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Author Topic: CW Keyer for New Ham  (Read 1333 times)

Posts: 123

« on: August 03, 2004, 03:36:38 PM »

I need some input from experienced hams out there.  I am a pretty new ham, and I am finally starting to get up the nerve to in the near future have an on air cw qso.  I currently can only receive code at 5 wpm.  Yes, I know that is slow, but I am trying my best.  I know over time I will get quicker.

I have tried using a straight key (like a J38) for practice, but my I am not real even.  I am wondering what all of you think about using a Keyer (like a Vibroplex)?  A friend let me try is keyer, and it was nice having my dits and dahs even.  The downside of using a keyer is one can end up having an extra dit or dah in there.

I know probably a lot of hams will probably end up telling me to stick with the straight key until I get it, but I am wondering if there is anyone out there supporting my idea using a keyer?  I try to keep in mind that ham radio should remain fun.  At least I am making an attempt to use code.

Posts: 58

« Reply #1 on: August 03, 2004, 03:58:21 PM »

Well, I'm no veteran, but I'll give you some input Smiley

I'm  not great at CW, and much worse with a straight key.  I use the built-in keyer and a set of paddles for my CW attempts.  I, too, like the cleaner sound.  It may be slow, but it's even and more easily copied.  Don't be afraid to use the advantages available to you, such as the keyer.  Once you get the hang of it and start to enjoy the code, then you can go back to trying out the straight key for a challenge or something different.  Have fun!!



Posts: 720


« Reply #2 on: August 03, 2004, 04:01:59 PM »

A Vibroplex (and Iambic keyer) builds sending speed, but doesn't help much in the cadence department.  You get that by ear.  By the time you begin using keyers, you should be keying based on what you hear rather than think.  

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but until you can send a K without having to think dahdidah or dash-dot-dash stick with the straight key.

IMHO of course.

Posts: 9930

« Reply #3 on: August 03, 2004, 04:09:02 PM »

make or buy a battery operated straight key and buzzer, strap it to you leg and do road signs while traveling ( drive first, key second) and at work , on break, send road signs, the newspaper, license plates.. practice will make it work. Also do a google  on FISTs they do cw practice and lots of folks there to help.  we all had our "first contact" some time, relax, its a hobby, enjoy, have fun,  if they don't copy, send it again..di di di di di di di.... and again..Smiley

Posts: 21758

« Reply #4 on: August 03, 2004, 04:14:23 PM »

There's no problem with using a keyer right out of the gate.  In fact, I encourage it with my students, since nobody can send fast code with a straight key, and once you are truly proficient you'll be able to copy a *lot* faster than you can send -- at least, most can -- because the ear and brain are a remarkable combination with almost no upper limits, but physical reflexes always have a limit.

Practice with a paddle and keyer off the air until you think it sounds good, and make some contacts!  5 wpm is pretty much the very "low end" for sending with a paddle and keyer, and many keyers won't even adjust down quite that slowly (but some will).  If yours won't, you can send using the "Farnsworth method," which is sending dits, dahs and characters faster than the actual word speed, and adjusting the word speed by leaving longer spaces between characters.  It works, and sounds fine on the air.  Since my own keyers won't go down much below about 10 wpm, if I want to really "QRS" and work someone going very slowly, I send characters at 10 wpm but leave longer spacing so the resulting code is about 5 wpm.


Posts: 185

« Reply #5 on: August 03, 2004, 04:53:31 PM »

Do you have a HF radio with a built-in keyer? if so, all you need is a set of paddles like the Bencher. You connect the paddels to the radio and set the speed on the keyer. Of course, you need to turn your output power on the radio to zero or however your radio manual says to do it for code practice. If your radio doesn't have a built-in keyer I suggest buying a keyer with paddles that you can use off the air and connect it to a radio at a later time.

it takes a lot of practice to learn to use paddles and its common to get extra dits and dahs. It's that "cadence" thing, and it will go away with practice.

73, Pete KA3RFE

Paddles are real easy to use once you get control of them.

Posts: 1490

« Reply #6 on: August 03, 2004, 05:06:12 PM »

I operate 90% CW, and have since I was a novice in the late 70's.  If I haven't been on the air in a week or two, or am otherwise feeling a bit rusty, I send the alphabet and numbers forward and backward as a warm up before getting on the air.  When I was starting out as a ham I would send magazine articles (QST?) until I could make them sound really good.  Getting on the air, once my sending was fairly clean, did more to boost my speed than anything else.  Later I did a few contests to increase my speed even further, and I can now converse with people in the 20-30 wpm range.  It didn't happen overnight though, but initially with 20 minutes a day of practice and later with a lot of scanning around and casual contacts.

BTW, I advise staying away from Vibroplex's and bugs -- they require a great deal of practice to become proficient, and are generally hard to adjust.  Once adjusted, it isn't necessarily easy to change speeds.  Without sufficient practice you would sound like one of those annoying stations whose "dits" sound like engine static and whose "dahs" are interminible -- extremely tough copy.

Good luck, and hope to catch you on the air soon.
73 de kt8k - Tim

Posts: 5437


« Reply #7 on: August 03, 2004, 05:34:19 PM »

I also advise against a bug, it takes a lot of practice to send decent code with those.  I do endorse the idea of a keyer though.  Takes all the guesswork out of proper element lengths and spacings.  You can still send crappy code with a keyer so it'll take practice, but it makes the task so much more pleasant.  I think of it as 'power steering' for CW.  You can do it the old fashioned 'manual' way with a key but a keyer with a few memories and a nice set of paddles have been a part of my station since day 1.

Mark K5LXP
Albuquerque, NM


Posts: 76

« Reply #8 on: August 03, 2004, 08:22:01 PM »

Stick with your straight key for awhile and then go to a paddle and keyer.  After a few months with a straight key you will be surprised at how your cw proficiency has improved.  Get on the air and contact the other cw ops!

Good DX!

Mike   AK7P

Posts: 1841


« Reply #9 on: August 03, 2004, 09:35:20 PM »

Buy a paddle and learn to use it.  CW won't become fun until you can get your speed up around 15 to 20 wpm.  When you hit around 18 it starts to feel like your in a conversation.  I think a single lever paddle is little less prone to mistakes since it has less degree's of freedom in the way characters are formed, but that is just my opinion.  Vibroplex makes a single lever paddle, as does Bencher and Kent.  I have a Kent SP-1 and it is a nice paddle.  Check the eham reviews for details.  If you don't want to buy a paddle and just want to build one here is an article.

73 W9OY

Posts: 3331

« Reply #10 on: August 03, 2004, 10:21:23 PM »

All excellent comments here ... another for the pile:

If you want to get your sending to be good, irrespective of the tool of choice, rig up your PC in a way that can decode the CW (use CWget or some such program) and then send TO THE PC!!  Frankly, these programs all stink, er, are significantly compromised when trying to decode imperfect Morse.  If you can send well enough that the computer can figure out what you're sending, you are really doing a good job.

PS:  my oft-stated position on iambic paddles vs. stright keys remains ... start with the straight key ... you will thank me later ... I have elmered literally a hundred hams and they all say the same thing (except for one!) ... and stay away from the bugs until you are 22 WPM + and have a couple years' experience

Posts: 28

« Reply #11 on: August 03, 2004, 11:17:34 PM »

First of all, DON'T feel bad about "only" copying 5WPM.....if you are interested in CW and copying it at 5WPM...that's  great!!!! We all started out at 5 WPM or somewhere around just takes practice. I know a lot of the old timers (I am one too!) will advise sticking with the straight key.
I say...go for it....get a keyer....turn it down to the speed you are comfortable with and start using it.
Just remember....don't crank up the sending speed until you are comfortable copying at the speed you are
sending. Check out Ebay....I see a lot of reasonably priced keyers on there. Good luck....I hope I can work you someday on CW.....don't get too fast for me!

Posts: 3524

« Reply #12 on: August 03, 2004, 11:50:00 PM »

Don't even consider a keyer or a bug unless and until you can consistently hold QSOs at 15 WPM.  That might sound terrifyingly fast, but once you're on the air and using code the speed will build itself up.  You have to know the rhythm (or the "cadence", as some call it), and the ONLY way to develop a sense for that is with a straight key.  The J-38 might be a baleful enemy right now, but you can tame it, and make it an ally.  I use a set of Bencher paddles most of the time, but I do have a J-38, and I can still do 25+ WPM on it.  For hours.


Posts: 21

« Reply #13 on: August 04, 2004, 08:17:56 AM »

Find yourself a keyer that will send random code at various speeds. MFJ makes some. Copy it until you find your speed going up. Code speed increases by listening, not by sending. Listening to a keyer is a beautiful way to do it. But, copy random code, not English. If you cannot buy a keyer, then do the English copy of W1AW broadcasts at different speeds. Again, the idea is to copy, not send. Over time, the rhythm of good code will be imbedded in your head and you'll be surprised how well you do. Try your skills on the air from time to time and don't worry about mistakes or extra dits. We all did those, you are certainly not alone in this department. Good Luck..........

Posts: 343

« Reply #14 on: August 04, 2004, 09:06:01 AM »

DDX makes an excellent point.  After decades of requiring a receiving test and a sending test, FCC dropped the sending test because it is widely recognized if you can copy code you can send it. For purposes of self-training, do a lot of listening to perfect code. Condition your brain to the way good clean code should sound. Once you establish that internal benchmark, sending is just a matter of coordinating your manual reflexes with what your noggin knows is right.  

>I am wondering if there is anyone out there supporting my idea using a keyer?

You bet. If the goal is to send consistantly well-formed, easy to copy code and to increase sending speed as your copy speed improves, a keyer with a set of paddles that feel good is your best friend.

73, Mike          
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