U.S. Navy Morse Code Training

The material below is from a training manual used by U.S. Navy enlisted personnel studying for advancement to the rates of Radioman 3rd Class and Radioman 2nd Class (E4 and E5, respectively). This edition, dated 1967, was still around in the early 1970s when I used it. While it may provide a nostalgic look back for former Navy radio operators, much of the material on technique may still be useful for today’s beginning amateur radio operators. Enjoy! — WB3GCK

Source:  Radioman 3 & 2, Chapter 4, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Navy Training Course NAVPERS 10228-E, 5th Edition, 1967

Cover page. Radioman 3 & 2, Chapter 4, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Navy Training Course NAVPERS 10228-E, 5th Edition, 1967

Chapter 4
International Morse Code

The international Morse code is a telegraphic alphabet, with letters and numbers represented by sound patterns.

If you are a graduate of a Class A Radioman School, you were taught the Morse code, consequently much of this chapter may be of little interest to you. But, if this is your first acquaintance with the code – if you are striking for Radioman from the deck force, or changing to Radioman from another rating – you have many hours of hard work ahead. Do not be discouraged on this account. Many fine Radiomen learn the code for themselves.

The letters in Morse code are represented by dots and dashes; radio operators, however, substitute the expressions “dits” and “dahs,” which closely resemble the sounds of the telegraphic hand key. The groups of dits and dahs representing each letter must be made as one unit, with a clear break between each dit and each dah, and a much more distinct break between the letters. A dit is one-third the length of a dah.

You must never try to count the dits and dahs. Do not let yourself get in the habit of doing so. It is a temptation at first, but you won’t be able to count fast enough when the code speed picks up. Learn sound patterns instead. To understand what a sound pattern is, rap out the pattern beginning “Shave and a haircut.” You recognize this from its characteristic rhythm, not because it has a certain number of beats in it. You must learn the code the same way. There are 36 Morse sound patterns for the letters and numbers, plus a few others representing prosigns and punctuation marks. With study and drill you can learn to recognize each pattern as fast as you now recognize “Shave and a haircut.” The accent always falls on dahs, and you should pronounce each rhythmical combination with that emphasis in mind.

Go through the alphabet several times to get the sound “feel” of the dit and dah combinations.


In the pronunciation guide for sounds of letters that follows, sounds are written as phonetically as possible. In the middle of a group, the short sound “dit” actually takes on the sound “di.” The phonetic alphabet is included in parentheses after the letters. Acquire the habit of referring to the letters phonetically.

      Letter               Pronunciation
      A (ALFA)    -------- di-DAH
      B (BRAVO)    ------- DAH-di-di-dit
      C (CHARLIE)    ----- DAH-di-DAH-dit
      D (DELTA)    ------- Dah-di-dit
      E (ECHO)    -------- dit
      F (FOXTROT)     ---- di-di-DAH-dit
      G (GOLF)    -------- DAH-DAH-dit
      H (HOTEL)    ------- di-di-di-dit
      I (INDIA)   -------- di- dit
      J (JULIETT)    ----- di-DAH-DAH-DAH
      K (KILO)   --------- DAH-di-DAH
      L (LIMA)    -------- di-DAH-di-dit
      M (MIKE)    -------- DAH-DAH
      N (NOVEMBER)     --- DAH-dit
      0 (OSCAR)    ------- DAH-DAH-DAH
      P (PAPA)    -------- di-DAH-DAH-dit
      Q (QUEBEC)     ----- DAH-DAH-di-DAH
      R (ROMEO)     ------ di-DAH-dit
      S (SIERRA)    ------ di-di-dit
      T (TANGO)    ------- DAH
      U (UNIFORM)    ----- di-di-DAH
      V (VICTOR)    ------ di-di-di-DAH
      W (WHISKEY)    ----- di-DAH-DAH
      X (XRAY)    -------- DAH-di-di-DAH
      Y (YANKEE)     ----- DAH-di-DAH-DAH
      Z (ZULU)    -------- DAH-DAH-di-dit

      Number             Pronunciation
      1----------------  di-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH
      2----------------  di-di-DAH-DAH-DAH
      3----------------  di-di-di-DAH-DAH
      4----------------  di-di-di-di-DAH
      5----------------  di-di-di-di-dit
      6----------------  DAH-di-di-di-dit
      7----------------  DAH-DAH-di-di-dit
      8----------------  DAH-DAH-DAH-di-dit
      9----------------  DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-dit
      0----------------  DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH
      Punctuation Mark    Pronunciation
      Hyphen (dash)  ---- DAH-di-di-di-di-DAH
      Parenthesis  L ---- DAH-di-DAH-DAH-di-DAH
                   R ---- DAH-di-DAH-DAH-dit
      Point   ----------- di-DAH-di-DAH-di-DAH
      Slant  ------------ DAH-di-di-DAH-dit
      Apostrophe  ------- di-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-dit
      Colon  ------------ DAH-DAH-DAH-di-di-dit
      Comma   ----------  DAH-DAH-di-di-DAH-DAH
      Question mark  ---- di-di-DAH-DAH-di-dit


If you have any trouble learning Morse code, the following method may be helpful. Go through the three groupings of short, medium and long sounds with their accompanying practice words. Make up words of your own if you wish to give yourself further practice. Speak the practice words in code. Say “tee: DAH dit dit;” “mine: DAH-DAH di-dit DAH-dit dit.”

If you can speak words in code rapidly and distinctly, you will have an easier time when you learn to receive code on the receiver. The sounds are very similar.

You probably have noticed by now how numerals slow your speech in oral transmission. That is understandable – they also slow the speed of radio transmission. Headings containing procedure signs, calls, and numerals are transmitted at a slower rate of speed than straight alphabetical characters.

      Short sounds              Practice words 
      E dit                     TEE ATE EAT TEA MEAT
      T dah                     MEET MINE TIME MAINE
      A di-DAH                  TEAM AIM NITE TAME TEA
      I di-dit                  MATE TAME NAME MITE
      M DAH-DAH                 MIAMI MAMA MEAN MAN MAT
      N DAH-dit                 EMIT MINT MANE TAN ITEM TINT
      Medium length sounds      Practice words
      D DAH-di-dit              MUST SAME MAMA SUIT AUTO
      G DAH- DAH- dit           MUSS OUST MUSE MUTE ATOM
      K DAH-di-DAH              TAUT MAST MASS SUET SAM
      0 DAH-DAH-DAH             WIND SEA TUM SAW OAT
      R di-DAH-dit              SUE SAT WED SUM MUD IOU
      S di-di-dit               USE SEAM WOOD DARK
      U di-di-DAH               GEORGE DOWN KIND SORT
      W di-DAH-DAH              DOOR MASK WORK GROW
                                WOMAN EDGE GAGE
                                WIGS WORM WAGER
                                WAKE KEG
      Long sounds              Practice words
      B DAH-di-di-dit          VAT VET VIM HAM SIX
      C DAH-di-DAH-dit         SAY
      F di-di-DAH-dit          HAS HAT EVE CUT
      H di-di-di-dit           CAM  VEST
      J di-DAH-DAH-DAH         HEAT HAVE MUCH
      L di-DAH-di-dit          THAT EACH
      P di-DAH-DAH-dit         COAT ACHE SAVE HUSH
      Q DAH-DAH-di-DAH         ACME
      V di-di-di-DAH           CUTE BAKER CHARLIE
      X DAH-di-di-DAH          FIVE
      Z DAH-DAH-di-dit         PAPA QUICK QUILL
                               VICTORY XRAY YOUNG
                               ZERO BUZZ GARGLE
                               FIZZLE LYNX OXYGEN
                               WAX QUAY JERKY WHIP
      Figure sounds
      1. di-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH
      2. di-di-DAH-DAH-DAH
      3. di-di-di-DAH-DAH
      4. di-di-di-di-DAH
      5. di-di-di-di-dit
      6. DAH-di-di-di-dit
      7. DAH-DAH-di-di-dit
      8. DAH-DAH-DAH-di-dit
      9. DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-dit


If you have carried out the recommendations made up to this point, you are ready to receive code transmitted to you on an oscillator. The ship or station to which you are attached is almost certain to have practice oscillators for your use.

An experienced Radioman will key code groups to you for your training. The sound produced by an oscillator closely resembles the sound of code from the radio receiver. The operator keying to you for practice should transmit each individual character at the standard rate of 20 words per minute. He should maintain a fairly long interval between characters. As you progress, you gain speed by shortening spaces between characters.

The standard character speed is shown in figure 4-1. Note that the characters themselves may be keyed at 20 words per minute, but that the longer intervals between characters and words materially decrease the beginner’s overall speed. Note also that the code, compared against time in the 20-words-per-minute transmission, is in the proper form of having the dit as a unit. There is one unit between each element of a character, three units between each character, and seven units between each group or word.

Figure 4-1. Correct keying of Morse characters.

After learning the sound of each character at this rate of speed, it is not difficult to reduce the time between characters and to copy code at a much faster speed.

As you advance in rating, you will be required to increase your transmission and reception speed. If you learn the fundamentals well, it will be fairly easy for you to increase your speed. When copying code, if you miss a character, don’t stop to worry about it; get the next character and let the one missed go by. Be a competent operator. Make every transmission and every reception accurately. Do not place speed before accuracy.


Learn to print clearly and rapidly. The messages you handle are important, and someone must read what you have written without puzzling over it. Examine figure 4-2 and compare the printed letters with your own. Notice that the sequence of strokes for some letters may be different from the way you customarily form them. As an aid to rapid printing, the more of the letter you can form with a single stroke, the better. Use this illustration as a guide to avoid confusions between printed letters and printed numerals. Especially watch the letter Z and the numeral 2. If you wish, write Z with a line through the stem (-Z). Even more important is the distinction between the capital letter O and the figure zero. In communication work, zero is always written with a slant through it (Ø). Exercise care to avoid confusion between letter I and figure 1, and also letter S and figure 5.

Figure 4-2. How to form printed characters.

As your code speed increases, you will find it impossible to print rapidly enough to keep up; therefore, typewriting is a skill also required of all Radiomen. Use of a good commercial text can help you master touch-typing. A typing course for beginners also is offered by USAFI.


Your ability to send well depends mainly upon two capabilities. First, you must know the correct sound of the character you are attempting to transmit. Second, you must know the proper method for keying with perfect control. Practicing the code aloud, as well as receiving it by oscillator, has given you a good knowledge of code sound. The proper method for keying is your next concern.


The first key you will use is the hand key. The hand key is widely used on radiotelegraph circuits and with practice oscillators. It must be adjusted properly before you can send clearcut characters. Figure 4-3 shows a hand key, with parts labeled.

Figure 4-3. Hand key.


The spring tension screw, behind the key button, controls the amount of upward tension on the key. The tension desired varies with operators. Too much tension forces the key button up before the dahs are completely formed; spacing between characters is irregular, and dits are not clearly defined. If the spring tension is very weak, characters run together and the space between characters is too short.

The gap between the contacts, regulated by the space adjusting screw at the back of the key, should be set at one-sixteenth inch for beginners. This measurement does not apply to every key and operator; it is a matter of personal preference. Some operators like a closed key, others an open key. “Closed” and “open” are terms for a short and a long gap. As the student progresses, further gap adjustment may be made to suit his sending speed. Contacts that are too close have an effect similar to weak spring tension. Contacts that are spaced too far have the same effect as too much spring tension.

The final adjustment of the key is the sidewise alignment of the contact points. This alignment is controlled by the trunnion screws at either side of the key. If they are too tight, the key lever binds. If they are too loose, the contacts have sidewise play. Usually, when the sidewise alignment is correct, no further adjustment is required.


Learn from the beginning the correct way to grasp the key. Do not hold the key tightly, but let your fingers rest lightly on the key knob. Your thumb rests against the side, your forefinger rests on top of the key, your other fingers are bent slightly in a relaxed position. Check figures 4-4 and 4-5 for the correct method of keying. To ensure correct movement of your wrist and forearm, your arm should lie on the operating desk. The muscle of your forearm – not your elbow – should support the weight of your arm. Your elbow should not extend over the edge of the table, because the pressure of the underside of your forearm will partly block circulation and tire you. Sit upright, with your arm in line with the key.

Figure 4-4. Grasping the key. Figure 4-5. Your thumb rests against the side.

Your ability to transmit depends to a great extent on acquiring the proper movements of your wrist and hand while operating the key. To close the key, your wrist moves upward and your hand rocks downward toward your fingertips. To open the key, these two movements are reversed- your wrist comes down and your hand rocks back.

Make your wrist flexible. Limber it up. Correct wrist action may be developed by moving your wrist up and down like a hinge. Another exercise is rotating your hand in clockwise circles, with your wrist held in a stationary position. These exercises will relieve any undue tension you may experience when first beginning to transmit.


The semiautomatic key, also known as the bug or speed key, is used chiefly when operators are required to send for relatively long periods of time. It is designed to make sending easy instead of fast. Hence, perfect control of the key is far more important than speed.


In sending with the bug, the thumb presses the dit paddle (fig. 4-6) to the right, and the index finger forms dahs by pressing the knob to the left. The key sends successive dits when the paddle is held to the right. One dit or a series may be sent, depending on how long the thumb pressure is maintained against the paddle. One dah is formed every time the knob is pressed to the left. Dahs must be sent individually. While sending, the hand pivots at the wrist; the hand and arm motion is horizontal.

Figure 4-6. Semiautomatic key.


Best operation of the semiautomatic key is obtained when it is adjusted to send dits and spaces of equal length. Adjust the key as follows, locating the parts in figure 4-6 when adjusting the key:

  1. Adjust the back stop screw until the reed lightly touches the deadener. Tighten the locknut.
  2. Adjust the front stop screw until the separation between the end of the screw and the reed is approximately .015 inch. Tighten the locknut.
  3. Operate the dit paddle to the right. Hold the lever in this position and stop the vibration of the reed. Adjust the dit contact adjusting screw until the dit contacts barely touch. Tighten the locknut. This adjustment determines whether the dits will be too heavy, too light, or perfect. The adjustment must be made without flexing the contact spring.
  4. If the dits are too fast, move the weights, located on the reed, in the direction of the deadener. If the dits are too slow, move the same weights in the opposite direction.
  5. Adjust the dah contact adjusting screw to a clearance of approximately .030 inch.
  6. Adjust the dit refractive and dah tension springs for the most comfortable, operation.

If the adjustment instructions are followed carefully, the bug makes 25 or more dits before stopping. The first 12 to 15 dits will be practically perfect, with the dits and spaces equal.


Good operators have sending rhythm, and you can acquire it in just one way: by practice.

It may be difficult for you to key correctly at first, because your wrist is unfamiliar with the type of movement required for sending telegraphic code. Your wrist will be stiff, and you’ll have to get rid of that stiffness by a lot of practice. Don’t favor the stiffness of your wrist. If you do, your sending will be choppy.

The following exercises have been prepared carefully. Use them as an instruction guide.

  • Character E: The dit characters require a “goodfist.” They must be transmitted quickly and rhythmically. Make a series of Es (dits). They are made with a pronounced movement of your wrist upward, returning to the normal position after each dit. At first, maintain a fairly long interval between dits. To assist you in limbering your wrist, exaggerate the movement upward. To prevent tenseness and tiredness of your wrist, remove your hand from the key periodically and flex your wrist. After practicing Es for 15 or 20 minutes, decrease the interval between dits until you are making them rather rapidly. Each sound should continue to be a definite dit, however. Keep at it until you can control each dit.
  • Character I: When you feel that your wrist is limbering up, make the character I (di-dit). Start with your wrist in the normal relaxed position, raise it for the first dit, lower it quickly halfway back, and make the second dit with another quick movement of your wrist upward. Your transmission, made slowly, produces the sound di-dit. As you practice and develop more rhythm, this character acquires the sound of di-dit.
  • Character T: Send a series of Ts (DAH) with a good interval between them. Instead of a quick movement of your wrist upward, make aslower, more definite movement of your wrist and exert more pressure on the key. Send dahs for a few minutes, gradually shortening the interval between characters.
  • Character M: Now try sending strings of Ms (DAH-DAH). As with the character 1, you don’t return your wrist to the beginning position at the end of the first dah, but bring it to the halfway point and then make the last dah. With practice, you’ll soon change the hesitant DAH DAH sound to the snappy DAH-DAH. Don’t forget the correct wrist movements. If you find that your sending requires exertion of forearm muscles or that your shoulder is moving, stop and recheck your wrist motions.

Try these practice groups several times, backward and forward. Make them clearly and distinctly, spending more time on characters that cause you any trouble.


  • Character A: The character A (di-DAH) gives you practice in making a dit and a dah together. Sending motions, in their proper order, are (1) slight pressure of your fingers alongside the key, (2) a quick surge upward of your wrist, (3) a slight relaxing of your wrist to the halfway point, and (4) a final definite upward movement of your wrist. This technique produces the sound dit DAH when you begin to practice it. But keep at it-you’ll soon have the proper di-DAH sound. Avoid tenseness; relax your forearm muscles when sending.
  • Character U: You’re now ready for the character U (di-di-DAH). Start slowly, sending dit dit DAH. Practice it until you get a di-di- DAH sound.
  • Character N: The character N (DAH-dit) requires only slight pressure on the sides of the key, a strong wrist movement upward, a half return, and a quick, short, upward motion for the dit. Practice for several minutes until you are able to send DAH-dit easily and with com- plete relaxation.
  • Character D, Try the letter D (DAH-di-dit). At first, with the correct wrist movement it will be DAH dit dit. But the sound you want to hear is DAH-di-dit-with a swing. Send Ds until you can transmit them with perfect control. Check yourself on the following groups. You should have less difficulty than you did with the first groups.


  • Character S: Go back to the dits for S (di-di-dit). Get a good position on the key and put your wrist to work. See how quickly you can change the dit dit dit sound to di-di-dit. Relax your forearm.
  • Character V: The letter V is di-di-di-DAH, so you’d better learn how to send it that way. Relax. If your wrist is tied up in a knot, you’ll be sending dit dit dit DAH. Move your wrist up and down easily until you are sending di-di-di-DAH with perfect control. Practice this letter carefully. It is used in every radio test.
  • Character 0: Correctly sent, characters is DAH-DAH-DAH. Keep at it until it stops sounding like three Ts. Test your skill with these words:


  • Character H. Character His di-di-di-dit. Send one. If it sounds similar to four Es, your wrist is too stiff. Develop the di-di-di-dit sound.
  • Character B: Send DAH-di-di-dit. It is the Morse code equivalent of B. Practice for perfect control, then try these groups:


  • Character K: At this point you should be prepared to tackle the other characters. They are mostly combinations of the letters you have practiced. Each one has a distinct overall sound. For instance, K should not have the sound DAH-dit-DAH. It should be DAH-di-DAH. Think of the tune “Over There.” You will realize that DAH-di-DAH has the same rhythm as OH-ver THERE-DAH-di-DAH.
  • Character Q: The letter Q (DAH-DAH-di-DAH) has the same rhythm as the words “Payday today.” Say in a monotone “payday today,” then say DAH-DAH-di-DAH. When transmitted, the same swing is given these combinations as when speaking or chanting them.
  • Remaining letters and numerals: The preceding l5 characters have taught you proper wrist movement. You know the remaining 11 letters and 10 figures. Following are 14 practice exercises. Use these exercises for self-drill.


Practice the remaining letters of the alphabet and the numerals. When you think you’re ready for it, practice the code exercises that follow.

      1. E E E T T T A A A N N N I I I S S S H H H
         M M M O O O E E E T T T A A A N N
         I I I S S S H H H M M M O 0 0 E E E T T T
         I I I M M M A A A N N N S S S O 0 0 H H H
         E E E T T T E E E T T T I I I M M M I I I
         M M M A A A N N N A A A N N N S S S
         O O O S S S
      2. U U U V V V D D D B B B K K K C C C
         W W W J J J P P P U U U V V V D D D
         B B B K K K C C C W W W J J J P P P
         W W W J J J P P P U U U V V V K K K
         C C C B B B D D D U U U D D D V V V
         B B B P P P J J J C C C K K K W W W
         D D D B B B V V V U U U W W W J J J
      3. R R R L L L F F F G G G Z Z Z X X X
         Y Y Y Q Q Q R R R L L L F F F G G G
         Z Z Z X X X Y Y Y Q Q Q G G G Z Z Z
         F F F L L L R R R Y Y Y Q Q Q R R R
         X X X Z Z Z R R R F F F L L L Q Q Q
         Y Y Y G G G Q Q Q Y Y Y R R R
      4. 1 1 1 2 2 2 3 3 3 4 4 4 5 5 5 6 6 6 7 7 7 8 8 8
         9 9 9 Ø Ø Ø 1 1 1 2 2 2 3 3 3 4 4 4 5 5 5 6 6 6
         7 7 7 8 8 8 9 9 9 Ø Ø Ø 1 1 1 2 2 3 3 4 4 5 5
         6 6 7 7 8 8 9 9 Ø Ø 1 1 2 2 3 3 4 4 5 5 6 6 7 7
         8 8 9 9 Ø Ø 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Ø 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
         8 9 1 2 3 4 5 6
      5. V U I Y Q Z C X G R S L K J P Q X Z R I
         F C V B W F K D S H Q Z A L K F B V R
         S T U O T M E G Y Z X V E G N I W S L H
         M U A E V U A E W Q G H V C I X Z L N
         R Y U K V U
      6. E 8 Y 7 B 6 X 1 W Ø Z 2 A 3 C 5 S 4 1 2 F
         U 1 F 5 D 8 Q 4 T 6 U 9 Q 2 E Ø S 5 U l Y
         G 2 J 4 S 3 E 5 T 7 Z 8 K 6 M 9 R l A 2 R
         S 7 W B E 9 R 2 A 3 Z 3 X 6 U 8 B 7 C 6 T
         NL TY CE DO PS
      8. EF TS 16 29 83 ZJ 45 Ø7 WR ND KW IC UX
         91 Ø2 1B LO FG 84 63 XW AC TM SU 5Ø 72
         XR RJ ZM 43 65 VH 97 LM 12 46 7Ø FC FE
         EY 34 56 27 FT FY JU IT 98 76 75 52 DE
         WE QT 13 36 57 KF RI YT 19 93 35 41 FK
         YU 96 Ø1 MC AR TH 19 25 3Ø UR BO UL
         32 Ø5 21
     11. JICOY TXSTY 38Ø95 RDIHA
         89706 CUSPI RNBRJ 65289 ZONIG
         8784Ø BVGAN WKOQT SRQMT
         UJVWN 45872 YXBCX AFKOZ
         OGLCT NIHGP 12349 ATUSK
     13. ZMJXI URYNC 9347Ø PQAZM
         DEGVM NCBVG HUGHY 13267
         PHRAN QUECC 1289Ø MCNDH
         72439 OYTRW PIQAW CNJWO
         BCDV CGFH 5781 JGVX HGJD


Continue sending to yourself with the practice key and oscillator. If you can operate with another striker, so much the better. Sit down at an unused operating position and tune in some slow code. It is not hard to find, especially on amateur frequencies. Copy as best you can. Don’t worry too much about missing letters. Get what you can, no matter how little it is. As your speed picks up, tune in faster code. If you find you are copying a certain speed solidly, the code is too slow. Keep it faster than you can copy comfortably.

You will need lots of practice. Class A Radioman Schools ashore run a full day, and for months a man copies code several hours daily. Make the transition from pencil copying to the typewriter as soon as possible.

As you gain skill, try copying the 18-wpm to 20-wpm fleet broadcasts. Devote as much time as possible-15 or 20 hours per week-not just an hour now and then. Do not be afraid to use some of your off-duty time. Simultaneously, begin to learn how to hold down a circuit. One of the best ways to do this is to spend several watches logging circuits that other operators are manning. At the end of every watch, compare your log with that of the regular operator, and question him about anything you do not understand. That way you see procedure in use and gain practice in copying many fists.

Learn to copy behind. If you are recording B as D, S as I, J as W, and so on, you are copying too close. The farther behind the better. At first, listen to one character while setting down the previous one. Try to fall back one letter more. Listen for the character while carrying one in your head and setting down the one before that. Once you have the knack, you will find copying behind is easier, faster, and more accurate. The faster the code, the farther, you must stay behind. Watch an oldtimer copy press at 35 or 40 wpm. You will find he is carrying anywhere from 5 words to a sentence in his head.

One further word of advice: It is common for a student learning code to hit a plateau. The regular progress to higher speeds stops, and for a time the student finds himself unable to copy faster than a certain speed. If this happens to you, just stay with it until your speed picks up. Never lose confidence in the knowledge that any man of ordinary ability can learn the code if he puts in the necessary time and work

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


Rediscovering the Straight Key

Back in January, I decided I wanted to add a new facet to this hobby that I’ve enjoyed for more than 42 years now.  I have always heard a lot of Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) activity on the bands and it sounded like fun.  So, I signed up for an SKCC number, dusted off my trusty J-38 key and jumped into the fray.

More than 20 years had passed since I made the switch to paddles and Iambic Mode B keying.  Needless to say, my straight key fist was very rusty.  After some off-air practice, I heard NN9K near Chicago calling, “CQ SKCC,” on 30 meters one day.  I grabbed the J-38 and a few minutes later, Peter had given me my first official SKCC contact.

I bought this J-38 from a military surplus store around 1975. Nothing special but I love the feel of it. It reminds me of my Navy days, I guess.
I bought this J-38 from a military surplus store around 1975. Nothing special but I love the feel of it. It reminds me of my Navy days, I guess.

A few days later, it was time for the February SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES).  The monthly, weekend-long WES contests are like most other CW contests except they are friendlier and run at a slower pace.  After a fun weekend operating on and off, I ended up with 38 more SKCC contacts in the log.  One particular highlight was working Bert F6HKA on two bands with my meager 5 watts and rainspout antenna.  (Full disclosure:  Bert’s awesome station gets most of the credit for these contacts.  He was louder than most stateside stations.) After my first WES, I was hooked.

Even though SKCC promotes the use of manual keying methods, i.e., straight key, bug, cootie key; they have some pretty sophisticated, computer-based tools that can help you reach the various award levels.  There are a few SKCC-specific logging programs.  I use AC2C’s SKCC Logger for logging during WES contests and keeping track of all of my SKCC contacts.   The K3UK SKCC Sked Page is an online gathering place for members looking for contacts.  Another slick tool is the SKCC Skimmer.  This software tells me who is online on the Sked Page and which SKCC members have been spotted on the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN).  Most importantly, it lets me know if they have SKCC numbers I need for award levels I’m pursuing.

The thing I like most about SKCC is the friendly attitude of the members.  They are particularly helpful to newbies and will always slow down to match the sending speeds of slower operators.  Many times, operators would recognize my new SKCC number and take the time to welcome me to the club — even during contest exchanges.

This is my first key as a ham. I bought this at a Radio Shack store in 1974. It still sees occasional use.
This is my first key as a ham. I bought this at a Radio Shack store in 1974. It still sees occasional use.

After a month and a half of general operating and two WES contests, I found myself with 99 SKCC contacts.  I needed just one more to reach the SKCC Centurion level.  With some sort of geomagnetic disturbance going on, I resorted to the SKCC Sked Page for help.  Within minutes, there were several stations trying to work me to put me over the top.  Werner, N8BB in Michigan, was finally able to get me there.  I applied for my Centurion award and received it later that day.  I’m now in the process of trying to work 50 Centurion, Tribune, or Senator level members for the Tribune level.

I’m pleased to report that my old straight key fist is back in shape and I have rediscovered the elegant simplicity of the straight key.  Many thanks for the good folks who run the SKCC organization.  It’s easy to see why the SKCC is one of the fastest growing clubs in ham radio.

72, Craig WB3GCK

MS2 Straight Key Magnetic Mount

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I bought the little American Morse MS2 straight key intending to somehow magnetically attach it to the clipboard I use for portable operating.  It took some thinking but I came up with a workable solution.  I might come up with a better solution in the future but, for now, it should suffice.

What I set out to do was build a wooden mount that could attach the MS2 that held two magnets that lined up with the steel washers on the clipboard.  I had a couple of “super magnets” that I planned to use.  The problem I ran into is that the magnets are almost too strong to attach directly to the washers.  My solution was to enclose the magnets within the wood base.

Super magnets used for the MS2 straight key magnetic mount. Boy, these things are powerful!
Super magnets. Boy, these things are powerful!

I cut a 1×3.25-inch piece of 1/8-inch plywood.  Then I drilled two 3/4-inch holes just deep enough to fit the magnets.  After placing the magnets in the holes, I glued on a thin wood veneer.  This puts some extra spacing between the magnets and the washers on the clipboard.  After drilling a mounting hole for the MS2, I sprayed on a couple of coats of paint.

MS2 straight key magnet mount wood pieces prior to assembly
Wood pieces prior to assembly

After letting the paint dry, I went to attach the key to the base.  Oops!  I drilled the mounting hole from the wrong side of the mount.  My first inclination was to putty it in and repaint.  However, I decided to leave it there as a constant reminder to always measure twice and drill once!

MS2 straight key attached to the magnetic base
MS2 attached to the magnetic base. Don’t look too closely or you might see the drilling mistake I made.

The mount actually works well.  The concealed super magnets hold the key firmly to the clipboard without the need for excessive force to remove it.  Once I free up some time, I’ll give it a thorough test out in the field.

MS2 straight key mount attached to the clipboard
The finished product

72, Craig WB3GCK

American Morse MS2 Straight Key

For many years after I first learned the code in the Navy, I was a die-hard straight key user.  Unfortunately, back in the 90s, I started to experience some wrist pain and switched to using iambic paddles.  Recently, after working one of the Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) K3Y special event stations, I was inspired to sign up with SKCC and dust off my straight keys.  Hopefully, I will be able to get my old straight key fist back in short order.

Since I do most of my operating while portable, I wanted a straight key that was easy to pack and use while sitting on the ground along some trail somewhere.  I was looking for something small that I could add some magnets to for use with my little clipboard.

After doing some research, I decided on the American Morse MS2 miniature straight key.  I built a set of Doug Hauff’s (W6AME) NorCal paddles from a kit many years ago and they are still in regular use.  Doug’s machine shop produces some precision stuff.

The kit arrived a few days after I placed my order.  Following the manual’s precautions, I emptied the parts into a baking pan.  Some of the parts are pretty small and would disappear forever if dropped on the carpet.  Even with my aging eyes, it only took about 45 minutes to assemble the kit.  (A younger person with better eyes and steadier hands could have done it faster, I’m sure.)  You need to supply your own cable and connector, so I dug an old audio patch cable out of my junk box and cut it in half.

American Morse MS2 straight key after initial assembly
American Morse MS2 straight key after initial assembly

The key is 2 inches long by 1 inch wide and is made from machine aluminum.  The contact gap and spring tension are fully adjustable.  The key (with my cable attached) only weighs about 2.7 ounces (76 grams).

The finished MS2 straight key with cable attached. The cable is one half of an 1/8-inch diameter audio patch I had in the junk box.
The finished MS2 straight key with cable attached. The cable is one half of an 1/8-inch diameter audio patch I had in the junk box.

After adjusting the contact spacing and the spring tension, I was surprised at how great this little key feels.  The knob is a little different from most keys, but I was able to easily adapt to it.  As expected, the overall quality of the key is outstanding.

My next project will be to attach some sort of base to it with magnets spaced to line up with the washers on the clipboard I use while portable.  More on that in another post.  I’m looking forward to making some SKCC contacts from out in the field.

72, Craig WB3GCK