What style Key for starters?

Discussion in 'Straight Keys - CW Enthusiasts' started by KB3LOM, Apr 11, 2020.

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  1. KB3LOM

    KB3LOM Ham Member QRZ Page

    I had learned code enough that I *almost* passed the exam years ago. Haven't touched it since but its something I want to master.

    Straight keys fascinate me, but so does iambic. What style key is recommended for someone who is starting over and relearning?
  2. W6MK

    W6MK Ham Member QRZ Page

    Very big difference between a key which generates code manually, as with a straight key, sideswiper or bug and a key which automatically generates code electronically.

    As learning devices, many of us used manual keys because there were very few automatic ones (in the late 1950s)

    My bias is that if a learner begins with a manual key, the learner will have a deeper and better understanding of
    the correct Morse Code rhythms.

    On the other hand, the popularity of automatic code generators or keyers, using various types of paddles, reflects an easier path towards some mastery of sending and probably allows some operators to send better code than they could using manual keys.

    All that said, there are at least two types of paddles available for sending automated code: double levers (which allow iambic or "squeeze" sending) and single-lever paddles (which do not allow iambic sending).

    The choice between double lever and single lever paddles involves choosing a method which is more complex to
    learn (iambic keying) with the potential "benefit" of a slight improvement in "efficiency" (whatever that means) and an easier-to-learn method (single lever keying) which has three potential benefits: easier learning, fewer sending mistakes and higher ultimate speed attainment. High speed sending contest winners universally use single lever paddles.

    Lots of choices. And you can use any number of manual keys in any number of ways. Sideswiper keys can be used
    as single lever paddles. Straight keys can be used with the forearm resting on the desk (American style) or with
    the sending arm in front of the desk and key at the desk's front edge (European style).

    Double lever paddles can be used as if they were single levers if the operator avoids the squeezing technique.

    Most CW ops have several keys. You don't know how you are going to like using one type or design until you
    have some experience with it. So jump right in. Get a key or paddle that is popular and affordable. That's a start.
    W9EBE likes this.
  3. W5WTH

    W5WTH Ham Member QRZ Page

    I say a straight key but for different reasons. The SKCC Group is has the friendliest OPs on the air. They QSO at any speed and their tolerance for errors and repeats is amazing. But, you have to use a SKEY. The code is slower and QSO are easier to get thanks to SKCC.
    W4NNF and KC3RN like this.
  4. KI7RS

    KI7RS Ham Member QRZ Page

    I learned on a paddle, and can comfortably send at 25 wpm. That being said, I can't copy most things at 25 wpm, and prefer to QSO with a straight key. With the straight key I feel I can think on my feet and feel more relaxed in a QSO, probably because I'm going at 15-17 wpm, and not 20+. I like the paddle for SOTA and quick exchanges. I recommend picking one you plan to focus on, but don't be afraid to practice both.
  5. K5UNX

    K5UNX XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    I believe they allow bugs as well as straight keys . . correct?
    PU2OZT and W5WTH like this.
  6. W6MK

    W6MK Ham Member QRZ Page


    Bugs are essentially manual keys with the dits industrialized. One dit, depending on overall speed, should be identical to every other dit. Thus a natural for the assembly line.

    Everything else is artisanal.

    SKCC 7169
    PU2OZT and W5WTH like this.
  7. K0UO

    K0UO Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    K8PG likes this.
  8. KC3RN

    KC3RN Ham Member QRZ Page

    For most QSO's, I prefer a straight key. As far as types or brands, I like the Speed-X keys. They're inexpensive, readily available (especially at hamfests), and have nice action. Ham-Key products are also cool, for the same reasons. The Ham-Keys were basically knock-offs of Brown Bros., at less than half the price.

    I agree with W5WTH - join SKCC (I'm # 12461T). We'll work you at whatever speed you're comfortable.

    Now, as far as which type of key - in an ideal world, you want to have access to both, especially while learning. A straight key is a bit more challenging, but also more rewarding. However, electronic keyers will help you develop a good ear for how good CW should sound (proper timing, spacing, etc.). That can really help in avoiding developing an "accent" when sending with a straight key. I hear quite a few folks that are hard to copy because of their "accent". Either their timing or spacing is off. Sometimes both. These guys are really hard to work. It's very much like the spoken word - the heavier a person's accent, the more difficult they are to understand. And yes, I was taught English by nuns.... ;)

    My final thought - as a beginner, please avoid the temptation to get a bug. Bugs are hard enough for experienced ops to use...
    W5WTH likes this.
  9. W5ESE

    W5ESE Ham Member QRZ Page

    I agree with the recommendation to not begin with a bug, and also agree with W5WTH about SKCC.

    A significant amount of the slower morse operation on the bands these days is associated with SKCC members, and participating in SKCC activities IMHO would be the most fun way to build your morse proficiency. And if it's fun, you'll do more of it. ;)

    You don't have to spend a mint to get a usable straight key.

    I bought a cheap japanese ball bearing straight key at Radio Shack in 1975, and it's still the straight key I use most often today. The same key was recently sold as the Ameco K-4, though it appears to be out of production now. I would not recommend the Ameco K-1. If I was buying a new straight key today, I would probably get a Nye-Viking (Speed-X) 320-001.

    Eventually, though, you will probably want to acquire paddles of some type. I use dual-lever paddles (Bencher BY-1), but I have never used the "squeeze key" feature (I basically use it as a single lever paddle).
    W5WTH likes this.
  10. W5WTH

    W5WTH Ham Member QRZ Page

    I just checked my log. I hope you had a good SKCC WES (which is the most user friendly 'contest' going):

    "2020-04-11 15:37 20m 14.000 CW KEVIN C MC CARTHY skcc wes"

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