A few week ago, my buddy Ara (N6ARA) sent me a prototype of his new ultra-portable CW key, the TinyPaddle Jack (TPJ).
You might recall, Ara introduced the original TinyPaddle late last year. His motivation for the original TinyPaddle was to have a super minimalist paddle that could be stored away as a spare in your kit for those times when you either forget or have an issue with your primary paddle in the field.
Turns out, there was a lot of pent-up demand for a product like the TinyPaddle. At $15 for the kit or $20 fully assembled, the TinyPaddle is a serious bargain. Ara and his father have been quite busy producing these.
Enter the TinyPaddle Jack (TPJ)
Whereas the TinyPaddle is designed around being the most simple/minimalist backup paddle solution–basically a wee paddle with a male 3.5mm connector that plugs directly into a rig’s paddle jack–the TPJ takes it one step further.
The TPJ is essentially the TinyPaddle with a female 3.5mm plug encased in a 3D-printed holder and protective cover.
The design is clever. The case that protects it while stored away in one’s field pack, pulls apart and is re-joined to make a very usable paddle holder.
There are actually quite a few purchase options, so Ara created this short video that describes the different components/options and how to use them:
I’ve been using the TPJ with my MTR-3B and new SW-3B. As I mentioned in my field report with the TinyPaddle, the action of this paddle is actually very precise–it almost feels like a capacitive touch paddle.
I find that the holder definitely adds to the ergonomics of the paddle (although it can actually be used without a holder, too).
Ara also created a small adjustment tool that will allow you to tweak the paddle spacing if needed. Keep in mind, this is a very simple paddle design (there are no springs or magnets) and isn’t really meant to be a primarily paddle. I do feel, however, that it will hold up quite well over time. The spacing of the contacts is so fine, I believe the stress on the paddle levers is minimal .
I plan to keep a pair with my new MTR-3B field kit (above) and use it as the primary paddle for that radio. I will plan to buy a second one for the SW-3B a well.
I personally think Ara could charge $40+ for these and they’d still be a bargain. I know him well enough to know that his motivation is in the fun of designing these products and making them accessible to other field radio operators. Case in point: I’ve been pricing quality 3.5mm patch cables recently and I find his $5 cable to be an excellent price; even more competitive than cables I’ve seen on Amazon and eBay.
In addition, Ara even freely distributes the 3D printer files so you have the option to print your own paddle holder!
It’s obvious to me that these products are his contribution to the community that pays for itself enough so that he can continue to innovate. His designs are so clever, I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next!
On Sunday, November 28, 2021, my family needed a little time outdoors after a Saturday full of home projects.
I packed my field radio kit in the GoRuck Bullet Ruck, then we jumped in the car and drove to the Clear Creek Access of South Mountains State Park (the same site in my previous POTA field report).
South Mountains State Park (K-2753)
It was a gorgeous day and we had the park to ourselves. First thing we did was hike the short Lakeview Trail loop.
This trail is only 1.3 miles long, but offers up some beautiful views.
Hazel also came along and enjoyed the sights, smells, and even got her feet wet in a stream!
Fortunately, no one was using the one solitary picnic table at the Clear Creek access, so we claimed it!
First thing I did was launch a line and deploy my 28.5′ speaker wire antenna.
I knew it would pair perfectly with the Elecraft KX2!
The new N6ARA TinyPaddle
This activation also gave me an excuse to check out a paddle my buddy Ara (N6ARA) recently designed.
He calls it the TinyPaddle:
An appropriate name, because this key is wee! Ara notes:
As someone who likes bring experimental gear to summits, I have had paddles break on me multiple times. […] I don’t like carrying the extra weight/volume of a second set of paddles, so I designed my own “TinyPaddle” for backup as a middle ground option. It weighs roughly 3.7g and is 1.2cm x 1.2cm x 5.0cm in size.
He’s right, the TinyPaddle could tuck away even in the most compact of field kits. You’d never know it was there.
Here’s the TinyPaddle connected to the side of my Elecraft KX2:
Ara sent this key to me for frank feedback (prior to doing a small production run of them) knowing I’d not only check it out in the shack, but (of course!) take it to the field.
I decided to do my activation at South Mountains State Park using only the TinyPaddle.
Before taking it to the field, I had some concerns that the TinyPaddle might turn in the 3.5mm key port on the side of the KX2 as I used it. Once plugging it in, though, I could tell that it would not be a problem at all. The paddle is so lightweight and so sensitive, it’s simply not an issue. In fact, it would be rather difficult to use it in such a way that it would shift in the 3.5mm port.
On The Air
Knowing in advance that it was a contest weekend (the CQWW), I decided I would stick with the WARC bands during this activation.
I tuned the speaker wire antenna to 10.112 MHz on the 30 meter band.
The 30 meter band was more crowded than usual as many other POTA/SOTA/WWFF and casual operators sought refuge from the signal density on 40 and 20 meters.
Since I had the family with me and since we’d spent most of our time at the park eating a late picnic lunch and doing a casual hike, I allotted only 20 minutes of air time for this activation. I was hoping I could validate the activation with 10 contacts in that amount of time.
I started calling CQ with the N6ARA paddles. First thing I noticed was how sensitive and precise they were. Although the TinyPaddle is a mechanical paddle (with spaced contacts), they feel more like a capacitive touch paddle they’re so sensitive.
I started calling CQ POTA and soon logged KE4Q.
A few minutes later, I worked AI8Z, followed by W5WIL, WO0S, WA2JMG, AA0Z, WA2FBN, N0VRP, KA3OMQ, W9SAU, and K1MZM.
With a total of 12 stations logged in 21 minutes, I went QRT.
Here’s what 5 watts into a 28.5′ speaker wire did on 30 meters that fine day (click map to enlarge):
Here’s a video of my full activation. Hazel was being very camera shy; for some reason, she doesn’t like the OSMO Action camera. My wife and I think it must resemble something she’s seen at the vet’s office? We may never know!
Ara is obviously a talented engineer. I’m always impressed with devices like this that are so simple, yet so effective.
The TinyPaddle is going to live in my KX2 field pack as a backup to the KXPD2 paddles which have actually failed me in the field before.
That time the KXPD2 failed me…
I mention in the video that I once needed to use my Elecraft KXPD2 paddles to communicate with my buddy Mike (K8RAT) to share my SSB frequency for a very rare park activation I activated in the spring of 2020. After plugging the KXPD2 paddles into the KX2, I found that I could only send “dits.” I couldn’t even set it up to send as a straight key from one side of the paddle.
This forced me to drive 25 minutes to a spot where I had cell phone reception to contact Mike with info for a spot, then drive back to the site. That effectively shortened my activation of this ATNO park by 50 minutes!
I sent Elecraft the photo above and they quickly identified the problem: turns out, one of the center posts had loosened and fallen out. They immediately sent me a replacement post free of charge (typical Elecraft customer service).
I use the KXPD2 paddles quite a lot because they mount directly to the front of the KX2 making it possible to use my kneeboard during SOTA activations. Since that mishap in the field, I tighten the KXPD2 posts at least once a month and also carry a precision screwdriver with me in my field kit.
A proper backup!
But having the TinyPaddle now is even extra insurance that a paddle failure won’t stop me from completing my activation!
When I made the video, I wasn’t certain if Ara was planning to do a production run of these or not. I’m very pleased to see that he has!
I hope you enjoyed this field report and activation.
I’d like to send a special thanks to those of you who are supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement as my content will always be free–I really appreciate the support.
My daughter Geneva (K4TLI) took a few extra photos at the park that day. Enjoy!