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eHam Forums => CW => Topic started by: KK6CZP on December 10, 2013, 08:54:18 PM



Title: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: KK6CZP 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.


Title: RE: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: KQ6Q 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.


Title: RE: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: K8AXW 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


Title: RE: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: KK6CZP 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!


Title: RE: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: W0BTU 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.


Title: RE: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: VA7CPC 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!


Title: RE: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: KK6CZP 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.


Title: RE: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: GW3OQK 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


Title: RE: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: M0LEP 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...


Title: RE: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: W1JKA 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?


Title: RE: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: M0LEP 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.


Title: RE: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: K3STX 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


Title: RE: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: KB1WSY 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 (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!).


Title: RE: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: K7KBN 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.


Title: RE: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: KE6EE 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.


Title: RE: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: NO2A on December 11, 2013, 12:44:27 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

I agree. Learn on a straight key first. It`s also good to find out if you like using it. And spacing is the most important thing to remember. As far as keys,some are more comfortable,you just have to test drive them. I like the Nye Viking Master straight key,but that`s just me. Hope to hear you on the air.-Mike.


Title: RE: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: W0BTU on December 11, 2013, 12:47:52 PM
  SEND THE SPACES.
You learn to do that with a straight key, but not with a paddle/keyer.

I fully agree that full spaces are important, but this I don't understand. There must be different types of electronic keyers. I have an old Heathkit keyer, and you cannot send a partial space with it.
 You can run two or more characters together with it, but you can do that with a straight key, too.


Title: RE: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: KH2G on December 11, 2013, 09:47:06 PM
Just thought I'd throw my thought in as I've not seen this subject mentioned in many a year. The key you use is not allthat important as it will depend upon the individual operator. One thing that IS of major importance and that is operator position/comfort. Could you sit and send for 20 minutes or even 5 without your arm getting tense and maybe your back hurting?
If you can't answer yes then you need to check your positioning. You should be sitting up comfortably with your sending arm resting lightly on the desk and your hand relaxed with the fingers resting gently on the key. With a straight key we were taught to balance a 50 cent piece across our wrist and send without it bouncing off. When first starting we'ed have it jump a few inches in the air normally  ;D  Normally after just a few minutes we'eed start tensing up and after about 5 minutes the arm would be hurting  :D As time went by, our speed went up and we got cleaner and eliminated the hated "Banana boat swing"
You've a great call for CW so hope to work you one day. Personally I'm using a bencher as my hand is getting a bit shaky and by setting the magnets and gap right I can control things pretty well. Learning to relax is probably the hardest thing but most important for both receive and xmit. Don't sweat the dropped letter and practice only jottnng down things you might want to comment on. Regards, Dick KH2G


Title: RE: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: GW3OQK on December 12, 2013, 01:43:50 AM
Where to put the key and your elbow?

I have my key fastened at the table's edge and my elbow by my side. The key needs a knob like you see on Kent keys, held with 1st finger on top and thumb and 2nd finger gently holding it beneath. (No disc under the knob.) That's how I learned it in Europe and could send for ages at 25 wpm. It is very relaxing, with your wrist gently moving up and down. If your arm tenses then you need to slow down.

The American way I think is to have a flat topped key and your arm on the desk.

CZP and others I'm not saying one method is best. I looked for some video of good morse sending technique and didnt see one. Sometimes the key was rocking on the table, or the fingers coming off the key.
Andrew


Title: RE: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: K7MEM on December 12, 2013, 04:07:52 AM
I fully agree that full spaces are important, but this I don't understand. There must be different types of electronic keyers. I have an old Heathkit keyer, and you cannot send a partial space with it.
 You can run two or more characters together with it, but you can do that with a straight key, too.

I agree that spaces, element and character, are important but you don't necessarily need a straight key to learn how to send them. The only keyers that don't make perfect character spacing are usually the minimalist types that don't contain auto space. You can make a keyer out of a pair of one-shot multivibrators. The dit/dah lengths will be correct but there will be no control over the element spacing.

I started with a straight key myself. I don't remember when the first keyer came to light, but in 1966 I would have been too poor to own one anyway. I did OK with a straight key. I never got any complaints about spacing and running characters together, but found it limiting. Probably due to a cheap plastic key. In 1981 I bought a Heathkit HD-1410 keyer and it was like CW was brand new again. I never knew that CW could be so easy and relaxing. At that time I was operating in Germany as DA2EU and using CW only on 15 Meters. Once I started using the keyer, I received lots of compliments on my CW. The other operators always found it nice to copy.

So I recommend starting with a keyer. Once you get to hearing the keyer making spaces correctly, you will start to make them correctly yourself. A little hand/ear coordination. I can still go back to my straight keys, and they would sound very close to the code with my keyer.  But I like just laying my arm on the desk and letting my hand do the work. I usually place my key on the left but send with my right. This keeps the key out of the way for tuning. In the middle is a pad of paper for scribbling things down. When I send I just drop my pencil, swing my arm across in front of me and go. The pad of paper can be easily viewed over my arm. When I'm done sending my arm swings back and picks up the pencil. A lot of hams write with one hand and send with the other, so their hand is always on the key. I'm not a contester so I never got use to that method.

Keyers are not as expensive as you might think. I have three Heathkit HD-1410 keyers and I love using them. One I built in 1981 and the other two I picked up at a ham fest for $5 each. You can usually find them at any ham fest. I have two other also. One is a home brew TICK keyer that uses the Heathkit HD-1410 paddles. Another is a MFJ-482B memory keyer ($9 at a swap meet, working but dirty). Because I can't deal with a bug very well, I have my Vibroplex Blue Racer (1916) connected to the MFJ-482B. It works nicely and still gives you the feel/sound of a bug.


Title: RE: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: K8AXW on December 12, 2013, 07:58:44 AM

The major selling point for a straight key deliberation and control.  A quote here involved the comparison with a straight transmission and an automatic transmission.....which is a great analogy.

In both cases, every movement is deliberate and in a precise order.  With a straight key, you learn character formation and with a straight transmission you learn precise lever movement and procedure.

Both are limiting.... yes.  But I've copied straight key transmissions for years at speeds between 20 and 30wpm. 

If you start with a straight shift transmission and master it then go to automatic, you can ALWAYS come back to the straight transmission and drive.  The reverse, in the case of an auto, is not true. 

In other words learning with a straight key first, your options have expanded. 


Title: RE: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: K1PJR on December 12, 2013, 11:33:57 AM
I'm still learning CW and I use a US Navy Flameproof key.  Picked it up on Ebay for $30 in excellent condition.  For me it has a very nice feel. Your results may vary. :)

73
Phil
K1PJR


Title: RE: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: M0LEP on December 12, 2013, 03:08:09 PM
If you start with a straight shift transmission and master it then go to automatic, you can ALWAYS come back to the straight transmission and drive.  The reverse, in the case of an auto, is not true.

There are common mistakes folk make when moving from manual to automatic autos, too. It's not all one-sided, and someone learning to drive in an automatic will quite likely be driving smoothly and confidently sooner.

In some ways using a paddle is trickier than using a straight key. In other ways, simpler. They're both instruments for playing Morse, but the fingering's different...


Title: RE: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: W2IU on December 22, 2013, 07:10:05 AM
Buy a straight key with money that you will not be upset with losing if you find cw is not your thing. For me, it was a $20 speedx straight key from eBay. Keep in mind they are only a switch :) Have fun and take care!
John
W3JAR


Title: RE: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: REMOVED_ACCOUNT_2015-01-09 on December 25, 2013, 03:34:39 PM
Straight Key. When you can send 18WPM then start looking for a Bug. Iambic is boring.


Title: RE: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: M0LEP on December 26, 2013, 01:12:35 AM
I bought a straight key many years ago, when Morse was a requirement for getting on HF. I tried it, hated it, put it away, and forgot about Morse and amateur radio for a couple of decades or more, not even bothering to try the licence exam. When I came back (after the Morse requirement was dropped) and actually got a licence, I figured I wouldn't bother with Morse. Then I found something for which Morse was likely to be a great help, and dug out the old key to resume the fight. A fight it certainly was. Then a friend suggested I try a paddle. No contest. Fifteen quid for an old second-hand paddle, a bit of tweak and polish, and sending Morse went from disaster area to something passable, if not quite overnight, then certainly within a week or so. Now, if that first key had been a decent one, maybe I'd have done better with it. It may be just a switch, but if the touch is wrong you're doing yourself no favours, and if it doesn't have decent adjustments (that go where you want and stay there) to get the touch right...

A skilled operator may be able to send Morse with a couple of bare wire ends, but if you're learning, you'll do better if the key or paddle you're using actually works smoothly and positively.

73, Rick M0LEP


Title: RE: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: REMOVED_ACCOUNT_2015-01-09 on December 26, 2013, 04:42:38 PM
Robert, KK6CZP, like your comments about not using computer generated cw but looking for the real thing.

Check out CWOPS.ORG and click on the "CW Academy". This organization has an excellent course in learning the Art of CW.
This is NOT an exaggeration but if you are willing to practice for 30 minutes a day and participate in OOVOO audio/video chat two or three nights a week for 6 weeks, these instructors, ex Navy Instructors, will have you reading code in your head at 25-30 WPM in 30 days. Having little experience in the code at this point it's more in your favor for success.
The only cost to you is your time and effort. There is no fee.

Good Luck!

john


Title: RE: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: REMOVED_ACCOUNT_2015-01-09 on January 02, 2014, 02:34:40 PM
A great key is the surplus Czech Military Key. There is a N4 or W4 who sells them for $45.00 new in box. Cannot locate his call or address. But you can catch a pic of it here....

http://www.eham.net/reviews/detail/9588


Title: RE: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: VE2ENB on January 05, 2014, 04:38:58 AM
If you are serious about CW, start with a standard paddle.
Up to 20 wpm they all can do the job.
But if you are very serious and want to send QRQ some day. then go with the best.
Do not fool around  with the same mid priced paddle that will limit your speed and send not wanted extra dits.
Then go with a BEGALI as soon as you can.
You won't regret the purchase.

I worked on paddles modifications for QRQ CW since 35 years and finally ended with a BEGALI to solve all of my problems for QRQ CW.

73 es Gl.
Gil VE2ENB


Title: RE: Starting out in CW - Key recommendation
Post by: N4KHZ on January 10, 2014, 06:27:56 AM
I started with a straight key in '75, went to a BENCHER after a couple of years, got pretty good with iambic, but now after a 20 year HIATUS and getting back into Ham Radio, I found out about SIDESWIPER keys and I'm in love!  Very comfortable, very satisfying, and a total BLAST!  I wish I found out about sideswiping YEARS AGO... You can learn proper code spacing AND have fun.

Google it and check it out...

N4kHz