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Straight key or paddle for a CW newbie?

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

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  1. KC2SIZ

    KC2SIZ Ham Member QRZ Page

    I learned on a straight key because everyone told me I should go that route. I never felt satisfied with my sending via a straight key. I knew the code and could copy well, but a straight key requires a different kind of dexterity than a paddle and I lack it.

    A year or so later I moved to a paddle. The transition definitely took time and some getting used to. Now I love the paddle and think I'd have been better off if I'd started off with it.
  2. W5RKL

    W5RKL Ham Member QRZ Page

    I hear many CW operators on the bands today sending poorly formed characters with very poor character and word spacing. Characters are run together such as sending the word "Les" as "LH" where "es" is sent together as "dit dit dit dit", sending too many dits or dahs for numbers, and of course, sending much faster than they can receive.

    The "operator", not a straight key, bug, or keyer and paddle, controls how good the sent code sounds which includes proper character formation and proper character and word spacing! A straight key, bug, or keyer and paddle only send what they are told to send by the "operator". An operator who has not learned how to send proper formed characters along with proper character and word spacing, will not improve his/her sending by switching to a bug or keyer and paddle because it's "easier". In many cases the operator's sending will become worse.
  3. NN9S

    NN9S Ham Member QRZ Page

    OK, I've been practicing copying each day by listening to 'quote of the day' podcasts over at (So much better than the W1AW excerpts from QST!) I'm upgrading from 5 to 8wpm now; it's slow going, but practice makes perfect.

    In the meantime, in anticipation of happy QRP-days ahead, I've started constructing an HF antenna I can carry in a 3-ring binder:
  4. K1DNR

    K1DNR Ham Member QRZ Page

    You know, I was going to say it has to be a straight key... but I changed my mind.

    I think it could be helpful to start slowly with a straight key, and then graduate to paddles once comfortable with a sustained 5 wpm or so... Just to learn the basic feel of sending CW.

    It would be easier for me to teach someone with a straight key...

    I'm not sure how I'd teach a complete beginner that the dashes are on this side, and the dots on that side... and then you swing your wrist this way, now spell your name... hmm...

    Maybe it would depend on the student.
  5. K1DNR

    K1DNR Ham Member QRZ Page

    Interesting portable antenna concept.
  6. AC0PR

    AC0PR Ham Member QRZ Page

    Two more cents to the pot

    I know the original posting was in July, so you've probably already decided. I'm pretty new myself, and started using paddles first, and, like you, figured since I would be ending up on paddles I should just start there. Let me say that I'm glad I did (but don't stop reading). Spacing isn't necessarily learned well from one or the other, you can have poor word spacing and be a poor or great fist on either of course.

    The reason I'm glad I started with paddles is that it allowed me to overcome the "speed fear" rather quickly, and the myth that you should start out at 5 wpm and work your way up. Just the nature of a straight key makes it slower than paddles. The ease of the paddles allows for easier increase in speed, and is even relaxing I think.

    Having said that I will say I was also dead wrong about the straight key. I bought a J-38 on eBay, just to have really--cw history and all. Then, I had made a homebrew straight key for kicks out of hardware parts, but it was kind of "academic" and I wasn't really planning on using it. With the FISTS SK Memorial I decided to "test it out" on the air. I got hooked quickly on the straight key, and it made it that much more sweet that it was MY key. It's not at all smooth and wears me down (not because of the nature of a SK, but it being a very simplistic HB one), but I joined SKCC the day of my 1st qso with it, and I've had some great qso's with some friendly, SK-lovin' hams.

    I will use them both certainly, both have advantages, both offer a different feel and sense of "status" if you can say it that way. In the end it doesn't matter--it's all CW, and CW rules!

    Mike, AC0PR
  7. KL7AJ

    KL7AJ Ham Member QRZ Page

    This is THE perennial ham radio question, and I don't think there's an answer. I'm proficient with both, (as well as with a Vibroplex), but I wouldn't subject my worst enemy to LEARNING with a Vibroplex. I picked up that skill after I "topped out" on straight key speed....around 30 wpm.

    It's probably a good idea to try out different skills so as to prevent brain ruts, but you don't want to get too dissipated, either. I'd try several methods, and I think you'll gravitate to one naturally.

    There's my non-advice. YMMV.

  8. NM8W

    NM8W XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Another new ham here. I earned my General back in March. I've been practicing CW via an app I have on my iPod Touch. I've learned all my letter & number characters, and a few of the critical punctuation characters. I've been trying to copy at 16 wpm, but decided to slow down to about 13. I'm finding that I'm copying much easier there.

    I haven't yet had the courage to get on the air. I'm finding that even when I listen on HF (rather than just individual words on the app that I'm using), I get overwhelmed and frustrated. I just need to relax though, and listen carefully.

    I've got a straight key that I'm borrowing from the club I belong to. I just need to solder a 1/8" jack to some wire, and attach it to the key. Maybe if I finally do that, I'll get my rear in gear and get serious about actually operating CW, instead of just copying/practicing off air.

    I just plan on sticking with a straight key for a good long while. I'm not going to worry about fancier iambic keys or anything until I know that I'm going to stick with CW. But I AM committed to at least trying it and operating SOME in it.

    I feel like there's some respect given by you OMs for us new guys that take the time to learn it, even though it's not required to get your ticket anymore. ;)

  9. VE3PP

    VE3PP XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    First off congratulations on trying to learn how to copy and send code.

    Although I rarely use CW now as I do a lot of digital I still recognize it as a critical part of Amateur Radio. Plus it is a great way to work some rare DX with 100 watts.

    I will say this though. I tried that straight key route years ago. I could send ok with it but I also found my fist tried quickly and then I would get sloppy.

    I changed over to a dual lever paddle and found that to be much easier to send with. Yes it took some practice but then again you have to practice with a straight key too.

    I now use a home brewed single lever paddle for the little CW I do and I prefer it over the dual lever paddles.

    Just something to think about :)
  10. NN9S

    NN9S Ham Member QRZ Page

    Howdy, original poster here. :) I've got massive respect for the guys who had to pass code tests to get their license! This is hard stuff, but lots of fun.

    That said, I finally did my first CW QSO last week from Chicago to Connecticut... I could only copy about half of what he was saying, but I had the "standard CW script" in front of me, so I was able to get the general idea of what was going on. :) I also made CW contact with a Russian callsign, but the signal broke up after the first minute of exchange, alas. And I can't find his callsign in any database.

    Still practicing my copying, though now I'm trying to copy actual CW conversations now, rather than doing software exercises. I'm really loving my paddles & keyer set to 12wpm; they make my spacing perfect!
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