Palm Paddle Cable Repair

During a POTA activation a few days ago, I was in the middle of a QSO when my Palm Mini paddles started behaving erratically. I knew right where to look for the cause of the problem. 

The Palm Mini paddles have been my go-to paddles in the field for many years. Although the German manufacturer, Palm Radio, is no longer in business, they are still the only paddles I take along for portable work. They are compact, have a great feel, and work perfectly with the clipboard arrangement I use in the field. I loved the first set I bought and later acquired a second set. 

These great little paddles have one weakness: the cable connection. The three-pin connector is similar to standard header pins with a two-piece plastic backshell held together with a tiny screw. Once inserted into the paddles, there’s no locking mechanism to hold it in place. It’s definitely not the most rugged arrangement. After my first encounter with cable issues, I ordered a couple of replacement cables. Sadly, that’s no longer an option. 

During my most recent episode of cable problems, the connector backshell had fallen apart, leaving the tiny wires exposed. I grabbed a spare cable and was back in business in short order.

Fortunately, after some searching, I found the two backshell pieces on the floor of my truck. The screw that holds the backshell together goes into a threaded boss, which had broken. I encountered an identical failure on another cable a couple of years ago, so I knew how to deal with it. 

After I got home, I carefully checked the wire connections and confirmed that they were still intact. So this time, the fix was just to reassemble the backshell. Since I could no longer screw the two halves back together, I had to resort to drastic measures. I call this the “final fix.” Once implemented, it can’t be undone. 

This photo shows the rear of the Palm Mini Paddles (left). On the right is the connector I repaired by gluing back together. In my haste to repair the cable, I neglected to take pictures of the inside of the connector.
This photo shows the rear of the Palm Mini Paddles (left). On the right is the connector I repaired by gluing it back together. In my haste to repair the cable, I neglected to take pictures of the inside of the connector.

I positioned the connector in the bottom half of the backshell and re-checked the connections. Then, I applied a dollop of Goop™ adhesive inside the backshell and put the top half on. The Goop™ filled the inside of the backshell, holding it all together and providing some additional strain relief for the tiny wires. After cleaning off the adhesive that squeezed out during assembly, I clamped the backshell overnight. The next morning, I gave it a test and confirmed that everything was still working. 

I’ve seen webpages describing ways of replacing the fragile connector with something more robust. I’m not quite ready to perform major surgery on my beloved Palm Mini paddles. Someday, I suppose, I’ll have no choice. 

72, Craig WB3GCK

Morse Code Day 2023

Happy Morse Code Day! This annual event honors the inventor of the code, Samuel F. B. Morse, who was born on this day in 1791. 

The original Morse telegraph
The original Morse telegraph

Nearly 179 years after the famous “What hath God wrought” telegraph message was sent from Washington. DC,  to Baltimore, you can still hear plenty of Morse Code on the ham bands. Amazing!

So, in observance of Morse Code Day, get on the air and launch some dots and dashes into the ether.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Something Good in the Mail

Along with the usual junk mail yesterday, the mailman brought a couple of envelopes from the Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) QSL Bureau. Among the QSL cards I received, were two special ones.

First was a QSL card confirming contacts I made with K3Y stations during the annual Straight Key Month (SKM) event. SKM is held each January with event stations operating around the world. I didn’t have my best year in the event, but I worked K3Y stations in eight of the ten call areas in the continental U. S. I also worked SKM stations in Puerto Rico and Portugal this year. 

K3Y Straight Key Month QSL card for 2023
K3Y Straight Key Month QSL card for 2023

Each year SKCC members submit designs for the K3Y QSL card, and members vote to select the final design. I always try to work some of the K3Y stations each year to ensure I receive a QSL card. 

Another card I received was for the VC3Y Canadian Operating Event. Taking place during the month of September, this is an annual SKCC event that promotes the club’s many Canadian members. This year, I worked VC3Y/VY2 (Prince Edward Island) on 40M and 20M. I remember those particular QSOs because I was out bicycle-portable in a local park at the time. 

VC3Y QSL card for the 2022 Canadian Operating Event
VC3Y QSL card for the 2022 Canadian Operating Event

Sadly, when the mailman came by today, it was back to the usual junk mail. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Navy Radioman School – 50 Years Ago

It’s hard to believe, but a half-century has gone by since I graduated from Navy Radioman School. The Navy decided that the 18-year-old kid was ready to do this radio stuff for real. 

U.S. Navy Radioman Patch

Following three months of boot camp, the Navy transferred me to the U.S. Navy Training Center in Bainbridge, Maryland. USNTC Bainbridge was not the most glamorous place. The barracks were run-down, World War II-vintage wooden structures with a cockroach problem. 

I still remember my first day in Radioman school. The instructor gave us a sheet of paper and told us to memorize it. It was the Morse alphabet with the sound of each character. (A = DID-DAH, B = DAH-DI-DI-DIT, and so on). I also took a typing test. Fortunately, I had a typing course in high school and was able to test out of the typing training. The non-typers had to attend an after-hours crash course in touch typing.

Early on, our training focused on CW. As I recall, the requirement back then was 10 WPM, sending and receiving. The CW training also covered messaging handling, logging, and net procedures. Looking back, I think focusing on CW 8 hours a day for a few weeks was a great way to learn it. Plus, I was getting paid to do it!

We did all of our CW copying on a mill. A mill was a manual typewriter will all caps. After I got out of the Navy, I had to re-train myself to copy with a pencil since I had never done that before.

Over time, we moved on to a variety of other topics. We learned about the radio equipment we would likely be using. Radio-teletype was the primary communications mode for the fleet back then, so we also had to learn that equipment.

My diploma from Navy Radioman A School in March of 1971.
My diploma from Navy Radioman A School in March of 1971.

We spent the last week of school standing radio watches in a simulated shipboard radio room. This part of the course was called the PRAC-DECK. We set up radio circuits and sent and received message traffic. To make things interesting, the instructor would inject some equipment issues for us to troubleshoot. 

On my first mid-watch (night shift), the instructor said I had to learn the most important skill I would need out in the fleet. That skill turned out to be making coffee in one in one of those 25-cup percolators. I ran into that instructor a few years later. He laughed when I reminded him about that lesson. I told him he was right about a pot of coffee being necessary for communications. 

All in all, it was an interesting four months. Fifty years later, I’m still using the CW I learned back then. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

K1EL WKmini Morse Interface

I haven’t bought any new ham radio toys lately, so I decided to upgrade the homebrew passive CW interface I use for contesting. I had been looking at the K1EL WKmini USB keyer for a while. I recently bought one, and it fit my needs exactly.

I’m not a big contester, but for Field Day, Winter Field Day, and some POTA activations, I key the radio using macros in the logging software. For years, I used a passive interface built into a DB-9 connector, along with a USB-to-RS-232 adapter. The interface consists of a resistor and a 2N2222 transistor. It served me well, but occasionally, there were some hiccups. With this simple interface, the logging software on the laptop is doing all the CW work. Once in a while, I noticed some timing issues in the code sent.

The WKmini is based on the WinKeyer 3 chip and designed for use with contesting logging software. The WKmini takes on the work of generating the CW, so it eliminates those timing issues. The logging software sends commands and data to the keyer, and the keyer does the rest.

The other nice feature is the paddle input. This feature allows me to instantly send CW manually when needed. I was able to do this in my previous setup, but it was a bit more complicated. The WKmini keyer is a more simple, elegant approach. Its small form factor makes it ideal for portable operating.

The WKmini Morse Interface from K1EL Systems. This compact device measures 2.25" W by 1.75" D by .5" H.
The WKmini Morse Interface from K1EL Systems. This compact device measures 2.25″ W by 1.75″ D by .5″ H.

The WKmini was incredibly easy to set up. I connected the keyer to my laptop, and Windows immediately recognized it. I used the free K1EL WKscan utility to determine which COM port the keyer was using. I connected the keyer to my KX3 using a stereo patch cable with 1/8-inch connectors. Using the K1EL WK3demo utility, I was successful in keying up the radio and sending some code. 

The last thing I needed to do was to configure my N3FJP logging programs to use the WKmini instead of the old passive interface. The WKmini doesn’t have any external controls; the logging software provides the necessary settings. There is a long list of software that supports WinKey keyers, including the N3FJP suite of software. The User Manual covers the N3FJP software, which was helpful. So, with a few mouse clicks, I was in business. All of this testing and setup took less than 15 minutes.

Like other K1EL keyer products I own, the WKmini is a solid performer. I’m hoping to give this little gem a workout during Winter Field Day later this month. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Morse Code Day 2020

It’s that time of year again. Today is Morse Code Day. Celebrated each year on April 27th, Morse Code Day coincides with the birth of Samual F.B. Morse (1791-1872).

Samuel F.B. Morse circa 1840 (Open-source image)
Samuel F.B. Morse (circa 1840)

Morse contributed to the development of the single-wire telegraph and developed the encoding method, which bears his name. But, of course, you probably already knew that.

I’m always amazed that I still use a means of communication that was first used in 1844. CW has been my favorite mode since I learned the code in Navy Radioman school nearly 50 years ago.

So, have a happy Morse Code Day. I hope to hear you on the air today!

73, Craig WB3GCK

No-Name CW Paddles

Once a day, I receive an email from eBay showing the latest listings for CW keys. In one of those emails, a small and inexpensive set of 3D-printed paddles caught grabbed my attention. My curiosity got the better of me, and I ordered some.

The primary reason for my interest was the size. I normally use Palm Mini paddles attached to a clipboard, when I’m out operating portable. The eBay listing offered paddles that were a bit smaller than my Palm Mini paddles. The Palm paddles are no longer available (much to my chagrin), so I was curious if these cheap paddles might be a viable alternative. Given the low price (around $15, shipping included), I had no delusions that the no-name paddles would be as good, though.

The paddles are “unbranded” and listed on eBay under the awkward title, “Cw key automatic key short wave automatic key double paddle radio report NEW.” There are numerous listings for these paddles. Most of them ship from Hong Kong but there are some U.S.-based sources. Some are available in kit form.

They are available in 3 sizes. The two larger paddles have magnetic bases. I bought the smallest one (3x8x2 cm), which had the potential to work with my clipboard setup. They are intended for two-handed operation but I figured I could improvise some sort of magnetic base for them.  

Unbranded, 3D-printed paddles from eBay. The screw (one on each side) adjusts the paddle contact spacing.
Unbranded, 3D-printed paddles from eBay. The screw (one on each side) adjusts the paddle contact spacing.

As mentioned earlier, they are 3D-printed. The seller cautions: “Can’t work in high temperature environment!” The term, “high temperature,” is undefined. I’m sure I would start to wilt in the heat long before the paddles.

It took a couple of weeks to receive my paddles from Hong Kong. Besides the paddles, the package contained a 3-foot patch cable with 3.5mm stereo plugs. There was no documentation but none was needed. 

Read view of the small, un-branded, 3D-printed paddles from eBay. The rear connector is a standard 1/8-inch stereo jack.
Read view of the small, un-branded, 3D-printed paddles from eBay. The rear connector is a standard 1/8-inch stereo jack.

Out of the box, I found the contact spacing to be much wider than I’m accustomed to. Fortunately, the paddles have access holes on each side to adjust the spacing. A few tweaks with a Phillips screwdriver got the spacing closer to my liking.  

It was easy to fashion a magnetic base. Using some two-sided foam mounting tape, I added two strong magnets to the bottom of the paddles. The magnets didn’t line up exactly with the washers on my clipboard but they held pretty well. 

You’re probably wondering how they work. Well, they are about what you’d expect from $15 paddles. For sure, they lack the solid, precise feel of my more expensive Palm paddles. The paddle arms have what I call, “vertical slop.” By that I mean you can wiggle them up and down. Also, the paddles’ contacts aren’t the greatest. They are just the threaded ends of two machine screws contacting the threads of a vertically-mounted machine screw. 

With the “vertical slop” and the rough contacts, you don’t always get clean contact closure. To me, it feels like the contacts sometimes “scratch” when they close. The left paddle also sticks occasionally. At higher speeds (20+WPM), they can be challenging. That said, I am able to coax decent-sounding code out of them at moderate speeds—if I’m careful.

As they say, you get what you pay for. These paddles won’t be replacing my Palm Mini paddles anytime soon. They don’t have the smooth, quality feel of my Palm paddles—or any other paddles I own. Not by a long shot. I concede, however, that comparing these $15 paddles to more expensive products is not entirely fair.

CW keys and paddles are always subject to personal preferences; however, if you are on a limited budget, these paddles might work for you. It certainly won’t cost you a lot to find out. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

[Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in these products whatsoever.]

The K0MBT Mini-Mini Key

OK, I admit it. I have a fascination with tiny straight keys and paddles. With the proliferation of 3D printers, there are a lot of neat, innovative products available these days. This unusual little key from Dave Balfour KØMBT is a good example. [Update 3/16/2020: Dave recently changed his callsign to ADØB.]

Dave got started in 3D printing as a hobby a few years ago. A while back, he started sharing his straight key designs with his fellow SKCC members on the SKCC mailing list. That generated some interest and, before long, Dave was offering his keys for sale. As of this writing, Dave is offering straight keys in two sizes and a single lever paddle that can be used as a sideswiper (aka cootie) key.

I ordered the smaller of Dave’s straight keys, which he calls the “Mini-Mini.” Dave promptly shipped one and I had it a few days later. When I opened the box, I was immediately intrigued by this little key.

K0MBT "Mini-Mini" Key
K0MBT “Mini-Mini” Key

When I say “little,” I mean “little.” Overall, it measures approximately 2-1/4″ L x 1″ W x 3/4″ H and weighs in at a minuscule 0.7 oz. (19g). Instead of a traditional knob, Dave uses a novel indentation on the keying lever. The other unique thing is the switch he uses instead of the contacts. A little computer mouse switch provides both the contact closure as well as the return spring. As a result, there are no adjustments for contact spacing or tension. It doesn’t get much simpler than this.

On the rear of the key, there are two terminals for connecting the wires of your choice. There are holes on each side of the key, that meet at the two terminals. You can route your wires in from the side, providing a little strain relief.

Rear view of the K0MBT "Mini-Mini" key
Rear view of the K0MBT “Mini-Mini” key

When I first grasped the key, my forefinger instinctively went into the indentation and it felt very natural. Despite the lack of adjustments, the key has a nice feel to it. With it just sitting on my desk, I can send code without the key sliding around too much. With the cable I’m using, though, it can sometimes feel like “the tail wagging the dog.” It’s not a huge issue, as long as I’m careful.

Kudos to Dave KØMBT for this unique and fun little key. If you’d like more information on Dave’s keys, look him up on or download Dave’s PDF file describing his offerings.

73, Craig WB3GCK

[Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in this product whatsoever.]

Westclox Canadian Military Key

While puttering around the shack this morning, I came across an old key I had all but forgotten. It’s a Westclox Canadian military key that I acquired back when I was first licensed. It has been tucked away in the back of my desk drawer for most of the past 44 years. I can’t remember ever using it on the air, so I figured it’s time to give it a fresh look.

Westclox Canadian military key. According to the original box, it was manufactured in May 1949.
Westclox Canadian military key. According to the original box, it was manufactured in May 1949.

It seems like I’ve had this Westclox key forever. I remember buying it from a mail-order military surplus house around 1975. It was in excellent condition and appeared to be unused. The label on the box reads: Z1 ZA/CAN 0977. The box also shows a manufacturing date of May 1949. An identical key is shown on the W1TP website. The PA3EGH website also shows some similar keys.

Original box for the Westclox Canadian military key. The label reads Z-1 ZA/CAN 0977 and shows a date of May 1949.
Original box for the Westclox Canadian military key.

I don’t remember what I paid for it, but it wasn’t very expensive. I took a quick look at eBay this morning and I saw these keys listed anywhere from $80 to an outrageous $750.

One of the reasons it hasn’t seen much use is its “feel.” Unlike the J-38 style keys I used in the Navy, the contacts on the Westclox key are behind the fulcrum. This results in a “feel” that was a bit unusual to my taste.

The other issue with this key is that it’s somewhat loud. At one time I considered using it for portable operating while camping. However, I don’t think it would be a good choice for early morning operating when others are still sleeping.

Having said all that, there’s still something about this key that fascinates me. I spent some time re-adjusting it and it now feels better than I remembered. I also mounted it on a wooden base for some additional stability.

Frankly, I don’t think I gave this key a fair shake back when I bought it. So, I think I’m going to put this 70-year-old key on the air this week. If it really was new/unused when I bought it, this will be the first operational use in its 70-year existence.

73, Craig WB3GCK

175 Years of Morse Code

No, not me personally! But, today is actually the 175th anniversary of the first telegraph transmission from Baltimore to Washington, D.C. on May 24, 1844. Here’s an excellent article on the history of the Morse Code:

Simply elegant, Morse code marks 175 years and counting

It’s remarkable that Morse Code is still being used today. Bravo, Mr. Morse! It’s been a part of my life ever since I went through Navy Radioman School in 1970. It’s still my favorite ham radio mode and I’m proud to help keep the tradition alive.

My trusty J-38 straight key -
My trusty J-38 straight key –

So, get on the air today and make a CW contact or two.

73, Craig WB3GCK