CQ magazine
March 1977
P44-45 Excerpts:
by David H. Atkins W6VX.

With no apologies due to the electronic keyers and the modern keyboard of "CW" typewriters, a telegrapher's "fist" is as individual as handwriting. We observe this, of course, by listening to the other guy.

It can be a pleasure to listen to some hand keying, or it may be almost impossible. For instance, how often do we hear persons sending something like, "My nag is Bobbob"?... Still, QSD is one of the rarest and little used of all the Q signals... QSD - Your sending is Defective. The impolite way of saying this is "QLF" - You are sending with your left foot.

When glass arm set in about two days after I got a ticket to operate, I had to find a reasonable cure... Some of my peers had built sideswipers (sometimes called cootie keys). They were sailing along at 20 wpm... Bugs and fast relays were hard to come by, too. So build a cootie. (To handle the 20 Amps keying.) You never have to worry about glass arm again once you get used to a Great Lakes Sideswiper... (A photo of three types of keys is displayed.) To the left of the home brew bug is my 1921 air-cooled Sideswiper with the 20 Amp contacts. It has been around the world twice with me and still will key a large spark set if you can find one.

With it, when a ship rolls to port it will not send a dash of its own as a bug will. This type key is the traditional favorite on rough seas or mobile on rough roads. The tag "Great Lakes" comes from operators there trying to send with one foot on the bulkhead on a storm.

You can usually tell who is using one by the spacing it induces in one's fist. The dots are usually longer than the spaces in between them, and the dashes may be a little uneven. This depends on that "fist." To send with precision... make a tape recording of what you think passes for OK stuff. Now play this back. Horrors, you say? So what's the big technique for improvement?

    1. (Relax)  Then with the thumb and the next two fingers, lightly grasp the paddle in the space position.  Breathe normally.  Start at 15 wpm with a few Vs.

    2. Start every letter by moving the paddle to the left side.

    3. In between letters for the spaces, let go of your light grasp without removing your hand.

    4. To send every letter or number, go from left to right to left until the letter or number is completed.
   Letter A would be left - right.
          B:  L - r - l - r
          C:  L - r - l - r
          D:  L - r - l
          Figure number one: L - r - l - r - l

Take a few runs at the alphabet and some numbers while recording yourself and try the playback again. Better now? Stick to the procedure. Very important is #3, the loosening of the grasp between letters. This gives you dash length spaces. Try not to rush through the dot sequences (such as in the letters S and H). When you begin to make errors, stop...

When signals are weak and covered with pulses of QRN or M, any sloppy sending is very difficult to copy. Good spacing will permit much better copy by your victim. This of course goes for all keying and for any speed. This also goes for handwriting or skywriting.

The sideswiper is no toy. It has been manufactured in the past by Bunnell & Co. of sounder and relay fame. Lately a Scandinavian outlet has been advertising one. You may wish to build your own. The outline drawing gives the dimensions. * You can use pieces of Mechano, pieces of hacksaw blades, and angle brackets, plus your imagination.

The fixed contacts may be made adjustable for gap width. A gap on each side of about 50 thousandths of an inch with plus or minus 30 thousandths adjustment (1.0 mm +- 0.5 mm) is best. A wide space is recommended for best inter-dot spacing time. If, after practice, you find the spaces are still too short, a relay adjusted to give a few milliseconds delay may be placed between the key and the transmitter. This remedy is a move of desperation and only complicates things. Practice some more. The sideswiper will never replace the bug types as a speed key, but it is a cut above the straight key. You will hear it in use by both amateurs and commercial stations throughout the world. With care a speed of 30 words per minute is feasible. You probably will have a fist that your friends will recognize. If you send poorly, and you have a KX prefix, some guy will turn his beam toward YU land and give him a call. It happens with other keyers, too, however. Whatever key you use, try for good spacing or your NAG will be MUD.

1. References Robinson's Manual, U.S. Naval Inst. 1918, p. 222.
2. 73, May 1976, p38.

* (Base 3/8" x 3" x 6". Spring blade: Spring clamp-post to contact posts,
2-1/2". Paddle handle, 1/4" x 1" x 1-1/4". Paddle extends 2" past
contacts, 4-1/2" overall from spring clamp post. Relative to base: Paddle
overhang, 1/2". Contacts 1-3/4" behind front of base. Center of paddle
above desktop, 1-1/2".)