The N3ZN Iambic CW Paddle

Behold… mechanical beauty

N3ZN ZN-QRP Iambic Paddle (sporting my new call sign)

I re-entered the amateur radio hobby in the summer of 2015 after a bit of a hiatus.  To get my General license in 1996 a Morse code proficiency test was required.  At that time I had purchased a cheap MFJ practice key and a used version of the ubiquitous Bencher BY-1 paddle.  My Bencher was in reasonable shape but I just never became comfortable with it.  It always felt a bit imprecise to me and I wasn’t happy with the width and size of its paddles.

When I came back to the hobby in 2015 as a QRP, CW operator I wanted a key for portable operation so that was my initial focus.  At the time, based on some fellow hams recommendations, I chose the Palm Single key which is an excellent, lightweight key for portable use that travels very easily because it collapses into its own travel case.  However as you can see in the videos in that review it’s portable nature tends to make a bit imprecise and wobbly.  It works great for portable use but there are far better choices for a desk key.

I wanted a key suitable as the main station key but also easily travel with to operations where I’d have a desk.  So I didn’t want a 4 pound immovable monster.  I wanted something small(ish) but stable and that’s a tall order.

I looked at the reviews for keys and paddles and there were lots of good choices.  I narrowed it down to commercially available keys that allowed some customization.  Begali and American Morse both received favorable  reviews.  American Morse makes nice smaller sized keys and Begali makes little woks of art.  Both offered good choices at widely different prices.

Then I looked at N3ZN Keys.  Tony makes some very functional and attractive keys with a variety of build options.  One such option is the spacing across the outside of paddles (OTO).  My Bencher BY-1 paddles have about a 3/4″ OTO spacing on the paddles and I have to consciously hold my hand open a bit wider than it naturally wants to be to keep from accidentally touching a paddle.  Tony offers different OTO spacing down to 1/2″ which I found to be about perfect.  I also had a chance to physically try one of his QRP sized keys at my friend AA4XX’s station and the light touch and precision feel immediately won me over.

So I went through Tony’s online catalog and corresponded with him.  I chose a ZN-QRP style key with a red base.  The red paint contains some metallic bits to make it sparkly under bright light, not bass-boat sparkly but tastefully done.

Tony packs his product for shipment double boxed with more peanuts, bubble wrap, and foam than I have ever seen in any single container before.  The packing is truly amazing.  My key package could have been air-dropped (or drone dropped) onto my front walk and it would have suffered no ill effects.

ZN series iambic keys Specs

  • All stainless steel screws
  • Large 10-56 adjustment screws for both magnetic return and contact points ( the straight key uses 8-32 screws and a spring for return)
  • Ball bearing lever return-3 ball bearings per lever arm
  • Magnet lever return individually adjustable
  • Lightweight aluminum 6061-T6 levers for QRQ operation
  • silver contacts
  • Wired with 1/8″ stereo plug
  • Soft non-skid low profile rubber feet mounted with stainless steel screws
  • 30 Day money back guarantee.  If you are not 100% fully satisfied then return item in its original condition and receive a full refund.  (You pay return shipping)
  • carbon fiber fingerpieces- 3 colors

From the first long QSO it was obvious that I finally had a quality key.  The paddles just disappeared under my fingers and became an extension of my hand.  The lightweight aluminum levers combined with the carbon fiber finger pieces results in such a light touch that I kept wondering if I was actually operating the key.

Photo Gallery

This key is just too pretty not to photograph.
Carbon Fiber Finger Pieces


Ready for Racing


Metallic Paint on top cap and customizable name plate no extra charge


Aluminum levers
Metallic paint on base
Pre-wired connections
“Houston, We have contact” Stainless Steel contact that is


With Silvered contact points
With the Siblings… QRP indeed!

That’s all for now…

So lower your power and raise your expectations

Richard N4PBQ (soon to be AA4OO)

Richard Carpenter, AA4OO, is a regular contributor to and writes from North Carolina, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

One Response to “The N3ZN Iambic CW Paddle”

  • Charlie NQ7Z:

    What joy ! I miss CW and radio been off the air for fifteen years.
    Three years ago I found a blue racer Key needing a home but still no rig or antenna to chirp CQ with……. . .

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