Dave Richards AA7EE

January 6, 2011

The AA0ZZ Keyer From 4SQRP

As much as I tweet about my fondness for building things in Altoids (or Altoids-type) tins,  I have just 3 projects in these useful and affordable enclosures;

a Softrock 40:

an antenna switch:

and a morse code practice buzzer:

When Altoids first became popular, I saved my tins and ended up with around 15-20 of them, figuring that one day they’d be useful.  Then during a move, I decided to get rid of them and now of  course, wish I hadn’t.  I like the older tins because the top lids are not embossed as the current ones are – better for sticking labels on, if I ever want to do that.

Enter the latest Altoids tin project – the AA0ZZ Keyer, a kit from the 4 States QRP Group, and a Christmas gift from my friend Antoinette:

I haven’t put any labelling on this keyer, as is suggested in the instructions.  They even provide you with artwork in pdf form in many different color schemes, to match the different Altoids tins. Perhaps I’ll get around to it, but I quite the look of leaving the tins as they are.  Construction is straight forward – there are very few parts:

I did have one small challenge, and that was in mounting the 3 small pushbuttons. The manual advises the use of superglue in gel form.  Regular superglue is too runny, and can easily wick up into the actual switch mechanism, gluing it shut. I bought some superglue brand-named “Caliber” that claimed to be a gel.  On squeezing out a little onto the first pushbutton, it proved not to have the consistency of a gel, ran into the switch mechanism and glued it firm. It was at this point I wished that an extra pushbutton had been included for mishaps like this. Luckily, 4SQRP will send you 3 extra pushbuttons for $4 inc shipping.  I put the order through and set about gluing the other 2 pushbuttons, using what had been in my mind to use all along – epoxy. I like using epoxy because you have plenty of time to move things around if they are not right the first time, and when it does set, it sets rock solid.  I don’t mind that you have to wait a few hours for it to set – waiting takes no effort 🙂

The 3 extra pushbuttons arrived in a few days.  I sent the order on Friday afternoon and they arrived the folllowing Wednesday. Here’s a close-up of the pushbuttons fixed firmly in place with epoxy.  It doesn’t look too pretty,  but it’s very functional:

And a complete inside view of the keyer:

So far I’m pretty happy with it, but I have noticed two things.  Firstly, it is not possible to change the ratio of character speed to spacing when sending from the memories.  I like to send characters at a slightly higher speed than the spacing between them.  I learnt the code this way – by learning characters sent at 20 wpm with bigger spaces between them. Then when I wanted to increase my speed I simply closed the gaps between the characters. I like sending this way as it encourages the listener to think of each letter as a particular sound rather than a series of dits and dahs. Ideally I would like to program the memories in this keyer to send with a character speed of 15-18 wpm and a spacing of about 12 wpm.

The other thing, which I’m going to have to find an answer to so that I can use the keyer in the way I’ve been wanting to, and that is that I can’t get the straight key mode to work.  I want to be able to send CQ’s from the keyer memory  (on 7030 most of the time) and then break in with a straight key to answer  calls.  I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong.  The manual says that in straight key mode, either the dit or the dah paddle can be used.  I’m pretty sure I have the dit and dah paddles wired up correctly, as the paddle works fine with the keyer in iambic mode.  All the other commands on the keyer work except the straight key mode.  I wonder if there’s a problem with the PIC programming?

I just joined the 4SQRP e-mail reflector and plan to ask the folks there to see if they can help me out. Otherwise, this is a fun little kit (and it only costs $17 at the time of writing).

Order yours here.


July 6, 2009


Filed under: Amateur Radio,Ham Radio — AA7EE @ 7:16 am
Tags: , , , , ,
Something recently clicked, and things between me and the iambic paddle started looking up.

Something recently clicked, and things between the iambic paddle and I started looking up.

This is my Bencher iambic paddle. I’ve had it for about 7 years now, but have yet to use it for an actual CW contact with anyone.  Come to think of it, my last CW contact was in 2001.  I had a total of 2 QSO’s on CW that year. I’ve probably had no more than 10 CW QSO’s TOTAL since being licensed back in the late 1970’s.

What the heck have I been thinking?  Maybe you don’t think this is weird. Back in the day when the code was a requirement for gaining access to the HF bands, I’m sure that many amateurs did what they had to in order to pass the test, and then promptly forgot about the code, spending their entire amateur careers using phone or digital modes.  With the exception of the approximately 10 CW QSO’s I’ve had in the last 30 years, I’m one of them.  Now that a knowledge of morse code is now not even a requirement for earning an amateur license with access to the HF bands, I have no doubt that large numbers of amateurs don’t even learn code, and don’t ever think about the possibility of learning it so that they can use it on the air.

So what is my problem?

My problem is this.  I really like the idea of morse code. I always have.  I have spent many hours since being a teenager fascinated with radio, looking at circuits and plans for homebrew QRP transmitters and transceivers,  and thinking about how beautiful the concept is of communicating over long distances with such simple, efficient transmitters. I think QRP with CW is a brilliant idea; a fabulous concept.

I just don’t use code on the air, and the absurdity of this is starting to bug me.

For a start, my amateur activity in my adult life has not been consistent.  I operate for a year or so, then become inactive for a few years; then I start up again. During the periods when I am active, I often find that I get more enjoyment from listening than I do from actually making QSO’s, so the need for a distance-busting low power wonder mode like CW doesn’t seriously rear it’s head.  I think this is the reason, I have not been seriously motivated enough to use code on a regular basis.

I didn’t have much trouble learning the code so that I could pass the standard UK amateur radio morse code test at 12 words per minute at a Post Office testing station when I was 15.  I also didn’t experience any problems getting my code up to the 20 wpm required for the US extra class license about 10 years later.  Some folk find learning very difficult if not impossible;  I wasn’t one of them.  It came fairly easily to me.  The only reason I think that I didn’t pursue the code once licensed was sheer lack of gumption.

So things are going to be different this time.  I have always wanted to build a small and light low power transceiver for 30, 40 or 20 meters and have the satisfaction of having made lots of contacts with it. I’m going to do it this time.

Oh – and the picture of the Bencher paddle at the top of this post?  I took it so that I could sell the paddle on eBay.  I had decided that paddles and I didn’t get along.  I was going to trade it in for a straight key.  Well, I am still going to get the straight key, but for some reason, I have been practising with this paddle and have realised that I really can get comfortable with using it.

I think I just found my gumption.

Don’t wish me luck.  I don’t need it; I now have gumption!

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