Home Made Iambic Paddles

I have two homemade paddles to use with the Iambic Keyer Project.

This first example was made in the late 70s or early 80s, can’t remember exactly. I mentioned to a friend who worked in maintenance at a steel mill that I was looking for a heavy piece of metal to make paddles that wouldn’t scoot around on the desk.  We discussed some ideas and a few days later he produced the frame (all the blue parts) you see in the photo. It weighs over five pounds, it only moves if you want it to.

The arms are plexiglass fastened to short pieces of tubing. The tubing is flared at each end and each flare receives a bearing ball. Cup tipped Allen screws in the top frame and in the base capture the balls. With careful adjustment leaving a small amount of play, these bearings work well.

The rest of the paddle hardware is made of scraps from my junk box. Simple contacts made from machine screws work, but are noisy. Noise however does not bother the keyer much, as once an element is started, the paddle input is effectively debounced by dot/dash timing in the software.

Paddles Home Made About 1978

Paddles Home Made About 1978


My second example was made recently. I decided the blue paddles were not portable enough so I made something smaller. This set has a base of two inch steel Aux Bar scrounged from a telco installation project. The next photo shows the first iteration.

For pivot bearings I used brass thread inserts from Woodcraft. They have a 1/4-20 inside thread and a very coarse outside thread, intended to screw into a woodworking project. I filed the coarse threads off two sides of the inserts and soldered them to a strip of PC board material to form the paddle arms. The bearing for the arms is then the threads of the screws which go into threaded holes in the base plate.  Contacts are bent paper clips screwed to half inch nylon standoffs.  This works but has a terrible feel due to slop in the 1/4-20 threads.

I put a square of sticky silicone mat under the base and it stays put pretty well. The square was cut from a large mat intended to hold a wood work piece in place while you use a router on it’s edges.

Paddles Home Made February 2015

Paddles Home Made February 2015


The second iteration of the Aux Bar paddle is an attempt to remove some of the annoying backlash in the screw thread pivot bearings. I thought longer threads would help and got two threaded sleeves from the hardware store. These are made for joining two lengths of threaded rod. They have a #10 thread and are about an inch long. Two new paddle arms were constructed, this time with the bearings on the outside of the PC board as the sleeves are larger than the brass inserts used in the first model.

I inserted three sets of small screws into the arms to capture the tension spring which allows some adjustment. The spring shown in the photo is from an old IBM keyboard. If you part out one of those old Model M’s you have enough springs to last a lifetime. A second spring directly between the pivot points takes up some of the backlash remaining in the threads. Also the two #10 pivot screws are epoxyed into the base to eliminate that small bit of wobble. At the back of each arm where the paper clip touches, I added a drop of silver containing solder to make a better electrical contact.

This iteration has a very light touch but still too much slop in the bearings. I think with some tuning of the springs it will be very usable.

Paddles Home Made March 2015

Paddles Home Made March 2015


 Update 5/11/2015

Added a spring directly centered between the two pivot points. This spring is stronger than the small one separating the paddle arms, and it’s function is to take up backlash in the sloppy threads on the cheap pivot screws. I soldered cut down copper carpet tacks to the inside of the paddle arms to keep the new spring in place. The spring force is directly between the pivot points, so it does not contribute to the effort required to close the paddles unless you press hard enough to overcome it’s higher tension. It improved the feel of the Aux Bar paddles a lot.

Pivot Spring Added

Pivot Spring Added

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