Straight Key Night
The Hardware Used on Straight Key Night 2007-2008


     This is the lineup of straight keys from my collection that I chose to use for this operating event.  As usual, I spent more time on the hardware than on the air, but I did hear some good fists and managed to
put mine into the mix for a few hours.  I tried for a mix of styles and sources, and I will describe them below.  Clicking on a picture will enlarge it - use the "back arrow" to return to the page.


A European Style Key with Micrometer Spacing Adjustment 

    This large key is made of an aluminum alloy called Fortal.  It is almost as hard and strong as steel, and it machines to a very attractive finish.  In the style of the classical Swedish keys, the contacts are at the front of the lever, although they are borne on the lever itself, not on a spring-like extension.  Tension is supplied by opposed rare-earth magnets at the rear of the lever and is varied by changing the position of the lower magnet.  The lever is set in ball bearings, and contact spacing is adjusted by a micrometer which raises or lowers a pivoted plate.  Though it was not built for speed, is has a solid feel at 15 wpm or so.  Contact bounce is a bit of a problem at higher speeds, and  this has led to the development of cushioned mounting of the contacts.


 The Begali Spark Key

     This massive key (purchased from Piero Begali himself) is by far the heaviest key in my collection.  It has a sand-cast base with a palladium finish, and the lever is gold-plated.  The navy-style knob and the curved lever make it easy for the American hand to use, and its weight makes it stay put very well.  I do not know whether it is a replica of an historic spark key or a modern design - but it is a truly an impressive instrument.  You can see all of the beautiful Begali keys and paddles at


The Good Old J-38

    The next key in line was the J-38, a familiar sight to many hams.  I started in ham radio using my father's J-38.  (He was not a ham, but he was in Navy Radio School as the war was winding down.)  Dating from the World War II era, they were made by a number of manufacturers.  Those made by Lionel (the electric train people) were very well finished and a favorite among collectors.  At the risk of stirring up interservice rivalry, I added the "Navy Knob" skirt to make it easier for me to use.


A Simple Homebrew Marconi-Style Key

    This small key, loosely patterned after the Marconi style, was an end-product of an attempt to design a nice-looking key that could be made using only a drill press and hand tools (i.e., files, hacksaws, etc.)  It is made of aircraft aluminum and is mounted on an oak base.  The knob is surplus, and the skirt is a large coat button.  Using a leaf spring instead of a coil made it more tolerant of dimensional errors, as did the use of a brass block as the lower contact.  Adjusting screws are 8-32 stainless steel cap screws locked with PEM nuts.  It uses cone bearings made of Pal Nuts that can be closely adjusted to remove any play.  Speeds of up to 20 wpm are easy to maintain.  A complete article describing the steps of construction may be found at, along with some other PDF files that may be of interest.


Another Front-Contact Key

    This key was another attempt at a front-contact design and incorporated some features that occurred to me as the larger one was being built.  The lower travel stop is the circular object near the front; it rotates to set the gap and is locked by the knurled nut.  Tension is again provided by a pair of rare-earth magnets under the rear of the lever.  The key has a very light touch and is very quiet in operation because of a padded lower stop on the lever.  A complete write-up of this key and the larger aluminum one above is also at


The Parkwood Pup

    Last, and least in size, is the Parkwood Pup.  This is a QRP-size key with magnetic tensioning and ball-bearing pivots.  Connection is made via a 1/8" phone patch cord to avoid large terminals.  While small in size, this key feels like a bigger one and is light and easy to pack.


    So that was the lineup of keys.  While I didn't make many QSO's, I did use them all, and it felt good to pound brass (or aluminum) for a change.  Now it is back to bugs for a while - a number of ideas are rattling around in my head and will hopefully emerge as hardware during the next year.


73 de Rich, WB9LPU 

wb9lpu at earthlink dot net