THE JOURNEY BEGINS
I've always fancied learning morse code but felt too darned busy to learn a new language, so instead, I bought a CW Decoder/Encoder from Preppcomm. That works pretty well and I kind of stumble along with it, but feel that other operators can detect the 'machine code' and prefer not to engage with it.
Then last week I went to a presentation at our local Radio Club where Lynda G6QA encouraged people to take up morse and demonstrated how one might learn the code. I was too shy to participate in the 'have a go' sessions, but I was suitably inspired to make an effort once I was back home.
The first step was to buy a key and having once tried an iambic paddle on a KX2, I thought that might be the best one to learn on (some might say it makes more sense to start with a single straight-key, but I just had a liking for the paddles).
Looking around I spotted some cheap keys from an American company called CWMORSE and they were available here in the UK at Martin Lynch & Sons, so on September 11th I ordered a DOUBLE PADDLE from them....
When it arrived, I could immediately tell that there was something amiss. For a start, it just didn't feel like a double paddle key, because when you pressed one of the paddles, the other moved with it 😮 I removed the top casing and saw that it was indeed a single paddle fitted with two wings.
This was very disappointing and so I wrote to ML&S and explained that I'd ordered a 'double paddle key' from their website and instead received this single key! The box had a label on it which covered up another label clearly showing that it was actually a single key...
There was a great deal of misunderstanding went on between me and ML&S before the correct key was dispatched and it ended up with me having to go into town to take the wrong key to the Post Office and then being told by ML&S that I’d have to pay more for the correct key because it was £63.95! All very frustrating and no hint of apology for the incorrect descriptions on their website and the inconvenience. Worse still, the new key arrived with a price sticker on it of £59.95 😮😡😮 So all in all, with the initial postage and the return postage, I have paid a total of £85.90 😡🤬😡 You couldn't make this stuff up, lol.
Anyway, all that aside, the key is here and seems to be working fine. Initially it needs some adjustment to center the keys and make sure that there's equal amounts of travel in each key. I like the keys to have very little movement, but it's obviously a personal preference. Making adjustments is a very simple and self-explanatory procedure.
The key is 3D-Printed and the quality of materials and construction seems quite good. The internals are very simple, which gives you the comfort of knowing that if something goes wrong after years of use, you'll probably be able to fix it yourself with hexhead bolts and springs, etc. It comes with a heavy steel base so that it doesn't move around on the table, but you can always remove the base if you're taking the key on a SOTA outing and want to lose the weight.
The unit is fitted with a 3.5mm stereo jack socket but no cable is included. You will have to buy or make up a lead yourself, possibly configuring the wiring of the stereo plug to determine which paddle is a dah and which is a dit.
Initial inspection of the key reveals a very slight sloppiness in the vertical plane of one of the paddles which I don't particularly like, but I don’t think it will have any affect the performance anyway. I'm obviously an out and out beginner, but common sense tells me that any off-plane movement is not a good thing (but you have to bear in mind the low price of these keys (starting at £39 without a base (if you’re lucky enough to get what you order)).
I had already learned to key CQ TEST M7MCQ with ease when I had a KX2 so I started with that - it went well. I feel that I can confidently go forward in the (long) journey toward learning Morse.
So there you have it - a cheap and cheerful double paddle key which is super lightweight for SOTA/POTA use, but perfectly planted on the shack desk when used with the heavy base.
The key worked well with my IC-7610, IC-705, FT-818 and (tr)uSDX - no bother at all. A good purchase I'd say. Now the learning begins! 😂 If I feel things are going well, I will look to buying a better key for permanent home use and will throw this cheaper one in my ruckshack for outdoor ops.
OOOPS!!! Something went wrong!
An hour later I started to notice that my practise work was not consistent even on the short string of letters that I am very familiar with. I lifted the cover off the paddle and saw that one of the upright posts was loose - it had no doubt failed during the actual 3D-Printing process.
As a result, the post was only held on at one side and could fail at anytime. I took a video of the problem and emailed it to make it easy for ML&S to understand what was wrong and then posted the item back to the shop for replacement 😭😭😭
ML&S rang me when they received the email and asked what was wrong with the key - they hadn't even watched the video 😩 so that was a waste of time. They then said that they "didn't really want to be sending these back and forth" which made me feel like it was them who were being inconvenienced!
In the end they said they'd ship another key and credit my account with the £20 which I'd had to pay for returning two keys to them.
Ian (G0CTO) also posted these words on Social Media, which is very appropriate to my new quest...
Ian, a friend from the local radio club, G0CTO, said : Ha ha I had a similar issue with MLS, - ordered an iambic Kent paddle - they sent a single lever rang them and the clown at the other end tried to get me to keep it. I made them collect it and send the correct key. Keys are personal things but engineering is everything - the two paddles I have now are a Chevron AGA and a Begali Sculpture. The one I use most is the Begali as it’s more compact. The two keys are very different as one uses magnets in attraction and is very snappy the other uses them in repulsion and behaves more like a spring. Both keys can be adjusted very finely to such an extent that temperature can cause keying with metal expansion.
An anonymous message…..
“…….. you’re not too old to learn CW. I started at about 58 and I’m now 60. Earlier this year I completed the CWops advanced 25wpm course. One of the chaps on the intermediate course was 85. The whole process has been an enjoyable and fascinating challenge opening up all sorts of opportunities for gear accumulation. I’m now 100% CW and achieved my CW DXCC in about 12 months. Three good resources are LICW, CWops and Morse Code Ninja (great youtube and podcasts).”