Manager - AB7RG
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The Anatomy of Paddles

Created by on 2004-06-09
The Anatomy of Paddles

The Anatomy of Paddles

WARNING: Don't read this unless you're a key nut or are seriously infected with the paddle bug (bacillus iambicus)! You may also have to show a little patience since this article contains many photos and may take a while to load ...

Since my last article on eHam, where I outed myself as just that, I have received several emails asking in essence in so many words "what do you think makes a great key ?" This is a difficult question because the answer is necessarily subjective, but fortunately there are also some criteria that can be objectively established. Since dual-lever paddles are probably the most popular type of key today, let me attempt a partial answer for "squeeze" keys here.

Let me say something up front: what I am discussing here are some finer points of paddle engineering, and some of the resulting characteristics will only be detected by the most sensitive finger tips, and they matter only at higher speeds. Any old paddle will do if you operate with large contact spacing and a high return force and you really slap it around. That, of course, imposes a natural limit on your speed, but paddles for that type of operation also tend to put less strain on your wallet. (The reverse is not true: spending a lot of money does not necessarily buy you a great paddle) For some of the paddles I'm showing here I would never dare tell my wife how much I paid, though ...

A modern iambic paddle is a compromise between several contradictory requirements, and every design tries to find its particular balance. A balanced mix of all elements is the secret of the truly great paddles. There are paddles out there where every single design element taken in isolation is not top notch, but the combination makes the result world class. On the other hand, it usually doesn't help to have one outstanding element, say the best possible bearings, if the other elements don't complement it and let everything live up to its full potential.

What you want in a iambic key are agility, perfect repeatability, excellent tactile feedback, precise adjustments of forces and geometry, zero contact closing resistance, insensitivity to temperature changes and mechanical shock, mechanical robustness, corrosion resistance, a few more points that I keep forgetting, and everything at a price next to nothing. The target price is important - as much as we key nuts are above such petty concerns - because it forces the maker to compromise or totally ignore some of these requirements. So let's take a look at some of the better paddles that I own, and find out how they did it.

Agility is largely a result of the bearings and the effective moving mass or, more precisely, the angular momentum of the arms.

The smaller the angular momentum of the arms the easier it is to accelerate them and to return them back to their original position. Also, lighter arms are usually less prone to bounce and vibration, which actually becomes a problem with some constructions (although you will rarely recognize it as such if you don't know what the effect feels like). You can reduce the mass by either using light-weight material or by reducing the dimensions of the arms, or a combination of both. If the paddle uses magnets for the return force (more about that later) it is important to mount them close to the pivot if you want to keep the angular momentum small.

The Begali Traveler, e.g., uses a light-weight alloy for mass reduction and mounts the magnets as close as possible to the pivot:

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The WBL V22 is taking size reduction very far - the arms are only 1.5 inches long ....

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The Frattini Iambic is a picture perfect example of short light-weight arms and magnets mounted close to the pivot:

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None of the very best paddles that I know have really massive arms, and reducing the angular momentum is probably one of the most important design elements in my experience. The ***** (I don't want to get hate mail ...) and its various offspring have massive arms, and that is one of the reasons why they eventually migrated from my desk to my showcase ...

Of course the best light-weight arms don't help if your paddle has poor bearings. The purpose of bearings is not only to facilitate rotation of the arms with minimal friction (after all, the arms rotate only by a tiny angle), but also to provide axial stability so that the levers move only horizontally and return to precisely the same position every time without wobbling around.

The simplest bearing, used mostly in home-brew projects, is a sleeve bearing: a hole drilled through the arm or a short tube welded to the arm that rotates around a steel pin. This is easily done without professional tools, but it is obviously far from the ideal frictionless bearing and not a solution that you would consider for a precision instrument.

The adjustable trunnion bearing is used, e.g., by Vibroplex, Schurr, Frattini and many other paddles. It is relatively simple and low-cost, but it can be sensitive to adjustments and temperature changes: tighten it a little too much and you end up with unacceptable friction, loosen it a bit and the levers start wobbling around. Only the very best makers have been able to make this work really well, and how they do it is part of their black magic.

The classical trunnion bearings of the Vibroplex provide instant visual recognition:

0x01 graphic

The frictionless two-point suspension is used, e.g., in the Vibroplex Racers, the ubiquitous Bencher, the G4ZPY. This construction is best visible in a close up of the Hamco Scotia (seems it has grown some moss in the past 25 years...):

0x01 graphic

It is practically frictionless, but the return force for the arms is also used to hold them in place. This implies that, as you reduce the return force, the whole mechanism becomes less stable. The ***** (the censor, again), e.g., requires a sizable tension if you don't want it to fly apart when you bump it. The G4ZPY and others use additional screws to reduce this problem, but they are not as robust as other designs. However, the G4ZPY sure looks like an impressive piece of machinery with all these extra screws:

0x01 graphic

Sealed ball bearings are typical for many modern high-end paddles. They provide near-frictionless rotation and excellent axial stability:

0x01 graphic

One paddle on the market employs flex bearings, a type of frictionless bearing for small rotational angles that uses a special torsion spring. In theory they are ideal, although designed for applications that are far beyond the demands of a paddle, but their cost (more than $100 for a paddle) makes them prohibitive for most designs. And even the most sensitive finger tips at the highest possible speeds could probably not detect a difference compared to high-quality sealed bearings that cost only a few dollars (I have to admit that I could never compare it personally, although I tried to get one). But again, this is one of the elements where a manufacturer has to decide how to spread the cost budget over everything that constitutes a paddle.

The paddle geometry has a major influence on tactile feedback and on temperature sensitivity. The key parameter is the leverage ratio, i.e., the distance between your finger tips and the pivot compared to the distance from the contacts to the pivot. Generally a ratio not too far off from 1:1 seems advantageous, which means that the contacts travel about the same distance as your fingers. If the finger side is much longer then a small variation in the contact gap, e.g. due to temperature variation or mechanical changes, translates into a much bigger variation at the finger side. Such a paddle has to be adjusted frequently, and if it has coarse adjustment screws you have the perfect recipe for a paddle that you can never seem to adjust right for any length of time. (Let me not show examples of that. They are abundant and can be found in all price ranges ...) The WBL V22, shown further up, maintains the ideal leverage ratio despite the diminutive size of the mechanism - made possible by the vertical arrangement.

The finger pieces are your human interface and, not surprisingly, they come in every imaginable shape and material. Since they are located at one end of the lever they make a large contribution to the angular momentum - so a light-weight material is important. Usually you'll find plastic or an aluminum alloy, but also wood and ivory and other materials have been used. The finger pieces should be fairly rigid; otherwise you get a "mushy" feeling, but some operators prefer a certain amount of flex over perfect rigidity. Here's a collection of finger pieces from some of my paddles:

0x01 graphic

Perfect repeatability (meaning the levers return exactly to the same position and require the same force every time) requires a solid and near-frictionless suspension of the arms and a means to create a return force of unvarying characteristic. Springs are used in many paddles for the return force, but for very light settings, which many operators prefer for high speed, it is easier to create a finely adjustable return force that doesn't change over time by using magnets. If a paddle uses springs they should be relatively long and weak so that they have to be compressed already a little bit for the lightest return force. If magnets are mounted on the levers, they will increase the angular momentum while springs do not. You can reduce this effect by using very small strong magnets and mount them close to the pivot, as shown in some good examples above. The Hamco Scotia and its modern incarnation, the Vibroplex Square Racer and Brass Racer actually use a ferromagnetic material for the arms, so no extra magnet on the arm itself is required. Many high-end paddles these days use magnets (and I personally prefer them), but there are some notable exceptions like the Schurr, or the Jones, or the WBL. Since your thumb and your index finger have different strength and sensitivity, it is an advantage if you can set the return force for both sides independently. The next two photos show the typical use of springs and magnets in two excellent paddles.

0x01 graphic

0x01 graphic

Contacts should have low residual resistance, resist corrosion, and the path to ground should be perfect. Many paddles use silver contacts which have low resistance but corrode easily, the Begali's use a corrosion resistant alloy, and a few paddles use the best (and most expensive) solution: gold contacts. Also important, and often overlooked, is how the ground connection is made - after all the paddle arms are moving but they should represent perfect ground. Hoping that the current just flows to ground through your bearings without much resistance may be an engineering shortcut. If you look at the close-up of the V22 again you'll see the thin wires that ground the arms. The Jones Iambic uses heavy-duty ground straps (you can also see the open ball bearings):

0x01 graphic

The Begali's employ an invisible approach, using bronze springs that are hidden in the bearing block.

Adjustments: There are several elements you want to be able to adjust in a paddle. Contact spacing and return force can be adjusted in all quality paddles. Of critical importance is how fine an adjustment can be made, and how you lock it in place once you have made it. The first depends on the thread count of the adjustment screws. Your typical hardware store screws have designations like 6-32, where 32 is the number of turns per inch. This type of screw is designed to bolt things together, but for precision adjustment purposes they are too coarse. Metric screws like M3 or M4 are a bit finer than the SAE equivalents, but still they were not designed for adjustment purposes. In a good paddle you want micro-threaded adjustment screws with a tpi (turns per inch) exceeding 40 or so. (some fine Italian makers are using 48 tpi on some of their paddles)

Once the adjustment has been made you want to make sure it stays put, and various approaches are in use for that. Most commonly you will find counter nuts - clearly visible in the Frattini up top. The disadvantage is that as you tighten the counter nut you actually pull the adjustment screw back by the tiny amount of play in the thread - so this takes a little bit of patience for really tight adjustments, but once it's locked it stays very securely in place. The Schurr, e.g., uses a split post that can be tightened to increase the friction to the point where the adjustment screw will not go out of adjustment due to vibration of just casual contact:

0x01 graphic

The Begalis use two different approaches depending on the model. One type uses a spring on the adjustment screw that creates enough tension to keep the screw from turning when you don't want it. His latest models use an invisible technique that is also used in the WBL: a spring inside the hollow post that presses a tiny ball against the adjustment screw. This is better than the friction spring in his older models because the friction force stays constant over the adjustment range.

Another aspect you probably want to adjust is the spacing and the height of the paddles. The spacing can often be controlled by adjusting the back stop of the arms. The Jones uses a nice approach with a rotating cam:

0x01 graphic

The WBL is well known for its total flexibility. You adjust the paddle spacing with washers (spacers) of different thickness as can easily be seen in the photo up top. It also allows you to adjust the paddle height using a fairly elaborate technique with two extension stubs on the arms. I personally think that is taking it a little too far because you obviously pay a price in mechanical stability - and properly shaped finger pieces feel comfortable at a whole range of heights no matter where you touch them, so there is no real pressing need for a complicated height adjustment scheme in many cases. (The upcoming Begali Verticale will use a tremendously elaborate technique, however - but that is justified by other factors)

Here's a side view of the WBL height adjustment (and also of the effects that oxygen has on unprotected brass, no matter how hard you try):

0x01 graphic

Mechanical robustness and corrosion resistance: you can build your paddle like a tank - and something like the Jones paddle feels like it could survive a direct hit by a large caliber. A lot of mass, however, often compromises the agility that you want in the best paddles. But it may well be, if you have a hammer fist steeled by many years with a mechanical bug, that sheer weight is an important factor. You certainly want your paddle heavy enough to stay in place on your desk even during the most agitated moments when you catch that rare DX or that final multiplier in a contest. For me a desktop paddle should weigh at least 2 pounds, and all the good ones do. A specialized mobile paddle like the Begali Traveler is, of course, designed with weight savings in mind, and for that purpose I expect and accept less mass.

Brass is used for the basic components of many paddles because it is easy to machine, it is heavy enough for a solid feeling, and it looks great - at least at first. However, it deteriorates fairly rapidly and develops spots or streaks from oxidation. That's why some makers give it a clear coat of shellac or some other varnish which reduces or delays this problem. However, in the long run even the best varnish develops some cracks or has some microscopic flaws, and oxidation spots invariably develop. You can, of course, just cover the base with an opaque lacquer, like the Kent or the standard Jones paddles do - but the other components remain exposed. The best and also the most expensive solution is to plate the components - chrome has traditionally been used, gold for "Deluxe" models, palladium is a coating that Begali uses, and also various metal oxide coatings can be found (e.g. on the Begali Traveler that is shown up top). While most corrosion does not affect the performance of a paddle it sure is a lot more fun to work with something that looks beautiful even after many years.

While brass is a good material that is easy to work with, it is also relatively soft. Some makers, if they have the required machinery like Begali, use steel components. They are extremely robust, but it is very hard to polish them to a perfect mirror finish. With a good surface coating of gold or chrome, however, you will hardly see any traces of the milling process, and you have a base material that is virtually indestructible and doesn't oxidize.

Fortunately not everything can be cast into fixed rules when it comes to paddle design. There is, e.g., one paddle out there made of varnished brass, using trunnion bearings, and a combined spring to adjust the return force for both sides - not an obvious recipe for a great paddle, but many operators rate it very highly (answer: the Schurr Profi II ) Which goes to prove that the balanced mix of all design elements is what makes a great paddle.

Looking at every design aspect discussed here, you will find that no single paddle on the market combines everything into the ultimate package. The paddle to end all paddles has yet to materialize - and I'm afraid that it will not have a price next to nothing. That shouldn't deter you from buying your dream key today because, no matter how sensitive your finger tips or how fast you are, the best paddles on the market will convincingly demonstrate that your own abilities are the limiting factor.

That's it folks - more than you ever wanted to know. Hope to see you on the bands! Ulrich, N2DE (DJ8GO and a few more)

N0GBR 2006-04-28
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles
Dear sir, I wonder if I could have your input. I have used a single paddle for 43 yrs and am a little intimidated by the double "squeeze" paddle. I don't have one but have thought of getting one. I'm worried I'll not be able to adapt after so long with the sqeeze paddle. I work only cw at 25-35 wpm. Thanks for you time. John N0GBR
N2DE 2004-06-23
RE: The paddle to end all paddles
Here is the prototype of a paddle that implements everything I discussed here. It's not yet available as a product, but it certainly looks like a winner:

WA2JJH 2004-06-22
The Anatomy of Paddles
Nice! I too love how a good set of paddles feel. I am restoring a 1951 vibroplex. I am having problems getting it to work and feel just right.

Must be something to it. otherwise we would use two push buttons--yeeechhh! I have tried the paddles made of tin cans------yeeechh!
W6TH 2004-06-17
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles

By the way, I am not talking about the Bencher and the MFJ model 564 types. The Bencher fault is the length of the paddle pieces, much too long. The MFJ 564 is easier to handle at the speed of 60 wpm because of shorter paddle pieces and length. Both are good, but not as good as the floating paddle I have in mind.

The blades that make contact are floating and have no springs or magnets of any kind, they have a up/down and side motion, free floating. Also very inexpensive to manufacture for the market. Thought I would make this clear to all readers. The secret is the mounting of the blades, simple but very effective. No friction loss of any kind and no restrictions as to magnets or spring setting.

One addition: Should a person only be interested in the speeds of 30 to 35 wpm, then any of the paddles, keys or by any other name would be quite appropriate.

W6TH 2004-06-17
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles
The distance swing adds inertia, whereby direct touch of contact points the inertia is eliminated. Therefore there is a lapse of time caused by friction and inertia which becomes the point of importance. Especially in the case of rapid movements and higher speeds.

In the use of distance swing comes inertia:
Physics. The tendency of a body to resist acceleration; the tendency of a body at rest to remain at rest or of a body in straight line motion to stay in motion in a straight line unless acted on by an outside force.

Although these paddles do work, they could become more efficient. One system is by direct contact and no swing extenders.

N2DE 2004-06-17
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles
"The points of contact for the dots and the dashes should be at the thumb and the forefinger and not the large distance swing as in ... many shown by DJ8GO"

The "distance swing" is not really determined by the physical location of the contacts, but by what I called the leverage ratio. With a ratio of 1:1 your finger tips travel exactly the same distance that the contacts travel, no matter how far the contacts and the fingers are apart. I fully agree from practical experience that a leverage ratio of 1:1, or close to it, seems to be the ideal geometry. Several of the paddles that I show implement a geometry with a leverage ratio that is close to 1:1. Of course, if you locate the contacts right underneath your finger tips you would also have a 1:1 ratio - but other factors that have to do with the location of adjustments and mechanical balance have made all paddles with such an architecture that I have seen less than stellar.
W6TH 2004-06-17
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles
DJ8GO Mentions the following:
What you want in a iambic key are agility, perfect repeatability, excellent tactile feedback, precise adjustments of forces and geometry, zero contact closing resistance, insensitivity to temperature changes and mechanical shock, mechanical robustness, corrosion resistance, a few more points that I keep forgetting, and everything at a price next to nothing.

To fullfill this requirement:
The points of contact for the dots and the dashes should be at the thumb and the forefinger and not the large distance swing as in the Bencher, Vibroples and many shown by DJ8GO. The shortest distance between two points is in a straight line. Light weight and silver contacts will take care of most for improvements on all keyers. I have yet to find any paddle worth their weight in gold and that is the reason I have designed my paddle to my needs.

When many operators ask if I am using a keyboard, well after hearing that, I am convinced that I am doing something well.

Don't buy a Jet plane with a four cylinder engine as this is what most keys, paddles, Iambic or whatever name to be given is being displayed or sold today.

Remember, the shorter the stroke the higher the rpm.

N2JHZ 2004-06-16
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles
A mundane matter relevant to the anatomy of some of the heavier paddles: a paddle (a Kent TP-1) was shipped to me fully assembled; the packing was such that one of the plastic finger pieces snapped in transit. The physics of paddles can be well-understood in operation and still be overlooked in the matter of shipping.
W9GRN 2004-06-16
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles
After reading this and looking at the pictures, I just wanted to say I'm really impressed with it.Hope to see more of this in the future.
KD0EE 2004-06-14
The Anatomy of Paddles
Great article, very informative! But what about the GHD iambic with optical contacts? The best in my opinion!
N2JHZ 2004-06-14
Prosodic metric classification of Morse characters
Without intending to derail the train of thought any further, I have made progress on the metric classification of Morse characters, including the complete classification of the alphabetic characters and one punctuation mark, the period; the other cases are open. See and scroll down.
KA4KOE 2004-06-13
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles
Keyers? BAH!!!

Gimme a good bug anyday!!
N4OI 2004-06-13
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles
Great article and pictures! As a relatively new ham, just approaching my 2 year anniversary, I still have a way to go toward CW proficiency. I currently have three paddles: bencher, Palm mini-paddle, and a Begali Signature. The Begali is truly a joy to use and this article helped me understand some of the underlying reasons. I hope to see you all on the CW subbands!
73 de Ken - N4OI
BWOETTKE 2004-06-11
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles
Who cares for a metric classification anyway. We use feet and inches here, so come up with a SAE conformant classification if anything!
N2DE 2004-06-11
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles
Now that we've got that settled, let's get back to more technical subjects, please, before this thread gets completely off the track ...
N2DE 2004-06-11
Metric Classification
Here's a response that I have received from G2JL. I have urged him to post this on eHam to further the scholastic appeal of CW and to serve as a starting point for further research that seems urgently required. He is too deeply absorbed in research to find the time, but he has given me permission to use this material that should not be withheld from the world. Whoever will continue from here on will be standing on the shoulders of giants:

Iamb A
Paeon B
Dactyl D
Mora, Anacreusis E (Not accurate)
Proceleusmatic, &
Tetrabrach H
Pyrrhic I
Amphimacer, Cretic K
Spondee M
Trochee N
Amphibrach R
Tribrach S
Anapaest U
Choriamb, Leser Ionic š
Bacchius W
Greater Ionic Z

Other valuable tecnicalities: Isometric may mean
"having regular feet", whereas Pindaric
has "Complex metrical structure"

Once this list is complete we'll have to come up with an all-encompassing name for the keyers that are mistakenly called "iambic" these days.
NN6EE 2004-06-11
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles

Every thread seems eventually to go down the "TOILET"!!!

GAWD!!! You gotta luv this HOBBY!!!


N2JHZ 2004-06-11
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles
Uncle! I'm in favor of using the precision the subject calls for, and no more than necessary. The apparent need for minute precision only seems necessary in these micturating contests (in which I am an earnest participant).

Then again, undertaking a metric classification of every Morse character would be good practice for me. Then I could post an eHam article advocating the addition of this classification to the extra class license exam question pool.
N2DE 2004-06-11
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles
Let's not stop there: my keyer not only produces iambs and trochees, but also strings containing only short or only long "syllables", and many combinations that do not just alternate short and long. You experts are called upon to find out what word the Old Greeks had for the metre of each and every character in the morse alphabet - just iambos and trochaios doesn't seem to be sufficiently precise.
N2JHZ 2004-06-11
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles
"My only point was that you can send "iambs," or short-long combos, only with an iambic keyer, which produces "iambs." You do need a dual-lever paddle to key an iambic keyer, but a dual-lever paddle, alone, cannot pr[o]duce iambic code. Hence the distinction."

In that case, distinguishing between "iambic keyers" and "paddles" is insufficiently precise: not only do iambic keyers produce iambs, they produce troches--the opposite of an iamb. So, in the pursuit of ever-increasing precision at all costs, reference to an "iambic keyer" is incorrect, unless the keyer in question happens to be malfunctioning, and produces only iambs. One must refer to "iambic-trochaic keyers", or else suffer condign punishment, or whatever.
K3ESE 2004-06-11
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles
by WB2WIK on November 20, 2003:

"Iambic keying requires a dual-lever paddle and can be operated in the "squeeze" mode (which takes practice, and some talent) to self-complete letters depending upon squeeze sequence. Non-iambic keying can't do this, and can be operated with either a dual-lever or a single-lever paddle."

My only point was that you can send "iambs," or short-long combos, only with an iambic keyer, which produces "iambs." You do need a dual-lever paddle to key an iambic keyer, but a dual-lever paddle, alone, cannot prduce iambic code. Hence the distinction.

I like distinctions, and clear expression. When people point out common, yet incorrect usages, and claim that " know very well what I mean," I like to use a lovely, utilitarian expression which has lately entered our lexicon: "whatever."

W3PH 2004-06-11
The Anatomy of Paddles
Fantastic article (and ditto for the previous one).

As a long-term CW op I thought I knew something about CW, but I now realize that there is a whole world of Things to Know about paddles that I didn't know I didn't know :-)

Thanks for taking the time to prepare such a well-written (and well-photographed) article!
N2JZ 2004-06-11
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles
I've been using a Bencher paddle for over 30 years and am completely satisfied. I can send upwards of 50 wpm with it and rather flawlessly up to 40-45 wpm depending on my recent practice. The feel is excellent. The guys that don't like the Bencher are generally too heavy handed....the Bencher requires a very light touch but thats whats needed to send QRQ CW with a paddle anyway. I think the key here is learning tactile sensitivity and fine tactile can never learn that with a heavy hand.....I dont care how expensive the paddle is. Focus on tactile sensitivity and use a paddle with light tension and close contact spacing. In my opinion the Bencher is ideal for this. BTW my Bencher once set never needs adjustment. If the adjustment appears to change (e.g., from slapping the paddle back and forth which I never do) just remove the spring and gently replace it so the tension on both sides are equal. This will restore the setting without readjustment.

Another point is to know the difference between iambic modes A and B and ensure that you are using the iambic characteristic correctly.....e.g., sending a C should be a single squeeze with the index finger slightly leading the thumb not four motions as required by a single level paddle. Incidently I'm left-handed so for me its the opposite (I chose to learn on a right handed paddle so my thumb and index fingers are reversed). I recommend you don't waste your money on expensive paddles even though they certainly look pretty. The Bencher will do....just adapt to it rather finding a paddle that adapts to your fist. As you learn to use the Bencher you will be surprised how fast you can send once you increase tactile sensitivity.


Mike N2JZ
N5XM 2004-06-10
The Anatomy of Paddles
It is apparent to me that you have great knowledge of this subject, but what gives me such a good feeling is your love of CW. It is truly a labor of love. I don't know we've ever met on the air, but I am willing to bet we would be great friends. If there is such a thing as a "real Ham", you are one. It goes beyond technical and theoretical knowldege, and it is hard to describe, but those who understand recognize it immediately. It isn't about how fast you can run, it isn't about your equipment,it's something inside. This kind of positive and informative thread is exactly what we need here. We can argue till the cows come home about all the petty issues, but this is the kind of thing that beginner Hams can read and get a little insight why it is worth working to develop your skills and to put in the time to upgrade, and it really isn't about the class of license, it's about caring enough for the hobby to want to be the best Ham you can be. Thank you, Ulrich
N2DE 2004-06-10
RE: Iambic vs. Dual Lever
It wouldn't have occurred to me in my dreams that we end up fighting among linguists here - still better than code vs. nocode, I'd say ...

Let's go to the authoritative source, Websters Unabridged Dictionary: Iambic = consisting of or employing an iamb. Iamb = foot of two syllables, a short followed by a long, or an unstressed followed by a stressed.

Since CW is not exactly poetry, and quite often you'll hear a long followed by a short, we have obviously borrowed the term and we have a certain latitude when it comes to semantics.

Since I'm neither a poet nor a linguist, I take the pragmatic approach: the iambic technique to produce CW requires a dual lever paddle, and if I refer to an "iambic paddle" there is no room for misinterpretation - it cannot be anything but a dual lever paddle. That's good enough for me to justify that term - we are using it in a transfigured sense anyway, so the "correct" use in our context is one that produces an unambiguous meaning: iambic paddle sounds just fine to me, even though you can use one in a non-iambic mode.
W0UN 2004-06-10
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles

I guess I don't understand your concern about the "apparent" incorrect use of the term iambic.

Clearly there is a class of electronic keyers that alternates dots and dashes when both contacts are closed, as there are keyers (especially older ones) that will NOT operate in this "iambic" mode.

But there are two classes of paddles as well--ones that can be used properly with an iambic keyer and ones that will NOT work in the iambic mode. The former being two independent SPST switches and the latter being a single SPDT switch.

Examples of "non-iambic" paddles are the Vibroplex Vibrokeyer and my favorite, the Autronic paddle. Both are SPDT switches and will NOT operate in the iambic mode when used with an iambic keyer.

Seems to me that the terms iambic and non-iambic are important qualifiers, although the terms single-lever and dual-lever paddles also perform the needed distinction, albeit not with as much accuracy since I can certainly make a two-lever paddle that will not operate in an iambic mode since "two-lever" does not implicitly imply independent action of the two levers.

In my case and the cases of some of my friends we all have keyers that will operate in the iambic mode but we don't like iambic keying for a variety of reasons and we have all chosen to use a non-iambic paddle with an iambic keyer.

I did review the definitions of the term "iambic" and none of the accepted definitions made any reference to sending CW. So what authoritative source are you using that defines iambic as the electronics rather than the SYSTEM that can generate iambic characters? An iambic keyer cannot send iambic code with out an iambic-capable (iambic?) (independent dual-lever) paddle.

Or am I missing something in your note about the use of iambic in the context of a modifier for a paddle? Since there did not appear to be a definition that makes this distinction, the only definition left is the one provided by common usage. And by your own admission the term iambic paddle is commonly used.

This note is all in good fun since you decided to make it an issue I thought I would question your rationale. Maybe I will learn something! ;-)

73 and Thanks! -- John W0UN
N9FIK 2004-06-10
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles
Many thanks for that fine article.

KB1KIX 2004-06-10
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles
Soo true what was previously said - it was like a ham version of a Seinfeld episode. sooo much information about something as simple as a switch.

I'm just getting into the CW bug and really found this article very enjoyable.

I'd also like to add having good quality pictures made it all that much better!

Excellent job!

KB1KIX - Jonathan
KF4VGX 2004-06-10
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles
Man get aload of the hardware on those paddles,very well built . Somebody did their homework with this article. Pictures ,outstanding in details.
KG4PIL 2004-06-10
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles
Great great article
I started with the Bencher like many others did. I later tried the Kent double paddle and finally moved up to the Schurr Profi II. You'd have to pry my Schurr from my cold dead hand. What a difference? If only I could have had this key in my military days.
de KG4PIL George
W6TH 2004-06-10
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles
Very well written article and wonderful pictures. The best on EHAM yet.

I use both the single lever and the squeeze as some call it or to me Iambic. Also use the Vibroplex bug for many years.

I use the Bencher and the MFJ for the moment and find the MFJ a faster paddle for speed. There is a difference when you get up around the 50 to 55 wpm mark.

My favorite is my home brew paddle made of two blocks of wood and two pieces of hack saw blades, whereby the blades are floating. I have been clocked at 60 wpm with this method.

The conclusion:

Build your own and get the feel of what can be done and what cannot be done and as for errors or mistakes in sending, it is the operator and not the keyer or the paddles. So to the end, to each his own.

Again, thanks for a wonderful written article, sure is what is needed and that is a bunch of knowledge.

73 to all
W5AU 2004-06-10
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles
Absolutely Fantastic Article!

73, Troy, W5AU
KI6YN 2004-06-10
The Anatomy of Paddles
GREAT ARTICLE AND TERRIFIC PICTURES BUT.............The bottom line is "what feels right for your particular fist"! I use an original N2DAN Mercury paddle and the only problem I have is trying to figure a way to 'take it with me'! For me, it is perfect and in 1991 it cost $400! Two of my ham buddies got one after trying mine and that brings me to the point. You have to try a paddle, key, or bug before you buy it or get one on approval. Everyone has a different opinion of what looks great and what feels good. I use the Mercury for almost two hours everyday. I also use a GHD 501 straight key and love it; I have spent several hundred dollars on various keys and had to sell them, thanks eBay, because they just didn't feel right. I have a GHD 907 autokey and still haven't got it mastered, but I practice with it off the air and someday it will sing as pretty as it looks. It feels great, it is just difficult to get used to using a 'double bug'/autokey after using a paddle with a keyer. Someday I'll try a cootie key as well. I love experimenting.

I am not sure about the rotational momentum being a factor on such a short movement, but then again, at high speed the movement is non linear and approaches that of a pulse, so maybe if we took the time to quantize the actual acceleration (f = ma, we can assume it is linear being such a small arc), it will prove to be a factor. I enjoyed the article, but still feel we are discussing something that is 90% subjective.
G2JL 2004-06-10
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles
Quite right, Vic ! The "Attractive" magnet is just that; The "Repellent" one is too.

I made a built-in dual lever in the die-cast box that held my first Accu-keyer. I used attracive magnets & Siemens high-speed relay contacts. It needed adjusting once a year, after Field-day.

Congrats to Ulrich on a fine article. But don't forget the old gag: "The most important part of any key design is the nut touching the finger-pieces"

73 de Mort
WA6OWH 2004-06-10
The Anatomy of Paddles
A beautiful article...Thanks for taking the time to write it and include the wonderful photos.You brought up some issues I had felt in my fist but never put into words... Now I can search for the perfect paddle with greater information.
Thanks Bob
KQ6EA 2004-06-10
The Anatomy of Paddles
Beautifully written and well photographed. Thank you very much!
K6BBC 2004-06-09
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles

LU1DZ 2004-06-09
The Anatomy of Paddles
Dear Ulrich:

Many thanks for your FB article, very nice photos and very good details.
Well done.

Alberto LU1DZ
K2VCO 2004-06-09
The Anatomy of Paddles
A fine article! I recently sold a WBL and bought a Begali Magnetic, so I read it with interest. One thing that you didn't mention, Ulrich, is the difference between attractive and repulsive magnetic tensioning. A repelling magnet operates more like a spring, in which the force required to compress it increases as it compresses; whereas a an attractive magnet displays the opposite behavior. Does it make a difference? Who knows?

NN6EE 2004-06-09
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles
Dear Ulrich,

A very fine article on the "SWEET-KEYS" for anyone who LOVES CW as I do!!!

I've got the "Schurr-Key" made by one of your compartiots I guess out of Hamburg, Germany!!! Eventhough the KEY is no longer manufacturered because the Ol'Boy decided to retire I still RATE it as one of the BEST all "Brass" Iambic-paddles ever made anywhere!!!

Many Thanks es 73,

K9ZF 2004-06-09
The Anatomy of Paddles
Awesome article. I loved all the details and great photos! I agree, one of Eham's best yet.
Dan Evans K9ZF
Scottsburg, IN 47170
K9ZF /R no budget Rover
Check out the Rover Resource Page at:
QRP-l #1269
Central States VHF Society
IN-Ham list administrator
N2JHZ 2004-06-09
RE: The Best for the Money
But then, I note that, without exception, every paddle listed on the Bengali web site (URL: lists each paddle as an "iambic paddle". Could they be mistaken? Should they have written "paddle" instead of "iambic paddle", reserving the modifer "iambic" exclusively for "iambic keyers"? There are numerous examples of the usage "iambic paddle" on the web; for example, consider this document: Is this a case of widespread profound ignorance and mindlessness, worthy of eternal damnation in hell for those found guilty of writing or uttering "iambic paddle"? Or is it a matter of being informed of the correct usage, and sticking with it thereafter? Or neither?
N2JHZ 2004-06-09
RE: The Best for the Money
I stand corrected.
K3ESE 2004-06-09
RE: The Best for the Money
While it's nice to see Ulrich refer to a "paddle," rather than "paddles," it would also be very nice to not see references to a paddle as an "iambic" paddle. There are no iambic paddles - only iambic keyers. There are, though, single- and dual-lever paddles.

Now that I've picked that nit, this was an awesome work; clearly written by someone who knows, and loves, his subject. Thanks, Ulrich!
WB2WIK 2004-06-09
RE: The Best for the Money
I'm all keyed up for a new paddle, but fiddle my faddle, I'll probably stick with my three Benchers!

Nice article, though, and excellent photography! Keep up the good work.


WA4DOU 2004-06-09
RE: The Best for the Money
I progressed in the '60's from a J-38 to a Vibroplex Champion and at the end of the '70's to a WB4VVF Accukeyer and Bencher iambic paddles. The Bencher served the purpose fine but I never found any adjustment that was satisfactory in the long term. Once in a while I felt the need to readjust. It just didn't have fine enough and precise adjustments that would remain satisfactory. A few years ago I switched to the Vibroplex Brass Racer, adjusted it one time and have been satisfied with it since. As in all things, value versus cost, there is a point where performance is good enough.
N2DE 2004-06-09
RE: The Best for the Money
I've had some extremely emotional reactions in the past when I voiced opinions about the merrits of some paddles, or lack thereof, in reviews and articles. To keep this thread free of flames - send me an email, and I'll let you know what I consider the best value that fits your budget:

M0AFJ 2004-06-09
The Anatomy of Paddles
Excellent article, very interesting, what do you feel offers the best value for money?, I've had a few low end keys, Bencher, CT Ham, and although they work they don't have a well engineered feel and am now prepared to spend reasonable £ for something that will last a few years, however I don't have thousands!, which I'm sure some of them justify!.
Once again thanks for one of the best articles seen on E Ham
Regards Tim M0AFJ
N2DE 2004-06-09
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles
Can a good paddle improve your sending? You bet! You would be surprised how much more control you have with a well made paddle - and how much a poorly made paddle ruins your habits. Although it won't act as a morse spell checker, the precision and consistency of a good paddle makes sure that your "5" always comes out as four dits, and lets you improve your habits to the point where eventually it will consistently be five dits.
N2JHZ 2004-06-09
The Anatomy of Paddles
This is article is well-written and inspiring (I've even linked to it in my blog). I'm tempted to become a collector of iambic paddles myself.
KX2S 2004-06-09
The Anatomy of Paddles
Very nice article. Makes me want to go out and find a nice replacment for my average Bencher. If only I can get the XYL to agree.
73 Ed
AA6E 2004-06-09
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles
Beautiful photography and well-written, too. One of the best eHam web articles ever, IMO.

I would be willing to make a serious investment in a new paddle, if I could be sure it would improve my sending.

I think that will take an embedded microprocessor with some AI & filtering that figures out what I was trying to say and fixes up my code. A CW spell-checker. You know, 5 dits in a "5" and not 4 or 6!

Until then, my Bencher is probably overkill for my fist.

73, Martin
KB3KAQ 2004-06-09
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles
Another well written treatise on a somewhat unique subject. Being a trained draftsman, I appreciate the attention to detail and the examples of the various mechanisms employed to create the "perfect" paddle. An excellent primer on the subject.

I have only recently begun my journey down the road of CW operation and use the ubiquitous Bencher iambic paddle. I hope to improve my skills so the finer points of paddle construction are relevant to my next paddle acquisition.

Steve, KB3KAQ

N4CQR 2004-06-09
RE: The Anatomy of Paddles
Nice... Very nice!

Craig - N4CQR
K1TN 2004-06-09
The Anatomy of Paddles
A remarkable job, Ulrich. Who would have thought so much could be written about what, really, is nothing but a simple switch?

Thank you for keeping "paddle" singular. One of my pet peeves is people who say, for example, "I'm using Bencher paddles." Wow, two paddles at the same time. Only for the ambidexterous.

Newbies should know that iambic paddles, with two levers, are only half the picture. Some of us who learned on single-lever paddles, before iambic keying was invented, still prefer them. I always felt that using a double-lever paddle with a non-iambic keyer just doesn't feel right.

I still use a 40-year-old original W8FYO single-lever paddle.

See you on the Code.

Jim Cain, K1TN

NC2F 2004-06-04
The Anatomy of Paddles
Another fine article, Ulrich. It is always a pleasure to read such an informative and enjoyable text regarding paddles as you have done here.