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The Bencher RJ-2 straight key is also known as "The Ultimate Hand Key" according to the factory box. The “RJ” designation on the key is a memorial to one of the finest CW operators, Jim Rafferty N6RJ. Mr. Rafferty would state “Give me a good straight key and I’ll have a race with you on any electronic keyer”. In a discussion about keys Mr. Rafferty went on to state “The action of a good straight key has got to be felt to be appreciated”.  

The Bencher RJ models are made in the U.S.A. and have a full range of stainless steel adjustments for tension, contact spacing, and knob height above desktop. The RJ models have precision machined parts with self lubricating bronze pivot bearings on each side of the lever arm which account for the smooth and crisp action of the RJ keys. A heavy cold rolled steel base. Chrome lever arm and top components. The contact points are gold plated silver. Large coiled main spring. The key is supported by four non-skid rubber feet which are screwed rather then pop riveted onto the bottom of the base. These keys come equipped with a two piece Navy style knob which allows the operator the option of removing the bottom skirt. The RJ keys measure in at 3"W x 6"L x 1.75" high with a weight of 2 pounds 

The RJ-2 lever arm/straight key is identical to the RJ-1 model with the difference being that the RJ-1 has a black powdercoat base and costs a little less. Whereas the RJ-2 has a chrome plated base. The Bencher RJ series are "low slung" straight keys with the bottom of the base rising 11/32" off the table. The "low strung" profile of these keys allow the operator to comfortably rest their arm on the table top with the wrist staying in a natural straight position. As of the end of 2020 Vibroplex sells the RJ-1 for $159.95 and the RJ-2 for $189.95. Both models are built to last a lifetime.

In the December 1994 issue of 73 magazine there is a review of the Bencher RJ-2 by Gordon West, WB6NOA. The price listed in the article for the RJ-2 is $79.95 while the RJ-1 is listed at $69.95. The article goes on to state that The Bencher straight key was developed in response to requests from a number of customers and dealers wanting something new from CW key guru Bob Locher W9KNI.    

  

So when and where was this Bencher produced?  

The instruction manual which consists of a single page measuring 8 1/2 by 11 inches states that Bencher Inc. was located at 831 N. Central Ave. Wood Dale, IL. 60191 U.S.A. at the time of purchase.

This Bencher model RJ-2 has a serial number of 003157. The original owner who purchased the key new was not exactly sure but believes that the purchase was made around 2010.

  

The Bencher company:

While nformation is scarce on the origins of the Bencher company, it appears that by 2014 Bencher started to sell off their amateur radio product line.

The ARRL reported on 12/08/2014 the following:

DX Engineering has acquired Bencher’s Skyhawk, Skylark, and Butternut antenna product lines. Headquartered in Tallmadge, Ohio, DX Engineering announced on December 5 that it will exclusively manufacture and market the three antenna lines as well as provide service, repairs, and replacement parts. The deal did not include the Bencher line of CW keyer paddles. The Skyhawk is a trap-free tribander for 20, 15, 10 meters. The Skylark is a dual-band Yagi for 17 and 12 meters. Butternut HF verticals come in 9-band, 6-band, and 2-band models. Bencher, headquartered in Antioch, Illinois, had acquired the Butternut product line in the 1990s.

  

Scott Robbins W4PA, and owner of Vibroplex since 2009 announced the following on March 18, 2015.

"Bencher, Inc. of Antioch Illinois announced the sale today of the Bencher Amateur Radio product lines to Vibroplex, LLC of Knoxville, Tennessee. This sale ends Bencher’s presence in the amateur radio field, thus allowing the principals, Jere Benedict, President, and Bob Locher, (W9KNI) to move towards retirement.The product lines sold include the Bencher BY series of Iambic Paddles, (the world’s best selling iambic paddle, with over 150,000 sold) as well as the ST series of single lever paddles, the Bencher Hex Paddle, the N2DAN Mercury Paddle, and the Bencher RJ series Hand Keys. Also included in the sale are the HK-1 Universal Hook-up kit and the YA-1 Low Pass Filter.  

Vibroplex has agreed to honor the manufacturer’s warranties of all covered products, and to offer parts and support for these products as well. Vibroplex will continue to offer the Bencher products through existing marketing channels. Vibroplex may be contacted at http://www.vibroplex.com, or at (865) 309-5073.

Jere Benedict and Bob Locher wish to express their gratitude to the amateur radio community for its interest and support since the sale of the first Bencher amateur radio products in the early 1970’s."

  

  

The picture on the left is a view of the front of the Bencher RJ-2. While the picture on the right is of the rear or back of the RJ-2. Please note the downward angle of the lever towards the rear of the key which is important for proper adjustment.

  

Binding lever:

I have seen reports in which a key was purchased second hand and upon arrival the binding posts were loose. The new owner then tightened the two screws found under each binding post only to learn that the key lever was now tight and difficult to move. The new owner fixed this issue by enlarging the two holes which the binding post screws go through to secure the binding post to the base. When I had this key apart I attempted to recreate this “binding issue” and was able to do so rather easily. If your key appears to bind even with the coil spring removed, do NOT enlarge the screw holes, simply swap around the binding posts, swap around the bar between the posts, and/or use the holes on the other side of this bar to attach the lever. A prior owner has probably had your key apart in the past, reassembled it incorrectly which resulted in the key going up for sale and ending up in your shack.

  

Proper adjustment:

As can be seen in the pictures above the RJ series of keys have adjustments for lever travel, spring tension, and contact spacing. If the RJ keys are not properly adjusted they will appear to have way too much/heavy spring pressure. I've seen reviews about the RJ-2 in which one owner drilled a hole through the base to hold the key in place due to the heavy spring pressure. Another review mentioned clipping a coil or two off the spring. All of that is not necessary  at all. In fact, the RJ keys can be adjusted so that there is ZERO spring tension.

If the spring tension is too heavy for your liking then adjust the lever so that it has a slight downward angle towards the rear of the key. First loosen all adjustments using a 3/32 hex key(Allen wrench). First remove all spring pressure by turning the center adjustment counterclockwise. Next unscrew the rear adjustment which is found at the end of the lever. Continue to do this until there is no spring tension. Next adjust the contact spacing to your liking. At this point you'll notice that you have hardly any or no spring tension at all. Next adjust the spring tension using the center adjustment on the lever until the desired amount is reached. Of course the spring tension can also be adjusted at this point by turning the rear lever adjustment in 1/4 turn or less increments and readjusting the contact spacing, but I found it easiest to simply add additional spring tension. Once you are at this stage, use the key some to see if it is to your liking. If not, very small adjusments on any of the three lever adjustment will produce a significant change so move that Allen wrench just a smidgeon.The above procedure is not described in the copy of the manual that I have so if you are having difficulties I hope my instructions above are helpful.

  

  

  

The picture on the left is of the two oil impregnated sintered bronze bearings. These bearings impart friction free movement and wobble free vertical tracking that help give the RJ series keys that smooth, solid, and crisp feel. The RJ series have a beautiful bounce and tactile feedback. When I compare the RJ-2 with the other straight keys I have the RJ-2 just feels right.

The picture on the right is of the left side of the key. The Bencher nameplate is located in the front left hand corner of the base. Please note the beautiful chrome finish found on the RJ-2 key. It is like a mirror as the bottom of the lever can be seen in great detail.

  

The gold plated silver contacts and large coil spring can be seen in the picture on the left.

The picture on the right is of the bottom of the RJ-2. Here we can see the spade contacts and factory supplied hex wrench and holder. The four anti-skid rubber feet are held on by screws rather then cheap pop rivets. Thus, they can easily be changed out when worn or if the operator desires a different base height. The instructions call for soldering the male and female spade connectors together. When I received the key the former owner had done just that. I choose to reverse that process and unsolder these connections.

  

Provenance:

I purchased this key from Gene Knight, K6YIS, who resides in Oregon. I inquired about the history of the key and was informed that Mr. Knight is the original owner and purchased it new. He went on to say that he had alot of great qso's over the years, it's a great key, and that he only used a straight key for cw".

  

  

References:  

http://www.arrl.org

WWW.DXEngineering.com

Bencher RJ-1 instruction manual

Vibroplex company: http://vibroplex.com/

December 1994 issue of 73 magazine  

  

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