Wednesday, August 1, 2012

CW Secrets and My Keys

After I’d gained my Morse ticket I remember thinking that I would soon be chatting away with the big boys hammering out 30 wpm, how wrong I was!
I got my ticket back in the 90s and it took me quite a while to get up to around 20 wpm! The reason I took so long was just not enough practise.
The secret to learning the code is simple, there is no secret, it's just loads and loads of practise, you just cannot do enough practise. 
Back when I had to take the test, the pass rate was 12 wpm and it took me 3 months of daily half hour to an hour grind to get up to the standard. I was lucky in the fact that I did a course of sorts with a very knowledgeable ham who was happy to to coach both myself and my Brother in law at the same time. His favoroute saying was "use your ears"! How he had the patience I'll never know, but he got both of us through the test and I am forever grateful.

I always found I was hitting barriers, somedays I would be great and others it felt like I was getting nowhere. This my teacher told me was completely normal and suprisingly it continues on even when trying to learn to speed up. You'll find you will be stuck at a certain speed and then suddenly it will all click in to place and the barrier is lifted.

I once heard an old amateur telling another that the way he got up to a higher rate of speed quickly was to force himself no matter what to do 5 QSO’s every day. Within 2 months he gone from 12 to 30 wpm. OK so some of us cannot do 5 QSO’s a day but we surely can do at least 1 or 2 and I guarantee you will be amazed at the improvement you get.
In my case I hung around at 14/16 wpm for quite a few years simply because I was not doing enough QSO’s. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve really pushed myself and that the speed has come up. The nice thing now is that I can happily do other work in the shack with radio on low in the background and instantly pick up any CW station that sounds interesting without really having to think about it.
Nowadays I rarely do SSB, (I think my last QSO using SSB was about 2 years ago and that was for a chap who wanted a radio check and nobody was answering him)! Give me CW anytime, I just find it more of a challenge, but obviously each to their own.

I own a number of morse keys, all straight as I have never been able to get on with paddles. The ridiculous thing is I have owned some very nice paddle keys and endeavoured to learn the dark art of “swiping” but just never really been able to master it. It's of course through lack of patience and perseverance and one day I will actually get round to learning the art.
The main key I use is a Czech army issue, a little strange looking compared to normal keys but very smooth and easy to use. 
Czech army issue
I also have a standard Himound which is another nice key but occasionally sticks if the contacts are set too close. I like to have a fairly tight spring and the contacts literally set to a gap of about a cigarettes papers width, so I guess that’s fairly tight.
Another great key I have is a handmade Stillwell, made by Derek Stillwell from Shrewsbury, given to me as a present many years ago. They are quite rare now, excellent chunky keys with a very smooth action, ideal for an operator just learning the mysteries of morse code.
I don’t use it that often because again setting the tight requirements I like (tight spring and close contacts), puts undue pressure on the old girl and she’s too nice and valuable to mess up. Besides having a beautiful brass Stillwell on the mantel piece does make a wonderful site!

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