I have to wait for it to come.

I feel like I payed too much but it is still cheaper than a new key and maybe a small piece of WWII history.

Thanks for everyone's comments, I even got a kind offer of a free key if my eBay auction didn't pan out. The Ham community is genuinely one of a kind*
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K7PEH
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« Reply #9 on: February 28, 2008, 07:47:58 PM »

In the 1960s as a Novice I started on a J-38 and then I graduated to a Vibroplex Original speed key.  My average speed sending and receiving back in those days was about 20 wpm.

Now, back to CW after 40 years being away from it I started yet again on a J-38 that I picked up at a hamfest.  But, I soon tired of that and started practicing on paddles.  I am now using my Begali Magnetic Classic paddle at home and a Bencher paddle in the pickup truck while mobile.  I only go back to a straight key when I need to drop my speed below 10 wpm or so.  My straight key of choice is a Begali Camelback key.
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K5LXP
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« Reply #10 on: February 28, 2008, 08:08:50 PM »

I started out like W5ESE, with a $7.95 ball bearing key from Radio Shack.  I still have it.  I also have a couple J-38's, one is a near-mint Lionel version I got for $5 years ago and I'd bet it's worth 10 times that now.  It seems most keys are just knock-offs of J-38's so why settle for 2nd best, just get a J-38.  I'm also fond of my Speed-X keys but for the money I think the best deal out there are the Soviet and Bulgarian surplus keys you find perpetually on ebay for $15 or so.  I find the "feel" quite good and they're inexpensive (and ugly) enough you don't think twice about tossing it in a box to take to Field Day (wouldn't do that with any of my nice keys).  I think of keys as screwdrivers, each has a specific purpose and one is never enough. Don't think that you have to limit yourself to one key, get a bunch (easy to do when they're <$25) and discover what features each has you like and dislike.

The Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) has a "key library" you can check out keys to try them out, then return.  The only cost is postage.  Great group and very enthusiastic about "manual" CW.  

As far as actually using them I think it's better to learn with a keyer, then advance to manual keying.  A keyer will instill proper timing and you're not going to get fatigued with a keyer like you do with a hand key.  


Mark K5LXP
Albuquerque, NM
SKCC 1171
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AD5X
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« Reply #11 on: February 29, 2008, 07:07:24 AM »

I agree with Mark - Start with paddlels, because that is what you will wind up anyway.  And all modern transceivers have a keyer built in.  I started with a straight key (surplus Canadian), then moved to a bug (EF Johnson), and finally to paddles (many different types, but currently a Begali Sculpture!!).  Each key type is very different, so I really don't believe that learning on a straight key helps you for later learning on paddles.  Just my opinion though.

Phil - AD5X
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W2DAB
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« Reply #12 on: February 29, 2008, 08:03:35 AM »

Thanks for all the sage wisdom. Exactly the feedback I was looking for... I did follow through on the eBay auction as I was already committed but I guess I will get the full tour.  I'll use the key until I outgrow it then switch to paddles (Begali Sculpture?).

There seem to be many opinions and likes and dislikes, as I am left handed I guess it's fine to start with a straight key,as they are essentially for either hand.

As a follow up question, what is the average speed of most operators? I am sure you have a speed most operators are comfortable sending and copying, just curious*
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K7PEH
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« Reply #13 on: February 29, 2008, 08:22:56 AM »

Note that paddles are also totally symmetric with respect to left handed or right handed.  In physics this is called chirility or the handedness of the question.

Also, average speed.  Well, from my experience that depends where and when you listen.  On the "where" question:  The lower portions of the CW bands always seem to have the faster code  although this is not a rule by any means.  By faster, I mean faster then me which is about 20 wpm on a good day and 16 to 18 wpm on a lazy day.

I have also noted that the CQs you hear around the FISTS calling frequencies are usually at a very reasonable copyable speed.  I would say on average I find them to be in the area of 13 to 18 wpm and sometimes slower.  For example, consider this breakdown:

80 meters: 3.500 to 3.550: usually faster then me (but, not always).
                    3.550 to 3.565: usually in my comfort zone.
                    above 3.565: too many other digital signals.

40 meters: 7.000 to 7.0550: same as above.
                    7.050 to 7.0565: usually my comfort zone.
                    7.065  and above: I don't spend too much time here.

20 meters: 14.000 to 14.050: same as above and roughly the
                    same kind of breakdown.

Now, these are just my own assessments from my CW work.  But, there are no tight rules on things with the exception that you usually find the other digital modes (RTTY, PSK31, etc) above the .065 to .070 area of the low portion of the band.

On the "when" question if you listen on a contest day then you would be hard pressed to find anyone below 30 wpm!  Or, again, at least that has been my experience.

This is listening by the way.  If you reply to someone at your comfort speed which is less then they are sending then they will almost always slow down for you.  Usually you don't even need to ask, you merely send in your slower speed and they will back off.  But, again, from my experience, this is not as common on contest day.  A contester may certainly reply to your answer to his contest CQ but in my opinion they do not slow down enough sometimes.
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AE5I
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« Reply #14 on: February 29, 2008, 08:32:14 AM »

I started out on an old Electrical Specialties Company bug that was probably made in the 40s.

These days I split my time between a Vibroplex 100th Anniversary Original bug and a Mercury paddle.  I really like both of them.

I don't use a straight key regularly because I can send better with a bug or keyer.

I have a J38 in my collection but I don't use it very much at all...

73

Tom AE5I
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