Posts Tagged ‘bug’

Begali Intrepid

 The Perfect Bug?

In the Western World we are consumers.  Advertising drives us to think we'd be a bit happier if we had that new "thing", whatever the thing is.  It drives much of our economies and unfortunately keeps many burdened in debt.

That's certainly a pessimistic way to begin this but let's be honest.  No one needs a ~$580 morse code key.  Most of us are handy enough to make a straight key out of stuff laying around the house for free.  I have a number of very fine keys that I've purchased used. I've purchased most of them for well under $70, including my 1970s Standard Vibroplex Bug.

BUT... If we are ham radio operators regularly doing CW, then we spend a lot of time with a morse key under our hand.  I've said this previously, but when you are a CW operator you touch your key more than anything else related to the hobby.  You are moving it many hundreds to thousands of times as you send code.  Your keying becomes part of you and you are intrinsically linked with the ease or difficulty of operating the key for hours at a time.

So...  having a key that is easy to operate; a key that disappears under your hand is an enjoyable thing. 

Operating a Bug correctly, or more precisely in a manner that is pleasing to the person copying your code is more difficult than operating paddles with an electronic keyer.  When the bug was invented it was a tool used by professional telegraphers.  There were no electronic keyers, and having a tool that allowed them to send good code for hours on end with less mechanical stress on their bodies than a straight key was important, and they sought the best tool they could afford to allow them to do their work.

But no one reading this is a professional telegrapher, because that ship has sailed.

For those of us that choose to use a Bug, we do so for different reasons.  For me, I enjoy the control I have in forming my characters, as well as the extra level of difficulty in sending good code.  Why would I want it to be more difficult?  Well, why do we do anything that is challenging.  Being challenged is fun.  It drives me to improve.  It takes my mind off of things that might otherwise crowd my thoughts if I were not doing something challenging that is also fun.

I have operated a bunch of different bugs at my club gettogethers, from different makers.  They all have a different feel.  They all intrigue or annoy their user.  I have two Vibroplex Bugs at my station.  I've previously written about them.  They each have advantages and challenges but they share the same design and they have more in common than they do differences.

A New Design

Fortunately for amateur radio operators there are still new keys being developed, and in this case a new design for a semi-automatic key that has a markedly different design from most of the bugs that came before. 

The Begali Intrepid is distinctive in a few ways:
  • The pendulum hinge is at the rear of the key rather than the middle
  • The adjustments are all based on magnets rather than springs
  • The dwell for the dits has a real control, rather than using various pieces of foam, string or clips to change dwell time
  • The dit contact is a sprung plunger that always remains centered on the contact rather than brushing against it at various angles
  • The split lever mechanism operates at the center of the key placing the DAH and DIT contacts much closer to one another than a traditional bug
  • There is less mass in the pendulum itself than a Vibroplex Bug
  • It has a sprung, nylon wheel damper that doesn't clatter
  • It weighs a TON (well about 6 lbs) and feels welded to the desk without having to use non-slip material or using spit to semi glue them in place (yech, yes I use spit to hold my keys to my desk)
These differences really add up to make a semi-automatic key that feels markedly different than all other bugs available to amateur operators.

I've not had the chance to try the GHD fully automatic bugs, nor their bugs that use optical contacts.  That would be interesting, but they still fundamentally follow the Vibroplex model.

Preparing for Use

The Intrepid ships with a cable but there's nothing to plug it into on the key.  It's up to the owner to solder the connections.  I understand that some transceivers require different plug wiring but in general they are fairly common.  Be prepared to spend some time soldering under the key to wire it up.

I had some spare 1/8" plugs for projects, and with some heat shrink tubing and a couple pieces of wire I created a tidy connector for the male to male cable shipped with the key.

In Use

I spent about 2 hours practice sending into the practice oscillator that I built.   I had a Vibroplex Deluxe Bug next to it that I alternated with.  The range of DIT speeds on the Intrepid is impressive.  Other makers like Vizkey have created bugs with a similar range of adjustment, and the Deluxe Bug I use has a Vari-Speed that can match the Intrepids speed range, bu the Intrepid is easier to quickly adjust and more importantly can be done one-handed.  It will comfortably go from about 15 wpm up to 35 wpm and with the dwell adjustment makes changing speeds and keeping the DIT dwell correct, is singular.  I don't think any bug can match it in that respect.

It did require a change in how I operate.  The Vibroplex Bug fingerpieces stick out further and I have the habit of placing my index finger out over the top of the Bug.  The Intrepid doesn't allow for that.  I have to curl my index finger down to avoid hitting the bracing for the pendulum.

Because there is less mass in the pendulum it operates with a much lighter touch than Vibroplex Bug.  The pendulm movement is initated with less force and due to the isolation of the pendulum from the paddles you don't feel the pendulum moving as you do with a Vibroplex.  I kinda like the feedback I get from Vibroplex pendulum.  The Intrepid feels more like a single paddle key with an electronic keyer than a bug.

Because of the how the lever is split in the middle, the actual DAH contact is almost dead center in the key rather than toward the front.  It is far closer to the DIT contact than a bug.  I have no way to describe it other than to say it feels as if the DAH and DIT operations are more similar than they are different.

I tend to pivot at my wrist when I operate a Vibroplex bug, to control the timing of DIT to DAH transitions.  That doesn't seem to be as necessary with the Intrepid.  Again, it feels more like a paddle than a Bug.

The DIT contact is a sprung plunger that is always centered.  This is one of the biggest problem areas on a Vibroplex Bug and Begali has masterfully designed the proper contact.  Most Bug operators spend more time adjusting the U-spring to try and get proper contact than any other part of the key.  I assume this level of precision is just not something that Vibroplex wanted to spend the time on in manufacturing.

You'll notice there are spare holes.  I assume they are to allow the frame to be used for left handed operation.

The sprung teflon damper makes for clatter free operation.  No more ker-thunk as you transition from DITS to DAHS.  They key is markedly quieter in operation than any other Bug I've tried.  The only other key that comes close is the right-angle Vizkey.

The weights are easy to adjust but I have found that the set screws don't bite the pendulum as firmly as a Vibroplex bug and I have had them come loose a few times. When they accidently come loose they flop to one side and touch the frame, completing the circuit, resulting in a continous carrier. I'm a bit concerned about leaving the bug connected unattended to my tranceiver and having one flop over into transmit while I'm not at the station.

The laser etching is nicely done.  The model name can appear, white, gray or black depending on the angle of light.

The pendulum is hinged at the back of the key, making easy access to the adjustment weights.


This is a very fine piece of engineering.  It will take me months to decide if stick with it over a Vibroplex Bug, but for now I'm thinking it was a fine birthday gift.

That's all for now

So lower your power and raise your expectations.

I Need You in My Log! SKCC K3Y/0 Special Event (January 2016)

I need your help!

Come meet me on the shortwave (HF) ham bands for the Morse code (CW mode) special event, the Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) celebration, with special callsign, K3Y. During the shifts (time slots) listed below, I am the control operator as K3Y/0.

Tomas, NW7US - operating Morse code as special event station, K3Y/0I need you to make a contact with me.

This special event takes place every year during January. We celebrate the legacy of Morse code, and promote Morse code and manual creation of the code by any non-electronic (digital) device and method. Which means that we love mechanical bugs, straight keys, two ends of a wire, or any other manual device, if Morse code is generated. The Straight Key Century Club is a free membership group. The link to their website is below.

I need you to make a contact with me, during my scheduled times, listed below.

NOTE: YOU DO NOT NEED TO BE A MEMBER OF THE (free) SKCC GROUP. To get into my logbook, you meet me on my frequency, and use Morse code to communicate with me. It is painless. If you must, you can use computer-generated Morse code. Or, you can tap it out on any Morse code signalling device, like a bug, a set of paddles, or a straight key; whatever you choose to make Morse code emanate from your HF transmitter.

HOWEVER: For those of you who want to get fully immersed in the spirit of this event, you are invited to use a straight key. And, as a bonus, you may and can join the SKCC group for FREE. Then, you would have your own SKCC number. That’d be cool; we SKCC members use that number in our exchange during our QSO information exchange. But, you don’t need that. Since it is free, why not?

What is needed is simply you, getting on the shortwave band, finding me, hearing me, and responding to me with Morse code. In other words, we need to have a QSO using Morse code. I am not a fast operator, so no problem if you are not very fast. I’ll meet your speed.

In any case, here are some of the times I will be on the air as K3Y/0… please dust off your straight key, bug, paddles, whatever, and make a QSO with me. Thanks!

My current schedule:

UTC Start/End (remember, these are NOT your local times, but are the UTC (GMT) times!)

(revised times, as of edit date)

00:00 - 02:59 19-Jan-16
00:00 - 02:59 20-Jan-16
00:00 - 02:59 21-Jan-16
00:00 - 02:59 22-Jan-16
00:00 - 05:59 23-Jan-16
14:00 - 18:59 23-Jan-16
20:00 - 21:59 23-Jan-16
00:00 - 02:59 24-Jan-16
14:00 - 18:59 24-Jan-16
21:00 - 21:59 24-Jan-16
00:00 - 02:59 25-Jan-16
00:00 - 02:59 26-Jan-16
00:00 - 02:59 27-Jan-16
00:00 - 02:59 28-Jan-16
00:00 - 02:59 29-Jan-16
00:00 - 05:59 30-Jan-16
13:00 - 18:59 30-Jan-16
20:00 - 21:59 30-Jan-16
00:00 - 03:59 31-Jan-16
13:00 - 23:59 31-Jan-16

Now, what frequency will I be on?

To find out what frequency I am on:

Visit and look on the right side for my callsign, NW7US. I usually post my frequency of operation right after my call sign.

Typically, evening operation is 30m, then 40m, and then possibly 80m.

If you are trying to alert me to your presence, you may message me on my personal Facebook profile, under my “Tomas David Hood” profile messages, but I may not see that right away.

Here is the detail covering the K3Y operation and the SKCC group:

73 de NW7US
dit dit

This was last year:

Tomas, NW7US - operating Morse code as special event station, K3Y/0


It’s been a while

It's been a while since I really made an effort to use the ol' Vibroplex.  I gave the contacts a decent cleaning today and gave it a whirl in a QSO with Art K8CIT. I don't think I sounded terrible - and I hope Art didn't think so either. I could use some more practise, though, and I will continue to use it more often.

I haven't run this piece in a long time. It's from my old webpage on how to adjust a bug:

Using a bug is a real fun part of using Morse Code.  Adjusting one properly so that it works right for you and doesn't frustrate the heck out of you is easy; if you take your time and work methodically. Refer to the photo below for reference.

The first thing you do is to back off all the adjusting screws quite a bit.  Not all the way; but far enough out so that everything is nowhere near being set.  Once that's done you want to adjust the action of the pendulum.  Unscrew "A" - this is the pivot point for the pendulum.  Slowly tighten it. You'll know you have it adjusted correctly when the pendulum moves from side to side freely with no binding; but, at the same time, you can move the finger pieces up and down with your fingers and feel very little or no play.

The next thing you want to do is to adjust screw "B".  Allow the pendulum to hit the damper.  Screw in "B" to the point where you can either see or just perceive the pendulum has touched the damper.  Stop there and secure the screw with the knurled lock nut.  It is important not to move the pendulum too far away from the damper or else you will not be able to reliably stop your "dits".

The next thing you want to do is adjust the  left trunnion screw -  D.  This will control the amount of side to side travel of the pendulum.  For smooth code this gap should be very small.  I take a piece of ordinary printer paper, fold it in half to double it and adjust the spacing so that the paper will just slip between the point of the screw and the pendulum.  This results in a very small amount of side to side travel.  The end result is a nice and clean transition between "dits" and "dahs".  I do the same thing for the amount of spacing for the "dah" contact at C.  I turn that trunnion screw in so that the paper slips in the gap easily with no binding, then I lock the set screw in place to keep the setting.

The next thing you want to do is adjust the "dits" making part of your bug.  This is done by adjusting "E".  When "E" is adjusted correctly, you should be able to swing the pendulum to make "dits"; and get 10 to 15 "dits" before the pendulum dampens out and comes to a rest.

"F" controls the tension of the "dit" action.  I find it best to tension the spring about half way.  Hopefully, if you follow this guide and play around a little bit and experiment, you will find the "sweet spot" that will allow you to send really glassy smooth Morse Code.

Sending with a Bug is just as much fun as sending with a keyer and paddles.  However, sending with a Bug allows you to add a little personality.  Listening to CW sent with a keyer sounds sterile compared to that sent with a Bug.

If you need to slow down the speed of your Bug to a point that's even slower than what you can get with the weight(s) positioned all the way to the end of the pendulum, then clip a clothes pin or a few alligator clips to the end of the pendulum.  This will slow down a Bug to an effective speed as low as 13 words per minute or so.

In my opinion, you know that your bug is adjusted properly when you can send characters like X, Y, Q, C, F and L with little effort, and they sound good - or at least recognizable in my case!

Here's a great video that shows you how to do it, also:

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

New Year’s Day 2015

So I began 2015 in a manner not much different from where 2014 left off.  It was a quiet day, as it was a day off from work. It was quite cold here today, but that did not keep me out of the shack. The hoodie sweat shirt idea worked well. Even though it's only 59F (15C) down here, I remained comfortably warm. I think that keeping my head covered was indeed the key to feeling warmer.

I participated in the QRP ARCI New Year's Day Sprint as planned, but was disappointed in the lack of activity.  I guess everyone was sleeping off a night of merry-making and partying. In the 2 & 1/2 hours that I was on the air, I made only over just a dozen QRP ARCI contacts.  It's a good thing that it's SKN, as the bands were busy and I was able to fill in with a couple rag chews in between to keep me from falling asleep at the key.

15 Meters seemed to be the good band for the Sprint. It was less noisy than 20 Meters, and it seemed that it was there that I was hearing the most activity. Towards the end of the Sprint, 40 Meters perked up with some local QRP activity.

After dinner, I came down to participate in a little more SKN, garnering a few rag chews using my refurbished Vibroplex Original.

I was pleasantly surprised that for not having used it in a while, that my fist wasn't all that bad! I cleaned the contacts by rubbing them using a spare QSL card and re-adjusted the spacing and tension. Pretty soon I was sounding almost as good as my keyer and paddles. Notice I said almost, not quite as good as that but not horrid, either. I guess using a bug is like riding a bicycle - once you become comfortable at it, you never forget how.

I finished up the evening by tuning across 30 Meters to hear 1A0C from the Sovereign Order of Malta (Thanks for the clarification, Karl DK5LP) running a pileup. It was a pretty good pileup but he was quite strong - about 579 and getting stronger. I stayed with him for about a 1/2 hour, trying with 5 Watts. As this is a special one for me, I ended up turning up the juice to 85 Watts and nabbed him on my third attempt after that.  The DXpedition is there for about five more days, so I will try again over the weekend using QRP - if I hear them.

The Sovereign Order of Malta is a charitable arm of the Catholic Church.  They have been in existence since around 1050 and are dedicated to helping the sick and poor throughout the world. Recently, Raymond Cardinal Burke was named patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, a man whom I admire greatly. It was a special treat to have worked them.

So Amateur Radio-wise, 2015 is off to a flying start. I hope it keeps going that way all year long! Let's see if I can work both Foxes in the 80 Meter Fox hunt tonight. ( I did. Yay! )

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

This post is going to get me into trouble!

John KK4ITN left a comment on my post "Conditions" over at Here's a line from it:

"Seems when the bands are down every person with a ‘bug’ is out calling cq. Wish they would put code oscillators and dummie loads on sale. Dits at 20 wpm and dahs at 5 wpm."

I guess it's not directly related to band conditions, and I'm not sure that John's claim is 1,000,000% accurate, however - he makes an excellent point.

Not to dump on bug users, because I have a bug. I like using a bug. Using a straight key makes the arthritis in my hands go "Hey! Stop that!" But unless I've practiced with my bug (off the air) for a while .... my sending can be pretty bad.  So I try to make it a point to take the KX3 "off the air" and practice sending with my bug on a regular basis.  Not as regularly as I should, but I try to keep in decent practice.

I agree with John and I would posit that listening to someone use a bug (or even a straight key or paddles, for that matter), who doesn't know how to use it properly, is akin to listening to nails being scratched across a blackboard. NB: For any younger readers, a blackboard is what we used in school before the advent of whiteboards and smartboards.  If you scrape your fingernails across the surface of a blackboard, it makes a sound unlike anything you've ever heard. It literally hurts to listen to it.  It will make your teeth ache. There's something about human fingernails and slate that just don't mix. Listening to someone scratch a balloon is almost as bad. But .... I digress.

The phrase, "Dits at 20 wpm and dahs at 5 wpm" resonated with me.  Morse Code sent like that is not only unreadable - even worse, it's unbearable.  No one is asking that all Morse be sent so that it sounds like it's coming from a keyer or a computer - but for Pete's sake - at least make sure your sending is copyable!

I would suggest that anyone who is inclined to use a bug perform this little exercise.  Send some Morse and record it, either with a tape recorder (do they still make those?), or, I believe most smartphones have a voice recorder feature. Do it off the air. Either send your RF into a dummy load or turn off your "VOX" - that usually will put your rig into code practice oscillator mode.

Send some Morse, listen to it, and copy what you sent. Be honest and critical with yourself. If you can honestly copy what you've sent, then you're probably good enough to go live. It might even be a good idea to wait a day or two between the sending part and the listening to yourself part - just in order to make it a bit more objective.

I can tell you for a fact, that I have done this - I have listened to my own bug fist - and have said, "Oh my!".  It was a rude, but necessary awakening. I am totally glad that I did not subject my fellow Hams to what I had thought was decent sending.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Today was a lot of fun

Well, actually last night AND today were a lot of fun!  And there’s more to go tonight as the 40 Meter QRP Fox hunts start up again tonight.

I ended up working only three stations last night. First, I had a quick 2X QRP QSO with Dave NE5DL down in Texas on 20 Meters to start SKN off.  That was followed by two rag chews. The first was on 40 Meters with N4LZY, Jerry in Tennessee and was followed by a chew with K3OWZ, John in PA.  John was  using a Heathkit Apache and a National NC303 receiver.  Good stuff!

I was on the air off and on for a good portion of today. I worked Dan SM5IMO in Sweden, and had a nice chat with John VE1BA in Nova Scotia.  John was running three Watts and had a killer signal into NJ.  That was followed up by a nice chat with another John – K4BAI in Georgia.  John and I meet up in the QRP sprints and the Fox hunts.  John is a “Ham’s Ham” and a gentleman to boot.  It’s always extremely nice hooking up with K4BAI.

I worked Dave K3Y/2 on 40 Meters.  LOUD signal into New Jersey from New York state.

The I had an experience that was unique.  I was working Stan AEØSL on 20 Meters when the band kicked out on us and we both faded away into the QSB.  From there, I jumped on up to 17 Meters and worked VP2MRV in Montserrat.  After finishing up with Nao, I began to tune around 17 Meters and whom should my wandering ears hear calling CQ?  None other than Stan AEØSL, who I had just worked only minutes before on 20 Meters.  He was much, much louder on 17 Meters and we were able to finish up our busted QSO.  Now how many times has that happened to you?  Dare I say – not many?

I then finished up my afternoon by busting a small pileup to work K1GI/VP9 in Bermuda.  A pileup for Bermuda you ask?  Well, yes.  There were hardly ANY signals on 17 Meters, so in this instance, even Bermuda was like chum to a shark.

Last night and today, the majority of my Morse was sent with my Vibroplex Original that I restored a few years back.  I was surprised how quickly I was able to send decent  presentable code.  It’s like the old adage about riding a bicycle – that once you learn, you never forget.  I didn’t sound atrocious to the point that I was embarrassed to be using it; because believe me, if I was that bad I would not have subjected anyone’s ears to a bad cacophony of dits and dahs.  Also, the Reverse Beacon Network was picking up my CQs, so the skimmers were able to decode my sending.  And if the computers were able to figure it out, then a real live Ham should have had even less trouble.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had the opportunity to spend so much of a day in the shack, behind the radio. I thoroughly enjoyed it and could get quite used to it, given the chance.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP – When you care to send the very least!


The first day of Summer came as a prototypical Summer day – hot and humid!  The high temperature did reach 96F (35C) and is expected to be about the same tomorrow (maybe a little higher) and in the 90s on Friday. A heatwave is defined as a period of at least three days with temps in the 90s – so Summer is starting off with a bang!

Unfortunately, our air conditioning unit picked a heckuva time to give up the ghost!  We have a repairman coming tomorrow and I am keeping my fingers crossed that we will not need a new compressor.  Our Central AC unit was not brandy new when we bought the house 14 years ago, so it may be time for a new one. Eeep!

On the CW-Bugs Yahoo group, Donnie WA9TGT posted a picture of a beautiful (and I mean beautiful!) picture of a bug that he fabricated himself.  I would love to post a copy here; but the original is in his picture folder on the group, so  it is not public property.  If you are a member of the group, however, you can take a  look-see for yourself at:  It is a thing of beauty and I wish I had the talent to make things like this.

Now for something not radio related: If you have a kindle and are also on Facebook, here’s a site to “like”:

Over the past few months I have been able to “buy” about 30 or 40 books for FREE.  There are all types of genres available and there may be days when it seems that nothing good is being offered except for a bunch of turkeys.  But then the days come when there are a lot of good mysteries, suspense novels, thrillers, etc. In true Ham fashion, stuff that’s offered for free can’t be all bad, can it?

This weekend is Field Day and the weather here in the Northeast looks to be perfect for it. I will not be participating this year as my sister and I have to finish clearing out my Mom’s apartment before the end of the month.  We’ve gotten a lot taken care of so far; and are about halfway done.  I think all the small stuff will be boxed up and moved out this weekend.  Whatever furniture is left over will be donated to charity and will be picked up next week.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP – When you care to send the very least!

Subscribe FREE to's
Amateur Radio Newsletter

We never share your e-mail address.

Do you like to write?
Interesting project to share?
Helpful tips and ideas for other hams?

Submit an article and we will review it for publication on!

Have a ham radio product or service?
Consider advertising on our site.

Are you a reporter covering ham radio?
Find ham radio experts for your story.

How to Set Up a Ham Radio Blog
Get started in less than 15 minutes!

  • Matt W1MST, Managing Editor

Sign up for our free
Amateur Radio Newsletter

Enter your e-mail address: