A Single Lever Paddle From QRP Guys

When building the SST for 20M, my plan was to kit it out with a paddle, battery, and an easily deployable antenna, and head for the hills. That’s still the plan. I don’t operate portable very often, preferring the comfort of the operating position in my small apartment, where I can make as many drinks and snacks as I want, and do it all with the company of my 3 kitties. Bliss! However, having just made a small, lightweight CW rig, I have to take it out in the field at least once in order to prove it’s mettle.

Currently, the only paddle I have is a Bencher, which is a bit too heavy and cumbersome to carry in my backpack for a portable set-up. There are some really neat portable paddles on the market, but I didn’t want to spend much, so settled on the idea of making one from PCB material, inspired by Wayne NB6M’s paddle, and KI6SN’s version, which was based on Wayne’s design. Two things happened to stop that idea in it’s tracks though. The first was that, nearing the end of building my SST, I was beginning to feel a bit lazy. Occasionally, when wading my way through a scratch-built project, I ponder how nice it would be to build a kit and give my brain a rest. At around the same time, I came across the website for The QRP Guys and realized I’d hit paydirt. They have a selection of small and low-priced kits for the QRP’er, including some small paddles made from PC board for very affordable prices. Perfect! The QRP Guys are Chuck Adams K7QO, Doug Hendricks KI6DS, Ken LoCasale WA4MNT, John Steven K5JS, and Dan Tayloe N7VE. Holy moly – that is some serious QRP starpower. I think we’d all be well advised to keep an eye on what these guys are up to.

QRP Guys ship out once a week on Wednesdays. With any small ham business such as this, where the owner/operators have many other things going on, setting expectations is an excellent idea. I decided on a single-lever paddle, and ordered it over the weekend. Later in the week, a small bag of parts arrived in the mail –

QRP Guys provide a scale for you to gauge how easy or difficult each of their kits is to build. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most difficult, this paddle kit is rated as a 4. They do mention that some kits may also be rated as requiring what they term “expanded skills” – meaning, I assume, more difficult than 5. The rating of 4 for this kit makes sense. The PCB paddle parts need to be positioned fairly accurately. The way to do it is with a light tack solder in one point, re-adjusting until the exact positioning is reached, at which point you can commit with fully soldered joints. There are quite a few small screws, washers, and other small parts, so care, and a container to put all the small parts in are good ideas.

Here’s the final paddle. What a neat-looking little assembly –

A view of the underside –

This paddle is intended to be fixed to a panel, such as the side of a portable transceiver. I wanted it to be on a base, so decided to fabricate one from single-sided PCB material –

The cable is a cord from an old set of earbuds that came to an early end in the washing machine. It has a small molded 3.5mm stereo jack on one end, which is perfect for the task. It is held to the paddle base with a loop of twisted wire that threads through 2 holes in the base. At the point where it is secured, the cable was covered with 2 layers of shrink tubing. Luckily, the flexible wires in the earbud cord were insulated with heat-strippable enamel, so all that was necessary to remove the insulation was a generous gob of solder on the tip of the iron, and a few seconds, for the enamel to burn off –

You can’t see them, but there are 4 stick-on vinyl bumpers on the underside, purchased from the local Ace hardware store – the same type I used on the SST –

The copper is not lacquered, so if I take the same photo in a few months, it won’t look quite as shiny –

For size comparison, here’s the paddle with the SST20 and a pack of playing cards –

Despite the little stick-on feet under the base, I’ve found that the most comfortable way to send with this paddle is to hold it in my hand. This will work well for portable ops, when a suitable surface on which to place it might not be available. The lever is made from springy stainless steel. Doug Hendricks reminded me of an old tip for finding suitable flexible metal strips for making your own paddle, if you wish to do so. Just visit your local auto parts store and purchase a feeler gauge – the tool that is used for measuring spark plug gaps. It contains multiple flexible metal strips, of varying thicknesses (and degrees of springiness), so you can pick the exact one to suit your preference.

I experienced a small learning curve with this paddle. Firstly, I had never used a single lever paddle and secondly, I wasn’t used to the springiness of the lever, as most keys and paddles use stiff metal for the pivoting part. It doesn’t take long to get used to though. If you’re looking for a cheap and rugged paddle, this is a good value for the money. QRP Guys have both single lever and iambic paddles, with and without a base.


10 thoughts on “A Single Lever Paddle From QRP Guys

  1. Dave, nice execution and documentation, as always. I operate /P frequently. No kitties, but in the company of hummingbirds and butterflies. Away from urban noise, I have actually heard the sound of butterfly wings, and had curious hummers hover right in front of me.

    To keep a paddle stationary while sending, I attach it to a cheap masonite clipboard, opposite the clip part. I use the clip to hold my logbook, and usually rest the clipboard on my lap, or on a tree stump. Part of the fun of /P is improvising, something you do quite well.

    Check out HAND CARRIED QRP ANTENNAS by Peter Parker VK3YE. It’s a $5 download, and has myriad practical antennas. I even gleaned some useful antenna theory and rules of thumb from it. No need to be a logarithm expert to make and use a field antenna.

    Fall is my favorite time of year for /P, so your timing is good, Dave. Thanks for continuing to share your adventures. You should submit this to QRP Quarterly.

    73 my friend,

    N7REP (KD7KAR)

    1. Having animals around, whether domestic or wild (is there actually such a thing as a “wild” animal?) is always a good thing. Getting away from our urban and metro areas is necessary from time to time, I think. The idea of a clipboard to secure the key to sounds very practical – thanks for that. As much as I like this little paddle, I’m finding that rapid and accurate exchanges are a little harder, due to the springiness of the lever. Not sure whether I’ll adapt, or will end up going with a commercially available portable key. I have flubbed my way through a few quick QSO’s with DX stations with this little springy piece of stainless steel.

      Great book suggestion too. Peter exemplifies the maverick improvisational ham spirit. We need as much of that as we can get in our hobby!

      It’s always good to hear from you Rob. I hope you’re well,

      73 for now,


  2. I’ve been eyeing their kit offerings for the past few months now. Once I get the workbench back up and running I’ll probably pick up a few of them

    1. Eugene – they do say that they intend to limit the kit runs, so if you see something you really like the look of, it might be an idea to get it now, and squirrel it away for a rainy kit-building day.

      73 for now,


  3. My pointer was hovering over the Buy button on this paddle kit, your review has convinced me, thanks! Ps Autumn leaves in your photos, add a kind of timeless Japanese zen garden feel. 73 Paul VK3HN

    1. Remember to get the one with the base, if you want a base. I’ve had a few mis-sends due partially to getting used to sending with a single lever, and partially to the springiness. Definitely worth trying out though. About the leaves – I used to sweep them away before taking photos, but decided it was easier to leave them, and make them part of the pictures!


  4. Hi Dave, a nice article on making the single blade (? coutie) paddle. Thanks.
    I’ve made a few paddles, both single and double bladed, and here, for what they are worth, are my comments.
    My single bladed ones have been based around reworked hacksaw blades. Although these blades initially appear to be too stiff you can reduce the stiffness by narrowing the width from around 12mm to 7 or 8mm. A standard bench grinder does this quite satisfactorily. The feeling of stiffness can also be reduced by extending the effective length of the blade. In use you are only flexing the blade by less than a mm. I have found that 9mm/3/8″ copper water pipe when flattened out a bit will slide neatly over the de-toothed hacksaw blade to provide the central contact and it is easy to solder onto this copper too.The disadvantage of using the hacksaw blade is that they are almost impossible to drill so then blade has to be clamped at the fixed end (however this does make it fairly easy to adjust the operating length of the blade). I don’t much like using single blade keys though so making them tends to be an academic exercise!
    My double bladed keys have been built with copper clad PCB paddles as this material is flexible and can be etched to provide soldering points etc. I lead/tin sweat-solder brass nuts onto the copper and use pointed brass bolts for the blade contacts. These can be adjusted to and fro in the brass nuts. A second brass nut acts as a lock nut. The bolts can be suitably pointed by securing them in the chuck of an electric drill and running the end at an angle against a rapidly spinning grinding wheel. A fair degree of caution and commonsense has to be exercised when doing this as the ‘unexpected outcomes quotient’ is perilously high! The PCB can be drilled to secure the blades to the end block rather than their being clamped. I fabricate up the end block from strips of 3.5mm Perspex/Lucite held together with Superglue. This seems to work very well. The central contact can be from the copper, brass or silver family of metals. On my most recent key I have used brass bolts contacting with a sterling silver central contact but have found that it is necessary to clean up these contact points occasionally by tugging a strip of copy paper between them.
    How do these PCB paddles ‘feel’? Obviously they don’t have the tactility of a beautifully engineered metal paddle but they have the advantage of costing almost nothing to make! The only thing I had to buy to make the last paddle was a few 3.5 mm brass nuts and bolts – I had the rest of the bits in my junk box. I have posted pictures of these keys on Facebook ‘Ham Radio Homebrew’ but would be happy to re-post them elsewhere if anyone is interested in seeing the finished articles.
    PS, a very big tip – to stop your keys scooting all over the desk top put some blobs of Bluetack (blue plastic stuff you use to temporarily put up pictures etc.) on the back. Works like a charm!
    Tony VK3CAB

    1. Wow – you’re a pro at this stuff Tony. My only experience with home-made keys and paddles is with this one – and it only partially qualifies, as it’s a kit. I bow to your greater experience.



  5. Dave,

    As I am on your mailing list I received your note on using a QRP Guys paddle. I already had one but it had just sort of sat there, really a desk decoration. However, you prompted me to action and as you are the craftsman with a skill set well beyond my capability, I followed your design. Mine is a bit larger and instead of rubber feet I glued 4 magnets to the bottom so I could use the cover of the FT-817 as my desk.

    As I am quite cheap (read that as frugal) I took apart an old IDE hard drive that was just a door stop, removed the magnets, broke one into four small sections and used marine epoxy to put four small pieces on the respective corners of the mounting board. I also covered them with epoxy so the FT 817 would not get scratched.

    Thanks for the inspiration.


    Herb WA2JRV

    On Sat, Sep 17, 2016 at 9:57 AM, Dave Richards AA7EE wrote:

    > AA7EE posted: “When building the SST for 20M, my plan was to kit it out > with a paddle, battery, and an easily deployable antenna, and head for the > hills. That’s still the plan. I don’t operate portable very often, > preferring the comfort of the operating position in my s” >

    1. Hey, that’s great Herb. Glad you were able to set it up in such a way that you’ll be able to get some use out of it, and it makes my day that I was able to give you some ideas you could use. I spent countless hours as a kid thumbing through ham books and magazines, but the internet is such a great way to share these things.

      73 for now,


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