What's the best straight key for a newbie to code?

Discussion in 'Straight Keys - CW Enthusiasts' started by VA3AEX, Aug 24, 2017.

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  1. VA3AEX

    VA3AEX Ham Member QRZ Page

    I'm just getting started in learning code. I have Ham Morse app installed on my iPhone, but also want to practice actually sending code. What's a good straight key to start with? My focus will be on portable and backpacking/qrp. 73 Alex
  2. W6OGC

    W6OGC Ham Member QRZ Page

    Have a look at http://electronicsusa.com/mk.html

    These are not very good keys. You would not be likely to use one for home station use, but they are small and light, maybe more important in your application.
  3. N8AFT

    N8AFT Ham Member QRZ Page

    Palm radio makes a mini straight and a single lever paddle that can be used as a straight key/sideswiper.
    Bought mine from Morse Express. Very happy with them and they retract into their own protective housing for transport.
  4. VA3VF

    VA3VF Guest

    I think it's best to focus on receiving, sending is easy in comparison. Also, learning on a straight key, may make it harder to switch to paddles later on.
  5. K5DH

    K5DH Ham Member QRZ Page

    VA3EX: Welcome to the wonderful world of Morse! Once you master the code, you'll really grow to love it.

    For learning to send, which you'll probably be doing at home rather than in the field, buy a full-size key and get good with it. Once you've done that, switching to a smaller key for portable ops will be easy. Look for a cheap deal on a war surplus J-37 or J-38. There are plenty of 'em out there and they can be bought for $20 or less if you look a little. You should be able to find a decent deal on a used Speed-X key as well. Look around the hamfests. Shop eBay. Ask local hams. One of them might give or loan you a key just to help you get started.

    I learned to send on a straight key first, then a single-lever paddle, then iambic paddles. Once you get the rhythm down and sending becomes "automatic" to your brain, it's easy for your fingers to learn to use different sending devices.

    In my portable QRP station bag, I have a nice compact Soviet Army surplus straight key that I bought off eBay for less than $20 shipped, and a set of Palm Radio Mini-Paddles (iambic). The Palm paddles are not cheap, but they work very well in portable applications. I had to make a proper cord to connect that Russian key to my KX-3, but that only took a few minutes.
    M6GYU likes this.
  6. M6GYU

    M6GYU Ham Member QRZ Page

    I'll second Dean's advice (K5DH).

    Buy yourself a cheap second hand key - or a cheap new one. I can absolutely guarantee that buying an expensive one such as Begali/Bencher/Kent etc., will not make you send any better!! - although in fairness they 'feel' nicer to send on!

    Once you've got a little experience and 'feel' for your key, then go and find a smaller one to take out with you. (I too bought an ex UK army key for portable us and it cost less than $20 and is excellent quality and good feel.)
  7. M0LEP

    M0LEP Ham Member QRZ Page

    Buying new, you do tend to get what you pay for, at least a bit; a key that can't be easily adjusted and won't stay put will be a nuisance. That said, there's no point at all in spending a fortune on "The One And Only" first time round; chances are you'll change your mind about what you really want some way down the line anyway...

    It's definitely worth looking for second-hand keys at rallies and such, though. You may get a bargain.
    M6GYU likes this.
  8. WB5YUZ

    WB5YUZ Ham Member QRZ Page

    I don't know if there is any manufacturer of inexpensive medium quality keys left - the old brass Ameco was the last one, I think.

    Nowadays, you pretty much have to shell out the big bucks or get a used key.
    N7BDY and N6RGR like this.
  9. NN4RH

    NN4RH Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    If you bid on eBay for a "$20 or less" J-37/J-38 these days, you probably won't be getting a functional key with all of its parts. Prices have gone up quite a bit in recent years. Expect more like $40 and up anymore for one in usable condition.

    There are however some very good keys out there in the $20 (eBay) range in very good condition and complete, variously called "British WWII" or "WT-8AMP". The "Russian" and "Bulgarian" keys you see on eBay are not bad, either, and are affordable even with the overseas shipping.

    MFJ sells a cheap stamped sheet-metal key on a cheap plastic base for about $15. Also available at HRO stores. Better than nothing I suppose.

    However, in your original post you did not specific "cheap" so there are other options. You wanted "good".

    You did say your interest was portable/backbacking/QRP. I assume by that you mean you want a small or lightweight key, but also consider robustness. Small and light doesn't do you any good if it's broken by the time you're ready to operate. For "portable" I've favored the Bencher RJ key, although price has gone way up over just the past few years (from under $100 to $140 new.) They are very sturdy although they are a full size key and probably kind of heavy for backpacking. There are various "cute" tiny little "qrp" keys out there but they're quite hard to use in my opinion. They need to be strapped down to a table or your leg or something, or attached to the radio or battery pack.
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2017
  10. KE4OH

    KE4OH Ham Member QRZ Page

    I don't use keyers. Straight keys only for me. One thing for sure is that if you decide to keep using straight key once you get some CW QSOs under your belt, you will come to like or dislike different keys. So just get one and get started.

    Gotta disagree with those who say get a war surplus J-38. They are overpriced for the quality. A war-surplus Navy Flameproof key, however, is worth paying what they go for now. They are equal or superior to most of the best keys ever made. Likewise, the German WWII surplus Junkers keys are very good.

    My favorite key happens to be the Vibroplex straight key. I don't really like the Speed-X keys, but there is nothing inherently wrong with their quality. Hi-Mound still makes some nice keys in Japan. A lot of folks like the Chinese military keys, still available new. I happen to like the old Ameco (and other brands) fake brass J-38 copy keys with the ball bearings. I see them for sale all the time, but like real J-38 keys, I usually see them overpriced for the quality. Lots of folks like the HamKeys and others that are no longer made but are readily available. And there are plenty of boutique keys out there, too.

    Just get a key that has adjustable side bearings, don't pay too much, and start sending. You'll figure out what you like soon enough.
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2017
    K5WG, AE7OR and N7BDY like this.

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