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Author Topic: What keyer to buy?  (Read 2276 times)

Posts: 3

« on: August 13, 2003, 10:35:58 PM »

I never got on the air after getting my Novice ticket in 91. I recently got interested and upgraded to General.  I've been listening and am ready to get on the air CW!  I want your opinions on whether I should start with a straight key or a paddle.  If a straight key, any particular brand or model?  I have a Ten Tec C21 and a Scout.  Thanks in advance.

Posts: 21818

« Reply #1 on: August 14, 2003, 01:25:32 PM »

I'd start right out with a paddle, if possible.  The technique used when sending with a straight key doesn't transfer well to paddle use, and a straight key will limit you to about 15 wpm or so forever, unless you have great dexterity.  A paddle has no theoretical upper limit, but most ops, with a bit of practice, can get going 20 wpm quite easily and experienced ops who love CW often send 50-60 wpm or a bit faster without much effort, using a good paddle.

The SCOUT has a built-in electronic keyer, so all you need is a paddle for that (and not an external keyer).  The C21 does not, so maybe an external keyer wouldn't be a bad idea.  Many are available in the $50 to $75 range, even new.  The paddle, being a precision mechanical instrument, is usually worth more than the keyer and it's not uncommon to spend $100 or so for a good one.  Of course, they are available for a bit less on the used market.


Posts: 1490

« Reply #2 on: August 20, 2003, 01:13:22 PM »

And if you are tempted to try anything mechanical, like a Vibroplex, please don't - at least until you have been using CW extensively for a year or two and know exactly what it should sound like.  

I hear too many stations on HF whose dahs are interminable and whose dits are like engine spark noise.  If I can't tell what they are sending, I generally don't try to call them, even if they are in a desirable location (which is most ops, since I am a QRPer and don't make the quantity of QSOs other higher-powered ops do).  

I used a Vibroplex as a novice, but found that it took many hours of practice to send good CW with it, and I was very determined NOT to put it on the air until I could produce good quality code with it.  Even then, I got tired of it pretty quickly and got the help of a local elmer to home brew an accu-keyer from the handbook.  I invested in a good Bencher paddle set, which I still use 25 years later, and found CW to be a lot easier and more fun.

I recently found an old MFJ Grandmaster memory keyer at a swap for $40.  The battery inside (holds up the memory chips when you turn it off) was corroded, so I removed that - I'll probably replace it some time - and it needed cables, which I made.  I currently have it on the air and it works fine.  
I also bought a homebrew memory keyer of the KC0Q design at a local ham-friendly electronics store (also $40) and have gotten much use out of it.  I got the schematic for it by ordering a reprint of an October 1981 QST article (cost $3).  Check the swaps, stores, and such and you can get a really good keyer for not too much cash.
Hope to catch you on CW soon.  73 de kt8k - Tim

Posts: 22

« Reply #3 on: August 24, 2003, 12:10:13 PM »

I used a straight key for years before getting a bencher iambic paddle and keyer.  If you are still learning code or are slow, I like the idea of using a straight key to build your speed to 13 - 15 wpm and then moving to an electonic keyer.  However, there is no crime in starting with the electronic keyer.  

While there is no keyer training from a staight key, there appears to be no harm either.  I don't have it now, but I used a bencher iambic keyer for a while.  I loved it.  The iambic is the two paddle set.  It operates differently from the one paddle keyer and either are much better than a mechanical bug.  It seems to me that I wired my paddle backward so my dits and dahs were backward from others so I could only use my own paddle but if you remember to put spaces between the letters and words, an automatic keyer is great to use and to listen to.  As mentioned before, you can aquire speeds much faster with a keyer than with a straight key.  I can send between 20 and 23 wpm straight key but then my wrist tires out and I start making errors.  I can go for a long time on a keyer without tiring my wrist.

IF you have a program that can monitor CW and read it out to you, I recommend that you practice sending to the program where you can see your progress.  When you are comfortable sending at the pace where the program can read well, try your hand in the real worlld with it.

One pitfall to the keyer is that I found I could send many times faster than I could receive.  I had to adjust the speed to my reading speed or i would not be able to understand the station returning my call.

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