Many hams regard morse keys as pure antiquities, better left alone gathering dust somewhere – preferably in a windowed cabinet. These keys are not gathering dust though. I actually use the keys presented here.
The first key is an old pre-WWII key. I ripped it from a military marine transceiver “15 KV m/39” from the late thirties. The transceiver is now functional on board a contemporary torpedo boat. It is mentioned in the torpedo boat’s interesting home-page. This key is a pleasure to operate! I have never felt such quality from a key – ever. The bearings are tight and the fist soft yet distinct in a way I cannot put words to. This is a key from when an operator could send hours on end.
The U-shaped piece of thin metal is not the lever spring but simply an electrical connection to one of the two contact tongues. The left of the tongues makes contact a short while before the actual “key”-contact to the right. This is to alert the transmitter that a key-closure is imminent. We don’t see that nowadays, do we?
Pre-WWII marine key.
Second out is home-made sideswiper. A key-type not much used now but apparently very popular on the high seas. The actual sending is performed with a left-right going swing. Either side can be used for dots or dashes. It takes considerable time to learn send well with this kind of key. But once mastered it feels quite natural. I almost always rested too short a while on the contacts and I got a kind of a hurried (and probably hard to read) fist.
I had to start sending really slowly to learn how to operate it. And that did the trick. Not often used any more it is a fun key to use now and then. The keying rhythm is quite distinct. You can tell when someone uses a sideswiper!
The home-made sideswiper. I like the simplicity of it and its high keying rate – once I mastered it…
Third out is my main portable key for many years. As you might gather from the three crowns on the lid to the right this is a military key. This is not – as many have tried to convince me – a key for the just retired army radio set Ra200. Well, the key is perhaps the same, but this sample is from a military WWII-radio (10W Br m/39). Apparently the key is made to last forever and having a 1940’s key in military service until after year 2000 is a proof of that!
It is constructed to be small. I have not seen this kind of mechanism elsewhere. The lever itself is suspended by a thin metal blade to the left in the picture. The same metal blade doubles as spring tensioner and is adjustable by the small knurled knob running through the lever. The rightmost knurled knob controls the spacing of the keying contacts. These contacts are well hidden and weatherproofed under a small rubber membrane situated just below the latter knob. The small lever down the middle of the picture is for changing between receive and transmit in the original transceiver. When shifted to the left it now shorts the key – a handy trick leaving both hands for adjusting the tuner knobs.
Due to its short arm the keying motion is quite sharp and distinct. I find it too distinct for longer runs of sending, the sudden sharp stop when pressed down gets on me after a while. Nevertheless, this is a much used key even today.
Key from “10 W Br m/39”.
My main key today is not a key at all – it is a “bug”. Today, often a bug is interpreted as an electronic device capable of delivering dits and dahs in perfect ratio and speed. That means that all operators sound about the same. Now this original Vibroplex bug has more! Through a clever weight-swinging mechanism it can give a series of short pulses when the keying lever is pushed to the right. The speed of the pulses can be adjusted with the cubic-shaped weight on the lever to the left. Longer pulses is made by pressing the keying lever to the left. The “dah” thus produced is generated until you release it. So you make the dahs yourself and have the dits done for you. Very clever, and easy to use for very long transmission runs. One does not get tired in teh arm or hand.
Compared to one of the keys above it feels like cheating. It really helps that much. But not only that. You also get a clearly recognisable fist. As with the sideswiper one identifies a bug user immediately. The rapid, perfectly timed dits are easy to recognise. A very pleasant way of sending morse and a very pleasant result making copying easy at the receiver. Another benefit is that by holding the weight with the left hand and only sending with the dah-lever it also doubles as a ordinary key. This makes it really easy to suddenly slow down should I get a QRS-caller.
An original Vibroplex bug. Extra weights can be used to slower the speed even more. The weight used here can be sled to adjust speeds between about 20 and 35 WPM.
It also happens to have a particularily satisfying serial number. Look at the plate:
The plate on the bug can identify production year.
A bug with this serial number “230230” was made in 1963. That also happens to be my “production” year so I’ll hold on to it! (Perhaps there really is something in numerology after all:)