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Reviews Categories | Keys & Paddles | Bencher RJ-1 Handkey Help

Reviews Summary for Bencher RJ-1 Handkey
Bencher RJ-1 Handkey Reviews: 19 Average rating: 4.1/5 MSRP: $100.00
Description: Straight Key
Product is in production.
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WB5AGF Rating: 3/5 May 12, 2017 13:09 Send this review to a friend
Decent Design But Needs Better Build Quality  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
(I've had my RJ-1 for just a day; this is an initial report.)

My interest is in 'straight' Morse keys; I have experience with a fair number (tending to focus on European designs).

I bought a slightly used RJ-1 on eBay from a ham in Maine (he told me that the key probably had less than an hour's use).

On teardown (I love to take keys apart and figure out how things inter-relate) I immediately noticed that some of the screws, which hold the mounting posts ('piers') on the base, were loose. This is frequently a sign that there is a problem with binding between a key's lever arm and the mounts on the base (people try to alleviate the problem by loosening-up the screws).

I removed the spring and turned-back both the contact adjusting and front screws. Then I rotated the base so the lever arm should have been able to swing freely .... but it did not. There was significant binding between the sides of the lever arm and the edges of the bronze sleeve bearings in the mounting posts.

This is not a difficult problem to solve but it tells me that Bencher/Vibroplex (the box identifies the key as having been made after Bencher sold to Vibroplex) is not performing a final inspection on all keys before they're packed for shipping.

For my RJ-1 the 'fix' was to clear-drill the four holes in the base that are for the screws that secure the mounting posts to the base. The design of this key does not include any shims to take up lateral 'slop' of the lever arm mount and so the spacing between the sides of the lever arm and the sides of the bronze sleeve bearings (in the mounting posts) is critical.

The RJ-1 base is coated with epoxy paint or similar material. When the base was sprayed, or dipped, the screw holes in the base had already been drilled and there was nothing to block the paint from coating the sides of the holes, thus narrowing them slightly (originally the holes were tight enough such that it almost felt like the holes had been tapped as the screws had to be threaded in).

Clear-drilling the holes, with a drill bit just large enough to remove the coating, opened-up the holes enough so that there is a little space for the screws to spread-out as they begin to enter the tapped holes in the bottoms of the mounting posts. This allows the mounting posts to be far enough apart so that no binding occurs between the sides of the lever arm and the edges of the bronze sleeve bearings (in the mounting posts).

(I have sent a message to Vibroplex suggesting that they look at their specs to see if there is a design error or a manufacturing problem.)

My overall 'take' on the RJ-1 is that it's a reasonable design (which needs better build quality) with no insurmountable design flaws. I may redesign the adjusting screws to accept finger-adjustable pieces (no reason to have to use an Allen Wrench) and I believe that a better spring 'top-cap' is warranted (the original design uses a nut to push-down on the spring; it tends to bind against the spring as the adjusting screw is turned).
ZL4AX Rating: 2/5 Jul 10, 2016 20:33 Send this review to a friend
Great US Design, But....  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
At last I got one to try out! Always loved idea of a traditional, patriotic design that works well, being made to top quality modern standards. Despite none of these expectations being met, I somehow still hang on to the dream, and persist in using the RJ-1. I just like the concept.
So here's a breakdown of what I found:
1). Key looks great, but the base immediately looks too thin and cheap. Sure enough, it is way too light, and the key breaks loose from the table when pressed, nodding it's head downwards and kicking the back end up in the air. Even with minimum pressure, you still have to hold it down with your spare hand.
2). Spring is triple the strength it should be.
Even with the pressure backed-off as far as it'll go, it's three times heavier than any other key I've used in 38 years operating. This helps to make it 'nod' downwards even more.
3). With the key in a 'neutral' setup level position, all three adjustment screws are already end-stopped. One is all the way in, and the other two are out, hanging on their last thread. No further adjustment is possible.
4). With the arm disconnected and loosened, it still drags and binds. But despite this, there's still masses of side-to-side slopping-about.
5). The worst problem is the imprecise, careless manufacture. Like my previous Bencher BY-1 paddle, some of the holes weren't drilled fully, and the threads not cut all the way down, making assembly screws jam in place before they were fully tight. The rubber feet were loose because of this, making the key dance around the table and rock diagonally in use. When I tried to tighten the screws, they sheared-off to jagged stumps, stuck in the base. I had to grind them off flush, and fit adhesive feet.

All-in-all, this key is not in saleable or usable condition when it arrives. Mine's had four days in the workshop and some major engineering work, just to get it functional. And then it's only because I found a counter-spring from and old switch and put it under the opposite end of the arm, that it's even possible to use this key, due to it's extreme spring tension.

After all of that, the key has the quality feel of a two dollar bargain-store boy-scout toy practice key. Little chrome 'sparklers' still appear on the desk, as it sheds particles of metal. And there's rust UNDER the chrome, and down inside the screw holes of the base.

My two-out-of-ten is actually generous. This key SHOULD have become a standard, and a new American icon. Bencher need to do better than this.
I never expected to be making these comments.
KN6SU Rating: 5/5 Jul 13, 2013 20:12 Send this review to a friend
Bomb Proof  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
Got the basic (black base) model from HRO. It's a bit pricy. On the plus side: 1) Heavy enough to stay put on the table by itself; 2) Precisely machined parts and in particular no sideways slop on the arm pivots; 3)Precisely adjustable and stays put when adjustment screws are tightened; 4) Good gold-plated contacts; 5) Has a Navy style knob...I like it but YMMV; and, 6)It looks great (if you like the classic solid Bencher look). Some one described it as a Kharman-Ghia of keys...I'd say more like a Jeep.

Negatives: 1) Some may find the Allen-head adjustment screws a pain, but the key comes with a small wrench that stows in a clip under the base; 2)There is no side pivot adjustment (as on J-38's), and, 3)It needs adjustment before you use it, but what straight key doesn't? I was worried about #2. The key arm has no side play now, but if it loosens with use I'm not sure how to take up the slop. It looks like the lateral arm supports can be loosened and adjusted, but I'm not sure. I guess I'll cross that bridge if I ever come to it.

For now, however, it looks like the best straight key I've used.
NZ5L Rating: 4/5 Jan 15, 2013 10:32 Send this review to a friend
The Karmann-Ghia of hand keys  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
The RJ-1 is a thing of beauty, deseving a place on any ham's desk. However, the actual feel of the key is strictly J-38 - not bad, but not great. The Chinese made K-4 has a better, more precise feel, but looks rather pedestrian next to the RJ-1. My ideal key would combine the precise, clipped feel of the K-4 with the RJ-1's tuxedo-like presence. I wish they had gone with a heavier base, and softer, more gradual spring. I rate it a "4" for appearance and quality of build.
KB5PRZ Rating: 5/5 May 16, 2012 07:51 Send this review to a friend
Wonderful key.  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
I started my morse tutoring as a child with a cheap radio shack oscillator kit. Straight keys always felt right to me... so when I got a Bencher paddle, I enjoyed it for a while but soon realized I couldn't express myself the same way as I could with a straight key. I like Bencher products for their quality, design, aesthetics, engineering, materials, function and American origin. The RJ-1 was a natural fit for me and it felt wonderful right out of the box. It can be identified by the layman as a straight key without being cluttered by the various knobs and supporting components of other fine keys (the VIZ Key Camelback comes to mind--great quality and aesthetics in its own right, but too cluttered with adjustment knobs for my tastes). I have not had any issues with the spring, and my fist does not fatigue with this key.
K5RIX Rating: 5/5 Mar 15, 2012 06:04 Send this review to a friend
Excellent Modern Key  Time owned: more than 12 months
I bought my RJ-1 new in 1991. At first I didn't care for the stiff spring, so I wrote to Bencher and they sent me a softer spring free of charge. After several months I reinstalled the original (stiffer) spring and I really like it now. I have a couple rigs set up for HF and VHF so I get to use more than one key. My other straight key is a Viking Speed-X I just love. The Bencher is solid with no side-to-side wabble at all. I like that it comes with the hex wrench clipped on the bottom, and that the key gets hard wired to the connector of my choosing. Overall this is a very solid key that can send some very good code. My J-38 is fragile in comparison. I wonder about the four versus three rubber feet, but mine is flat and is steady on the operating desk. A straight key is a very personal thing, and I expect there are those who would not like this much rigidity. It works for me, and I really like it.
KK9D Rating: 5/5 Feb 4, 2012 18:52 Send this review to a friend
My Favorite  Time owned: more than 12 months
This key is heavy, does not move around on the desk, I have had no problems adjusting it and it is well made and looks good. I too have the one with the Red knob which another reviewer on here referred to as the "Know Code" model. I am considering buying another one to have around, that should be enough of an endorsement for this product right there. Although I would like to try one of those Vibroplex straight keys as well. Thanks for reading my review and have a great day, 73, cheers!
KE0Q Rating: 5/5 Jul 3, 2010 23:28 Send this review to a friend
Excellent Straight Key!  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
I recently ordered a Bencher RJ-1 from Morse Express. I live in the Philippines and had a friend bring the key into the country for me. The quality of the RJ-1 is excellent, there is no lateral movement, the base is heavy enough so it doesn't move on my desk, and adjusting the key was very easy. The RJ-1 will probably last a lot longer than I will. I also want to commend Morse Express for excellent service. Their service was prompt and accurate. Tim -- DU9/KE0Q
NC2F Rating: 4/5 Aug 3, 2009 15:40 Send this review to a friend
Good solid straight key for the masses  Time owned: more than 12 months
This was my only straight key for many years and I wouldn't hesitate recommending it to anyone. Admittedly, I did find myself spending extra time with it to get that "just right" feel and spacing.

I recently had the chance to spend more time with the Vibroplex Straight Key and decided to order one in the unique red being called the "Know Code Key". The adjustment for the Vibroplex I found to be a bit more precise, but I am not going to split hairs as they both work well for straight key night, etc...

N1YE Rating: 5/5 Dec 30, 2008 08:34 Send this review to a friend
Spring Mod turned ok key into great key!  Time owned: more than 12 months
Time has passed since I wrote my initial review of this key. After reading about what other hams had said about the spring, I replaced the spring in mine. The spring is not chromed and it is not as pretty as the one that came in the key, but...then, its just a spring. Works like a charm! It brought the adjustments back into the range that I was use to and now I really like this key. Try it if you like. :)
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