The first step to learning Morse is to be
able to memorise the sounds of all letters and numbers. This can be accomplished
with the help of Morse practice tapes or classes. Once you know all the
characters, the WIA Morse practice broadcasts and/or continuous VHF Morse
beacons can be used to increase your receiving speed.
Additional practice is best obtained by
having Morse (CW) contacts on the HF bands. However, many use shyness as an
excuse to not use Morse on the air. Others are restricted by their licence
grade to VHF/UHF operation and/or may not possess HF equipment. For such
people, this Morse practice set is the next best thing to actual CW operating
because it allows you to have two-way Morse 'contacts' with a person in another
room or even an adjoining property. The advantage of this sort of practice is
that one learns operating skills and procedure as well as sending technique.
How it works
The system consists of a pair of Morse
practice oscillators connected by a piece of two-conductor cable (Figure One).
Pressing the key on one unit produces a sound in both units. The receiving
station can interrupt the sending station at any time by pressing their key.
This is just like the "break-in" CW facility provided in most modern
HF transceivers and makes this project particularly suitable for already
licensed amateurs wishing to brush up their operating technique for a forthcoming
DXpedition or contest. No originality is claimed for the idea, which is
described in Reference One.
Though two stations are shown here,
additional sets can easily be wired in parallel. Such multi-station operation
has a number of advantages. For example, it could allow a small class to have
DX or net-style 'contacts' - thus simulating multi-operator or competitive
operation. In such a situation, the classes' trainer could pretend to be a rare
DX station calling CQ and students could compete with one another to make the
You will notice that the block diagram specifies
that either an oscillator or buzzer could be used as the sound making device. A
system using buzzers is cheap and simple (buzzers being available off the
shelf), but transistor oscillators produce a nicer sound and cope better with
Transistor oscillators are commercially
available in kit form (see later) or can be built from scratch. The kit is
perhaps best if you have to buy all parts new. However, those with deep junk
boxes would save by using available components instead. The remainder of this
article provides details of an oscillator that you can build at home. Even if
you have to buy the Morse keys new, a two-station set should cost between
thirty and forty dollars to duplicate.
Below is the circuit used in the
prototype. Two 'stations' are shown, though more can be added if required. The
oscillator in each station uses a standard 555 timer chip. As is apparent from
the photograph, each oscillator is built on a piece of matrix board about 30-40
mm square. Vero-type strip board could be used instead, but component placement
will be more difficult because of the need to solder components to the right
tracks. The 0.1 uF capacitors are polyester or disc ceramic, while the 100 uF
capacitors can be a tantalum or electrolytic. If you are on a tight budget, the
speaker, battery snap and (possibly) some resistors and capacitors can be
salvaged from a broken transistor radio - component values are not particularly
A speaker of any size can be used. For economy
and compactness, a size of 38 to 76 mm is recommended. You may care to add a
headphone socket if you intend to use the oscillator to practice while not
disturbing others. A socket with an in-built switch to silence the speaker when
the headphones are plugged in is recommended.
Each station needs between 6 and 12 volts to
operate. Nine volt batteries were used in the prototype. However, if you intend
to use the set a lot, a bank of AA, C or D-sized cells in a battery holder will
provide more economical operation. Because all units are 'master stations' with
their own batteries, each unit can double as a stand-alone code practice
oscillator when solitary practice is required. If this feature is desired, use
two-conductor plugs and sockets (3.5 mm mono connectors are ideal) to allow the
connecting cable to be easily disconnected.
Testing and operation
Check all oscillators individually before
connecting them together. Pressing the key should produce a tone that is
pleasant to listen to and of sufficient loudness. Vary the 10k and 270 ohm
resistors to set pitch and volume respectively.
Once satisfied with the performance of each
station as a stand-alone unit, wire all units together with two-conductor
cable. As it is carrying only DC, the cable need not be shielded. The thin type
used for wiring up hi-fi speakers is ideal.
Keying one station should activate all
oscillators. If not, check that the polarity of the wires to each station is
correct. Use enough wire to separate the stations far enough so that the
operators can neither see nor hear one another, so that Morse becomes the sole
medium of communication.
The system as presented here is fairly basic.
However, various 'bells and whistles' can be added to make operating more
comfortable, or more like real live CW operation.
For example, many operators become fatigued
when subject to a tone of uniform pitch for long periods. Replacing the 10k
resistor with a variable resistor (say 20 to 50k) allows the pitch of each
oscillator to be set to the operator's taste.
To make practice sessions more like on-air
operating, many things could be done. For example, a resistor in series with a
station's key would reduce the loudness of that person's 'signal' in the other
people's stations, thus simulating low power (QRP) transmission. If a means
could be found to vary supply voltage to each station automatically (say from 4
to 12 volts), over a period of several minutes, signal fading (QSB) would be
the result. These effects would of course be made even more realistic by using
an audio mixer to introduce real interference (either man-made or natural) from
either a continuous loop tape player, digital voice recorder or HF receiver.
These embellishments are not necessary for the casual learner, but could be
useful to test an operator's ability to pass messages under adverse receiving
The above ideas have not been tried by the
author, but are merely proffered as examples of how a very simple project such
as this can become as elaborate as the builder desires.
A note about keys and kits
While Morse can be sent on an improvised key
made from a hacksaw blade or piece of tinplate, it is better to use a proper
key. Keys can either be bought new or second hand. Dick Smith Electronics is getting out of kits, but you may still find a Funway 2 code practice oscillator, which includes a key (K-2623). Keys also show up at radio junk sales and hamfests.
1. Williams N, Rowe J Basic Electronics
Sungravure 1979, p85
This article appeared in Amateur Radio April 1998 with only minor updates since. For example Dick Smith Electronics, mentioned above, is no longer trading. But the basic concept is sound.
If you have two nine volt batteries you could try this very simple concept below with just five components.
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