Key/Paddles for a New Ham

Discussion in 'Straight Keys - CW Enthusiasts' started by KD8EDC, Jan 12, 2018.

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  1. KD8EDC

    KD8EDC Ham Member QRZ Page


    This should be a fun thread (I hope). I've been Mentoring ("Elmering") one of my colleagues who has been interested in amateur radio, particularly in Morse Code, since he was very young. His circumstances have never aligned, and it's only now in his late 30s (lol....wish I were that age again) that he's had the opportunity. I think a lot had to do with the fact that a close friend (that would be me) was actually a ham and could guide him. In any event, he'll be taking both the Tech and General on Feb 10 and he knows his stuff. I've got some extra equipment I'm planning to lend him to get started (once the weather warms up from -20): Gap Challenger DX antenna, ICOM 706 Mk IIG, and some other odds and ends. I'm going to help him set up his shack, antennas and the like, but I KNOW that he wants to get started in CW.

    As a gift for getting his first callsign, I'd like to get him a set of paddles or straight key (and I do know there is a lot of discussion as to how to learn first....I learned on a set of paddles). In any case, what would you recommend? I've got quite a few different keys: J-38, 2 original K8RA paddles, an AME Portapaddle, a Vibroplex Deluxe Bug, a Begali Camelback and the Begali Pearl paddles in palladium base. I was thinking maybe a Bencher BY-1? Or, in the straight key vein, a "Titan" made by Kelly Klass?

    Let the suggestions roll!!


    Mark KD8EDC
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  2. N2UHC

    N2UHC Ham Member QRZ Page

    Honestly I don't know what to suggest, since everyone is different. All I know is that I started out with a SpeedX straight key and made a lot of QSO's on that, but it wasn't fast enough for me so I bought a set of Bencher BY-1's and built a keyer kit. So I don't know if your friend will be comfortable with a straight key or will want to try a set of paddles, but I would say a J-38 and Bencher BY-1's are good starting points either way.

    Of course, paddles and straight keys are like potato chips... you can't have just one, and everyone's got their favorite.
    WN1MB and KD8EDC like this.
  3. WN1MB

    WN1MB Ham Member QRZ Page

    Hi Mark,

    You're one of the good guys!

    I'm an old school dinosaur and believe you can't go wrong with a straight key to start out. It's my opinion that with CW, in it's most basically form, you're on-off switching an oscillator, and as such, why complicate things. Many hams started off with terrible, cheap straight keys, yet were able to send well formed, quality Morse code.

    I'm thinking a J-38 would be a great first key, and definitely a few steps up from otherwise terrible and cheap keys. The J-38 also has some significant history behind it, which may very well be appreciated by your friend. Now I'm thinking the J-38 and perhaps one of Dave Ingram's books on keys/paddles ( would be great gifts in recognition of that first license versus going a more expensive route.

    Give him the basics, let him get on the air and practice and learn to talk with CW, and find his own way with his next steps in hardware. Something tells me you'll have the opportunity to provide plenty of input!

    Thank you for carrying on several traditions, Mark. 73!
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  4. N2SUB

    N2SUB Ham Member QRZ Page

    I agree, I'd go with a straight key for the simple reason that it's hard to send faster than you can receive with a straight key. For a beginner it keeps it QRS and he he progresses he'll automatically start to send faster and develop an internal keyer. Have you considered getting him a combo, so he can decide where he is most comfortable?

    I'm a big fan of the J-37 (as I'm sure everyone knows), but the J-38 is an excellent key as well. I think he will be happy with anything you give him. Thanks for bringing him along in the true spirit of the hobby. :)
    KD8EDC likes this.
  5. KA5GEX

    KA5GEX Ham Member QRZ Page

    I started with a Ten-Tec Century 21 and a Ten-Tec single "paddle" keyer. Eventually, I got a Brown Brothers paddles and an Autek keyer with which I had many enjoyable QSOs.
  6. KB4QAA

    KB4QAA XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    My suggestions:

    -Speed X (Nye) straight key with Navy knob and shorting bar

    -Bencher BY-1
  7. VE7PJR

    VE7PJR Ham Member QRZ Page

    I note it's "Kelly KlAAs" not "Kelly Klass." Google turns up a young lady with an evidently astonishing skillset, although not at building telegraph keys. :eek:

    But thanks for that; made my day.:D

    This may seem like gratification deferred, but here's my thought: I'd say loan him a "fair-to-middlin'" straight key, and down the road a bit maybe loan him a set of paddles to try with a keyer. Then, after he's done enough to know what his specific preferences are, promise him that you'll buy him either a nice straight key or a nice set of paddles. Or a bug, which was the direction I went once I tried some other things first.

    Encourage him to make eyeball contact with several hams (who are CW fans; might be a high lift) and ask them about what they use and why. I say that because we all have our preferences. I was over the moon when my old friend The Grouch handed me a shopping bag in which were three NIB Nye keys and a J-36 bug. I promptly re-gifted the Nyes to some other folks who were starting out with CW; the J-36 is part of the bug collection. Somebody else might not have responded that way.

    Point being, I guess: if you have an key or a set of paddles kicking around that you're not in love with, and you can let them go, then maybe they'd find a good home with him. But if you're going to spend that kind of money for a nice key or set of paddles, then I'd say it's a little early if he doesn't have enough time on the air to begin to know what he likes.
    KD8EDC likes this.
  8. K5DH

    K5DH Ham Member QRZ Page

    Low-cost straight key suggestions (in no particular order):
    J-37, J-38, Speed-X, any of the vintage railroad keys (AT&T, Bunnell, etc)

    Bencher BY-1 (been using and loving mine since 1978!)

    Dean K5DH
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  9. AA4OO

    AA4OO XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Start him with the bug. What could go wrong?
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  10. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    You're a good friend to help him out so much.

    If he's "just learning" code from scratch, I'd recommend a good straight key to start with but the BY-1 would be a great gift.

    I've been active on CW 52+ years and use three BY-1s mostly (on three different setups), and have even used one mobile quite a lot for CW/m, with the paddle held onto the center console in the car using Velcro. It doesn't move, even if I slam the brakes on hard.

    Two of my Benchers are 30+ years old and still fine. They don't have quite the refined feel of a Begali but they work fine for me, at 40-45 wpm (or of course anything slower). I can't send faster than that anyway, at least not anymore.

    Help him learn the code, if he's just starting out! And it sounds like you're an experienced CW op who would concur with my finding that the best way to learn is by using it, not just copying, but also sending.
    KD8EDC likes this.

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