How to send with a SIDESWIPER (or Cootie) key.

Suggestions from David J. Ring, Jr., N1EA as learned from sideswiper

greats from the present and past and his own fumblings.

Want to Send with a Sideswiper or Cootie Key? Here's how!

Here are two ways of trying cootie key without much work are given


1. The bug rubber band method. Tie the vibrator to the damper with a

rubber band, readjust the dot contact adjustment to produce a good

steady contact. This (of course!) is reversible.

2. Take a single lever paddle, short the dot/dash contact posts with a

wire. Plug key into straight key jack.

If you've never spotted the rare cootie key, either the wild or

domesticated species, a recording is here:

(It is of me when I had just learned to send on the cootie several years

ago - the tenuous cootie key with stage fright.)

Sometimes a cootie (also called a sideswiper) is confused with an expert

on the hand key. Some hand key operators can achieve 30 wpm which is

also a fast cootie key speed. Here is a 1910 era recording of a fast hand key:

When learning the cootie, I tried with the "fingers start first" system

recommended by some wire telegraphists and old timers and I found it

very smooth but I also found it very confusing as I wanted to send with

a bug and one key confused the other!

I soon modified this to use this method:

Start each letter with the same hand motion as a bug, then alternate the

closures from that point. Thus a morse character beginning with a dash

would always start with the fingers; a character beginning with a dot,

the thumb. This was my only modification of the LRLRLR type (or RLRLRLRL

etc.) type of motion.


I can force myself to send "fingers grab first" but it seems on the next

letter, I'm leading as if I'm sending on a bug again. So I didn't fight

it, I went with the flow.

Unevenness - I have noticed that I occasionally get "confused" about

which side to send on - but since a cootie is bi-directional, I have

learned not to worry about it, so any delay or break in the flow is

minimized. Basically I adopt the "if it feels like it should go this way

in motion, do it." approach.

Adjustment of sideswiper: Most operators find that it is easier to send

clearly with different spacings on the left and right. I give myself a

bit more spacing on the left hand side (which closes with the push of my

fingers). I also add a bit more spring on that side with the Vibroplex


N1EA's Modified Vibroplex VibroKeyer.

The keys settings should be adjusted for CLARITY of sending.

The fast hand key recording mentioned above was from a 1910-era disk

recording. At the beginning I sent the same text as later sent by hand

key by keyboard. How fast is the fellow going? He is uneven, but he

sends between 23 and 25 wpm.

The signal which sounds like "III" is the international Morse for

"period". The sound for the comma (now) used to be the sound for the

exclamation point which now has no sound for it. There were other

differences in early 20th century Morse but I forget what they were. I

think the last change was the dropping of the separator signal (used to

separate fractions from whole numbers) to the hyphen (which is still

currently used for this) around 1965.