Thursday 21 September 2023



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. 

Click HERE if video doesn't load

for a happy and positive ending!!

Well, 16 DAYS 😮 after first ordering and the replacement key arrives. It is the correct one and it seems to be fit for purpose at last. Am I happy?? Not really. I am pretty much sick to death of fighting with online retailers  just to get what I ordered from their website

It seems that some retailers aren't really familiar with their products but still put them on sale on their website and basically let the customer discover the problems and website inaccuracies.

I know $hit happens occasionally and things can go wrong - it sometimes happens in my business too - and when $hit does happen, that's the time for your customer-service processes to really shine. The way we handle errors usually ends up with the customer thinking more of us than before the error occurred!

Oh, and did I get my £20 credit? Of course not. And did they offer an explanation for me being charged £63.95 for a key which had a £59.95 price sticker on it? Of course not.

Anyway, it is what it is and I'm sick of banging on about it. Vote with your feet!


Ian (G0CTO) also posted these words on Social Media, which is very appropriate to my new quest...

In a world dominated by instant messaging, video calls, and high-tech communication methods, there exists a hidden treasure among radio enthusiasts. It's a language that transcends time and technology, weaving a symphony of dots and dashes through the airwaves, captivating the hearts and minds of amateur radio operators. It's the thrilling art of listening to Morse Code as a conversation, an experience that transcends mere communication and becomes a passionate pursuit of connection and skill.
Amateur radio has been a bastion of communication for hobbyists and enthusiasts for over a century. While it encompasses a vast range of modes and frequencies, Morse Code, or CW (Continuous Wave), remains a timeless and enthralling aspect of this diverse community.
Imagine tuning your radio to a quiet frequency, and suddenly, there are a series of distinct tones, some long and some short, and to those that cannot read it, that is what it will sound like.

To the uninitiated, it might seem like random beeping, but to those in the know, it's a series of different conversations. It's like being in a large hall with people involved in conversations. You can understand those but not those in Morse Code. That changes when you can read the Code.
Listening to Morse Code as a conversation is akin to eavesdropping on a secret code between two friends. Each "dit" (.) and "dah" (-) carries significance, forming letters, words, and sentences. It's like deciphering a cryptic puzzle, one that engages both your ears and your intellect. The anticipation builds as you try to piece together the message being transmitted, and when you decode a word or phrase, a sense of accomplishment washes over you.

What makes Morse Code conversations so exhilarating is the sheer efficiency and range of this communication mode. With minimal equipment and power, radio operators can connect over vast distances, often when all other modes fail due to interference or poor conditions. It's a testament to human ingenuity, enabling communication in the most challenging of circumstances. Yes, it IS ancient technology but one that will be with the amateur community for as long as we have those that learn the Code.

But it's not just the utility of Morse Code that makes it exciting; it's the culture surrounding it. CW operators are part of a global fraternity that appreciates the beauty of this art form. They exchange stories, knowledge, and camaraderie through the rhythmic pulses of dots and dashes. It's a tradition that has persisted through generations, handed down like an heirloom.

There's a certain romance in listening to Morse Code, too. It's a language that connects you not just to the person transmitting the message but also to the rich history of radio communication. It conjures images of intrepid explorers, wartime heroes, and adventurers who relied on these signals to bridge the gap between worlds. Take Bletchley Park for example. The operators there during the war, mostly women, shortened the war with their efforts. There are still a couple that are licensed amateurs actually.

In a world that often seems inundated with noise, Morse Code stands as a beacon of simplicity, an oasis of calm. It reminds us that communication can be both an art and a science, a pursuit that challenges our intellect and enriches our souls. It reminds us that in the digital age, there's still room for the beauty of analog communication.

So, the next time you hear those rhythmic dots and dashes emanating from your radio, take a moment to savor the magic. Revel in the excitement of deciphering messages hidden in plain sight. Embrace the timelessness of Morse Code, and you'll discover a world where conversation becomes an art form, and each transmission is a symphony in dots and dashes.

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).”


PE4BAS, Bas said...

Very nice Tom. I'm also in the process learning morse. I do it the other way around. I first want to understand the language and after that I want to really transmit the code. I try to learn and excersise 10-15 minutes every day. So far I'm making some progress but at an older age it is difficult. 73, Bas

MadDogMcQ said...

Hi Bas, thanks for your comment. I am forever the optimist, but deep down inside I also know that it's going to be a VERY VERY up-hill journey LOL.

Take care my friend and good luck.


VE9KK said...

Good morning Tom, congrats on the new adventure and as you said there will be rewarding and challenging moments. As for the key I like the style of paddle you decided to go with. This paddle (Iambic) is the most popular among CW ops. I am not sure if I mentioned the Long Island CW club (LICW club) but their whole premise is learning the code. The club is in Long Island NY but it's has world wide membership. Check out their web page and see what you think. I am a member and it is an excellent club.
Back to the morse code key, it is a very personal item that you will find some work well for you and others can be frustrating. Over time you may drift from make to make. Some are spring controlled and others have magnets while others are touch electronic. Anyway I this point in time relax and enjoy the CW learning ride. Realize there is going to be hills, vallys and mountain top times.
If you need any help email me and I will do my best to help with the adventure.

MadDogMcQ said...

Thanks Mike! The first mountain to climb is actually getting a key that works, LOL. I know for sure that the learning path is going to be a tough one, but I'm excited to have made the decision to start.

I will look at the LICW Club - thanks.

Best regards,


Hermann Eckel said...

Would be better to get a morserino 32, then you are in the best position learning the code and enjoying CW

VE9KK said...

Hi Tom, actually as time goes on it will get better as you learn the code. At first, you will be counting the dits and dahs to form a letter. Then you will just know a sound that represents a letter. The best way I can describe it is the two letters CQ. Everyone knows the sound of these 2 letters and knows it's CQ. That will eventually happen with all letters. It takes time and brain training, Don't get frustrated as the brain is powerful but also it takes time to move forward and then a bit backwards. For example, I have no issue copying contest exchanges at 40wpm BUT for some reason lately, my brain is having issues with S and H. I had to start practicing those letters again to get it right. Before that, it was all of a sudden the numbers 7 and 8!
Bottomline Tom the adventure is a new language that will come and you will be thrilled when it does but it takes time like any other worthwhile goal.
Also again if you need any help just email me.

MadDogMcQ said...

Thanks again Mike, much appreciated.

73, Tom.