Being a CW fan I have a number of straight keys and one or two paddles. I have a Stillwell straight key which is a good handmade solid key and I have a couple of the Czech keys that are very good day to day keys .
I also have a bencher and a Kent paddle key that I try to use fairly often, but my paddle skills are still not the best and I seem to have good days and bad.
Another key I have is a Begali Spark straight key which is very nice (so it should be for the price)! Very smooth to operate and a nice light feel to it, although its quite heavy so there is no need to lock it down when in use, unlike the Czech keys.
I've been using this with the FTDX9000, the light touch with the ability to easily alter the spring or the gap is very useful when replying to different operators. I don't know if I'm the only one doing this, but I adjust my keys, quite often depending on what mood I'm in, if I'm tired and want to key a slow QSO I open the gap and tighten the spring so I have to work a bit, or I go the other way if I'm with it and wide awake to speed things up. Does anybody else do this or is it just me?
My speed is still quite slow, around 14/15 words per minute, the other thing I find which maybe because I'm get older and hopefully wiser, is you don't have to speed along. A lot of CW operators tend to send faster than they can be understood, their spacing is wrong or each letter becomes one great long word. Simply because they are sending faster than they actually capable of.
That's quite a statement I know, but I think its true. Just because you can understand 18/20 wpm doesn't mean you can send correctly at 18/20 wpm and boy can you hear it sometimes. But other skilled operators, it is true music to your ears, precise timing, the right spacing, makes all the difference.
Of course you get used to different types of code being sent, but you know when you can hear good CW. It can be fast, but you can understand it and it makes all the difference.
It's interesting that I used to be around 18, but I've slowed since my stroke, I've lost the capability to memorize the conversation so I have to write most of it down. BNC, Brain Not Correlated any more! Still the old adage is practise practise and I certainly intend to do as much as I can so the speed should eventually pick back up!