Noob with bad hands. How do I start? What kind of key?

Discussion in 'Straight Keys - CW Enthusiasts' started by AI7JN, Aug 21, 2021.

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  1. AI7JN

    AI7JN Ham Member QRZ Page

    I'm sure this has come up before but I can't find it. I am an old man with stiff and numb fingers. I would like to get into CW. I can read close to 20 wpm but I have yet to try sending. I don't think my hands could handle a telegraph style key but I know nothing about paddle keys, double paddles, etc. or how hey work. Since I don't know whether I can handle a key yet, I don't want o spend a lot of money before I know what I can do. I am afraid some paddles (are they what we used to call "speed keys"?) might get ahead of me since my nerve response time is slow. Any advice on what to get would be appreciated. I live in the boondocks and there are no specialty stores within a four-hour drive (at least) so I can't try before I buy.
    KD4FBD likes this.
  2. G8FXC

    G8FXC XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    What kind of radio do you have? It will need a built-in keyer (or an external keyer) before you can use a paddle. If it has a keyer, then it is quite easy to lash up a single paddle using a length of springy metal like a hacksaw blade with a couple of brass screws for contacts and mounting it all on a block of wood. I would not recommend that for a long term solution, but it would give you the opportunity to find out if you can cope with a paddle without spending any significant amount of money

    Martin G8FXC
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  3. AI7JN

    AI7JN Ham Member QRZ Page

    I am getting an iCom IC-7300. It has an input for a key. I don't think my fingers can handle the up and down for very long, but I don't kjnow how the side-to-side paddles work. The descriptions don't seem to be sritten for ignorant people like myself. I read about automatic srings of dashes one way and dots the other, or something about squeezing the paddles to get something else. I think I need the side-to-side motion but without any automatic functioality to confuse me as a beginner. I don't kjnow what kind of key that would be called. I guess I am looking for a sideways telegraph key.
  4. G8FXC

    G8FXC XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    The single paddle is easiest - you move it to one side and the radio will send a continuous stream of perfectly timed dashes and move it to the other side to send a stream of perfectly timed dots. Waggle it from side to side to form letters. That does reduce the number of movements somewhat relative to a straight key, but not very much. What it does do is to remove a lot of the timing effort from you.

    With a dual paddle, you can use Iambic keying - squeeze the paddles together and it sends an alternating stream of dots and dashes - perfectly timed. This does have potential to significantly reduce the number of hand movements. A commonly used letter like C will take four movements on both a straight key and a single paddle, but just two movements on a dual paddle used Iambically. But it is quite a lot harder to learn and the timing of you hand movements has to be pretty accurate.

    Martin G8FXC
    KC3TEC, KD4FBD and AI7JN like this.
  5. G8FXC

    G8FXC XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Last edited: Aug 21, 2021
    WD5GWY, KY8D, KD4FBD and 1 other person like this.
  6. AI7JN

    AI7JN Ham Member QRZ Page

    Is that what it would be called if I buy it? On the one that sends automatic dots and dashes, can I control the speed of them to compensate for my slow reactions?
  7. G8FXC

    G8FXC XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    I don't think you will find anyone advertising a cootie - they are not widely used. It is easy to convert a single paddle to a cootie - just link the two contacts together and tell the radio that it has a straight key plugged in.

    The keyer built into the 7300 does have a speed control

    Martin G8FXC
    AE0Q likes this.
  8. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    No, that's not a cootie key.

    The IC-7300 has a built-in electronic keyer. All you need is a "paddle" key, which is nothing more than two single pole switches activated by a "paddle" you move side to side to automatically make both dits and dahs.

    I prefer the dual-lever paddles (often called "iambic" paddles) because I find them slightly easier to use. I have mine set so each paddle only moves about 1/32" or so and takes almost no effort to move them and's set for such a "light touch" if I sneeze it might send a letter.:p

    I'd think if your hands don't work so well you may want to set up a paddle key about like that. It takes practice to get good at it, but you can practice all you want "off the air" with the IC-7300 by just turning off the VOX/QSK and listening to the sidetone which will allow you to hear what you're doing without actually transmitting.

    There are some dual-paddle keys available that are pretty inexpensive. Here's one for $43 brand new (although I've never used this one and can't vouch for it...but there are many choice): Black Iambic Double Paddle Morse Code Key MADE IN USA | eBay
    AI7JN likes this.
  9. AI7JN

    AI7JN Ham Member QRZ Page

    Is the one without iambic what they call he single lever paddle? And will you confirm that it is the radio and not the key that controls the sending speed of the series of dots and dashes? As I said, I know nothing. Decades ago I briefly tried a telegraph key and a "speed key", but that was in the 60s. I am considering buying a Bencher ST-1 black base single lever paddle from Ham Radio Outlet. Does that sound like a good choice?
  10. DD5RK

    DD5RK Ham Member QRZ Page


    perhaps for the first test:


    It can be used as paddle (without squeezing) or sidewiper / cootie. Works fine with IC7300.
    For sidewiper operation you connect the contacts with the yellow and the red banana plugs, and wire as a straight key to the radio.
    You don't need the magnets, only if you want to have more back force.
    The IC7300 can also emulate a bug.
    So you can test all three.
    You can move the paddle with your fingers, or you can turn your wrist left and right.

    K9NUD, PY2RAF, KD4FBD and 2 others like this.

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