New Ham on learning CW

Discussion in 'Straight Keys - CW Enthusiasts' started by KD2SVR, Oct 29, 2019.

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  1. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    This is a great and "free" book about code operation. It's a bit of a long read, but interesting and contains a lot of history, tips, anecdotes, etc.

    I was a contributor to this, a long time ago when the author was still with us (he's SK now) and N0HFF approached me via snail mail (!) to contribute some content, so I did. He did give credit to all the contributors, on page 199.

    Worth reading:
    KE0GXN likes this.
  2. K5UNX

    K5UNX XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    I am in the same boat sort of. I am learning CW and not comfortable on the air yet. I have been through CW Ops Academy 1 and just now finishing up Level 2. I am just afraid I'll miss too much and blow up the contact. Last night, I did listen to a couple QSO that were happening and while I missed a lot still, I was able to understand more than I thought I would, as long as they were reasonable speed. This morning I listened to the CW Ops CWT and most of them were stupid fast. I had no idea what was happening, although I did pick out CQ and CWT quite a bit.

    I would like to operate straight key night on Dec 31, and am thinking about getting a Bug for that. But in my mind, trying to still learn code and get on the air while trying to figure out the bug, seems like not a good thing. I might get one, but I'll keep working on CW and get more comfortable before trying to spend time figuring that out.
    KD2SVR and W9RAC like this.
  3. W9RAC

    W9RAC Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    Hello Wayne. The commets to follow are just my opinion, others mileage may vary. So I have been the entire gambit, straight key, bug, paddle/keyer, keyboard and still use all on occasion. The "stage" fright gets us all at first. I was always afraid Id mess up and fold like a cheap paper bag..... and I always did! Look, I'm still here. With all due respect, if you were to purchase a bug today with your current level of Morse skills its unlikely you would be on air successfully Dec 31st for straight key night, with dignity using a bug. You could meet that goal with mechanical key, a straight key. Problem is CW Ops has a bit different teaching technique than is used with mechanical keys. Not that they can not mix at some point as you mature, just not well while learning.

    Considering the preferred CWOPs character speed is 20/21 that speed is generally only achieved using a straight key by the very best of Ops. Many think they can, very very few really can. So the two may end up in conflict in the learning stages since with the straight key your going to typically be in the 13-16 wpm area. You will not be able to send farnsworth with any success with a straight key as you are with the paddle. 15 wpm straight key is 15 wpm, not 21/15. I am actually a Elmer as listed on the SKCC site so I deal with this alot on air. These days most of my QSO's are at 20/21 with a paddle.

    I operated ONLY a bug for three years solid, so let's talk about you and a bug at this stage of learning. The bug is a semi auto mechanical key. Semi because the dits are automatic in that however long you hold the dit side it of the lever, it produces dits, by way of spring type action. The dah side is manual. So like a straight key, you have to create each individual dah with your hand movement(s). The Vibroplex Original has a movable weight which allows for some selectivity of the dits, since they are created automatically. The weight is movable but at the slowest point the dits are around 20/21. In order to be able to get the bug even close to the speed you would need it to be to control it you will need extra weight OR the Vibroplex Vari kit. Either way the best you will get and maintain a DECENT sound is 16ish. Of course the dahs are completely manual so you would match the speed of the dits by hand and sound with the dahs. Learning the action of the bug, controlling the bug, learning to copy Morse Code, that's a bit to do buy 12/31.

    I believe at this point you will have a very hard time transitioning from a paddle to a straight key, back and forth so to speak, not even to consider a bug. You are off to a great start Wayne. Stay the course what has worked for you so far. Get the code down a bit more so you are comfortable with your copy as they teach. Then if you get a chance later, grab a straight key or bug to play with knowing what they hold in store, the transition is still a test going from one to the other and back. The only exception to what I have mentioned above I believe is.... you have decided you would prefer to operate at slower speeds and/or want to start using and learning mechanical keys. Hope its helped some, 73 Rich
    K7TRF likes this.
  4. K7TRF

    K7TRF Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Don't worry about being perfect with your CW sending or receiving, especially at the start. Most hams are pretty psyched to work new CW ops and are supportive of mistakes, needing to slow down or just having the new op say 73 if it's too much.

    I'd suggest surfing over to the Straight Key Century Club and registering for a free SKCC number and then either calling CQ SKCC or responding to those who are. The SKCC ops are all using some form of straight key and speeds are often quite reasonable but the QSOs also tend to be very short following a pretty tight script. Sure I've answered SKCC CQs and ended up in ragchews but most seem to limit things to the following bullet points:
    - RST
    - QTH
    - Name
    - SKCC number

    Knowing what to expect can really reduce the stress and if you don't get it all it really doesn't matter.

    Think of it as trying to have a casual discussion at a very noisy party or sporting event. You might not get every word and sometimes you might not even get the gist of the conversation but who really cares in the end? Just get on the air, start pounding on the key and the confidence will come even if you have to send a quick 73 and bail sometimes. We've all been there.

    And FWIW I'd strongly suggest a plain jane straight key for straight key night. Don't add a bug to your stress level until CW QSOs become comfortable. Switching from an electronic keyer to a bug or a cootie (sideswiper) is a lot harder than it may seem. Of course you can always ignore the dit side of the bug and just use the bug (or a cootie) as a sideways mounted straight key and just pound out code on that side of the bug but that still adds a twist that won't make things easier or lower the stress level.
  5. K5UNX

    K5UNX XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    I am using a paddle and keyer for the CW Ops class. I have not attempted trying to straight key yet. I agree that I need to get more comfortable making CW QSO's before I deviate with a bug or straight key.
    W9RAC likes this.
  6. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page


    Last I checked, no cash prize for perfect copy, or perfect sending.

    Like Nike says, "Just Do It."

    If things get so squirrelly that you can't complete the contact, just walk away and chalk it up to experience. There's no penalty for ending a QSO without sending 73.
  7. K5UNX

    K5UNX XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Thanks! I actually made a QSO a bit ago . . . survived RST, name etc, actually understood most of the other guy and ended with 73. Missed something he sent at the end but I got the bulk of it.
  8. K4RT

    K4RT Ham Member QRZ Page


    Congratulations on getting licensed. FB on wanting to learn Morse code.

    I suggest learning to send code with a straight key. If you use a straight key to emulate good code character form and spacing you hear on air or with software, that will definitely set the foundation for sending properly with other devices. I'm not sure what bug you have, but on many occasions I have used the dah side of my bug as a straight key when necessary, which works fine, although I prefer the spring tension of a straight key.

    I used straight keys and iambic keyers for the first 20 years as a ham before getting a bug. I practiced with the bug off air for the better part of a year before using it on air. I suggest becoming basically proficient with an iambic keyer or bug prior to using either device on air.

    Take your time, practice copying and sending the code regularly, and above all have fun with it. It's good to strive for perfection but you don't have to send or receive perfectly to start making QSOs.

  9. WF4W

    WF4W Ham Member QRZ Page

    my advice to anyone new to CW is to start with a straight key. The additional manual formation of characters - combining sound with motion/feel - helps you learn. It's kinda like Kinesthetic learning
    KD2SVR and K7TRF like this.
  10. K5TSK

    K5TSK Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    Whether the purchase of a bug for learning was well considered or not is not for me to judge. I sat here a while back and thought it was a novel idea. Then I thought, "If I had a true bug master to help set it up and show me the proper character spacing, and help with my practice, then why not?" If you are learning with Farnsworth or similar, then you are already at slow bug speed on characters. Probably won't hear that again. Seriously, with proper teaching and a good master at your side to help, why couldn't a 'cootie' be your first key?
    As a junior high code student we had several good code ops watching us learn the straight key. Must emphasize the need for accomplished help with these particular keys. Now, I'll be quiet and go back to sleep.
    KD2SVR likes this.

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