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 time I write a long post from my Android phone.

    Actually, I MEANT Kelly Klaas, K7SU........amazing difference one wrong letter makes.

    Anyway, thanks for the loaner suggestion...might be the best route.


  2. KD8EDC

    KD8EDC Ham Member QRZ Page

    I do indeed concur that copying AND sending are both extremely important in learning CW. I think working on sending at the same time seems to "complete the neural pathways", and it may be that the addition of sending is what allows people to make such great strides when they (finally) get on the air. I've always been the "who cares how many mistakes I make, each one is helping me learn" kind of person, so I had no real fear of getting on the air. I'm trying to instill that in my friend as well. I do plan to do a lot of practice QSOs with him over the air and via Skype (much like CW Academy), and he's extremely enthusiastic.

    Working on deciding whether to lend him a key to start or get him a nice BY-1 or Straight Key, but I value your input a great deal.


    Mark KD8EDC
  3. VE7PJR

    VE7PJR Ham Member QRZ Page

    Funny thing is, probably none of us started out with a loaner. We either built something -- and I've heard stories about guys making a strap key to get on the air with the MOPA they built from scrounging parts at a TV repair store -- or we bought something because it seems like keys were simply not as expensive back then. Might get one for a gift, as I got several over the years, but I never got loaned a key.

    I looked at Kelly's keys and they're gorgeous. I am sensitive to the old argument that starting with a straight key is best so that the ability to tell when one is sending good code is more easily developed. I'm also sensitive to that being a guidance rather than a law -- I've started students on keyers for any of several reasons.

    Really? You're not going far wrong no matter what you do.


    Chuck VE7PJR
    KD8EDC likes this.
  4. NV7Q

    NV7Q Ham Member QRZ Page

    My OPINION here, so no flames.

    I started out using a straight key, and tried starting at the terrible speed of about 5 wpm (1995). I also did not find a learning method that suited me until a short while ago. For me, learning the character sounds at 20+ wpm, and slowing the Farnsworth word rate down to maybe 10-12 for a zero-experience learner is the most efficient way. See below concerning CWA method. 20+ character rate basically eliminates the dit-dah counting tendency (at least the dits) - you hear the total sound of 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 dits only. Same for the dahs once you get to about 25. This works much better for me.

    Starting out using this approach, you can obviously copy practice from any source where you can set character and word rates, but it takes a lot of practice to send nice uniform characters at 20+ with a straight key.

    If it was me:

    #1 - sign him up (or have him sign up) for CWops' CW Academy (CWA, see, follow link for register). The cost is zero, but it may take up to 6 months to get in the Level 1 (for beginners) class - there is fairly high demand, especially for level I. The website will give you all of the details about the Level I class. Instruction sessions are held two evenings per week, with the students and instructor meeting on Skype (video preferred, but audio only is acceptable). The goal of the 8 week, 16 session Level I class is to take the newbie to about 15 wpm word rate, and learn all letters, numbers, basic punctuation, and a few prosigns by the end of the class. They highly suggest three 15-20 min. practice sessions per day, so it is a significant commitment (but well worth it if he has the time). I think their teaching system results in over 85% success rate of 15+wpm word rate by end of classes. If he holds interest, there is Level II (goal 20+ wpm), and Level III (goal 25+ wpm). There are other goals for each level which you can read about on their website.

    #2. The CWA program recommends a single lever paddle, or a dual lever without the iambic enabled. They strongly suggest not doing anything in sending at slower than 20 character rate, so I would get him (or recommend) a decent quality single paddle, and help him set up the paddle so it will work FOR HIM.

    #3. Encourage him to practice as much as possible, and set up practice skeds with him to do some over-the-air practice. That is a big help to have a friend willing to help them and keep them motivated.


    Randy, AC6K
    VE7PJR likes this.
  5. KD8EDC

    KD8EDC Ham Member QRZ Page

    Thanks for the reply! No flames, I've been thru the CW Academy courses and have already recommended this to him. I agree with learning at a much higher rate than 5 wpm, and I am also a proponent of learning words and sounds rather than letters. I had some experience in this before I learned CW, in that I am an American Sign Language interpreter, and when I was learning to fingerspell, I was taught by a master who NEVER let me spell words, but forced me to make SOUNDS with my hands. So, rather than thinking of letters when I was learning and later fingerspelling, I'd FEEL the sounds in my, ing, ets and all the suffixes became sounds, then prefixes became sounds, then WORDS became sounds on my hands. Along with ASL signs, this has always made it much easier to spell and mouth words (or talk) at the same time. I began noticing that I was doing this with CW as I was learning it almost immediately. It's very much akin to the Jack Ritter, W0UCE's method, which is also used by CWA: AND TV/Learning_Morse_Code.pdf

    In any case, I agree with you, and also feel strongly about the importance of sending in practicing from the beginning.

    That said, I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to do yet, but I am going to have him have a look at the keys I have and try some out, and see where his interest lies.

    Thanks for ALL of the responses to this thread so far, and I'm looking forward to seeing more! I'm passionate about Morse/Vail code, QRP, SOTA and CW contesting, and am hoping to help preserve the art of radio-telegraphy one new ham at a time.........


    Mark KD8EDC
  6. WD0BCT

    WD0BCT Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    IMO...get any kind of straight key first...even if home made. After honing your sending keys get a better straight key. When you think you are mastering a straight key then try a bug or a keyer with single or dual paddle. Form your own opinions on each. It's a journey and not everyone will have the same opinion of each.
    KD4ZFS likes this.
  7. VE7PJR

    VE7PJR Ham Member QRZ Page

    There are so many more resources than we had "back in the day." The guy who taught me the code made his own code tapes according to what he felt was best practice -- turns out he was a fairly vocal proponent of the "send letters at 20, words at seven to learn five" school. (Fred Denison...He was such a great Elmer.)

    Some years later he started me out teaching the code to assist him and I learned that system in my bones. I've been intrigued by some of the newer methods, and quite interested in the mentoring approach such as CWA. I kinda figure I know the code already, so I've been just getting on the air and making contacts. A couple decades away from it kinda erodes the skills but I leave the radio on and sit down to copy whatever I can hear when I walk by it. Occasionally I'll answer a CQ and have a QSO if I have ten or 20 minutes free.

    When I learned "landline" Morse I taught myself. (Never teach yourself or anyone you love; just leads to arguments which is embarrassing when you're arguing with yourself.) But I learned it in fairly short order.

    While it's easy to get wrapped up in trying to find the best way, it's also important to be willing to try ANY way, and make some changes if it doesn't appear to be working after a fair go.

    Does this guy KNOW he's got a whole pile of hams cheering him on?


    Chuck VE7PJR
  8. KD8EDC

    KD8EDC Ham Member QRZ Page

    Not at the moment, he doesn't. However, I do intend to show him this thread once he gets his call.

    Jim, if you're reading this now, yes, we've been talking about you. Welcome to the CW Collective. Resistance is futile (it's also V / I). You will be assimilated. Failure is not an option.

    Mark KD8EDC
    Tough and Competent
  9. NL7W

    NL7W Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    I started out with a cheapy Radio Shack straight key back in the day (the early 80's). It worked well up to 20 wpm as a Novice, just before I upgraded to General at the Chicago field office.

    After upgrading, I treated myself to a Bencher BY-1. Still have that BY-1, replacing the spring a few years back. I also have their Hex Key. Both are FB. :)
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2018
    N2SUB likes this.
  10. W7KKK

    W7KKK Ham Member QRZ Page

    The J-38 or J-37 trained many an operator in the Army. I am not sure what other services used but in the Army during the 1060s and before we had mainly J-38s in the classrooms when I was an instructor at the Radio Operator's Course at Fort Huachuca, AZ.
    I cannot believe that they are bringing the money they want for them today even in poor condition!
    Years ago the war surplus stores had bins of them for around $1 each.
    One key that I had a few years back was an old Nye Viking Master Key with the large Navy style knob. Many did not like it but I did.

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