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Author Topic: New to CW, what key should I use?  (Read 13189 times)
K5LXP
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« Reply #30 on: March 28, 2009, 09:05:43 AM »

OK, I'll join with W9OY as another one that doesn't recommend a straight key for learning.  In my opinion, either a single or dual lever keyer better reinforces correct timing in your mind.  With a hand key, timing is arbitrary and everything sounds "right" to you until you have much, much more experience.   To me, an electronic keyer is *the* primary CW generation tool, period.  You can send more accurately and conveniently at any speed and without one you are at a competitive disadvantage in a contest.  There's a reason iambic keyers are so pervasive these days.  What happens when you want to operate portable or mobile and you don't want to, or can't haul your bug along with you?  Are you going to work a (competitive) Field Day station with a hand key?  With keyers built into just about every rig made these days, you should be versed in operating one at some modicum of skill.  

Next difficult on my list would be the venerable hand key.  Once you've mastered a keyer, then hand key operation comes more naturally.  You know exactly what it should sound like, so it's a matter of perfecting the technique to mimic the timing you already have in your mind.  Anything above 15 WPM or so takes a lot of practice and is quite tiring, so I would reserve hand key operating to casual QSO's.  To me it's just a novelty to send with a hand key, something to do for fun or sport once in a while.  If you ever get proficient enough to receive 25+ WPM, you won't want to be limited by hand key speeds.  You'll be reaching for that keyer more and more.

Bugs are the hardest to master, but they are also the classiest way to operate CW.  In no way would I suggest a newcomer to start off with a bug, there's just too many variables to master all at once.  Even RR telegraphers and Navy CW ops had to earn the privilege of using a bug.  That's why as other posters have mentioned, you hear a lot of crappy sounding bug ops on CW.  *They* think they sound great, because they haven't heard and sent enough good code to know the difference.  That, or they think the "swing" they impart sounds clever or esoteric.  Swing can sound classy, but it's a fine line between swing and crappy.

There's no reason you can't have all of these in your shack and dabble with each of them interchangeably but the bottom line is to reinforce good timing in your sent code with something that generates good timing.  From there you can move onto the manually timed methods with more confidence.


Mark K5LXP
Albuquerque, NM
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KN1W
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Posts: 76




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« Reply #31 on: March 28, 2009, 03:47:55 PM »

In my very humble opinion, I think you have to make it fun.

Hams like gadgets and doohickyes. Some hams drop cw right away because it is not fun with a straight key, there is not enough toys for it. When you open the box of cool things, like keyers and different types of paddles then at that point you have their attention.

Start by getting an inexpensive By-1 Bencher iambic paddle or the MFJ equivalent. Decide either to use the internal keyer of your radio or an external keyer. Find one of those AEA electronic keyers with QSO simulation for practice, these items are very inexpensive on Ebay or check around in the Eham classifieds.

Later on you can get yourself some straight keys or bugs and join SKCC. Bugs are hard but their cool.

Learn the history of Vibroplex and check con McElroy's legacy.

Different keys are fun, make it fun.
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VA7CPC
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« Reply #32 on: March 28, 2009, 04:46:43 PM »

The April, 2009 issue of "CQ" has a long article on sideswipers, with lots of pictures.

Trying to get agreement among hams about "the best <anything> " is like herding cats.

        Charles
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JUKINGEO
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« Reply #33 on: March 28, 2009, 08:56:01 PM »

Hello Charles

<<Nobody has mentioned the sideswiper yet, but it has deep historical roots. There's a good introduction on the Web:

www.mtechnologies.com/cootie.htm

It's simple, completely mechanical, faster than a straight key, and less likely to give you tendonitis.>>

Hmmm, I didn't know about this one either.  So they call it a "cootie" key?  From the initial description, it sounds interesting  

<<If you want to, you can wire a paddle as a sideswiper by paralleling the dit and day contacts. But it's easy to fashion a sideswiper out of a hacksaw blade and some small bolts. There's a long tradition of that kind of improvisation. >>

I never thought of that either...just paralleling the contacts of a paddle

<<If you haven't found "The Art and Skill of Radio Telegraphy", you'll enjoy it:

www.qsl.net/n9bor/n0hff.htm

If you want to check your sending, download a copy of "CWGet" (CW-reading software), and send the output of your code-practice oscillator to your computer sound card input.

If CWGet prints what you _think_ you're sending, with a straight key, you have an exceptionally good fist.>>

Sounds great!  Thanx for the info!

Geo
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JUKINGEO
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« Reply #34 on: March 28, 2009, 09:05:25 PM »

<< To me, an electronic keyer is *the* primary CW generation tool, period. You can send more accurately and conveniently at any speed and without one you are at a competitive disadvantage in a contest. >>

As of the moment I am not interested in contests. But that might change.

<< With keyers built into just about every rig made these days, you should be versed in operating one at some modicum of skill. >>

I am also not interested in a modern rig. Right at the beginning of my post I did say I preferred something with vacuum tubes. I don't like the look of many of the modern sets.  I have looked at some hybrid (SS & tube) sets though by Drake and Kenwood.

<<Next difficult on my list would be the venerable hand key. Once you've mastered a keyer, then hand key operation comes more naturally. You know exactly what it should sound like, so it's a matter of perfecting the technique to mimic the timing you already have in your mind.>>

Couldn't I also get that timing from listening to code on the air?

<< Anything above 15 WPM or so takes a lot of practice and is quite tiring, so I would reserve hand key operating to casual QSO's. To me it's just a novelty to send with a hand key, something to do for fun or sport once in a while.>>

That is what I want to do, just have fun learning code.  But I would like to learn to do it myself and not rely on some 'automatic' device.

<<If you ever get proficient enough to receive 25+ WPM, you won't want to be limited by hand key speeds. You'll be reaching for that keyer more and more.>>

We will see.

<<Bugs are the hardest to master, but they are also the classiest way to operate CW.>>

So I been told.  Yes, I do agree about the 'classy' part.  I saw some YouTube videos with a guy using a bug and it does look very elegant. I guess that is why I gravitated towards it.

Thank You,

Geo
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JUKINGEO
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« Reply #35 on: March 28, 2009, 09:10:43 PM »

The April, 2009 issue of "CQ" has a long article on sideswipers, with lots of pictures.

Trying to get agreement among hams about "the best <anything> " is like herding cats.

Well, perhaps you are right, but thusfar it looks like most are leaning towards the straight key and since I have that already, I may as well give it a shot.

While my opinion on keyers may change in the future, I am against it right now.

I do like the bug and eventually that is where I would like to end up.  But given the difficulty to learn it properly I will hold off on it.

I am going to do more research on the "cootie" or sideswiper key as this was something I didn't know about.

Again, thanx for the info.

Geo
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QRZDXR2
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« Reply #36 on: April 25, 2009, 11:03:33 PM »

I use both... J-38 and vibroplex paddle...

so my advise is use what you have.. be happy... and buy what you think you want.  Ebay has lots of people who found the bug didn't work for them...

Most ops don't mind you using a keyboard or electronic keyer.. (problem is then they can't tell who you are...as you don't have your personal signature on the way you send CW... ) so long as you don't copy using the computer.  Its a tradition thing.    If you  find a key you like.. keep it and use it.

Now want to have some real fun... go fieldday with your cw rig out in the boonies. Lots of fun.  
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CTHAM
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« Reply #37 on: April 28, 2009, 06:33:27 PM »

I've been trying to learn on and off but I really have not taken the time to learn the right way.. I have a MFJ-557 keyer I have a problem with doing dah..they don't seem long enough.
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K7KBN
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« Reply #38 on: April 28, 2009, 07:06:36 PM »

The 557 shows on the MFJ site as simply an oscillator with a key attached -- no place for connecting another key or paddle as far as I can see.

So if the "dah" isn't long enough, hold the key down a bit longer.
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73
Pat K7KBN
CWO4 USNR Ret.
WA2WMR
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« Reply #39 on: April 30, 2009, 08:14:13 AM »

As for getting the timing by listening to CW on the air, only if it is being sent by machine that is set to send "perfect code".

I started out using a Navy "flameproof" (the black key pictured early on in this thread). I had the contact spaced so there was almost no movement of the key. Eventually this did become tiring and I got a Heathkit keyer with the built in paddle. The keyer worked great with my SB-102, but the paddle was impossible get any fine adjustment with. So I got a Vibroplex Vibro Keyer to use as a paddle with the Heathkit keyer. Again, the contact spacing was such that there was hardly any movement.

Then about a year and a half ago (I've been licensed since 1962) I decided that I couldn't call myself a ham unless I could use a bug. Got a Vibroplex Blue Racer (that's what my Elmer had back in the '60s). Can't do minimum contact spacing with a bug. It needs movement to get the arm swinging. This resulted in having to cross a big gap going from dit side to dah side. Also, controling it was difficult because it wants to run at 20+ WPM. Bought an extra weight. That slowed it down a little, but not enough. Added two 370 grain black powder bullets as well and got it to where it was just controlable, but not happy with it. Finally broke down and got the variable speed arm the Vibroplex sells, but instead of installing it up at an angle, I put it straight out through the damper. With just one weight on it, it runs about the same as they were sending from Descheco Island DXpedition. That weight is fixed in place. To go slower, I add the other standard weight but don't tighten it down. I just position it on the arm where it gives me the speed I want (I have great difficulty slowing down via the Koch method.) If I replace it with the heavier weight, it slows way down but sometimes I wonder if it will finish the character 5.

The big problem I had was with a string of dits followed by a dah, such as V or 4. There was either a big gap or I would clip the last dit. I've had the bug for about a year and a half now and that isn't much of a problem unless I try to send at a speed much slower than the key is set for.

Another problem with a bug is the length of the dahs. They tend to be too long for the dits being created. I found a good way to check myself with this was to go back to the paddle but try to form the dahs manually. When you are sending long dahs, the keyer will smack you in the head with a 2x4 and let you know you are dragging anchor.

So, bottom line, net net net, go with the straight key and don't worry about speed. Enjoy yourself. Get to be inimately familiar with CW, especially what "perfect" CW sound like. Make a little effort to match what that sound like. Then get whatever bug/keyer strikes your fancy and pocketbook (there's a real slick Japanese dual arm bug available for about $1500) and enjoy yourslf.

(By the way, I think that getting a code reader and sending to it is a great idea)
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W9OY
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« Reply #40 on: April 30, 2009, 03:33:12 PM »

well heck if you want tubes find yourself the original keyer, a W9TO keyer  It was MADE out of tubes, and use a single lever paddle

You will be a CW maven

73
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VA7CPC
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« Reply #41 on: May 01, 2009, 08:51:39 AM »

>>
So would I be better off with paddles then?
<<

Yes, yes, yes.  If you want to send good code, at reasonable speeds, with a short learning curve, that's the way to go.

Get a used Bencher BY-1 iambic paddle  on eBay, learn to use it, and _get on the air_.

If you want to try a single paddle, the Bencher SP-1 and Autronic paddles (and other single-lever paddles) come up for auction from time to time.

If you decide to use a straight key, or a bug, more power to you!

You're trying to make sense out of a religious argument.  There _is no sense_, and there will never be agreement.  Decide on what you want to do, do it, and stop trying to justify it in the face of contrary opinions.

      Charles


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N5PHT
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« Reply #42 on: July 07, 2013, 06:44:47 AM »

Amen on the bugs.  I CQ a lot and if a op with a bug comes back I don't even want to answer. It seems lately that bug ops are so different it is almost a subset of CW!  Oh well, the bugs are neat to look at but seems a lot of folks don't use them very well in my view.
Gary, N5PHT (currently portable in the Pacific Northwest in my 5th wheel RV with 100w and screwdriver antenna.
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N3HFS
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« Reply #43 on: July 07, 2013, 09:47:33 AM »

I enjoyed reading this great thread!

My only comment (and this doesn't disparage anyone or any sort of keying):

Bug = Steampunk    Grin
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W4TRJ
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« Reply #44 on: July 07, 2013, 06:27:09 PM »

Reading your original post, you sound like you want to be "genuine" and be able to really send Morse, like you'd be able to tap it out on a table somewhere with your pencil and have it understood across the room in a meeting.

I commend that, myself.

You've got the straight key, Use it. Follow the tradition. The tradition was that a man would start using a straight key and get good at it. Remember you have to be able to copy at the speed you send -- so unless you are some kind of prodigy a straight key will suit you fine for a while.

You won't suffer any kind of injuries using a straight key if you don't start suddenly sending for hours a day. Youtube has some military instruction videos. Watch them.

You can take an old unused mouse, gut the insides, wire a pair of small wires to the button contacts and connect to a key. You can practice your sending at lcwo.net at one of their pages, which is a reader. You just have to position the cursor over the button somehow, and use the key. I have a laptop with a trackpad so that's how I did it. A handy thing. Can be quite humbling.

Check out http://aa9pw.com/, they have a good practice page.

W1AW is gorgeous code to listen to.

In my experience, learning what good code sounded like by copying good code was the way to learn to send good code also. No different than learning to play a musical instrument.

I cannot agree with those who say "it's hard to send consistently with a straight key." It's hard if you don't practice it. It's hard if you say "screw it, I'm gettin  keyer." Or, we can say, yes, it's hard, and you sound like someone who wants to learn it and in part because it's hard to do. So learn it. Don't worry about what people say you CAN'T do. Worry about what you CAN do.

If you feel like a computer keyboard is cheating, it would seem that you would find using a keyer is the same thing.

I have no experience with keyers and anything electronic. Not interested in it. I want to make my code myself. No disprespect to those who choose to have gizmo do it for them.

Later on, you can pick up a bug. I was given a Lightning Bug by a friend. Very odd motion and operation at first. Once it's well adjusted, and with an extra weight, it is really fun to use. I practiced a pretty good while before I dared to put it on the air. I have my straight key (vizkey camelback) and the bug hooked together, and will often go back and forth in a qso or swap between them every other qso or so.

It is correct that there are some ops on the air whose bug work (and straight key work, too) sounds terrible -- jerky etc. The simple answer to that is don't work them. Some of the keyer guys dont know how to slow down for a newcomer either, so even though their code is perfect, so what? You'll find plenty of people you can work. The main thing is to get on the air. Fiddling around on a computer ain't gonna teach you how to send code.

Just get your straight key, learn how to adjust it, start sending. You dont need whizbang. You just need to practice. Get a letter from your church or insurance agency or some similar gov't type paper, send it every morning while you're drinking coffee. After a while you will get good at it. It's boring but it will have long words and punctuation in it. Be critical of yourself and your sending and you will get good.

Join SKCC. Through that group you will meet some older guys who will be very helpful.

Pay close attention to character spacing and word spacing. Strive to send code that is easy to copy. Speed is irrelevant if it's hard to copy and innaccurate. You will hear many ops who just send one long stream of characters with no spacing whatsoever. If Morse is another language (which I agree that it is), one would no more talk a stream of words without spacing between them than they would fly to Jupiter. But people send code that way. Beautifully formed, I'm sure with a keyer. But unintelligible.

Start with a straight key. Get a bug later. Don't start with one. Start at the beginning. Don't sacrifice the fundamentals of an old art for modern thingamabobs.

And like several guys said, have fun.

DC




















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