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Author Topic: New to CW, what key should I use?  (Read 13951 times)
JUKINGEO
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Posts: 31




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« on: March 25, 2009, 06:10:55 AM »

Hello all,

This post is kind of an extension of my other post here on starting up with CW and ham radios.  The thing is that post got very lengthy in regards to the choice of radio I would need that I decided not to muddle that post up and start a new post in regards to what key should I select to learn code on.

For learning code I have selected the Koch method and I have a couple of different programs I am trying out, including the one what is on the website lcwo.net (CW on-line).

At any rate, while learning the Koch method I got to thinking that I should get a key and a code practice oscillator NOW.

I do already own a couple straight keys (one being a nice key from the Navy).  However, after doing much reading on ham radio CW, I found out that the straight key causes more fatigue and there is a limit to how fast you can send characters/words.

Thus I am making the choice to go with another key such as a bug or iambic paddle.  I will say that did some initial research on the iambic paddle and I came across this on the web:

http://www.morsex.com/pubs/iambicmyth.pdf

I will say that since I am learning morse code, I do agree with most what is said here.  I DO want to learn to send the code properly MYSELF and not rely on electronic or the Iambic method.

With that in mind it would seem that the bug would be a good first choice.

I know that the style of key will probably bring much debate here, but understand that my goal is to learn the code the proper way so I can follow (and perhaps later transmit) at the correct speed that is used on the airwaves today.

I do have a limited budget and I am not looking to spend more than $100 on a key.

So now I would like to know what my choices would be for a first time key.  Should I go with an older style bug?  Should I go with an iambic paddle (but just not use the squeeze key function)?

Any advice would be appreciated.

Thank You,

Geo



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N3QE
Member

Posts: 2364




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« Reply #1 on: March 25, 2009, 06:25:02 AM »

By FAR, the WORST CW I hear on the air are hams trying to use bugs who don't know how to use bugs. They're really easy to spot: way too many dits or the wrong number of dits. Most of the time they also have very very poor intercharacter and interword spacing.

Don't take this as a slam against bugs. But using them properly is not trivial. Most of the hams trying to use them but failing are not newbies (although some are).

I see no reason to not start using a straight key... that's what I did an increasing chunk of a century ago. Your code with a straight key won't be perfect at first, and everyone you have a QSO with will bend over backwards to accomodate you. Get on the air with a bug but not knowing how to use it... this is far far far harder to accomodate. Not that I don't try, but it's damn hard to copy those folks. At the speeds you'll be able to copy at first - say 5 to 10 WPM - there's no big problem for a physically able to person to use a straight key.

Some of the same difficulties with a bug will be there with an iambic keyer. But I see no reason to not go to an iambic keyer when you think you're ready.

It is possible to use a bug as a straight key, and I think there are advantages to side-to-side keying as opposed to up-down keying. But you could also take your old straight key and screw it to a chunk of wood so it's sideways and get the same advantage.

If you're not physically able to use a straight key, you probably will do even worse with a bug. In these cases I think it's fine to use a computer keyboard.
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N2EY
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Posts: 3913




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« Reply #2 on: March 25, 2009, 06:28:01 AM »

My advice is to start with a straight key. While it is more work than a bug or paddle, and most people can't do more than 25 wpm on a straight key, it will teach you proper spacing and other skills.

Plus you already have one.

73 de Jim, N2EY
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N9GXA
Member

Posts: 119




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« Reply #3 on: March 25, 2009, 06:33:38 AM »

  You'll probably get another lengthy set of replies, but it's all subjective as can be found in earlier posts.

  I re-started with a dual paddle, iambic Bencher BY-1 for ~$55 off of eBay. Worked fine. Didn't use the iambic squeeze option at first. I use that feature now when calm. If I mess up too much or try sending faster than I normally send, I tend to not squeeze as much. I have since bought a Vibroplex Brass Racer (Iambic, also) which uses magnetic return. I now prefer the magnetic return, but this is yet another area you can get different views depending on the posters preference.

  I wonder why your aim is a bug? Although I have never used one on the air, I have "worked" a few to  see how the repeating dit feature actually happens. Even though a bug isn't electronic, it uses mechanical parts to make the repeating dits. If you want to learn to form the characters yourself, I'd say stay with the straight key. Otherwise, make it easy on yourself and get an iambic paddle of some sort.

  I can turn off my keyer and use my paddle as a straight key in a side-swiper fashion. I haven't attempted that on the air, but it shows me how much the keyer works for me. I guess I want to make it as easy as possible for the receiving op to understand what I am trying to send.

73 - Paul - N9GXA
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W5ESE
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Posts: 550


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« Reply #4 on: March 25, 2009, 07:40:50 AM »

I agree with Jim.

I would use one of the straight keys you already
have. They'll keep you suitably entertained for
a year (or more).

Honestly, with a bug, it's difficult to send
slower than 20-25 wpm and have it sound right.

73
Scott
W5ESE
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AA4N
Member

Posts: 111




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« Reply #5 on: March 25, 2009, 09:07:34 AM »

Hi,

I'm a fairly new ham, I got started about a year ago.  I've concentrated almost exclusively on CW, and have now used all three of the key types that you mentioned.  Here's my take.

Straight Key:  Start there, you shouldn't be sending code faster than you can copy it, and it will be a while before you are going so fast that sending with a straight key is slowing you down or causing fatigue.  It's the best way to learn code and develope a proper feel for how to form the characters.

Bug:  I love bugs, I got mine after about 3 months.  You'll need a bug tamer (and extra weight that you attach to the arm) to slow it down.  They don't go much slower than 20-25 wpm in stock form.  They require a good bit of skill (a lot of practice) to get clean code out of them, but once you've got the touch they are very satisfying and a lot less work than a straight key.  They say that if you play music it's a great help when learning a bug.  As it turns out I play lots of instruments (including banjo).  I agree, the timing used with a bug is a lot like playing piano, or banjo, or fingerpicking a guitar.  I picked it up quicker than most but I'm still only good for about 15wpm.

Paddles:  Wow, I got my first keyer and paddles about a month ago.  These things really feel like cheating after using a bug for 9 months.  They clean up all kinds of sloppy sending and make sending squeaky clean code a breeze.  A memory keyer makes contesting ridiculously easy (I'm talking world-class cheating).  When I reach the point that I'm doing hour long rag-chews at 40wpm, I'm definitely going for the paddles.  However, I've noticed that if I use the paddles for a few days, my bug fist really suffers and it takes a few hours to get the timing sorted out again.  The keyer almost encourages sloppy sending.

Conclusion:  I love old retro gear.  So, the bug is my first choice.  It makes me really happy when folks compliment my bug fist.  But, you should spend your first few months with a straight key, just to get the basics down.  When you are ready to graduate, either the bug or paddles are a great choice.  Paddles are really easy and effortless and a good keyer makes contesting an exercise in pushing buttons.  The bugs are a big improvement in ergonomics, and go much faster than a straight key, but they take lots of practice and skill.  The choice is yours.

I got both Smiley

73 de AA4N
mike

PS.  Just don't go the keyboard route...  
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JUKINGEO
Member

Posts: 31




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« Reply #6 on: March 25, 2009, 09:11:32 AM »

<<By FAR, the WORST CW I hear on the air are hams trying to use bugs who don't know how to use bugs. They're really easy to spot: way too many dits or the wrong number of dits. Most of the time they also have very very poor intercharacter and interword spacing.

Don't take this as a slam against bugs. But using them properly is not trivial. Most of the hams trying to use them but failing are not newbies (although some are).>>

So would I be better off with paddles then?

<<I see no reason to not start using a straight key... that's what I did an increasing chunk of a century ago. Your code with a straight key won't be perfect at first, and everyone you have a QSO with will bend over backwards to accomodate you. Get on the air with a bug but not knowing how to use it... this is far far far harder to accomodate. Not that I don't try, but it's damn hard to copy those folks. At the speeds you'll be able to copy at first - say 5 to 10 WPM - there's no big problem for a physically able to person to use a straight key.>>

Ok, I was just trying to avoid any plateaus and then have to learn all over again with a different key.

<<Some of the same difficulties with a bug will be there with an iambic keyer. But I see no reason to not go to an iambic keyer when you think you're ready.>>

Well, after I read that one document I put in my initial post, I did try the movements of a straight key versus the wrist rocking motion uses for bug or paddle operation.  The wrist rocking motion seems more natural because you set your fingers at a set spacing.  So in a way I can see how that can produce less fatigue than using a straight key.

<<It is possible to use a bug as a straight key, and I think there are advantages to side-to-side keying as opposed to up-down keying. But you could also take your old straight key and screw it to a chunk of wood so it's sideways and get the same advantage.>>

Hmmm, that wouldn't quite be the same. A straight key normally opposes gravity from the bottom, if you turn that now on it's side, wouldn't it be thrown out of balance?

<<If you're not physically able to use a straight key, you probably will do even worse with a bug.>>

No, I am physically able.  Like I said, I WAS going to go with a straight key because I already have a couple.  But it was the recent research I was doing on CW that seem to have many people favoring a paddle or bug type key.  After seeing that document and having it show me how much more movement you need to operate a straight key, it did get me to rethink the idea of using a straight key to learn on.

 <<In these cases I think it's fine to use a computer keyboard.>>

That would kind of kill the ham radio 'experience' for me. The whole point of this project is to experience 'older' forms of communication in the form of morse code and to learn to send it the proper way and not use all these keyer devices or programs.  If I were to resort to a computer, then I just may as well stick to what I am doing now...posting in forums on-line.

Thanx,

Geo
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N3QE
Member

Posts: 2364




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« Reply #7 on: March 25, 2009, 09:17:37 AM »

Oh, and don't get too wrapped up in the "iambic myth" theory.

90%+ of the hams you hear on the air using a keyer are using an iambic keyer and don't worry about it one bit. It may not be natural to those who've never done it, but for those who have done it, it is perfectly natural.

Yes, I use an iambic keyer when I'm not using a straight key.
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JUKINGEO
Member

Posts: 31




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« Reply #8 on: March 25, 2009, 09:20:47 AM »

<<My advice is to start with a straight key. While it is more work than a bug or paddle, and most people can't do more than 25 wpm on a straight key, it will teach you proper spacing and other skills.

Plus you already have one.>>

Ok, this is one of my keys:

http://www.w1tp.com/8280a.jpg

It is a brand new Navy surplus key.

I also have a Bunnell key, but that is in storage.  It isn't in as nice shape as the Navy key is.

Geo
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JUKINGEO
Member

Posts: 31




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« Reply #9 on: March 25, 2009, 09:29:21 AM »

<<I re-started with a dual paddle, iambic Bencher BY-1 for ~$55 off of eBay. Worked fine. Didn't use the iambic squeeze option at first.

I wonder why your aim is a bug? Although I have never used one on the air, I have "worked" a few to see how the repeating dit feature actually happens. Even though a bug isn't electronic, it uses mechanical parts to make the repeating dits. If you want to learn to form the characters yourself, I'd say stay with the straight key. Otherwise, make it easy on yourself and get an iambic paddle of some sort.>>

Well, one of the reasons I aimed for the bug was because it wasn't electronic and would require a normal two terminal connection.  Correct me if I am wrong, but doesn't an Iambic paddle need something else. I see three terminals on them.  Thus this may not be compatible with an older transmitter/transceiver.  Since the bug works mechanically and is a standard two terminal key, that is what I homed in on.

<<I can turn off my keyer and use my paddle as a straight key in a side-swiper fashion.>>

I didn't know you can do this.  I thought with a paddle you must use some kind of electronic keying circuit.

<< I haven't attempted that on the air, but it shows me how much the keyer works for me. I guess I want to make it as easy as possible for the receiving op to understand what I am trying to send.>>

I do want to learn the proper way and not let an electronic device 'form' anything for me.  I will be totally honest with you that considering I am a 'nostalgia' buff, I wasn't considering anything BUT a straight key.  BUT when I saw that there is less fatigue and increased speed using a bug or paddle, well, that caught my attention.

Geo
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JUKINGEO
Member

Posts: 31




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« Reply #10 on: March 25, 2009, 09:32:22 AM »

I agree with Jim.

I would use one of the straight keys you already
have. They'll keep you suitably entertained for
a year (or more).

Honestly, with a bug, it's difficult to send
slower than 20-25 wpm and have it sound right.

Wouldn't it be then difficult to change over?  I have heard many say they wish they started with paddles (or a bug) than a straight key.

Geo
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JUKINGEO
Member

Posts: 31




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« Reply #11 on: March 25, 2009, 09:47:17 AM »

Hello Mike

<<Straight Key: Start there... It's the best way to learn code and develope a proper feel for how to form the characters.>>

Wow, seems like the consensus is favoring the straight key for learning.  

<<Bug: I love bugs, I got mine after about 3 months. You'll need a bug tamer (and extra weight that you attach to the arm) to slow it down. They don't go much slower than 20-25 wpm in stock form. They require a good bit of skill (a lot of practice) to get clean code out of them, but once you've got the touch they are very satisfying and a lot less work than a straight key.>>

I saw a few operators use a bug on YouTube and was immediately fascinated with it. Sure the unit mechanically forms the dots for you, but overall it still has a nice 'antique' look to it and since it is a standard two wire hookup, it could attach to most older rigs and CPO's as well as newer ones.

<<Paddles: Wow, I got my first keyer and paddles about a month ago. These things really feel like cheating after using a bug for 9 months. They clean up all kinds of sloppy sending and make sending squeaky clean code a breeze. A memory keyer makes contesting ridiculously easy (I'm talking world-class cheating). ...However, I've noticed that if I use the paddles for a few days, my bug fist really suffers and it takes a few hours to get the timing sorted out again. The keyer almost encourages sloppy sending.>>

Wow! You said it right there.  This is what I was talking about.  That is why I mentioned I don't want to get into the habit of using the Iambic squeeze style.  I don't want to get into a 'cheating' habit or develop bad manual keying techniques.  I don't want to rely on keyers to do it for me.  Now I don't know if Iambic paddles can be hooked up to standard two terminal rigs.  I have a two terminal CPO design I want to use and I am not sure if I can use an Iambic paddle on such a unit.

<<Conclusion: I love old retro gear. So, the bug is my first choice. It makes me really happy when folks compliment my bug fist. But, you should spend your first few months with a straight key, just to get the basics down. When you are ready to graduate, either the bug or paddles are a great choice. Paddles are really easy and effortless and a good keyer makes contesting an exercise in pushing buttons.>>

Can you use Paddles 'manually' without a keyer?

<<The bugs are a big improvement in ergonomics, and go much faster than a straight key, but they take lots of practice and skill. The choice is yours.

I got both Smiley>>

Ok. Well, if I am not hampering my future ability by going first with the straight key, then I will do that.  But after your description of the bug AND coupling that with what I saw on You Tube, I think I still would like to go that route.

The bug just seems like a nice way to transmit code fast, and yet do it mechanically without resorting to using 'cheating' electronics.

<<73 de AA4N
mike

PS. Just don't go the keyboard route...>>

No way! THAT is out of the question.

Thanx for the insite

Geo
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JUKINGEO
Member

Posts: 31




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« Reply #12 on: March 25, 2009, 09:55:57 AM »

Hello again guys...

I had a thought that came to me and it is slightly off topic, but related.  I was wondering if there was a way to hook up a key to a computer and then get a program that can evaluate if I am sending characters correctly?  Is there such a thing?
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W5ESE
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Posts: 550


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« Reply #13 on: March 25, 2009, 12:06:45 PM »

>> Honestly, with a bug, it's difficult to send
>> slower than 20-25 wpm and have it sound right.

> Wouldn't it be then difficult to change over?
> I have heard many say they wish they started
> with paddles (or a bug) than a straight key.

There is a certain amount of starting over.

But at that point -

o you will be proficient at copying morse code
at a speed of 16 wpm or higher

o you will know how good code is supposed to
sound

o you will be familiar with on-the-air cw
prosigns and operating procedures

At that point, you can concentrate -only-
on sending properly with paddles + electronic
keyer or a bug.

Where a lot of new ops get into trouble is
taking on too much at one time (which makes
it tough on the poor slob trying to copy
them).

I've heard some hams say they wished they'd
started with paddles + electronic keyer,
but I've never heard anyone say they wished
they had started with a bug. It is the most
difficult of the keying instruments to send
with and sound really good.

In truth, there is a lot of sloppy,
difficult-to-copy bug sending on the ham
bands. (I've probably been guilty of
generating some of it myself).

The *best* bug sending I've ever heard came
from the old maritime station KPH, on the
west coast during their annual 'Night of
Nights'.

http://www.radiomarine.org/night-1.html

I could tell the operator was sending with
a bug - but I had to listen carefully to be
able to tell! I was truly in awe! I'm sure
it must have been a retired maritime
operator.

73
Scott
W5ESE
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JUKINGEO
Member

Posts: 31




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« Reply #14 on: March 25, 2009, 03:24:57 PM »

Hello Scott

<<There is a certain amount of starting over.>>

Yes, I read about that a few times.

<<But at that point -

o you will be proficient at copying morse code
at a speed of 16 wpm or higher>>

And that speed CAN be attained with a straight key, correct?

<<o you will know how good code is supposed to
sound

o you will be familiar with on-the-air cw
prosigns and operating procedures

At that point, you can concentrate -only-
on sending properly with paddles + electronic
keyer or a bug.>>

Ok, then...that sounds good to me. Saves me the purchase of another item when I can use what I have.

<<Where a lot of new ops get into trouble is
taking on too much at one time (which makes
it tough on the poor slob trying to copy
them).>>

LOL!  Yes, someone mention something similar to me when I first mentioned I was going to just learn morse code using a program and a key with a CPO. Then that person told me that I would only be learning half of what I need and he suggested for me to get a ham radio as well.  I immediately agreed.  This way I could learn to read the code and listen to live examples.

<<I've heard some hams say they wished they'd
started with paddles + electronic keyer,
but I've never heard anyone say they wished
they had started with a bug. It is the most
difficult of the keying instruments to send
with and sound really good.>>

I am just starting out, so I really don't know better.  I am mostly working from advice through this site as well as through a couple of other sources.  So if you say it is hard, I am not in a position to argue that point.  I picked the bug solely on the fact that it was faster, easier on the hand, and in the YouTube videos I seen, it just looked WAY cool.  Furthermore, it didn't need any special keyers.  It struck me as a simple device, but yet had an air of elegance to it.  That is the only reason why I selected it.  I never actually played around with a bug or Iambic paddle before.

<<In truth, there is a lot of sloppy,
difficult-to-copy bug sending on the ham
bands. (I've probably been guilty of
generating some of it myself).>>

Ok, then I guess I will stick with the straight key for now.

<<The *best* bug sending I've ever heard came
from the old maritime station KPH, on the
west coast during their annual 'Night of
Nights'.

http://www.radiomarine.org/night-1.html

I could tell the operator was sending with
a bug - but I had to listen carefully to be
able to tell! I was truly in awe! I'm sure
it must have been a retired maritime
operator.>>

Wow!  That is SOME rig that place has!

Well, I guess I will look into a bug when the time comes.  But for now it looks like it is unanimous from everyone's opinion that I should stick with the straight key first.  So that is what I will do then.

So now it is on to looking for a CPO.

Thanx for the info.

Geo
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