Ham Radio Paddles Cost Virtually Nothing

If you don’t know Morse code, you probably think of a radio operator using a “key” to send Morse code. These were — and still are — used. They are little more than a switch built to be comfortable in your hand and spring loaded so the switch makes when you push down and breaks when you let up. Many modern operators prefer using paddles along with an electronic keyer, but paddles can be expensive. [N1JI] didn’t pay much for his, though. He took paperclips, a block of wood, and some other scrap bits and made his own paddles. You can see the results in the video below.

When you use a key, you are responsible for making the correct length of dits and dahs. Fast operators eventually moved to a “bug,” which is a type of paddle that lets you push one way or another to make a dash (still with your own sense of timing). However, if you push the other way, a mechanical oscillator sends a series of uniform dots for as long as you hold the paddle down.

Modern paddles tend to work with electronic “iambic” keyers. Like a bug, you push one way to make dots and the other way to make dashes. However, the dashes are also perfectly timed, and you can squeeze the paddle to make alternating dots and dashes. It takes a little practice, but it results in a more uniform code, and most people can send it faster with a “sideswiper” than with a straight key.

Don’t like radio? Use Morse Code as your keyboard. Want to learn code? It isn’t as hard as you think.

21 thoughts on “Ham Radio Paddles Cost Virtually Nothing

  1. Reminds me of my “telepgraph key” that I had built with a cake fork about ten years ago! :D

    Btw, to those of you looking for a nice elbug.. ETM-3 or ETM-4 used to be popular.
    They’re heavy (nice! doesn’t move away) and have the keyer built-in. The Heatkit HD 1410 also is a classic.

      1. That’s weird. Are they doing slow morse? I always assumed experienced hams would operate their elbugs like former professional radio operators on ships.
        Ie, with the hand resting on the table in a specific angle, so that it wouldn’t get tired soon.

  2. That thing is rad.
    Also a sideswiper is a bit different than a bug- if you imagine this article’s key but just one key, not two, in the middle of the upside down U thing- that’s a cootie AKA sideswiper. The key is moved back and forth and the timing is totally manual. No electronic keyer.

    1. Yeah, CW amateurs are really weird, I guess.
      To them, progress works in reverse, apparently.
      The more primitive and tedious, the more bare metal, the more interesting it’s to them.

      This is a concept I can only barely understand.
      It’s not how I learned about telegraphy.
      What I learned by my father about telegraphy was that it was an a profession, an art form and a skill that all was about elegance, patience and that it was linked to the roots of telecommunications.

      There was a time when real, professional telegraphers embraced progress and quality.
      They valued an elegant, sophisticated and well built mechanical telegraph key, as well as the then-new elbugs, which allowed to have a clean fist for multiple of hours (clean dot/dashes) – something important in professional radio telegraphy .

      Now it’s about making morse gadets from garbage, essentially.
      Hot glue and rusty nails et cetera (generally speaking, I don’t mean the article here).

      To outsiders, this fuels the stereotype of the introvert, grumpy old white man sitting in a dusty attic.

      It’s nolonger cutting edge, as it used to be with maritime morse telegraphy.
      Here, the radio operator had used his own preferred key, but also tried to keep up with progress (he tried to be aware about recent trends, at least).

      He knew about RTTY/CW video terminals, different keys, electronics etc.
      He was always on the cutting-edge, essentially.
      The morse telegraphy being performed tried to stay young and fresh and modern – and highly useful, rather than being a piece of nostalgia.

      Now, many morse operators don’t even talk in full sentences anymore.

      It’s all about making a QSO for contest or QRP (low power operation), it seems, which merely requires exchanging some abbreviations and call signs.

      Something like a “CQ DX CQ DX de xxxxx” and “599 de yyyyy” qualifies as a “conversation”. Sigh.

      I mean, sure, that’s not something you need a good morse key for.
      A paddle or that swifter thing will do.
      You can also use an bicycle pump for that, I suppose.

      Anyway, no offense. It’s just a different type of morse telegraphy, I guess.
      Something I didn’t grew up with.
      The most important part is that people enjoy their hobby, I guess. Each to his own.

      1. “Something like a “CQ DX CQ DX de xxxxx” and “599 de yyyyy” qualifies as a “conversation”. Sigh.”

        Maybe it is not so much about conversation, but finding out, what places you are able to reach with your maybe homebrew equipment, and to see if the latest improvement you did, actually works.

        1. There is a difference between professionals and amateurs. I mean, radio amateurs never tried to be a cutting edge on telegraph communications. The telegraph professionals concentrated on doing the traffic fast and error free, that was their work.

          But while the professional telegraph operators concentrated on getting the message through, radio amateurs tried all new frequencies, new modulation ways etc. to find new ways to communicate, maybe faster than Morse code.

          Yes, FT8 and other new digital modes are mainly computers communicating with each other, but the radio link between them is still amateur radio, very much depending on the modulation methods designed by radio amateurs.

        2. Could even take it to the next level. Write a script to automate FT8 contacts. Could be good for passing emergency traffic. Even better, a contest specifically for automated traffic handling.

      2. Appreciate your comments. Honest question- have you or do you regularly use CW? I think if you did you may appreciate a lot more what these types of articles are accomplishing and would answer a lot of questions you have. I could go line by line, but please give it a try! It is a new skill like playing an instrument. You will be bad and sound awful and get better, and IMO everyone on the air has been super supportive of my efforts. Most fun I had was using my gorgeous Vibroplex on the air at a local club’s “bug night.” It is like riding the subway in NYC with all the accents swirling around you. The best part is that to do it, using home made junk-box equipment is both highly educational as well as cheap! Building an objectively crap homebrew CW transceiver didn’t mean I’m ending up with a crap radio. It meant learning a whole entire new field of electronics, fabrication, testing, math, etc. In any case, the era of professional radio telegraphers and especially CW operators is over. It’s only hams left.

  3. Many years ago I built a paddle from a marble base from an old sports award, some Lego bricks, and two calculator keys. I think I still have it somewhere, I should take a picture. I also have a Bencher which is more like art.

    1. Long time ago, when learning CW for my ham license, I made a nice touch sensitive keyer, with strips of PCB as touch pads. Worked quite nicely, except when I got the license and finally on the air, the stray RF totally prevented touch pad operation. After adding some capacitors and ferrite beads fixed it though. Later I upgraded to a Bencher.

  4. Not being a Morse coder I don’t care much about the minutiae though I read it, but the wires and the screws and the paperclips and the wooden block? That is beautiful.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.