The Elecraft Hexkey
The Elecraft Hexkey is really built by Bencher, but it carries the Elecraft label. It is a magnetically-tensioned, dual-lever paddle, and for me at least, it runs circles around the more proletarian spring-tensioned Bencher paddles [of which I have two]. The photo shows the paddle in a super enclosure constructed by my buddy Dave, W8FGU, in Detroit. I'll cover both the paddle and Dave's cover here. The usual caveats apply, I know Wayne and Eric, and I am their customer, and I have no financial interest in Elecraft [although I think I wish I did!]. Dave is a good friend.
I graduated out of a straight key as a teenager about the time I got my General class license in 1954. I was 13. The only bug I could afford was a well-worn, WW2 surplus J-36 built by Lionel of model train fame. It looked like it had been through the Battle of Iwo Jima, but it worked fine. The one in the photo is in "like-new" condition compared to mine. I've been told that it was a copy of a Vibroplex #6 Lightning Bug, however I saw one of those when I was a high school senior working at a coastal marine station, and mine did not even remotely resemble that shiny thing. Like all mechanical bugs, you had to slap it around some and that became my style. When I graduated to a single-lever paddle and then dual lever paddles, I retained that style. Consequently, I've always had some problems with the paddle walking around on the table. I've tried double stick tape on the feet which does hold it solid, but then I can't move it around.
The Hexkey has a hexagonal base that mounts the working parts. The contacts, paddle arms, and bearing block that holds the paddles are heavier than the spring-tensioned Bencher paddles, and the additional weight of the Hexkey tolerated my "positive keying style" much better, however it did still move a little. Mine has a black base and bright chrome parts which don't show up too well in my photo.
The first thing I noticed was how rugged it is. I spent one afternoon hooking up the cable and fooling around with the adjustments and was surprised at the range of spacings and tension available. Like most Bencher paddles, there is a clip on the bottom that holds the allen wrench which is really nice. I finally got it adjusted where I wanted it, at least then, and made a few test QSO's. It has a very positive feel, I seemed to make fewer sending mistakes and after about an hour, I was a pretty happy ham. I've never mastered iambic keying and while I'm left-handed, I usually paddle with my right hand. I've tried it left-handed and it would be just fine for me that way too.
I wanted the black base with contrasting chrome parts on top although it does tend to show up the dust that accumulates. Cleaning it takes some time and a number of Q-Tips to get around all the parts. Then one day, a package arrived from Detroit with a "beta version" of Dave's Hexkey cover, and my dust problem was solved.
The W8FGU Hexkey Cover
Dave's cover is built on a black plastic base with little alignment brackets, and some very small sticky feet. I put the Hexkey on the base and found that the paddle stayed put on the plastic. Further, the plastic base stayed put on my desk surface. With that issue resolved, I put the clear cover over the key and could already feel the "Happy Ham" arriving yet again.
My cover is clear acrylic [which is hard to photograph], but I believe Dave has them in smoked plastic as well. Personally, I like to see the Hexkey inside the cover but your mileage might vary. I cleaned my key very good when I got the cover, and so far [about a month or so], no dust has accumulated on the key itself, except on the tops of the paddles where they protrude from the cover.
I really like this paddle. I use it directly into the paddle input on my K3. I have another spring-tensioned Bencher that runs my K1EL keyer next to it. So far, when I've tried A/B comparisons, the Hexkey comes out on top in a heartbeat. You can pay a lot more for a paddle, but this one meets my needs and desires.
The Hexkey is available from Elecraft where you will find a much better photo of the paddle. The plastic cover is available from Dave, W8FGU.
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