Straight key or paddle for a CW newbie?

Discussion in 'Working Different Modes' started by NN9S, Jul 19, 2010.

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  1. NN9S

    NN9S Ham Member QRZ Page

    I'm a new ham, age 37, name is Ben. Passed my element 2 and 3 together in May, then set up my first HF rig in June. I figured I'd never have any interest in CW. And now here I am, crazy fool, getting jealous of how all these CW conversations are just cutting through QRN that would make SSB impossible. I want some of that! (I'd also like to build a pocket-sized CW rig kit someday too...)

    So now I'm studying for my element 4 and learning CW on the side, using Gordon West's CDs and practicing my copying with a Mac application. I think Gordo's using 'koch' method -- adding 1 letter at a time -- and I'm up to 10 letters now.

    Anyway, I'm wondering why I see so much advice about newbies starting out with straight keys. Looking around, it seems like paddles are absolutely ubiquitous and the norm for most CW'ers. Is there any reason I shouldn't start with a paddle? (My IC-7200 has a built-in electronic keyer already.)

    I've heard stories that it's good to start with a straight key to "teach your fist a solid rhythm", and hey, I'm a bluegrass banjo player -- I know I've got rhythm! :) But it seems sort of a like a waste of time to learn a straight key if I'm going to inevitably end up with a paddle anyway. Why not just go with the paddle from the start?

    I suspect I'm opening up a big religious debate here, but I'd love to hear some opinions from the elmers out there...
  2. W0BTU

    W0BTU Ham Member QRZ Page

    Hello Ben,

    I started with a straight key (which I still have, somewhere), and have used an iambic paddle now for years. Like you, I've seen much advice that you must start with a straight key, but why should you?

    Just get an iambic paddle and bypass the carpal tunnel syndrome and the stress of using a straight key.
  3. WA4OTD

    WA4OTD Ham Member QRZ Page

    DItto, start with straight key and then once you run out of speed on it then get a paddle keyer.

    Straight keys are very easy to use and you can learn the proper spacing between dits and dahs, letters, words, and sentences.
  4. W0BTU

    W0BTU Ham Member QRZ Page

    Why start with a straight key? An iambic paddle is so much easier and relaxing.
  5. NN4RH

    NN4RH Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Actually I find a straight key more relaxing. Too easy to screw things up with a paddle.

    And straight key code has more personality and individuality. Some of the old-timers are real music to ears on a straight key.

    But either way is fine. Whatever works for you.

    But whichever way you go, do it right. Go for quality. Speed will take care of itself with experience.

    With the paddle don't set that keyer up faster than you can control. Too many paddle users got their keyers set way too fast and don't leave proper spacings so that CQ for example comes out as -.....-........-- ---.........-----

    Unreadable code at 30 wpm keyer speed with perfectly formed dits and dahs is still unreadable. Slow down. Learn to form the letters without slurring everything together and sending all those extra dits and dahs.

    With the straight key, if you're getting carpal tunnel and getting stressed out, then you're using it wrong.
  6. N3PDT

    N3PDT XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Well, here's my take after almost 8wks on the air with CW and a couple month's worth of practice before screwing up the courage to call CQ. So, take this newbie's advice with a grain of salt.

    Whichever works best for you to develop the rhythm, do it. As soon as you know the alphabet, numbers and simple punctuation, get on the air. There are plenty of OM out there that come down to the 'old novice' portions of 40m just to QSO with us slow guys. I can't express how grateful I am to them, nor fully describe my appreciation for their encouragements. If you can only go 3wpm, there will be someone that will slow down that far for you while you are learning. Repeats are expected and you aren't begrudged for asking.

    As for the original question, I found for myself, that a keyer set about 14-15wpm and using farnsworth spacing was the way to go. The keyer forces me to use the proper rhythm for the characters and 'sets a beat' for the rest of the spacing. I can use a straight key, but I'm not as crisp with it. I still practice with it, but on the air it's iambic for now.
  7. N0IU

    N0IU Ham Member QRZ Page

    This is an extremely unpopular answer on QRZ, but I happen to also agree with it!
  8. WB2SXY

    WB2SXY Ham Member QRZ Page

    Why learn CW on straight key. Interesting Topic. One possible answer is as you learn better and more accurately on the iambic paddle you will naturally increase your speed. I keep my straight key on the desk next to my paddle, as it is a courtesy to answer a CW CQ at a caller's ( possibly slower ) speed. With the paddles you will be used to working faster, as 99% of all CW work on the bands - outside of contests - will be done at 13-18 wpm, which you will be doing within a year if you keep using CW. Do a web search on 'TASRT' - The Art and Skill of Radio Telegraphy. When I answer a CW CQ operator who is at a much slower pace, I completely lose track of where I am with the paddles - I forget how to use the paddles at slower speeds! My Iambic timing is way off - hi hi. I personally use the straight key when answering slow CW speed CQ's and QSO's - presumably newer CW operators or hams who have more difficulty with CW keying.

    tnx de Bill WB2SXY k dit dit
    ZP6SKY likes this.
  9. AE5RY

    AE5RY Ham Member QRZ Page

    I don't know the answer, just wanted to say congrats on the general ticket--I'm a May baby too.

    There really is something magical about CW and nostalgic! I'm a bit further ahead of you on learning the code (35 characters-but no extra element study). I intend on using a straight key to start just because of the nostalgia. Everybody I visit has both sitting side by side somewhere in the shack-usually the desk. There must be some need but I guessing it will reveal itself with experience.
  10. NN9S

    NN9S Ham Member QRZ Page

    Just an update: I've learned nearly the whole alphabet now, and been practicing daily on copying. My training CD does 15wpm with wide farnsworth spacing, and I use some software that imitates that. But I also wrote myself a program to send random (popular) words to me at a full-on standard 8wpm. And yes, I find that by scanning 40m I *do* hear conversations less than 10wpm now and then, and try to copy what I can!

    I've also bought a beautiful Kent paddle and have practiced a tad using the iambic keyer built into my icom-7200. I'm getting ready to solder a tiny little altoids-tin keyer as well. :)
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