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Author Topic: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation  (Read 10774 times)
KK6CZP
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Posts: 9




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« on: December 10, 2013, 08:54:18 PM »

Most of the posts that I have read recommend learning on a straight key and not paddle.  For someone just starting out, what might you folks recommend.  Funds are not necessarily an issue, but I dont want to break the bank either. Also, I have insisted to myself that I will not 'cheat' and rely on radio/computer generated CW, but will learn in some old school way. Any and all insights appreciated.  Thanks.
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KQ6Q
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« Reply #1 on: December 10, 2013, 09:44:27 PM »

The Ameco K-4 is reasonably priced, gets the job done. You'll want to mount it on a base plate - it's designed to mount on a base plate or directly to an operating table. If you want a classy little kit to build, try the American Morse KK1.
My straight key is a WW2 surplus J-47. which is a J-37 on a Bakelite base plate. Same basic design as the Ameco K4, except the spring is a leaf instead of a conical coil.
You'll keep a straight key even when you start using paddles and a keyer - when you need to send something a lot slower for someone, it's a whole lot easier just to switch to the straight key rather than adjust your keyer speed knob.
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K8AXW
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« Reply #2 on: December 10, 2013, 09:44:58 PM »

CZP:  You'll get a lot of advice on this one OM...... so settle down and wait for it.....

My personal recommendation is to get a straight key.  Set it up properly (one thickness of postcard spacing between the contacts.....return spring set up soft so you don't have to wear yourself out operating the lever......pivot bearings set so you don't have lateral movement) and learn to form the characters.

This is the only reason I recommend the straight key....is to learn control and formulation of each character element.

Some will say you can do the same thing with a keyer which in my opinion isn't true.  With the keyer you're learning to control the paddle and the keyer is forming the character elements.

As for the "cheating," as far as I'm concerned the only "cheating" is if you allow a computer or any electronic device send and receive the code for you.  In this case you haven't actually learned the code.

Good luck, take your time and above all..... have fun!  Once you learn the code it opens a whole new world of amateur radio for you.

Al - K8AXW
« Last Edit: December 10, 2013, 09:47:41 PM by K8AXW » Logged
KK6CZP
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Posts: 9




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« Reply #3 on: December 10, 2013, 09:56:22 PM »

AXW - Thanks for the kind feedback...yes, that was the cheating aspect that I meant.  I'll sit tight and wait for others to wade in.  I do indeed look forward to another entire aspect of the hobby!
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W0BTU
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« Reply #4 on: December 10, 2013, 10:04:19 PM »

My opinion: forget the straight key. Just buy a cheap Bencher dual-paddle unit and learn iambic keying. Your life will be so much easier sending dits as you increase your CW speed.
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VA7CPC
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« Reply #5 on: December 10, 2013, 10:21:14 PM »

My opinion: forget the straight key. Just buy a cheap Bencher dual-paddle unit and learn iambic keying. Your life will be so much easier sending dits as you increase your CW speed.

+1.

As you probably know, this is a "religious argument".   There's no solid evidence for either side of it, and nobody ever changes his mind.

.            Charles

PS -- used Benchers are cheap; new ones are not.  For a _new_ paddle, the American Morse Equipment paddles, and/or K8RA paddles, may be your best bet.  Or a piece of hacksaw blade, between two contacts.   Or two K-4 keys, mounted back-to-back.

PPS -- most important -- get on the air!
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KK6CZP
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« Reply #6 on: December 10, 2013, 10:28:47 PM »

As you probably know, this is a "religious argument". 

Yes, i knew i was walking into something, but all thoughts are welcome.  Thanks to all that have posted so far.
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GW3OQK
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Posts: 133




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« Reply #7 on: December 11, 2013, 01:09:13 AM »

My opinion: Forget the paddle. Buy a good solid straight key and fasten it to the bench so it cant move. You'll have complete control of the quality of your morse that way.
Andrew
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M0LEP
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Posts: 200




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« Reply #8 on: December 11, 2013, 02:02:57 AM »

A good Morse key is not likely to be particularly cheap, and a cheap key is unlikely to be good (though you may get lucky and pick up a second-hand bargain). If you try to learn with a poor key you won't be helping yourself. It's probably a lot more practical to learn with whatever equipment you're going to use when you get on the air. If your rig has a built-in keyer and you plan to use a paddle, get a decent paddle and learn with it from the start...
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W1JKA
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« Reply #9 on: December 11, 2013, 02:15:31 AM »

Learning the code and proper character spacing is ONE thing, learning to send properly on anything other than a straight key is ONE thing. Your decision, do you want to learn one thing at a time properly or take your chances at learning both at once?
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M0LEP
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Posts: 200




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« Reply #10 on: December 11, 2013, 03:06:54 AM »

Learning to read the code is one thing, and learning to send it is the other. The key vs. paddle argument is very like the automobile manual vs. automatic argument. A straight key leaves everything to you. A paddle and keyer does some of the work for you, but to work smoothly you have to play by its rules.

Either way, a poor quality key will make life difficult.

The swinger for me was the number and nature of muscle movements needed to form characters; I found out quite quickly (over just a few months) that RSI (from too many years of computer keyboards and mice) and straight keys are a bad combination, so I switched to an iambic paddle.
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K3STX
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Posts: 961




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« Reply #11 on: December 11, 2013, 03:11:09 AM »

Another vote for Ameco A-4!! Cheap and good. Once you master CW, you can decide that you are DONE with straight keys and move to paddles (as I did) or that you like straight keys and you decide to buy a real nice one for some$$$.

Learning on a straight key is indeed good for your spacing of elements, letters, etc... Also, most of us started that way, and isn't part of being in the "fraternity" of CW ops is having similar experiences?

Paul
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KB1WSY
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« Reply #12 on: December 11, 2013, 03:13:05 AM »

The Ameco K-4 is reasonably priced, gets the job done. You'll want to mount it on a base plate - it's designed to mount on a base plate or directly to an operating table.

Ameco (http://www.mtechnologies.com/ameco/keys.htm) is out of stock of the K-4 because of "problems at the factory in Japan" but you can probably find a used one. Couple of things: (1) You can still buy the nice, sturdy metal base plate which is still in stock. (2) On my K-4, the action was much too stiff even with the tension screw loosened to the max, so I went to the hardware store and bought a "looser" spring. With those two caveats, I can recommend the K-4 for a beginner (because that's what I am!).
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K7KBN
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« Reply #13 on: December 11, 2013, 07:15:38 AM »

Recently on another thread, someone posted three very important words:  SEND THE SPACES.

You learn to do that with a straight key, but not with a paddle/keyer.  The spaces between elements, letters and words are vital.  Learn the code and get good at it with a straight key.  You won't lose the sense of spacing if you move up to a bug or paddle and then revert to a straight key for whatever reason.
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73
Pat K7KBN
CWO4 USNR Ret.
N6GND
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Posts: 338




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« Reply #14 on: December 11, 2013, 11:33:31 AM »

Recently on another thread, someone posted three very important words:  SEND THE SPACES.

You learn to do that with a straight key, but not with a paddle/keyer.  The spaces between elements, letters and words are vital.  Learn the code and get good at it with a straight key.  You won't lose the sense of spacing if you move up to a bug or paddle and then revert to a straight key for whatever reason.

I completely and enthusiastically agree about learning to send the spaces correctly. You can vary other elements of characters somewhat and still have perfectly readable code, but if you don't do the spaces well, you will never send clearly.

In the past couple of days I've heard several hams obviously in the code-learning phase calling CQ at rather slow speeds but with notably poor spacing. Usually I just ignore them because they are no fun to communicate with. I did answer one guy (because I like to encourage others learning Morse) but it turned out to be such a bother that I cut the QSO short.

Start with a straight key, take your time, attend to the spaces between characters and you'll really enjoy yourself. Keep in mind that to go fast you need to go slow. Learn the proper spacing and you will have a great future as a cw op. Neglect this and your CQs will be ignored and your QSOs are likely to be cut short.
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