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Question for lefty bug users.

Posted: Fri Jun 05, 2009 5:33 pm
Hi All

I will try to not make this too confusing. I enjoy rotating my various straight keys in and out of service and building my skills with each new QSO. One of my goals is to aquire a bug and learn to use it. I do have a Vibroplex Vibrokeyer that I have lately been using to drive the keyer in the rig. Since I am a lefty I flipped the paddle and the knob around and positioned the keyer on left side of the desk. Thumb(push left)= dash, finger(push right)= dot. By practicing with this arrangement could I eventually do the same with a right handed bug with just a flip-flop of the paddle/knob? Or should I put the keyer away and buy a left handed bug? I am a Vibroplex fan but I am leaning towards the Vizkey bug for its slower speed ability.

73 Mike KD8JHJ

Posted: Sat Jun 06, 2009 12:18 am
by G0KZZ
Hiya Mike

Apart from the Vizkey (which is a fairly new design I believe), you can get fairly low speeds out of the old Himound BK-100 bug key . If you slide the weight to the rear you can go down to maybe 10 WPM or so. They tend to come up for sale on eBay quite often. Apart from a quick clean of the contacts (use a liquid 'silver jewelry dip' on a cotton bud, NOT abrasives), and a little greasing/adjustment of the pivot bearings, they generally work really well.

I have had Vibroplex keys in the past, but they are way too fast for me! Most Vibe's seem to start at around 25 WPM and work up from there. At the moment I still have a Lionel J-36 (WW2 Vibroplex clone for military), but I never use it because it is again to fast for me, and I don't want to risk damaging the VERY delicate celluloid name plate/serial number strip. I keep it for posterity only! :D It has a fairly low serial number too, "000184", certainly the lowest I've seen around the web, as most of the ones I've seen in photos tend to be in the 10000+ range.

The other old bug key I own is a Bunnell 'Gold Bug'. After a 'gentle' repair to the pivot sleeves, the key was found to work fine, though a little odd to the feel when compared to a Vibe'. Again, I don't use the key due to it's age, I just take it out of its storage box once in a while and gaze at it while occasionally saying "Wow" to myself! :D Can't remember the serial number, I think it's "1074" or something not to far away from that, but in any event it's just a lovely key to handle and try out.

I always wonder what stories these old keys could tell us if only they could speak!

Regards, Mark.

Posted: Tue Jun 09, 2009 1:12 pm
by Rich
I'm a "lefty" but always felt more at ease using my right hand when sending cw with any device, straight key, bug, or Vibrokeyer. Handy, as I do write with my left hand. My Signal Corps bug is a Vibroplex with a plate date of mid 1941, a few months before Pearl Harbor. Some supply sergeant painted, in white, a stock number on the back-side...not top!

Posted: Tue Jun 09, 2009 9:10 pm
by G0KZZ
Hiya Rich

I also write with my left hand but send CW with my right. 8)

The story with the Lionel keys (and similar ex WW2 bugs) is that operators brought their keys back home with them to keep (and who can blame them!), but that in order to hide the fact that they had been 'borrowed indefinately' they used to break off the serial number plates to hide the keys identity/origins.

Even the keys that still had their plates (the celluloid ones) tended to loose them in time due to shrinkage of the celluloid, and the fact that it is VERY brittle (at least when it gets old any how).

It's one of the few keys I own where I have never been tempted to clean or restore. It has a kind of dark green patina which is in keeping with it being of military origins! I'll have to take a picture of it and post it on here.

I know with the Vibroplex keys it is fairly easy to date them by their serial numbers, but I was just thinking that I have never seen a similar system/listing for the Lionel keys. Does anyone know if it is possible to date Lionel J-36 bug keys by their serial numbers plates, or were no records ever kept?

I've bought lots of Vibroplex keys over the years and restored them (then sold them on), but I've never been tempted to keep them, mainly due to the wear on some of the mechanical parts (especially the main pivot). I think the only way I would keep one is if I'd purchased the key from new and so knew its history. Trouble is, if I did have a new Vibe' I would most likely never use it, and would only take it out of the box to polish it now and again! :D

I've aquired a few leg keys recently (like the J-37's and also some English ones) and really enjoy using them. With the key on my thigh I find it is in just the right spot for me to send comfortably. I just have to remember to unplug the key before I walk away from the radio! :lol:

Regards, Mark.

Posted: Tue Jun 09, 2009 9:34 pm
by Rich
Dug out the bug. Black and brass-colored plate in center. Date 6/6/41. Serial number 1487. Signal Corps U.S. Army. Key type J-36. Base black with bit of a redish tint. Chrome perfect.

I don't use it any longer but keep it as display. Years ago, when I was QRO, I used it exclusively. But I am QRP for a long time and find it too fast for weak signal work. So I generally use a straight key. Including a WW2 RAF key, the all-metal model, not bakelite. That RAF key is great.

Good luck with your collection.

Posted: Tue Jun 09, 2009 9:50 pm
Hi Guys, thanks for your interesting responses.

Over the past weekend I tried somthing new. I set the knob and paddle back to the original right handed configuration and moved the keyer over to the right side of my desk. I practiced for about an hour with the side tone sending with my right hand. It was very unatural at first but soon I heard a familiar op calling CQ so what the heck I answered his call and had my first right handed qso. During my second qso using this setup I made even less sending errors and with some phone book practice sending it is starting to feel pretty normal.

Some background information on my "left fist"- About 12 years ago I cut off the tip of my left index finger at the first joint. (work accident) On the straight key this is not a problem as this finger rests on the top surface of the knob and I pound away. I've noticed that sending with the Vibrokeyer requires a more delicate and precise touch. With no nerve endings on my left index finger I think I was having trouble controlling the dit stream. Not adding extra dits but letting off the key before the right number of dits have sent. It still happens ocasionally sending righthanded but I think I will continue to run the keyer on the right side as it feels better the more I use it.

I read somewhere that the old time ops had to earn the right to use the bug and even had to supply their own. So I understand it just takes time and practice. That is why I got the Vibrokeyer so I could have a similar "bug" feel yet get on the air using the rig's keyer and send proper code. When I have more experience as a cw op and my copy speed is up I'll consider a real semiautomatic key. Bottom line is I'm having a great time playing with the A-1 mode.

73 Mike KD8JHJ

leftykeyer experiences

Posted: Sun Feb 06, 2011 8:27 pm
by k8jd
I saw my first keyer in about 1962 at one of the radio stores in downtown Detroit when I was a high school kid Novice.
I just automatically grabbed the display paddle on the brand new demo W9TO keyer with my left hand and experimented with sending some code with it. I always used my left hand for writing and most other activities.
After a minute of trying it out I was able to send "DE WA8AFS _QLF QLF " and other such nonsense clearly.
I had only used my J-38 key to send code before that and never had a bug.
A few years later I bought a Laffayette Radio bug and used my left hand to send on it.
I still use my several paddle keys and standard right-handed bug all lefthanded ...It has just become automatic to do it "backwards" after all these years of use.