Keys Made for Amateur Radio Operators
The keys in this section have been commercially made over a time span of many decades for the use and enjoyment of Ham Radio operators. They represent a wide variety of designs, sizes, and degrees of refinement of what is, iin the final analysis, a single-pole single-throw switch. And they are fun to collect and use.
The Begali Spark Key from Italy. This is another fine product from the factory of Piero Begali, I2RTF. The base is a massive sand casting that holds the gold-plated lever without a trace of lost motion. This key stays put at 20 wpm - despite its overall weight, the touch is light and precise. This example, Serial Number 086, was purchased from Piero himself at the Dayton Hamvention.
A Swedish-type key by Lennart Pettersson & Company. Built for amateur use, it is in the Swedish maritime tradition - see the commercial version elsewhere on this site. As shown on the inset, the contacts are mounted forward of the pivot on a steel spring, which absorbs shock and eliminates contact bounce.
The Kent Engineers of England produced this massive key in kit form - meaning that the machining was all done, leaving the assembly to the user. When this simple task is done, the result is a massive and sturdy key that feels solid but not clunky. While it hearkens back to the Marconi keys long used in maritime service, it is apparently not a reproduction of an earlier key.
This is the Hi-Mound HK-708, a heavy key in the Hi-Mound tradition. It uses nylon bushings as bearings for the lever, which gives it a unique feel. The bearing drag can be adjusted for the best feel.
Bencher, well known for its excellent paddles, also produces a very good straight key. It has a heavy steel base (black crackle finish here, but also available in chrome), and a chrome-plated lever. It is precise in its feel and positive in action.
The Ham Key, whose styling recalls that of the Brown Bros. equipment, is a capable instrument that was made by the Ham Radio Center, Inc., of St. Louis, MO. This version (there are several) uses the signature red plastic components like those of the company's iambic paddles.
This is one of the extensive line of CW instruments from Llaves Telegraficas Artesanas of Spain. This is a small key called the GMPO - it is gold plated and mounted on a base of Spanish oak, with a knob of teak wood.
The Speed-X keys, first made by E. F. Johnson and now by the Wm. Nye Co. are a line of very sturdy and serviceable straight keys that are well built and quite affordable. They are made in a number of variations, with the moving parts chrome plated, nickel plated, or of unplated brass. Some, like the one on the right, are fitted with circuit-closer levers. One of the two styles of base, the rectangular version, is shown here.
Here is a closer look at one of the oval Speed-X keys. This one is a personal favorite - I have mounted it on a base of Colorado alabaster collected on a trip through the mountains, and I have fitted it with a knob skirt (not insulated!) because I prefer the kind of feel that it gives to the key. There is no circuit closer on this key - but I can hold it closed with my elbow while I twiddle the antenna tuner knobs with my hands.
This gold-plated Speed-X was apparently made as a presentation gift for the attendees as some sort of conference. I acquired it new in the box, already mounted on the teak base. While the gold plating does not make it work any better, it is certainly eye-catching. I find it interesting that whoever decided that a telegraph key would make a good "party favor" for a general audience would choose a quality instrument instead of an inexpensive replica. I'm glad they did.
This rectangular-based Speed-X is fitted with a rather graceful circuit closing lever. The skirted knob is original equipment, but the rather oversized base (I will put it on a smaller one) is not. The rectangular base, while not a solid casting, is quite sturdy and the key has a solid feel. The use of a robust brass lever also adds to its pleasing operation.
Now for the little guys. All of these keys are fully functional, and are intended for a variety of uses. (Details will be given in the following pictures. At the upper left is a 1/2-scale gold-plated replica of a J-38 military key. While it is fully functional, its small size does not match my big mitts very well. The upper right key is a genuine Vibro- plex called the Code Mite. It is a bit larger and is practical for general use. The precisely-crafted brass key at the lower left is the smallest key in my collection. The lower right and center keys are made of aluminum and are designed for portable QRP operation. This a high-resolution image - click on the picture to get a closer look.
Another look at the miniature keys, compared with a standard-sized J-38. The two aluminum keys on the right were purchased in kit form from Doug Hauff, W6AME, of American Morse Equipment. They are machined from aluminum and have brass levers and lucite fingerpieces. In the center is the Vibroplex. It is made of chrome-plated brass and is mounted on a bakelite knob. The adjusting knobs are of the signature "rope- knurled" Vibroplex design. The miniature J-38 next to it is made by Lee Hutchins, KA6IRL. All of its dimensions are exactly half of those of the full-sized version, so it is actually quarter-sized. It is fully functional and adjustable, down to the circuit-closing lever. Last (and least in size but not in quality) is a straight key made in Germany by DK7UD, who also makes excellent paddles. While its size would suit it to QRP operation in the field, it is too nice to risk losing it under a stray leaf (or in my backpack). This is also a high resolution image - click to examine it further.