Connecting Two Keys to the KX3

When operating in the field, I often like to alternate between a straight key for SKCC contacts and paddles for everything else. I found a quick and easy way to do this, courtesy of an excellent article by Rich AG6QR.

In the past, I would sometimes run an external keyer and connect a straight key in parallel with the keyer’s output. I have often used this as a way to use both computer keying and paddles during Field Day. I have also resorted to putting the CW KEY1 jack into the straight key mode and turning my Palm Mini paddles on their side to simulate a straight key. I could have used the Elecraft paddles designed for the KX3 but that arrangement isn’t very comfortable for me.

I did some searching and found a neat little adapter on the Pignology website. Unfortunately, at the current time, they aren’t accepting orders. A little more searching produced AG6QR ‘s article, which provided a perfectly workable solution. Best of all, I had everything I needed in my junk box.

Inspired by Rich’s article, I assembled a two-pin, female header connector (with standard 0.1-inch spacing) by crimping on a short length of two-conductor wire. On the other end, I soldered on an in-line 1/8-inch stereo jack. (I connected to the tip and sleeve terminals, leaving the ring terminal open.)

This is the 2-pin female header connector. It’s an Amphenol part but, unfortunately, I don’t have the specific part number.
This is the 2-pin female header connector. It’s an Amphenol part but, unfortunately, I don’t have the specific part number.

After setting the CW KEY2 jack to the “HAND” setting, I connected my header connector to the two right-most pins on the front connector and a straight key to the stereo jack. Voila! It worked just fine. As is my usual practice, I used a little Goop sealant/adhesive to add a little extra strain relief and make the connectors more rugged for field use.

This is the straight key adapter connected to my KX3.
This is the straight key adapter connected to my KX3.

So until Pignology reopens, I have a great (cheap) solution for simultaneously connecting a straight key and paddles. Be sure to check out AG6QR’s page for a more detailed description (and better photography).

72, Craig WB3GCK

Rainy Camping Weekend

My (far) better half and I took our little trailer back to French Creek State Park (PA) for what turned out to be a rainy weekend of camping. Despite the lousy weather, I did have some radio fun and ran into one of my QRP friends.

The QRP camper on a rainy weekend at French Creek State Park
The QRP camper on a rainy weekend at French Creek State Park

Right after we set up the trailer, I was flagged down by one of my Boschveldt QRP buddies, Ron WA8YIH. Ron and his family were also spending the weekend at French Creek. Ron’s campsite was across the road about 30 yards or so away from ours. I hadn’t seen Ron since our Boschveldt QRP gathering back in January, so it was good to catch up with him.

Ron WA8YIH operating outside his camper at French Creek State Park
Ron WA8YIH operating outside his camper at French Creek State Park

I spent most of my radio time operating in the SKCC Weekend Sprintathong (WES) contest. This month, bonus points were available for QSOs made using a homebrew key. So, before we left, I threw together a homebrew straight key using parts from an earlier key project that wound up in my junk box.

My homebrew straight key
My homebrew straight key

The lever arm is a strip of thin fiberglass material I liberated from a trashcan where I worked many years ago. The contacts consist of a small screw on the lever arm and a piece of brass-plated metal from an old cabinet latch. I used some nuts and washers as spacers to get the contact spacing where I wanted it. That took a bit of trial and error. I couldn’t find anything on-hand that I liked for a knob, so I used a piece of self-adhesive foam. Using it on the air, I was pleasantly surprised with the feel of the key.

My 9:1 UNUN all prepared for the oncoming storms
My 9:1 UNUN all prepared for the oncoming storms

Since the weather was so lousy, I spent a bit more time on the radio than normal. Over the course of the weekend, I found the band conditions to be highly variable with some deep fading. At times, my 5-watt signal seemed to be getting out really well. At other times, not so much. I also had to disconnect the antenna when thunderstorms rolled through.  As if that wasn’t enough, our area was under a tornado watch on Saturday night. (Fortunately, they never materialized.)  Needless to say, I have had better weather for camping.

I ended up with 19 WES QSOs and 1 QSO with Ron. Since I could actually see Ron from my campsite, I guess we could have used semaphore for that contact.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Micro Straight Key by KC5ILR

I recently bought another key from KC5ILR & Sons over eBay. This inexpensive little straight key could become one of my favorites.

Last year, I came across these straight keys that KC5ILR and his sons produce on a 3-D printer. They sell a variety of key styles in various colors. I bought a camelback style key and wrote about my initial impressions. While it is a nice key, the aluminum contacts didn’t always close cleanly and I detected some slight noise in the keyed signal.

I noticed that KC5ILR’s keys are now using solid brass contacts, so I bought one of their new lightweight Micro keys to give it a try. I received it a few days after ordering it and boy am I impressed.

Micro Key by KC5ILR & Sons
Micro Key by KC5ILR & Sons

Here are the specifications from the eBay listing:

Width: 1-7/16"
Length: 4-1/8"
Height: 1-3/8"
Weight : <2 oz.
Action: Single Max .100" gap.
Spring: Coil Chrome
Style: Camel Back Arm
Wiring: Stranded Copper
Contacts: Solid Brass
Resin: Biodegradable PLA Polymer
Construction: 3D Thermal Printed
Screws: 18-8 Stainless Steel 3MM Socket Head Cap Screws
Nuts: 3MM Stainless Steel Jam Nuts
Screw Holes To Mechanically Fasten.
Standard 3.5MM Receptacle (Use Tip & Sleeve Mono Or Stereo)
Solid Brass Contacts For The Ultimate QSO.

It took no time at all to adjust the contact spacing and tension to my liking. The base has countersunk holes for permanent mounting but I applied the four stick-on, rubber feet that came with the key.

The key has a 1/8-inch audio jack for connection to the rig. A cable is not provided so you’ll need to provide a stereo or mono patch cable. When using a stereo cable, the key is wired to use only the tip and sleeve. So, using a regular stereo patch cord, I can connect the key directly to my KX3. I connected it to my code practice oscillator for my initial tests.

The solid brass contacts are a huge improvement over the earlier aluminum contacts; the keying was absolutely clean. Even though the key weighs less than 2 ounces, I found that the design of the base makes it very stable when keying. The overall feel of the key is impressive.

I recently took my new key out for some portable operating. I used it to make a few SKCC contacts during a Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest. As expected, this little key performed well and keyed cleanly. This will be a nice little key to take along when weight is a major concern.

KC5ILR's Micro Key being used for portable operations. My American Morse MS-2 key is in the background.
KC5ILR’s Micro Key being used for portable operations. My American Morse MS-2 key is in the background.

If you’re looking for a small straight key for portable operation, look no further. For $19.95 USD, you really can’t go wrong.  You can also buy these keys directly from the C. W. Morse website.

73, Craig WB3GCK

[Disclaimer:  I have no financial interest in this company.  I’m just a satisfied customer.]

Mini Straight Key by KC5ILR

When I saw a Facebook post about a straight key fabricated with a 3D printer, I was intrigued.  I headed over to KC5ILR’s eBay listing to take a look and wound up buying one for $21.95 plus shipping.  (This was one of two impulse purchases I made recently.  I’ll post about the other one later.)  These keys are also available on the C.W. Morse website.

Here are the advertised specifications from the eBay listing:

Width: 1.45"
Length of Base: 2.68"
Overall Length: 4 1/8"
Weight : <1 oz.
Action: Single Max .100" gap.
Spring: Coil Chrome
Color: Black & Red
Style: Camel Back Arm
Wiring: Stranded Copper
Contacts: Solid Aluminum
Resin: Biodegradable PLA Polymer
Construction: 3D Thermal Printed
Screws: 18-8 Stainless Steel 3MM Socket Head Cap Screws
Nuts: 3MM Stainless Steel Jam Nuts

The key was promptly shipped and I received it a few days later.  Using a 3mm hex key, I was able to easily adjust the spring tension and contact spacing to my liking.  For a plastic key, it has a pretty good feel to it.  The feel is crisp and there is no side-to-side slop.  The hardware used is all quality stuff.  It doesn’t have the solid feel of a more expensive, all-metal key but I wasn’t expecting that.

C.W. Morse Straight Key by KC5ILR
C.W. Morse Straight Key by KC5ILR

Given its very light weight, I found that it needs to be attached to some kind of base to keep it steady during use.  The base of the key has two counter-sunk holes for mounting.  I’ll definitely be making up some sort of base for it in the near future.

Although this key looks like a toy, it’s actually a pretty decent straight key.  At this price, I think it would a great starter key for beginners.  If nothing else, it’s an interesting conversation piece.  I’ll probably be using it mostly for portable outings where I’m operating from a picnic table.

My trusty J-38 can rest easy; there’s no chance of it being replaced by this little, plastic key.  I am, however, looking forward to spending some time with it on the air.  Congratulations to KC5ILR and his son for coming up with this cool little key.

UPDATE (4/24/2017):

After seeing this post, Joseph KC5ILR and his boys graciously sent me one of their new, non-skid bases for my key.  Like the key, the base was produced with a 3D printer.  Although it weighs next to nothing, the new base greatly improves the stability of the key.

73, Craig WB3GCK

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Ham-iversary

For a variety of reasons, the past week has been a slow one for me, radio-wise.  However, I did notice on my calendar this morning that today is the 42nd anniversary of my first ham radio license.  Wow!  Where has the time gone?

Forty-two years ago, I had finished up my 4-year enlistment as a Navy Radioman and had just started school studying electronics.  I had plans to get my ham license, so I began to blow the dust off of my rusty CW fist.  Although the Navy trained me in Morse code, I never really had many opportunities to use it.  Also, I had never copied code without a typewriter (or “mill” as we called them in the Navy) so I had to learn how to copy CW with pencil and paper.

Radio gang aboard the USS LaMoure County (LST-1194) in 1974. I’m standing in the back, second from the right (with my eyes closed).
Radio gang aboard the USS LaMoure County (LST-1194) in 1974. I’m standing in the back, second from the right (with my eyes closed).

Once my code was back up to snuff, I contacted a local ham, Bob Rothrock K3MAZ (SK).  Years earlier, he restored an old console radio that my grandmother had given me.  Bob was the only ham I knew at the time and he graciously administered my Novice exam and helped Elmer me along when I had questions.

After receiving the callsign, WN3YSV, it took several months to put a station together and get on the air.  I found a used Heathkit DX-60 transmitter and paired it up with a Realistic DX-60B shortwave receiver I already had.  Anxious to get on the air, I quickly threw together a low dipole for 15 meters.  I picked 15 meters only because the dipole would fit easily across the backyard.

When I finally got on the air, I nervously called CQ a few times and was answered by K3RDT.  I was excited to hear someone calling me and I’m sure my sending reflected my nervousness.  I had never had a conversational CW exchange before.  As it turns out, Pete was only about a mile away from.  He helped other novices get on the air and seemed happy to be my first contact.

A few days after that shaky QSO, I received my first QSL card.  On the card Pete questioned my choice of 15 meters and encouraged me to figure  some way to get on 40 meters.  Of course, he was right.  I eventually rigged up a 40-meter dipole and ran across the roof of the house and across the backyard.  Although I made some nice contacts on 15 meters, the 40-meter novice band was where the action was for me.  I also became interested in QRP early on.  I built a little one-watt transmitter during that time and made a few contacts with it.

QSL card from my first ham radio contact with K3RDT.
QSL card from my first ham radio contact with K3RDT. It was 599 both ways, since we were only about a mile apart.

After a little over a year of operating, I moved away to start a new job.  My ham radio gear got packed away and I focused on my career and raising a family.  It would be another 15 years before I got back on the air with my current callsign.  Ham radio was definitely better the second time around.

Even after all these years, the thrill has never subsided.  This radio stuff is still like magic to me.

73, Craig WB3GCK

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Murphy and MacGyver

My XYL and I traveled out to the Harrisburg, PA, area over the weekend to spend some time with our daughter and her family.  Yesterday, I set up my KX3 and Alexloop in the backyard to make a few SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contacts.  Ol’ Murphy was certainly with me.

First, I had a problem with my little American Morse MS2 straight key.  Well, not the key itself, but rather a bad connector or cable.  I spent some time playing around with it but I had no multimeter to  troubleshoot it and no parts to repair it.

Tuning around the bands, I couldn’t hear a lot of activity.  The SKCC stations I heard seemed pretty weak and I wasn’t having any luck making contacts.  I checked the Band Conditions website and saw that the bands were in bad shape.  At that point, I threw in the towel and chalked up a win for Murphy.

Tough going on the bands
Tough going on the bands

Today I decided to give it another shot.  The bands sounded better and I could hear some WES activity.  I remembered a trick that Burke N0HYD employed to pull off an SKCC contact with me a while back.  So, I channeled my inner MacGyver and set up the KX3 for a straight key and connected my Palm mini paddles.  I turned the paddles over on their side and used one lever as a straight key.  The straight key workaround worked surprisingly well.  The “feel” wasn’t half-bad, actually.

My sideways paddles. The top paddle was used as the straight key.
My sideways paddles. The top paddle was used as the straight key.

With the improved band conditions and the straight key workaround, I made several SKCC WES contacts, including one with Bert F6HKA.  Bert has great ears and has managed to pull my puny QRP signal out of the noise on several occasions.  I finished my session with a nice two-way QRP QSO with Mac NN4NC down in North Carolina on 40 meters.  I was only on for an hour or so but it was fun.

Despite my lack of a functioning straight key, I managed to put a few new SKCC stations in my log today.  MacGyver would have been proud.

72, Craig WB3GCK

More SKCC Fun

Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) logoThe past few weeks have been interesting for me.  Despite poor band conditions, I managed to qualify for some more Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) awards.

Two weeks ago I received my Prefix x2 (Px2) award and a 40 meter endorsement on my Px1 award.  The SKCC Prefix awards are awarded on a point system for working a unique set of prefixes and summing up the membership numbers of the stations you work.  The PX1 award requires 500,00 points and the Px2 award requires 1,000,000 points.  So, I had 1,000,000 points on all bands and more than 500,00 on 40 meters alone.  It’s a lot easier to reach these numbers than you would think.

Yesterday afternoon, I got on 40 meters for a bit to see if I could find two more Centurion or higher contacts to reach the Tribune x2 level.  After working Tom N2TRJ in New Jersey, I heard him working Conrad W3ZMN.  Conrad is about 45 miles north of me in my hometown of Bethlehem, PA.  After they finished, I gave Conrad a quick call.  We were 339 both ways but managed to complete the exchange.  My thanks to these two folks for getting me to the Tx2 level!

My SKCC Tribune x2 certificate for working 100 unique Centurion, Tribune and Senator level members. I still need about 500 more to reach the Senator level.
My SKCC Tribune x2 certificate for working 100 unique Centurion, Tribune and Senator level members. I still need about 500 more to reach the Senator level.

Today, along with my Tx2 award, I also received my 1xQRP award.  This award is a point-based award for working a sufficient number of stations while running 5 watts or less.  The points for each QSO vary according to the band used.  There is also a 2xQRP award for making 2-way contacts but that is going to be much harder to achieve.

While I was in my SKCC logging program, I noticed that I was also qualified for 40 meter endorsements on my Centurion X1 and Tribune X1 awards.  I also received those endorsements today.

The SKCC awards certainly become more challenging as you move up the ranks.  I think that one of the things I enjoy most about the SKCC is that even someone like me with a QRP rig and a crappy antenna (more on that in another post) can earn some wallpaper.  Being able to pick up an award now and then gives me a sense of accomplishment that has kept my interest peaked.  Plus, you get to interact with some really friendly hams in the process.

73/72, Craig WB3GCK

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