Wanting to Try CW

Discussion in 'Working Different Modes' started by N4DCT, Apr 25, 2012.

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  1. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    Great comments, Bill.

    I think starting right out of the gate with an electronic keyer and paddles will work for most, if they give it a shot. I didn't have that option in 1965 as keyers were fairly rare; although the W9TO circuit was in the Handbook, and when I finally built one in 1966, I never went back to any other kind of key. At that time not many keyer paddles were around, but the "Vibro Keyer" was (from Vibroplex), so I used those. They're not great but it's what was available.

    But I still think it pays to know how to use a straight key, even if it's very rarely used. Touching two wires together works also, and this might be handy one day. I think we found that even blinking one's eyes to send Morse might be helpful in some cases, if you recall that story.
  2. VK6ZGO

    VK6ZGO Ham Member QRZ Page

    If you are using an old Australian (or British) made key(or maybe a European one),the standard American position is not appropriate,as the construction of these keys do not lend themselves to being deep on the table.
    If you DO have an American style key,persevere & you will get used to it.
    I remember somewhere,having an article on using keys,& it showed the difference between the keys,& the appropriate operating positions.
    It has vanished now,but you should be able to find something like that on the Internet.

  3. W4FYL

    W4FYL Ham Member QRZ Page

    Speaking from a position of operating CW for over 50 years, my advice is to start with a straight key. Bugs and electronic paddles were invented to increase code speed and to reduce physical effort. They do that, but they are intended for use by experienced CW ops, and add another layer of difficulty to learning. They are not a beginner's tool.

    It won't kill you to learn first to send well on a straight key, then move to a keyer or bug. Thousands of hams have done it and survived.

    If you have no experience with CW, practice and master the fundamentals first. Starting with a straight key will help you to focus on forming your code characters well and perfecting your timing between characters. A straight key will free you from being preoccupied with gagetry, and will let you pay more attention to operating procedures, the conversation you're having, what's going on around you on the band, and copying the other guy's code.

    There are several videos on YouTube that demonstrate straight key techniques. Watch them and try the techniques until you find one that's comfortable for you.

    From an OT's viewpoint, it's always amusing to see someone post that he wants to "try code" to see if he likes it. IMHO, there is no such thing as "trying" code. Like learning to drive, it takes effort, time and dedication to learn code, and you're not likely to fully "get it" until you put away the mic for a few months, immerse yourself in CW, and live it like that's the only mode you have. If you intend to idly dabble in CW, maybe have a couple of hi-bye QSOs, I can practically guarantee that you'll hate it and will wonder why anyone would bother with such a clumsy, slow mode.

    Learning to send code is the easy part. Learning to copy it is the hard part -- either in your head, writing it down, or typing it. I suggest you spend lots of time sitting quietly and copying the W1AW code bulletins regularly. Their code is machine-generated and flawless: listening to it will teach you what code is supposed to sound like, so that you can imitate it.

    Joe, W1FYL
    Last edited: May 30, 2012
  4. K8JD

    K8JD Ham Member QRZ Page

    I think this idea is poor advice and not thought out well.
    You do have to learn correct spaciing and forming of letters and word spacing. Someone who learns this on a straight key has it for life. Someone who starts with a keyer paddle can make terrible spacing and word formation errors even with the "perfect timing" of the dits and dahs from a keyer !!!

  5. M0LEP

    M0LEP Ham Member QRZ Page

    It seems the one thing you can pretty much guarantee when you ask questions about learning Morse is that you will get sincere but contradictory advice...

    Others I've encountered include:

    # "learn to read first, then learn to send" or "learn to send and read at the same time"

    # "start slow but with proper spacing" or "start fast but with extended gaps"

    # "get into QSOs as soon possible" or "don't try any QSOs until you're competent"

    ...and a fair bit of "do this, don't do that" and "you're doing it wrong" advice regarding training software and teaching methods.

    I suspect there's no One True Way, and it's much more interesting (and potentially useful) to hear first-hand "this worked for me" and "this did not work for me" stories...

    73, Rick M0LEP
  6. K6ABZ

    K6ABZ Ham Member QRZ Page

    OMG... someone who remembers the VIC-20 days. :D

    I find it ironic that it's easier to write a program like that on the VIC-20 or C= 64, since you had more control over the sound hardware. Doing it on a modern PC requires a lot more work.
  7. W1BR

    W1BR Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Quit worrying about the small stuff. Just get on the air, and work CW.

    Thousands of Novices in the 1960s had one year licenses, and did the best they could with what they had. Most ham gear
    these days is LIGHT years more advanced than the crap I had to deal with as a young novice at age 14, using a crap KT-200
    Lafayette receiver and a DX-60 transmitter.

    Don't worry about straight keys, keyers, Iambic A or B... just get on the air and start working stations. That's how thousands
    of hams got started, and long before the internet was available to give "advice". Just do it. Quit worry about what everyone thinks
    you should be doing, and get busy what doing what needs to be done.

    You will soon figure out when you are ready to move from a hand key to a keyer and paddles. Take baby steps, but just do it.

  8. W1SFR

    W1SFR Ham Member QRZ Page

    I'm new to the hobby. Abt 4 months now. I started with a straight key and have since dabbled with paddles and most recently with a bug. I still prefer a straight key. I can go plenty fast with it and I feel like I have a lot more control with it. No extra dits or dahs where you don't want them. It's important to me to experience and be somewhat proficient with all methods of sending CW, but at this time, I would strongly advise you to start with a straight key and when someone asks you what keyer you're using, you know you're sending out some clean code. Plenty of time to try other devices as you progress. I totally agree with Pete. Get on the air cuz that's where you really learn to converse in cw including all the abbreviations, Q sigs and common procedural QSO stuff. Most of all have fun and don't sweat it. We all started in the same place.:)

    Best 73
  9. K0RGR

    K0RGR Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    As for operating, I often set myself up so that the key is on the left of the operating position, parallel to the edge of the table. I lay my forearm crosswise in front of me, so that the whole forearm is on the table. Then, I can use the left hand for tuning and other things. I wish I could write left handed, but I use a computer for logging these days anyway, so it doesn't matter much.

    In my pickup, I have a big console that works nicely as an arm rest for me, too. There are cup holders on the front of the console. I put the paddles in the cup holder such that when my forearm is draped over the console, my fingers fall right where the paddles are.

    I think it's nice to be able to send with a straight key if you need to, but I also think that's fairly easy to pick up quickly if needed - just don't panic, and try to make the sounds you hear with the keyer. The lengths of the code elements, and the spacing between letters and words is important. Many people fail to do proper spacing when sending by hand, which makes it much harder to decipher. Machine sent code with proper spaces everywhere is much easier to copy. The keyer will provide proper spacing between elements, but you have to provide the character and word spacing. When in doubt, use longer spaces. The person you're working will appreciate it.
  10. KF4PTH

    KF4PTH Ham Member QRZ Page

    Amen! I loved my C64. Back in those day one still had to know and understand the machine. It was a challenge to write software that ran so beautifully on those computers; as well as run nearly flawlessly. Raise your hand if you PEEKed and POKEed daily! I still remember punching in the MX editor from the back of Compute! magazine.

    Today's systems with their Gigglebytes of RAM and Piddlehertz of speed, it's far too easy to write bloatware that "runs" and "works" but which crashes frequently and requires obscene resources to run. Code optimization and sound coding practice has given way to rapid development and cookie cutter re-use. I was taught that RAD and code re-use were fine concepts if done properly and not with disregard to fundamentals or for sound practice.

    Yoda had similar sage advice! :D
    I'm no CW whiz, I'll confess. I didn't get into amateur radio until after they had dropped code from the Technician requirements. When I went for my General, code had been dropped to 5wpm. I learned the code from a CD which I played in my car which was, of course, audio only. I learned the sound of the characters, not their "shape" of dits and dahs. My only use of code to date was during that test.

    My advice, for what it's worth, is to learn code by sound and not the dit-dah patterns. When you hear code sent, you won't see anything so learn to trust your ear. For a key, my money is on a straight keyer for the "back to basics" experience. I can't see myself plonking down the cash for a fancy keyer that I can't (right now) fully appreciate. An iambic (or any other variety of) key can come later, once I've got the fundamentals down! :)

    As to arm positioning, I think the original US Army video (from which that photo was taken) goes on to say that signalmen would need to be able to send code while their key was strapped to their thigh. Nothing to rest an arm on. I think the Master Sergeant's words were something like, "Just keep your arm as stationary as possible without moving your elbow." I guess that means that no matter how one holds one's arm, just focus on sending crisp, rhythmic code. That video, by the way, is Army training video at its finest! :rolleyes:
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2012
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