When I was a Novice I had a straight key that I used with a Heathkit HW-16. That combo, along with a wire antenna installed just inches from an overhead power line was my introduction to CW. After a few hundred contacts someone told me I really needed to move to paddles if I was to get serious about chasing DX.
From 1980 to 2013 there wasn’t a single CW contact in my log generated by a straight key. I never even joined in Straight Key Night festivities over all those years. But from 2013 until today there are thousands of additional CW contacts in my log and a little more than half those were made using a straight key.
I became active with the Straight Key Century Club. Though I had become a member in 2007, I didn’t jump on the manually produced Morse bandwagon until six years later when I was looking for some CW activity one evening and bumped into a weekend sprint already in progress. I had to dig out the old straight key and look online to discover my SKCC number.
I enjoyed that event and started congregating with that group and now prefer using a straight key. This transformation didn’t happen overnight, but over the course of the next few years I noticed a definite preference for using the straight key.
Adding a few high-quality keys helped. Complaints about sore arms from using a straight key are often attributable to using lousy hardware and now I have several high-quality straight keys that give me no such complaint.
The real charm in using a straight key for me is that it forces me to slow down. I can’t send faster than 20 words per minute with a straight key, and even that is on the edge of becoming a chore. Turns out, about fifteen words per minute is a sweet spot for me. And at that speed using a high quality instrument, I have zero issues with a glass arm.
The slower speed is not suitable for contesting of course, but when I use a straight key I’m less interested in sending speed and more focused on good sending and on the QSO in progress.
Sure, it takes a little longer, but where am I going in a hurry?