By Dan Romanchik, KB6NU
One of the questions I’m most frequently asked is, “What is a good paddle for a beginner?” My usual answer to this question is to look for a used Bencher BY-1 at a hamfest or on one of the online venues. You used to be able to get them for $60 or less. Now, however, there are few hamfests and the price has gone up. Now, used Benchers are close to $80.
Another option that newcomers might consider is the CW Morse paddle (shown in photo below). They cost $60 with a steel base ($43 without), and are available from 3rd Planet Solar and Gigaparts. I purchased one recently, and used it for a couple of days. To be honest, I was prepared to hate it, but it actually works pretty well. It’s not a Begali, but it’s good enough that I’d recommend it as a starter key.
These keys are mostly made from 3D-printed plastic parts. You can tell this from the finish. While not as bad as some 3D-printed parts, they do look a little rough. I wouldn’t be surprised if they go to molded parts, though, at some point. In high volumes, it has to be cheaper to mold the parts rather than print them.
The key does have metal parts where it counts, though. The contacts are all brass, the base is made from 1/2-in. cold-rolled steel, and the levers pivot on sealed ball bearings. My key weighed 22.5 oz (1.4 lbs.), and was quite stationary on the silicone mat that I use for my keys. The Begali is, of course, a lot heavier at nearly 60 oz. (3.75 lbs.).
A spring between the levers provides the tension. Two screws allow you to adjust the contact spacing. Unlike the Begali, whose adjustment screws have a very fine thread to give you plenty of adjustability, these screws are standard thread screws. What this means is that it can be a bit tricky to set the contact spacing. The screws are spring-loaded to prevent the adjustment from changing, but the springs don’t seem to be very beefy, and I can see where the adjustment might change after a lot of use.
The ball bearings give the key a nice action. During my tests, I had the speed cranked up to 23 wpm, and this key performed well at that speed. One thing I didn’t like very much is that the arms tend to flex more than I like, but I actually have the same problem with the plastic Begali finger pieces. That’s why I use the aluminum finger pieces on the Begali.
Overall, though, I’m quite happy with this key. And, for sixty bucks, which is about one-fifth of the price of a new Begali Magnetic Pro, I can certainly recommend this key to newcomers getting started in CW.
Dan Romanchik, KB6NU, is the author of the KB6NU amateur radio blog (KB6NU.Com), the “No Nonsense” amateur radio license study guides (KB6NU.Com/study-guides/), and often appears on the ICQPodcast (icqpodcast.com). When he’s not testing new keys, he teaches online ham radio classes and likes to work special event stations and state QSO parties.