If you are an amateur radio operator who got your license a few years ago, and you have forgotten telegraphy, or maybe you are a new OM who has not had to learn CW, and you want to learn Morse code, you can’t miss having an oscillator to practice and learn the art of telegraphy.
While the oscillator isn’t the only solution for practicing Morse code, today almost all modern transceivers include it and while there is software for your PC or even applications online or for your smartphone, using an oscillator is always an accessory that should not be missing in your shack and in the amateur radio theme that has its charm.
This very useful device is designed to produce a continuous tone that helps improve CW transmission and reception skills. In the amateur radio world, knowing how to send and receive Morse code is still a very common practice and is considered the mark of a true DXer for whom it is almost indispensable.
Buy or make your own?
Actually, to this day, you have some options to get your own oscillator for practicing Morse code. Based on your confidence on electronics and your do-it-yourself experience, you may choose to buy a ready-made oscillator or build one yourself, starting perhaps with an assembly kit or even from scratch. On the internet, you can find several types of Morse code oscillator projects that can inspire you or that you can directly copy from.
While, if you are new to electronics or are unfamiliar with soldering, then you may be better off buying a prebuilt oscillator.
Either if you are restricted in budget, or if you can invest some money, there are several options you may choose from.
In the late 1970s, Heathkit produced an easy-to-build oscillator, the HEATHKIT HD-1416 Morse Code Practice Oscillator, that you can still find on some tables of your local flea markets or hamfests.
Besides this, it is not uncommon to find home-made oscillators among the surplus that hams sell during hamfests.
Among the commercial Morse code oscillators products in the market, I would recommend evaluating the MFJ offer, that are producing a couple of oscillators either for personal or classroom usage.
However, if you have even a little knowledge of electronics and love playing with smoking soldering irons, know that building your own oscillator can be fun and a rewarding project to share with members of your local Ham Radio Club.
Building an oscillator to practice Morse code is not complicated, and you only need a few basic components such as capacitors, resistors, a transistor, an audio jack and a potentiometer. Most of these components are readily available at your local electronics store or online component stores. Other projects that can be found on the Internet use specific chips or even implement the more complex Arduino boards, which I do really recommend for those hams who love to join the ancient arts like Morse code to the latest modern technologies.
However, the basic Morse oscillator circuit is simple. Some of the electronic components are connected in a particular way to produce a continuous tone. The frequency of the tone depends mainly on the values of the components in the circuit. Keep in mind that the typical Morse code tone is around 700 Hz.
Once you have built the oscillator, it is time to start practicing sending and receiving Morse code. Of course this is totally another topic, I’ve written an article about learning Morse code, you may find useful.
With the new build oscillator, you can use a straight key or even a button to send the code, or a decoder to receive it. It is best to start with simple letters and numbers and gradually move on to more complex messages.
As an “experienced” amateur radio operator, I know how important an oscillator is for practicing Morse code. In my day, there were not many alternatives. I only learned Morse code with this device, which helped me master the skill and become an amateur radio operator capable of entering contests and even making some good QSOs.
Whether you decide to buy a ready-made oscillator or to build your Morse code oscillator, practicing with this device will undoubtedly help you develop the skills you need to communicate effectively with Morse code. So try it out and practice diligently!