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A Simple Sideswiper or Cootie Key by Colin G3VTT

posted 15 Feb 2011, 00:32 by G4ZUL Essex CW Club   [ updated 15 Feb 2011, 10:56 ]

A Simple Sideswiper or Cootie Key

Colin Turner G3VTT, 30 Marsh Crescent High Halstow Rochester Kent ME3 8TJ


I'm sure many UK club members will remember Bob G0ADE on 80m with his 'Sideswiper' key, also known as a 'Cootie' Key. These things can sound pretty awful unless you get some practise in and they seem to be loved by our French friends, the old Great Lakes radio operators, Russian trawlers, submarines and Interpol! Nevertheless they are another form of straight key and I've always shied away from them as I found these keys daunting if not frightening. The idea is you use them manually make the components of the dots and dashed on alternate sides of the key. Take a look on You Tube at G0VQW and others slapping them from side to side. Its just a central lever and a pair of contacts. After visiting PA3CVV in Amsterdam and observing his excellent fist on the Cootie, (he's left handed as well!), I wanted to try one as another life time ambition in radio. There are one or two manufacturers in Italy, France and I believe Russia but I thought I would try and make one. The Begali version is expensive, a mere £200 - it's quality of course, but if I couldn't pick up the necessary skills it would be a rather expense way of trying a Cootie out so I decided to scout around for some bits and pieces to assemble something that would work.


All you need is a central contact with some spring in it and a pair of contacts. My good friend Daniel 4X1FC told me he had used a pair of knives in the Israeli Army in the 1970's but I found the following items in my junk box and the garage. The central moving arm is a steel ruler I bought in a Yorkshire model engineering shop many years ago when I was out with George G3RJV, the 'L' brackets, (insulated by a scrap of PCB from the metal base), I found in the local tool shop, (that kindly Mrs Pierce often let's me rake through the hardware), the contact frame and the plastic finger piece are from some parts of a scrap Lionel bug given to me by Doug G3ZWH about 30 years ago and finally the steel base was found in the metalwork classroom when its closed down six or seven years ago. Yes, they are 'Nylock' bolts holding the thing together such is the vibration at speed! The total cost so far has been 20 pence, plus the price of the hammer finish spray paint of course.




It took me a couple of weeks to get a reasonable fist, I'm nowhere as good as our colleagues though - yet, but I'm catching up fast. Sometimes my brain stops and tries to work out if I'm on the bug, pump or el-bug today and sending comes to a shuddering halt! Mind you, the 3566 KHz SSN, (Side Swiper Net) have let me join and they seem to understand what I'm sending. Straight keys are not to everybody's liking of course but these keys are part of the folklore of radio being standard fitting in most amateur radio stations just before and after WW2 and are making a comeback. As PAoCWF said to me 'you sound more like Murmansk Radio UMN' these days. More info can be found on the sideswiper website:
(We acknowledge and thank the G-QRP Club and Sprat for this article)