A New Paddle for a New Extra

21Since my last article was published, I made my fourth attempt to pass the extra exam. I knew I had done better, but was pleasantly surprised when the VEs congratulated me. I’m still trying to believe that since it was only one week ago. Never mind that anyway, it doesn’t really have anything to do with the new CW paddle I made.

Way back when, after I had been on the air for a few months, I decided I’d give CW a shot. I knew I’d need a key or paddle, but didn’t really know where to start. A simple Internet search for CW paddle brought up a very large number of beautiful paddles that nearly made me drool. What prevented the drooling was the price attached to nearly all of those lovely paddles. I wasn’t about to spend that kind of money on something that I didn’t even know I could operate.

My next Internet search included the word “homebrew” to see if it were even possible to make a CW paddle that would work. Much to my amazement, there are hundreds of different designs for homebrew CW paddles. Altoid tins, hacksaw blades, plastic, wood, all wire, metal, you name it, someone had created one. Seeing all of those wonderful homemade paddles, I knew it was possible, but was it possible for me?

I thought I’d try one with a hacksaw blade. I had some scrap wood around and then discovered I only had one hacksaw blade, and that was attached to my only hacksaw. So, that was out. I searched around my messy garage and finally came across a piece of aluminum I had used for landing gear strut for one of my RC planes. This was left over from that landing gear project. It was fairly soft and somewhat flexible. It wasn’t huge, only 0.1” by 1”. Perfect, I thought.

I set out searching for a base material to mount the thing on. I had 5/8” plywood, but nothing easily workable. Further searching I realized I had a “super duty” paint stick from ACE hardware. (Again from one of my RC planes). Yup. That would do it. One small piece of 5/8” plywood and about half a “super duty” paint stick, that aluminum, some small hardware, scrap 22 gauge wire, and a “stereo” RCA connector cable.


1Sure, it isn’t much to look at, but it worked. Getting on the air with it was another story. (The WA9AS… was me trying to figure out who my first 6 meter QSO was, again, another story…)

Nonetheless, it served me well for all two of my CW QSOs to date. Even though I only had the two QSOs, I still called CQ fairly regularly, just for practice if nothing else. This was great for several months. Then, just a couple of weeks ago, the dah kept being delayed, which messed up my letters tremendously. Sometimes I’d key out my dah-dit-dah dah-dit-dah dit-dit-dit-dit dah. As many know, that would have been received as, KKH T, which, of course made no sense. I imagine anyone listening would have been seriously confused as they heard, CQ N NQ CQ, KKH T, N T, KK4 TID T. It nearly made me angry and I gave up trying. I knew it was time for a new paddle.

Behold, the quest for a new paddle begins…

The best thing was, I still had another piece of that aluminum left. It was about 7.5” long. Not too shabby for a new CW paddle. I tossed around the idea of using more paint sticks, but I was less than satisfied with the weight of that first paddle. I always had to hold the paddle down with my left hand while keying with my right. I’m a left handed writer, so, that made it impossible to write anything quickly if the sending station was quick on the draw. With that in mind, I set out to make a paddle that was a little weightier.

It wasn’t long before I realized I had plenty of 2×4 lying around. It would be made from a 2×4, or two pieces of 2×4. Although I had that idea and thought it would be easy, I was mistaken, a little. I thought I’d cut one piece for the base and set a second piece of 2×4 on top. But that didn’t happen.

First I measured out 4.5 inches for the length of the base.

2That was easy, until I cut it. Turns out, the bottom had a chunk taken out of it. So I cut a second piece at 4.5 inches. This one had a knot in it. Third time is the charm, at least in this case. I had videoed the making of this, but the quality turned out so bad, I don’t have an initial picture.

After that initial piece, it was time for the “top” piece. I measured and measured until I finally came up with the height of 1.75 inches. That would make the whole thing, 3.2 inches tall. After thinking about that, it seemed a bit too tall for its size. I also then realized that my initial idea, to have that second piece stand vertically, wouldn’t work because I would be cutting a slot in it to mount the aluminum paddle. More measuring and more measuring came up with cutting a piece 3.5 inches long to lay sideways. Well, there now the thing was going to be over 4 inches tall. That’s outrageous.

The next evolution was to cut that 3.5 inch piece of 2×4 down so it wasn’t so tall. 2.9 inches turned out to be the magic number for me. It allowed me to slot it for the aluminum piece. I set the blade depth just deeper than the one inch for the aluminum, then cut the slot in the side of the 2×4.

3I set it on another piece of 2×4 to provide a safe barrier when I ran that piece through. Thankfully that worked wonderfully for me.
As it turned out, I didn’t get it deep enough, but was afraid to take off more so I ended up slotting the base for the aluminum as well. That all turned out like this:

4Next was to attach the back to the base. That was done by gluing then screwing the pieces together. After the glue dried, I took out the screws. With those together, it was time to work on the wiring. I cut up an RCA splitter to make each side of the paddle. I split the shield from each wire, one red, one white. I extended those center conductor with the same color. I then tied the shields to a black wire for each lead.

5There is shrink tube between each connection and then over that shrink tube. The two black wires, the shields will be connected together for one lead.

6I now have all the wiring necessary. I’ll use the black wire to attach to the paddle itself, and then have a special treat to get the red and white wire in place. But first, there is some prep work to be done. Here I drill a couple of holes for the posts that will be placed.

7Looking closely, you might see the hole in the paddle as well. All should be in perfect, or near perfect alignment. The distance from the end was pretty arbitrary, but ended up being 1 inch from the end of the base, and 2 inches from the end of the paddle. I open the holes for the posts to just undersized for the screws I intend to use, so I can screw them in. They turned out to be 1.5 inch long #8 machine screws. That’s a #6 threaded rod for the pointer thing. (No I don’t know what these parts are supposed be called.)

8Yes, the threaded rod is too long. But I’ll fix that later. Here I put the hole in the tail to accept the ground wire.

9That’s a #6 screw, far too long, but I used it anyway. Next up, I’ll open up the post holes on the bottom to accept a nut. I made a number of small drill depths to get that nut up far enough to engage the screw from the top. I didn’t want a bunch of the screw poking through, so I carefully advanced the drill until it was the right depth. I also took this opportunity to use my Dremel to cut a creative path for my wiring on the bottom.

10The straight cuts were made with the table saw. The fancy M shape was made with the Dremel. You can see the ends of the red and white wire are already stripped and soldered. I have the red and white wires just long enough to stick in the bottom of the holes on the nut side. I’ll simply pinch the wires with the nut when I tighten everything down.

Next up, I take everything off except the paddle itself and add a coat of stain, after much sanding, of course. I also sprayed several layers of polyurethane over everything, yes everything. I tested out the paddle to make sure it wouldn’t provide any resistance.

11Now it is time to start assembling everything. First the post and pointer thing.

12I set the height of the screw so that the nut, jammed up to the top, could serve as the contact point for the pointer thing. With the screw at the bottom of the smaller hole, I ran the wire and nut up and held it in place while I screwed the screw down to meet it. Once the screw had one thread poking through the nut, I tightened the jam nut located on the wood in the above picture.

Here’s a bottom view of the wires and one nut. It is hard to see where the wire is pinched between the nut and the wood.

13Before I added the second post screw, I estimated the length needed for the center pointer thing to be, cut it, then cut it again, and again. Finally, I got the length right. I thought.

14The tolerance there was super tight. Almost imperceptible movements provided enough movement to activate the tone. It is nearly complete. Here’s a closer look at where one wire connects to the post screw.

15To secure the wires to the bottom, I considered tape, then not tape. I don’t have a perfectly smooth bottom for tape to stick, plus I didn’t want all that stickiness if I ever needed to take it off. Going back to my RC stuff, I broke out the hot glue gun, and put a few beads here and there. They are tough to see, but here’s the picture.

16You can see the black ground wire feeding up to the cut that was made for the aluminum paddle. I stripped about an inch off the end of that, shaped it into a loop, and soldered it to itself to make a solid connection for the screw in the back of the paddle. Also, the holes left by the screws can be seen.

17Now it is all done. Almost.

It’s time for testing anyway. So I plugged it in to my RCA to stereo adapter and into the back of the TS-2000. It worked like a charm. For a day. No, I didn’t send out anything, just practiced with it. The next day, I found the dah stuck solidly. I couldn’t push it over to hit the dit or stop the dah. This meant something had changed. I suppose using wood, I should have expected that.

Nonetheless, I took things apart and cut that center pointer thing down a little more. Now there is definite movement, but not an excessive amount. It was a challenge to try to show the gap between the center pointer thing and the post screw.

18All that is left now is to put some feet on it.

19I opted for stick-on foam rubber ones, so I could peel them off if needed.

20All dressed up and no place to go…

21Thanks for reading.

As it turns out, that thing still isn’t heavy enough to keep from moving around when I key. So I’m going to get some fishing weights, drill holes for them and hot glue them on the bottom.

All I need now is my third CW QSO!

Greg Walters, KK4TIX, is a special contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Kentucky, USA.

One Response to “A New Paddle for a New Extra”

  • Colin GM4JPZ:

    Thanks for the detailed description, Greg. You can be proud of your handiwork there. Pity condx are so poor at the moment, otherwise I would be happy to join in your 3rd CW QSO.

    Just one little point: It’s normal to pronounce the dot in the middle of a character (anywhere but the end in fact) as DI, leaving DIT for the end. An example DI DAH DI DIT, DAH DI DAH DIT etc. Your hand sent CW should correspond to this and the rhythm will sound right.

    Good luck with your CW and 73 from GM-Land!

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