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Author Topic: What's a good first CW key?  (Read 7108 times)

Posts: 3289

« Reply #30 on: January 11, 2007, 11:48:25 AM »

I started out with an el-cheapo Radio Shack J-38, but quickly found that it had too much flexing in it once I got my license and operated for a year or so.

I love my Nye Viking Speed-Ex key with a Navy knob and shorting lever.  Mine is 20 years old and has been dragged around the world.  They are built like a tank and the design has been around for 50 or 60 years.  Unfortunately it appears that Nye is getting pretty eratic in production and availability is spotty.  Morse Express has a couple models available.

Bencher has a couple of straight keys, and I've seen other fellows using them.  

I was eyeing Hy-Mound keys yesterday at MorseEx, the 706 model I think as a second key for portable ops.  

There is no right or wrong here.  Making well formed code on a straight key is an art that takes practice, and the unique "fist" that ops have makes cw more personal than with keyers.  You can begin to recognize various ops just by their fist without even hearing their call.  

On the other hand, once you approach a speed of say +15wpm and hold extended QSO's, a keyer with paddles reduces fatigue.  You will find that code flows from your fingertips almost effortless.  The Bencher BY series are a proven design of good quality.

Happy CW,  Bill

Posts: 2808

« Reply #31 on: January 11, 2007, 12:43:03 PM »

Reading through these posts, the overall message is clear:

   It doesn't matter what you have.  The important thing is to get on the air and use it!

If you check the 'Reviews' on this site, you'll see that "one man's garbage is another man's treasure".

FWIW, I find the Bencher paddles fine, and they're available used on eBay for about $60.  I've heard good reports on the K8RA paddles, which are reasonably priced.  

I have a Hi-Mound straight key, and it's solid but not cheap -- ball bearings on a plastic frame with a solid metal base.    EBay is full of ads for old brass keys at $20 - $30 -- Speed-X and others.  One of those would do fine, beginner or not.


Posts: 362

« Reply #32 on: January 11, 2007, 05:03:26 PM »

Since you ask the question I will give my 2 cents worth. I have a Nye Vyking straight key that I paid $10.00 for brand new in 1976. It still works like the day I bought it. I now see they sale for $69.00 same exact one with the same number on it. To me a straight key and CW goes together like a hand and glove. Any decent CW operator should be able to do 20 WPM on a straight key with no problems. I have a Vibroplex bug but I never could send decent code with the thing. Just my thoughts.

Posts: 1146

« Reply #33 on: January 12, 2007, 06:49:43 AM »

OK, so I am a newbie with a paddle and keyer....But,

I don't understand why anyone would use a straight key unless you are on a rig without a keyer or you are QSO'ing on Straight-Key-Night or something like that.

The paddle, once you learn it, is just so much better I doubt that I would go back to a straight key even if it were some special event.

There are a number of recommendations posted here suggesting that you start with a straight key.  I think I am disagreeing with that idea because I really don't think that the effort to learn a paddle with a keyer is that difficult even though I once thought it was.  When I started learning, it just did not feel right at first but then something clicked and I started to learn and progress quite quickly.

Some have indicated that they use a speed key (e.g. Vibroplex).  I used one back in my Novice days many years ago and I have a nice restored Vibroplex now.  But, after learning the paddle, using a speed key seems so clunky in comparison.

So, a paddle is the only way to travel.  As they say, it is not good to be up a creek without a paddle.

I am posting this here because it is early (6 am), it is 17.2 degrees outside and it is not supposed to be that cold.  There is snow on the ground and ice in the streets.  This is Seattle, the water is supposed to be liquid, not solid.  A question for those who live in cold climates -- How in the world do you do it?

Posts: 144

« Reply #34 on: January 13, 2007, 02:18:17 PM »

Hi Rick,

Good to hear that you will be on the air using CW.  We need as many CW ops as possible.

I would get on the air with your straight key, but get a paddle right away, and start practicing with it.  A good used Bencher BY-1 can be had for $50 used, and if you don't like it, there are many other options.  

I used the straight key for about 2 years, and should have switched to the paddle much sooner.  Your speed will increase, and the person at the other end of your QSO's will appreciate your good fist!  

Hope to work you sometime!

Best regards,


Posts: 362

« Reply #35 on: January 13, 2007, 02:38:14 PM »

The reason I like the straight key and why I liked people using it is back in the good old days before electronic keyers and keyboards you could tell who a guy was by his fist. Now every one sounds alike.

Posts: 37

« Reply #36 on: January 14, 2007, 06:52:32 PM »

My history is/was straight key for about 3 yrs, bug for 30+ years and I have about six months under my belt with a single paddle (used Kent) and a brand spanking new Logikeyer K5 external keyer.

Each transition was a little like starting over...especially going from bug to keyer.  That was very difficult for me.  

I think you are going to wind up eventually with an electronic keyer.  In today's cw world, where you might have to call CQ for quite a while before getting an answer - the luxury of having the CQ exchange programmed is simply fantastic.

Start with a straight key for a little while so you can be an official brass pounder and then transition to an electronic keyer.  

Posts: 2080

« Reply #37 on: January 18, 2007, 11:19:17 AM »


If price is an issue for your first key, go to eBay and search J-38.  It's a war surplus key that usually is available for just a few bucks.  Make sure it has all the parts.

I have been using the J-38 key my cousin brough back from Korea since 1960 and it works just fine.  Who knows how long it was used over there.  I recently "restored" the key because it's a keeper, but have added a number of iambics to my shack as well.


Terry, WØFM
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