Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bencher BY-1

"I hate CW!" I heard a voice at a hamfest flea market recently. As I strolled up to his table, he followed up with, "You gotta help me by buying these keys."

I didn't feel like debating the finer points of operating CW with him. I was more interested in what was on the table: three sets of keyer paddles. The first was a a Heathkit HD-1410, which I knew to have a reputation for horrible feel. One other was a single-lever paddle, which I had no interest in. The third looked to be a Bencher BY-1.

I generally go to a flea market with a list of all the different things I'm looking for. I didn't this time, but I did remember I was looking for an inexpensive set of keyer paddles. The Bencher looked like it might fit the bill.

Back in 1979, when I was licensed as N8BHE, I found the progression of dits in my call difficult to send, so I opted to upgrade from a straight key to an electronic keyer. I bought a Ham-Key iambic paddle and built my own CMOS keyer. Now, the Ham-Key isn't the greatest paddle design. The base isn't quite heavy enough, the paddle arms pivot on large pins, which leaves some slop in the feel. But in 1979, it was only $30, and I've been using that same unit for 31 years.

I figure it is about time to get a second set of paddles. If you look around, you'll find they are not cheap.  There are none you can buy for less than $50, and most of them are well over $100. The item on my list read "cheap paddles." That meant finding something used, hopefully in reasonable shape.

I had used a Bencher before, back in 1980 in the Georgia Tech club station W4AQL. I remember my first experience touching those paddles. I slapped the handles so hard the armature came off the pivot. I suppose you have to use a more delicate touch than with the Ham-Key.... But I did have some success using it. This fellow had this unit marked $20. I offered him $10, then $12, and finally we agreed on $15.

As I walked away from the table with my purchase, another fellow suggested I tear the unit down completely and clean it, and it should work great. That's just what I had in mind.

Once I got home, I put the Bencher on the workbench. It was far grimier than I remembered, with a telltale film of yellow tobacco on the base and armature. During disassembly, I found the hold screws to be hopelessly bent, and one of the screws holding the round armature pedestal nearly impossible to remove. With vice grips I removed it, but this destroyed the head of the screw.

All of the metal hardware went into a small container filled with WD-40, which did a good job of removing the latent grime. I cleaned the base and plastic parts with Windex. This took off the grime, but some of the paint came off as well -- likely due to a long-standing chemical reaction of the dirt with the paint.

No matter, a couple of coats of flat-black spray paint and the base looks good as new. Then the tedious process of putting the components back together. I replaced the four screws that I could not reuse, and quickly re-assembled the unit and adjusted it to suit my fist. I followed the excellent instructions compiled by N1FN here.

The result you see pictured above. It looks great and the feel is good, too. I'm not as ham-fisted as I was back in 1980, so I haven't had any trouble springing the mechanism. The base is way heavier than the Ham-Key, so it doesn't tend to wander as much. I believe I'm really going to enjoy working CW with my Bencher paddles.


  1. Just bought a BY1 brand new from a vendor for my Heathkit HW-9...
    Sales guy now tells me that I cannot use it with the HW-9 without a keyer circuit?
    Huh? The BY1 has mechanical contacts does it not?

    Who is right?

  2. I have never used an HW-9, so I had to do some digging on the internet. As originally designed by Heathkit, the HW-9 does not have a built-in keyer. If you want to use it with iambic paddles such as the BY-1, you'll need to either have an external keyer, or modify the HW-9 to include one.

    The mechanical contacts of the BY-1 aren't meant to be directly connected to a transmitter, but to the terminals of an electronic keyer, which generates the dits and dashes of appropriate lengths on each key closure.