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Short Takes #6: More CW and Dayton Hamvention

By Dave Jensen, W7DGJ

Reconnecting with my Straight Key!


I've used a variety of paddles for so long that I recently wondered, "Hey, can I still use a straight key?" I'm a member of SKCC and attempt every now and again to put my hand to a straight key. My thinking was, "I'll buy a really good straight key someday and bring those skills back." I found out years ago that my ham wish list includes so many items -- so many lines on a yellow pad -- that it takes a lot of time to actually happen. As a result, I will often resort to a Plan B.


My Plan B in this case was to call my friend at DXE and order a cheap straight key to just get back into the game. I didn't feel like it needed to be the Cadillac, but at least I'd have something that worked and when I wanted to do a slow speed saunter or jump into some other SKCC event, I'd at least have the tool to do so. So, he recommended an MFJ key for about $55. Perhaps it was a mistake to think that I could find a quickie solution to my problem. 


Here's a photo of the MFJ 553 Economy Key. It's not bad, certainly not terrible, but it's not something I'd suggest for anyone who is serious about sending code. It's a good practice key for a beginner. It comes mounted on what looks like a wooden electrical wall plug cover, and when I saw it and felt the amount of side-to-side play, I knew it wouldn't be my favorite. I'd rate it a C- in Build Quality (the contacts didn't come aligned, and required fiddling) and a C+ in User Experience as I was able to use it before it became too wobbly. It sits in a drawer at this point.





While I really didn't think I'd ever be in the "inexpensive" (sounds better than cheap) straight key business again, someone suggested that I look at another brand, one of those smaller companies that is known to produce high quality CW keys. This firm, CWMorse, produces a small straight key that actually is very impressive for the money. I can easily see sending this along on POTA expeditions, as it's not much bigger than the little American Morse paddle I've been using. I've seen this CWMorse camel back key pictured before, and I'm sure you have as well. It's attractive, and it features some 3D printed pieces along with a really hefty metal base and four feet that stay firmly planted on most surfaces. But I didn't realize that a $39 key could be this solid. I'd rate it an A in Build Quality, and so far (hasn't had extensive testing yet) I'd suggest the User Experience will end up in the A category as well. 


This key has zero lateral movement, which is a blessing compared to the MFJ, and very solid adjustments that seem to stay put. An allen wrench designed to be used with those springs is stored in a nifty little spot on the back of the key. This straight key is available in a wide variety of colors. I've beat it up in the last couple of days, which has been lotsa fun, and recommend this for beginner or pro alike.


The same company has just introduced a new product, with the full body and paddles machined from a solid block of billet aluminum and including a carbon fiber dust cover. Billet aluminum results from heating and pressurizing aluminum and other alloys to form billet bricks which have exceptional strength and durability.







I'm impressed with the quality, as each paddle arm rides on two double sealed ball bearings. It's smooooth . . . As you can see, everything is laid out nicely. I took the dust cover off for a photo that anyone who solders will appreciate . . . check out the build quality (A+ on this guy.)


You know that someone paid careful attention to the build when you see wires chased like that inside the key. It's the kind of key I'd build if I had the talent that these guys do with machining aluminum.






We're out of the inexpensive category here, as this one sells for $129.95 with some options that raise the price a bit. My future POTA article coming in April will compare the two small paddles, this one and the American Morse, as well as another that I've been trying to get ahold of for the last few weeks.


No cables are supplied with CWMorse. Both MFJ and American Morse provide cables with their keys.


A Shameless Plug for Dayton


You know that the Hamvention is coming up soon, right? If you are anywhere near, or feel like taking a nice break, please get to the Hamvention this year. As the 2nd event since the Pandemic, I forecast that this one will be an absolute blast! Besides, I'm giving a talk on Saturday Afternoon, entitled "Five Common Threads in Ham Radio Innovation."  I really hope you can attend and that we'll get to meet.


Each of these "common threads" will be reviewed and told in story form from the personal experiences of innovators interviewed in this column, and from research into our ham radio history. I'll show that it's the practical application of innovations, and not just "cool technology" alone, that makes for successful businesses. I've spoken about innovation before, at universities around the world . . . Harvard and Princeton in the USA, and Okinawa's Institute of Science and Technology as well as Nobel Hall at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. 

Hamvention promises to have a TON of great forum discussions, with knowledgeable speakers, thanks to the efforts of many volunteers. This event has more history than any other get-together in our hobby, and I hope that many of us can support it with our attendance.


See you in Dayton,

Dave, W7DGJ


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Dave Jensen, W7DGJ

Dave Jensen, W7DGJ, was first licensed in 1966. Originally WN7VDY (and later WA7VDY), Dave operated on 40 and 80 meter CW with a shack that consisted primarily of Heathkit equipment. Dave loved radio so much he went off to college to study broadcasting and came out with a BS in Communications from Ohio University (Athens, OH). He worked his way through a number of audio electronics companies after graduation, including the professional microphone business for Audio-Technica.  He was later licensed as W7DGJ out of Scottsdale, Arizona, where he ran an executive recruitment practice (CareerTrax Inc.) for several decades. Jensen has published articles in magazines dealing with science and engineering. His column “Tooling Up” ran for 20 years in the website of the leading science journal, SCIENCE, and his column called “Managing Your Career” continues to be a popular read each month for the Pharmaceutical and Household Products industries in two journals published by Rodman Publishing.

Articles Written by Dave Jensen, W7DGJ

This page was last updated March 22, 2023 21:59