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Wanting to Try CW

Discussion in 'Working Different Modes' started by N4DCT, Apr 25, 2012.

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  1. N4DCT

    N4DCT XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    I am learning code and want a key to practice with. What would everyone suggest. I am on a limited budget, and need to keep cost down just to make sure I want to fully get into CW.

    Do I need a key and a keyer? Do I go Iamibc or Straight? Thoughts?
  2. 2E0OZI

    2E0OZI Ham Member QRZ Page

    I am rank beginner only have had 6 contacts on CW, but out of all the advice I have been given (and believe me its a LOT) it boild down to;

    1. You dont need an expensive key - just one you like that has a sound action and is comfy.
    2. Lots of people say to start on a straight key - I did and cant see myself using anything else for a long time. Like the rawness of it.
    3. Get on the air as soon as you can copy the letters and numbers at a reasonable speed with reasonable accuracy. Perfection is not needed - the ops at the other end are often only to willing to help a new guy.
    4. Dont worry about it - its meant to be a fun hobby, a mistake aint gonna hurt anyone!

    Its a lot of fun and as the time goes on (once I get over this filthy cold I have had for a long time) I will be into it as often as I can, and each contact makes you want to get more and do better.
  3. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    I'd say start with a straight key and which one isn't that critical; however it shouldn't bounce around or be easily pushed about on the desk or table, and I believe a really important thing is key placement on the desk or table. A lot of newcomers (and quite a few old timers I see) do this so wrong I can't believe they can even send that way.:p

    For most, placing the key well back from the front edge of the desk or table, at least the length of your forearm from fingertips to elbow (if not farther!), is imperative for good, easy, and practical sending. The positioning from left to right is whatever feels comfortable for you; I think for "most," the key can be positioned almost dead ahead of you (center of your chest), which allows pretty good comfort sending with either left or right hand, as the forearm crosses over to it. But again, that's personal choice.

    But the key being well back from the near edge of the desk is really important if you want to send smoothly, easily, tirelessly and well. If the desk is 24" deep, I'd place the key near the "back" edge of it. If it's 30" deep or more, then it doesn't have to be at the back edge, but in all cases should be back far enough that if you lay your forearm on the table, when sending your elbow is comfortably on the table, and not in mid-air someplace.

    Have fun!
  4. N4DCT

    N4DCT XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    And do I need to get a keyer as well? Sorry I feel dumb...
  5. K7MH

    K7MH Ham Member QRZ Page

    You can use a keyer or you can use a code oscillator for practicing with a straight key. You can use the sidetone in a rig that has a built in keyer too.
    If you Google for code oscillator, you will probably find several homebrew articles that are cheap and easy to build. Even a Radio Shack buzzer and a battery hooked up to a straight key can be used to practice with. It can be nice to control the volume and tone with a regular code oscillator though.
    There is a lot of that stuff at any hamfest or everybody's favorite website eBay. Sometimes I see code keys on Craigslist around here.
  6. KO6WB

    KO6WB Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Used to be that the straight key was a good training tool to get your rhythm so your dit and dahs are good quality. This is important so the stations you are in contact with will understand you. I made an amazing discovery that explained why I had such a hard time with music was also the reason I have a hard time with CW. I have no sense of rhythm. I did manage to get up to 13WPM receiving and sending and I could copy at greater than 18WPM but not totally accurate. I really felt sorry for who ever had to try to copy my fist. I then resorted to a homemade keyer. It completed the dits and dahs so it sounded better but remember, I have no rhythm. When I got into amateur radio keyboards were rare and expensive. As time passed the personnal computers became easily affordable and I got into that. I wrote a program that would send perfect code up to about 20WPM with a VIC-20. It had a very small buffer so you couldn't type ahead much. Later I used a C-64 with a program that could do 100WPM or 5WPM if you wished. A keyboard returned me to CW and made it an enjoyable experiance. Before that I really sweated, a lot.
    A keyer is a step up from a straight key but you do need to get the characters down to a good rhythm first. Some folks have used a keyer first and done well. One guy used a old computer mouse as his key. It works.
  7. VK2FAK

    VK2FAK Ham Member QRZ Page

    HI all..

    This arm laying in the table idea.....feels very uncomfortable to me.....and when I try, as I just did after reading this, my forearm tends to drift up off the table.......and keeping it on the table it feels more like I am sending with just my fingers....that can't be a good thing...can it.......I guess the arm from the elbow to the shoulder can be stretched out a bit or should it be straight up and down..

    The elbow to wrist is only about 12in or 24in from the front of the table, I would barely touch the key... and the arm angle at that distance, from the shoulder to the hand....the elbow aint going to be touching the table.....confused..

    Last edited: Apr 26, 2012
  8. K9OJT

    K9OJT Ham Member QRZ Page

    Start with the key type you plan on using. This nonsense of starting with a straight key is absurd.

    I have yet to understand the thought process behind this.

    If you plan on using a straight key then so.

    It seems to me there are far too many peeps who hold fast to the idea that using a straight key somehow makes you a better cw doesn't.

    What it accomplishes is the exact opposite.

    If you become proficient with a straight key and then wish to move on to higher speeds...perhaps with a paddle of you are forced to relearn your sending techniques and timing.

    The shortest distance between two points is a straight line...

    Don't reinvent the is doing fine on its own.

    CW is a hoot.

    Learning and using the code is all that matters...regardless of how you do it.

    Forget the straight key and try a will be glad you did!

    Michael AC8IR
  9. N4DCT

    N4DCT XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Are paddles more expensive? I haven't been able to find any starter paddles under 50 dollars.
  10. KB3VEE

    KB3VEE Ham Member QRZ Page

    I like paddles better. I bought a bulldog paddle from It works and feels surprisingly good. It's really easy to make if you look at it closely. I am sure there is some DIY how-to on it somewhere. I also have a K8RA P2jr that I use and love. You can get one from It's a bit more expensive, but I liked the look and feel.
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2012
  11. M0LEP

    M0LEP Ham Member QRZ Page

    If you prowl around the rallies and keep an eye on your local dealer's second-hand shelf, you might get lucky. I got a G4ZPY Iambic paddle for 15 quid. It had obviously seen a bit of use, and needed a few minor adjustments, but it's solid, doesn't slide around, and it's a whole heap easier to use than the small straight key it replaced.

    73, Rick.
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2012
  12. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    You won't get any arguments from me on all of that. I'd love to see everyone start out with a good paddle, and learn squeeze iambic keying right from Day #1. Frankly, that would shortcut a lot of needless effort re learning stuff twice.

    However, a "decent" -- even used -- set of paddles can be $75 or more, and unless the op has a modern rig with an internal keyer, the cost of a keyer will add to that and might be intimidating. I can still pick up surplus WW2 hand keys, already mounted on something large enough to keep them from walking, at all our local ham Swap Meets for $10 or so. They work.

    One other thing to be said for starting with a straight key: In a pinch, you just might need to use one someday. Anyone who never used one at all might not be able if they really wanted to.

    I went from straight key to bug to keyer, all in about a year, mostly because I hated the bug! What a PITA. Even invested in an Original and a Lightning Bug over time, and those were "good," but still a PITA. When I discovered the W9TO electronic keyer circuit and built it (about 1967) my bug days were immediately over. Wow, what a difference.:eek:
  13. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Hmmm. If I place a hand key about 20" from the front edge of my desk I can reach it really easily, just sitting normally at my desk. My forearm from elbow to fingertips is 19". If I use a straight key to send, my elbow is firmly on the table, and what's most comfortable for me is for almost my entire forearm to be laying on the table, with my wrist maybe 1" off the table and fingers on the key knob at that same height. Frankly, it's even more comfortable (for me) for my wrist to also be on the table, so the only things actually moving are my hand and two or three fingers. The less exercise it is, the more you can send without getting tired.

    Each to his own. Do whatever feels good for you.

    But I've seen ham stations with keys near the front edge of the desk or table! That makes it almost impossible to do anything. Those guys must not use them much and probably don't really like code.:p
  14. 2E0OZI

    2E0OZI Ham Member QRZ Page

    Or they could be.....British or Europeans! Lots of folk here in the Old World have the key near the edge of the table and thier arm in the air, including former professional radiomen. Each to thier own, live and let live.
  15. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Here's an old photo of a telegraph operator at a table, showing about the same method I use for key and arm placement.

    You could never, ever -- EVER -- do this properly with the key at the front edge of the desk or table and arm in the air, and send decent code for any length of time. I don't believe it.:p

    Attached Files:

  16. VK2FAK

    VK2FAK Ham Member QRZ Page

    Hi all...

    This might be a better example of the send arm position....maybe..?

    ScreenHunter_01 Apr. 28 19.21.jpg

  17. AB2T

    AB2T Ham Member QRZ Page

    I hold my paddles at a 30 degree angle. Both my elbow and forearm are on the desk. I also use a hand brace (like a bowling brace). The brace keeps the palm down and the arm straight. That way I can send only by moving the fingers, and send for long periods without wearing out the wrist.

    I send CW with my right hand, but write with my left. I also pitch a ball with my right hand. ???

    73, Jordan
  18. KO6WB

    KO6WB Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Jordan, it was hard as a kid to get a right hand mitt. Had to learn to throw with my right hand. It's a strange world.... Any two pieces of metal can be a CW key. Some pieces of metal cost a lot more. The older keys from WWII used to be very cheap and they were everywhere. Today everybody thinks they have something historic and try to get a bunch for it. 10 bucks for J38 seems high to me since they probably got it for a buck. I know the dollar isn't what it used to be.
    When I made a homebrew keyer I didn't know which key was the dit or the dah, so I just hooked them up and off I went. Had a 50/50 chance of getting right. I got it wrong but I was thinking in my lefthand mode. The keys are actually for both the left or right hand. Keyers on the other hand can be confusing if you have to switch hands. Maybe that's just me.
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2012
  19. KG4NEL

    KG4NEL Ham Member QRZ Page

    That photo doesn't really show the key all that well - it does seem like the European keys had the knob well off the table, which doesn't lend itself well to the American style of keying.
  20. VK2FAK

    VK2FAK Ham Member QRZ Page

    Hi all..

    One thing I think that method does, is gives you better control of the speed. Sometimes when having the key close the the table edge, as a beginner you can tend to speed up during sending , thus messing up timing and such..

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