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eHam Forums => CW => Topic started by: K2CPO on December 29, 2013, 07:46:34 AM



Title: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: K2CPO on December 29, 2013, 07:46:34 AM
Can anyone recommend an inexpensive straight key with which to learn CW? Would like to buy one that is worthy of keeping and using. I just need something inexpensive yet serviceable that's also a "keeper."

After having read many of the CW threads (not all, but lots of them), the message I'm getting is that learning on a straight key is probably the best way to learn, and realize that is also debatable. Somehow, for me, anyway, learning on a straight key seems like the best way.

Since getting my Extra (about three weeks since passing the test) there's a huge void in my 'learning life.' I need to be learning CW now. Until Spring (and better weather) arrives, I've got lots of time to devote to learning CW.

So I've found this one:  http://www.mtechnologies.com/pla/  and it's certainly within my budget, which is small, especially the one with the brass connectors, although for a little more, I really like the looks of the silver model. Maybe someone has a better idea?

I don't have an practice oscillator, so will be needing one, as well.

Anyone have any recommendations or suggestions?

Thanks.

Kim
KD0WDL


Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: KE6EE on December 29, 2013, 09:24:29 AM
I think the Chinese key you are talking about will be fine. Lots of good reviews of them.

The two models available differ in having brass or silver (usually preferred and marginally more expensive) contacts.

Morse Express also sells Hi Mound and Nye straight keys in the same price range. The Nyes are well-liked and have been around forever. Nyes do need some sort of a base, which Morse Express also sells.

Nye models can be had with either standard or navy-type knobs. Many people prefer the navy-type. I do.

Another thing to consider is whether you will be sending American style with the key well forward on the table and your forearm resting on the table or Euro style with the key closer to the front edge of the table and the forearm off the table. Keys vary in height of the knob above the table to reflect this preference but many, if not most, keys can be used either way. I learned 50 years ago to send with my forearm on the table. A few years ago I bought a new key with a relatively high knob and began sending with my arm off the table. No problem to change for me. This is usually considered to be less stressful on the forearm and unlikely to lead to injury ("glass arm").



Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: K2CPO on December 29, 2013, 04:09:16 PM
Thanks N6GND!

For some reason, I kinda' like that Chinese key. Can't explain it. It looks good.

I will certainly check out the keys you mentioned, as well! Thank you for the information!

My long-wire (135-foot) dipole went up today! Had to hire a tree-climbing guy to get it way up, and wow... it's up there! Dunno how high, but I ran out of coax! (It's at or close to 80-feet, I'm sure!) Will have to get a barrel connector and another 25 or so feet of coax. At least it's up! WOO HOO!



Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: KU4UV on December 29, 2013, 05:00:38 PM
I have a Ameco bras straight key that I purchased about 15 years ago that I still use to this day.  They still sell the brass J-38 straight keys for around $20 or so.  I just went and purchased a piece of lumber form a hardware store, sanded and stained it with wood grain stain, and screwed the straight key on to it.  It still looks and works great, and I highly recommend the Ameco brass straight key for a first key.


Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: K2CPO on December 29, 2013, 07:21:30 PM
Thanks, KU4UV! I've looked at the J-38's on e-Bay. Wish I could find one for $20.00! I'll look at the Ameco brass key, too, now. I've just got to be really dollar-wise, just now.

Have a great New Year!

Kim
KD0WDL


Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: KI5WW on December 29, 2013, 07:48:05 PM
Excellent choice on the Chinese military key. I prefer chrome over brass cause it stays looking shiney long long time. I use an old Bunnel brass key used on some spark gap transmitters long time ago. Use it once a year. SKN. Hey, speaking of that i Better dust it and the old 520 SE off.


Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: KB4QAA on December 29, 2013, 08:21:38 PM
I recommend the (present) Nye Viking with shorting bar and Navy Knob. I've had one for thirty years, and when I get tired of playing around with other keys, it is always the 'gold standard'.

This key under various names has been made for almost a century.  It will last a at least one lifetime!

A navy knob gives a sure, 3-d thing to grip.  A shorting bar is always helpful when tuning up or testing.


Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: KD8IIC on December 29, 2013, 10:54:52 PM
 Many newer rigs have a Side Tone built in. If you check the owner's manual you may find you can use it without transmitting.You would use a foot switch to activate the transmitter to key on the air.I used this method on an Ic-718.
There are many practice oscillators out there and ebay seems to always have a few nice one's.I have two Heathkit CPO's
but would like to try an old tube type one for the nice mellow sound...73 and Have Fun using Morse.  lane


Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: K4LIX on December 30, 2013, 03:17:53 PM
I use the WW II surplus J-47 on the Mae West base - have one mobile and one at the house - should last long past when I will be through with it - found on eBay for around $50 or so - good luck  73 de Jim K4LIX


Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: K2CPO on December 31, 2013, 09:12:01 PM
Many newer rigs have a Side Tone built in. If you check the owner's manual you may find you can use it without transmitting.You would use a foot switch to activate the transmitter to key on the air.I used this method on an Ic-718.
There are many practice oscillators out there and ebay seems to always have a few nice one's.I have two Heathkit CPO's
but would like to try an old tube type one for the nice mellow sound...73 and Have Fun using Morse.  lane

My FT-847 doesn't have a such a feature. I'll need a practice oscillator. I've been looking... will keep searching eBay, too. Thanks!


Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: K2CPO on December 31, 2013, 09:14:23 PM
I use the WW II surplus J-47 on the Mae West base - have one mobile and one at the house - should last long past when I will be through with it - found on eBay for around $50 or so - good luck  73 de Jim K4LIX

Thanks, Jim! A local ham recommended one of those, as well. I've looked at some J-47's on eBay. Won't be buying a key until after the 10th. Will keep looking at them!


Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: ZENKI on December 31, 2013, 10:26:35 PM
HiMound 702 or 708. They as smooth as silk. They better than my Amplidan and Swedish Pump Keys.

The Himound keys seem to use springs that are stable as a rock  in regards to temperature and drift. You can set your key gap and forget about. Other straight
keys that I have used in the past I always had to play with them whenever I had to use them.



Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: VA7CPC on December 31, 2013, 11:58:39 PM

My FT-847 doesn't have a such a feature. I'll need a practice oscillator. I've been looking... will keep searching eBay, too. Thanks!

In "CW" mode, just about _every_ rig will let you turn off "break-in" (which puts the rig in XMIT mode when you press the key).  The rig then becomes a (big, expensive, power-hungry) code-practice oscillator.   If you want to transmit CW, either switch on "break-in", or press the PTT switch on the mic (which switches the rig into XMIT mode, but doesn't actually transmit anything, until you press the key.

The FT-847 might be an exception -- check the manual, or experiment with two pieces of wire connected to a 1/4" plug, plugged into the "KEY" jack.  I betcha it will generate a side-tone, even though it's not transmitting.

FWIW --

If you read the reviews of the Chinese key, a fair number of people find the spring too stiff.  But it's easy to shorten.  It sure looks pretty!

.      Charles


Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: NK6Q on January 01, 2014, 12:10:14 AM
My favorite is the German Junker Morsetaste.  A little hard to find here, but you can always try Ebay Germany.  That's where I got mine.

Congrats on passing the Extra.

Bill in Pasadena, NK6Q


Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: K2CPO on January 01, 2014, 07:44:10 AM

My FT-847 doesn't have a such a feature. I'll need a practice oscillator. I've been looking... will keep searching eBay, too. Thanks!

In "CW" mode, just about _every_ rig will let you turn off "break-in" (which puts the rig in XMIT mode when you press the key).  The rig then becomes a (big, expensive, power-hungry) code-practice oscillator.   If you want to transmit CW, either switch on "break-in", or press the PTT switch on the mic (which switches the rig into XMIT mode, but doesn't actually transmit anything, until you press the key.

The FT-847 might be an exception -- check the manual, or experiment with two pieces of wire connected to a 1/4" plug, plugged into the "KEY" jack.  I betcha it will generate a side-tone, even though it's not transmitting.

FWIW --

If you read the reviews of the Chinese key, a fair number of people find the spring too stiff.  But it's easy to shorten.  It sure looks pretty!

.      Charles

I'm certain I'll need an oscillator with the FT-847. A friend has one, tells me I'll need an oscillator.

Yes... that Chinese key is quite lovely! Last night I spend a lot of time looking at the "Camel Back" (forget who made it... had downloaded that page onto my desktop, as it, for me, is a contender, as well.

Thanks, everyone, for all of the suggestions and recommendations! Will be ordering a key a week from Friday. I've got lots of choices, and honestly, think I'll have a difficult time choosing one... so many!

-.- .. --

-.- -.. ----- .-- -.. .-..

.... ..  .... ..


Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: KG6AF on January 01, 2014, 09:05:19 AM
Looks like you have plenty of good choices, but let me add one more: the Czech army key.  These things were made back in the 1950s, but the one I got a few months ago was still in its original wrapping and looked brand new.  The key action is smooth and very easy to adjust.  Although I hadn't used a straight key in maybe 40 years, I found it easy to get used to.

You can find out more here:

http://www.czechmorsekeys.co.uk/


Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: K2CPO on January 02, 2014, 11:13:56 AM
Looks like you have plenty of good choices, but let me add one more: the Czech army key.  These things were made back in the 1950s, but the one I got a few months ago was still in its original wrapping and looked brand new.  The key action is smooth and very easy to adjust.  Although I hadn't used a straight key in maybe 40 years, I found it easy to get used to.

You can find out more here:

http://www.czechmorsekeys.co.uk/


Thanks for the heads-up on the key! I just went to check it out... and at this moment, think I'm going to get a new key. I'd like to get a really, really nice key, but finances won't allow that for months, so will be buying "inexpensive." But thanks, nonetheless!

Kim


Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: N4KHZ on January 07, 2014, 07:22:53 AM
If I had to do it all over again, back in '75 I would have gotten a sideswiper!   Of course that was before the Internet, and back then your sources of information and gear was magazines, hamfests, and word of mouth... And I would have not gotten my Bencher and Heathkit keyer either...  Sideswipers are fun, satisfying, and easier than a regular straight key, IMHO... Look at the Vizkey Cootie. I have one and it's great!

If you really want to have a regular straight key, I'd go with a German Junker...

73, de N4kHz


Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: KB2FCV on January 07, 2014, 09:03:15 AM
I like the Bencher RJ-1. I was in the market for a new straight key a year or so ago and I tried quite a few out before I found I liked this one the most. For me my wrist didn't get as tired on longer ragchew QSO's with this key.

Straight keys are a matter of personal preference. If you can, my reccomendation is to try any key before buying. I had a friend who kept reccomending a different key to me and swore by it. To him it was the greatest straight key made. I tried that key and the bencher. I preferred the bencher so I went ahead and bought one.


Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: KE6EE on January 07, 2014, 10:28:05 AM
Kim: "I'm going to get a new key. I'd like to get a really, really nice key, but finances won't allow that for months, so will be buying "inexpensive." But thanks, nonetheless!"

The Nye keys new from Morse Express are really, really nice keys which will serve you forever. They are not particularly expensive. Dealing with Marshall Emm at Morse Express has always been very pleasant for me.


Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: K7KBN on January 07, 2014, 11:08:09 AM
Regarding the expense of a straight key:  remember, underneath all the precision machining, shininess and glitz, you have a single pole, single throw switch.  That's all a straight key is.  Try the ones that fit your budget.  I never paid more than two bucks for the variety of straight keys I own, and they all work fine.  The ham at the other end of the QSO can't tell if I'm using that two-buck special or some super special Ferrari-styled Italian turbo key that cost $800.


Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: K2CPO on January 08, 2014, 09:07:40 AM
Hi everyone, and thanks for all of the suggestions and recommendations.

I have decided to go CHEAP, for the moment. Will be able to upgrade to a nice key by Springtime, so am most likely going to get the MFJ key/practice oscillator (  http://www.universal-radio.com/catalog/morse/0555.html  )

There are lots of keys to choose from. The MFJ comes with the practice oscillator. $40.00 for both is something I can certainly afford. My mentor advised not to get it. Yet it's what I can afford for now, so I'm going for it. It'll do, at least for learning.

A nice key for using "on the air" can come in a couple of months.


Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: K3STX on January 09, 2014, 05:46:12 AM
That little cheap plastic black key looks EXACTLY like what I bought from Radio Shack back in 1978 that was supposed to be "a piece of junk". That little piece of junk was the only straight key I ever bought until I upgraded to paddles.

That little key will be just fine for you. You might become a speed demon (you WILL if you have lots of QSOs) and decide that a straight key is not for you.

I can't imagine what kind of elmer would tell somebody NOT to buy any straight key they want! Have at it and have fun! And if you "send along" with some of those W1AW mp3 code practice files you will REALLY have fun.

paul


Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: K2CPO on January 10, 2014, 09:37:08 AM
That little cheap plastic black key looks EXACTLY like what I bought from Radio Shack back in 1978 that was supposed to be "a piece of junk". That little piece of junk was the only straight key I ever bought until I upgraded to paddles.

That little key will be just fine for you. You might become a speed demon (you WILL if you have lots of QSOs) and decide that a straight key is not for you.

I can't imagine what kind of elmer would tell somebody NOT to buy any straight key they want! Have at it and have fun! And if you "send along" with some of those W1AW mp3 code practice files you will REALLY have fun.

paul

Hi Paul.

I did have an opportunity to play with one of those at a local electronics shop. Seemed to work fine! I think this will be a good buy for learning. I'm reasonable certain that I'll gravitate to Iambic paddles when I've learned CW... played with one of those, as well, and liked it.

Will pay bills here shortly, and think I'll have enough left over to order this MFJ-557 TODAY! When I feel I'm about ready to go 'live', will get a nice key. For now, this will be a learning-tool.

Thanks for your support!


Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: K2CPO on January 10, 2014, 11:19:09 AM
Ok. My "learning tool", the MFJ MFJ-557 is on the way! Just ordered!

Am now anxious for it to arrive!

Thanks to everyone who offered advice and support. By no later than April, I'll be able to afford a NICE key for 'on-the-air' use. For now, this MFJ-557 will help me learn CW.

I'm currently using this "kids" learning-tool online to learn the alphabet: http://www.nsa.gov/kids/games/gameMorse.htm  Somehow, this is working for me to learn the letters. Please don't laugh. *smile* I've looked at a lot of other online "learning tools", and this one is free, easy, and is helping me. Yes... eventually I'll have to "upgrade" to something else that includes numbers and other characters, but for now this is good. hi hi

There seems to be no "right" path... just one that works for the individual.

Thanks again, everyone.


Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: W4MPT on January 13, 2014, 04:15:38 PM
HiMound 702 or 708. They as smooth as silk. They better than my Amplidan and Swedish Pump Keys.

The Himound keys seem to use springs that are stable as a rock  in regards to temperature and drift. You can set your key gap and forget about. Other straight
keys that I have used in the past I always had to play with them whenever I had to use them.

I just got a 702, good a very good deal on it, and it came today.  Wow!  What a nice key!  Got to get used to European sending now....


Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: K2CPO on January 14, 2014, 12:36:54 AM
On the way to work, I stopped by my local (tiny mountain town) post office, and picked up a package... that had the MFJ-557 in it.

So I also stopped by a store when I got into town and got a 9-volt battery, and installed it when I got to work. Had a few minutes here and there to play with it. Got home, and played with it some more.

I guess it does what it's supposed to... I'm honestly not impressed with it, but it will do as a "learning tool." Instead of a nice tone, I get this tone that's reminiscent of a mouse in pain. hahaha It's driving my cat wild! NO kidding! hehehe hi hi   She's up on my desk, looking for that mouse in distress!

Nonetheless, I'm happy to have it. It was something I could afford (could have gotten a decent key and an oscillator for a little more than twice what I paid for this.) But this is a learning tool, and that's how I'll look at it each time I suffer with the dying-mouse sound. hahaha  Yet, it will serve it's purpose.

And somehow, this will motivate me to get a REALLY NICE KEY when I have a "wind-fall paycheck." I'm now motivated to work a few extra shifts to get a nice key, now. *smile*

Yet, this will serve it's purpose. At least I can hear what I'm keying. Guess that's the main point, huh?

So now my CW journey begins. I know my name in CW  _._ .. _ _  , know several other letters, and am now working on learning more. So I'm okay with the mousy output of this oscillator and the cheap plastic key. It's altogether a good thing to have. I see me learning the alphabet rather quickly (give me a couple of weeks?)

Thanks again, for all of your thoughts, recommendations, and ideas. I'll plod along with my mouse-in-distress key/oscillator, and when I'm done, might sell it to a hunter that just wants to tag coyotes, feral cats, or something. hahaha


Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: ZL1BBW on January 17, 2014, 12:33:37 AM
I just love my GW key on its slate base that weighs a ton.

http://www.morsemad.com/kotw_files/gb.htm


Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: KK4MRN on January 17, 2014, 08:34:09 AM
On the way to work, I stopped by my local (tiny mountain town) post office, and picked up a package... that had the MFJ-557 in it.
...
Instead of a nice tone, I get this tone that's reminiscent of a mouse in pain.


I have the MFJ code practice oscillator and key as well.  The nasty sound is due to the 555 IC timer that they used.   The oscillator produces a square wave which is harsh on the ears.  Where as a sine wave sounds better.  The ARRL code practice oscillator and the Ameco code practice oscillator both use the 555 chip as well.

Look around for designs for a code practice oscillator that does not use the 555 chip like:
http://www.arrl.org/files/file/Instructor%20resources/ARRLWeb_%20A%20One-Hour,%20No-Sol__.pdf (http://www.arrl.org/files/file/Instructor%20resources/ARRLWeb_%20A%20One-Hour,%20No-Sol__.pdf)
http://www.nt7s.com/blog/2008/11/nt7s-code-practice-oscillator/ (http://www.nt7s.com/blog/2008/11/nt7s-code-practice-oscillator/)



Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: K2CPO on January 25, 2014, 12:34:35 AM
The CW learning continues. I'm not spending as much time working on it as I had planned, as life (I meant to say 'work') gets in the way sometimes.

Today I ordered the Chinese Army Key. I'll post a mini-review on it when I receive it (should be here Monday!)

It looks nice. I got the chrome key. I'll be connecting it to the MFJ oscillator when I get it, so at least I'll have the opportunity to practice on a decent key---the reviews have on the Chinese Army Key have been pretty good. For someone on a budget, it seems to be a good choice.

I also have had a call-sign change. KD0WDL is no more. Now it's K2CPO. It seems to flow nicely in CW!

Thanks again for all of the help, suggestions, and recommendations. My goal is to have my first QSO by July. We'll see how that goes. *smile*


Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: K2CPO on January 25, 2014, 01:21:17 PM
I'm breathless!

I ordered the Chinese Army Key http://www.mtechnologies.com/pla/ yesterday. It arrived today! (Shipped from Denver, and I'm about 1 1/2 hours away! That was FAST!

Anyway, it's quite nice! Heavy, substantial, and looks really good, too!

I'd order another one in a heartbeat! Well, I've not yet done a "sound check", but do expect it to be just fine!

Just a quick report on this key. I'm likin' it!


Title: RE: Can someone recommend a straight key?
Post by: VK6IS on January 26, 2014, 08:22:49 PM
Looks like you have plenty of good choices, but let me add one more: the Czech army key.  These things were made back in the 1950s, but the one I got a few months ago was still in its original wrapping and looked brand new.  The key action is smooth and very easy to adjust.  Although I hadn't used a straight key in maybe 40 years, I found it easy to get used to.

You can find out more here:

http://www.czechmorsekeys.co.uk/


2nd that one - it's a great key.