Archive for straight key

‘Meetin’ up’ With Hiram Percy Maxim’s Key

Posted in Contests with tags , , , , , on 2013/02/27 by Pete Spotts

This is the spark-gap key used by Hiram Percy Maxim, founder of the American Radio Relay League. The key “rides again” during the Straight Key Century Club’s Weekend Sprintathon in March.

Folks who join in on the Straight Key Century Club’s Weekend Sprintathon in March are in for a treat. Several staffers at the American Radio Relay League headquarters in Newington, CT, will be acting as tag-team operators, running W1AW as the special bonus station for the event.

And in keeping with the club’s aim in perpetuating Morse code sent with straight keys, bugs, and side-swipers, the operators will be using Hiram Percy Maxim’s spark-gap key.

Truth to tell, you probably won’t be able to tell the difference between that and any other straight key whose arisanal code you hear. But, hey, it’s still a blast.

The event’s theme is QRP — stations running 5 watts or less are worth bonus points to folks who work them (and by logical extension, to each other as well).

The event runs from 1200 UTC on March 9 through 2359 UTC March 10. Although that’s a 36-hour stretch, participants can operate for no more than 24 of those 36 hours. This is a somewhat casual event for many members. Some drift into and out of the event, operating as time allows. Others with contesting in their DNA tend to go full bore.

Contester or not, fast speeds or slow, you’re welcome to take part.

If you intend to submit scores, you’ll need to use a straight key, side-swiper, or bug. No electronic keyers.

For more information, visit the event’s website. Details on the bonus scoring for March will be posted by the weekend. But the page also includes basic information about these monthly events that newcomers may find helpful to review.

How do I know when the bonus scheme will be posted? I’m the event manager!  ;-)

Munchkin Morse-code key – how munchkin?

Posted in Miscellaneous, Portable operations, Projects, QRP with tags , , , , , , , on 2011/07/11 by Pete Spotts

American Morse Equipment's MS2 mini key and a, er, larger companion.

So how small is American Morse Equipment’s new MS2 mini key? It’s about that small…

With apologies to readers of the previous post, who may have been left wondering about the scale of things.

Munchkin Morse-code key for portable radio ops

Posted in Miscellaneous, Portable operations, Projects, QRP with tags , , , , , , on 2011/07/11 by Pete Spotts

American Morse Equipment's new MS2 mini key, where pounding brass becomes tapping aluminum.

American Morse Equipment’s new munchkin Morse code key, the MS2, was unveiled earlier this year at the national hamvention in Dayton, Ohio, and once the announcement hit the QRP email lists, I couldn’t wait to see what Doug  Hauff — the company’s designer, engineer, machinist, and all around inventive guy — had come up with.

As even a casual visit to my Morse-code key collection page can attest, I’m a sucker for the small. And with two other items from Doug’s collection of key and paddle kits in use at my home station and with my portable gear, snagging one of his new keys was a no-brainer.

Doug’s “web dude” gave the MS2 its own description and order page July 2, so I quickly put in for one and received the MS2 key kit within three days of my order (caution — the USPS isn’t fastidious about updating their tracking information).

When the padded envelope arrived, I hustled it into my basement shop, unpacked the parts, and got ready to put the key together. But, gasp, instructions had yet to be posted on Doug’s web site.

The parts are  few, however. And having assembled his KK1, I figured I didn’t have to wait for his “web dude” to get his page-update act together. So, with band conditions a bit wiggy during this weekend’s Straight Key Century Club Weekend Sprintathon, I took time out to assemble the key.

As of 22:38 UTC July 11, the instructions still are MIA on Doug’s pages. [Update: Instructions were posted on the AME site at 11:39 UTC on July 12.] So herewith a description of how I assembled the key, along with a crude list of parts (I don’t have a gauge for determining screw sizes).

Continue reading

Western Electric mini key meets its final base

Posted in Miscellaneous, Projects with tags , , , , , , on 2011/04/07 by Pete Spotts

My Western Electric miniature key finally mounted on its mahogany base.

Ah, the seemingly never-ending saga of the Western Electric miniature key has, well,  finally ended.

Two coats of clear spray finish, with a bit of scruffing with 320 grit sandpaper before the first coat and between the first and second, has produce a reasonable finish. And an encounter with Dr. Dremel and some Blue Magic polish has spiffed up the key itself.

Prior to applying the finish, I used a Slick Plane to round the top edges.

For the record, the underside now looks like this:

The underside of the base, wired for Morse code.

Yep, you aren’t seeing things. I left the underside unfinished. We’ll see  if I can get away with it!  ;-)  I’ll cut out some rubberized no-slip shelf matting to match the size of the base, then glue it to the bottom. That will cover the wiring and provide more slip resistance when I’m using the key.

Nice to have this little project essentially finished, although, truth to tell, I still kinda like the Altoids-tin base I first concocted. We’ll see about another use for that!

P.S. For a look at the gear that yielded these keys, check out the photo here.

A tiny Morse key, a block of wood, and thou — Part 1

Posted in Miscellaneous, Projects with tags , , , , , , on 2011/03/30 by Pete Spotts

The base-ics for a Western Electric mini-key -- the hahd'we-ah, as they say in these pahts, the base, and the key.

When last we checked in on the saga of the Western Electric miniature Morse-code keys that have become a mini rage with members of the Straight Key Century Club, folks were scooping them up as quickly as they appeared on eBay.**

But the keys come unmounted, their spindly mounting screws sticking out of the small metal bases like stilts.

Ideas abound on how to give these puppies some pants.

George Osier, N2JNZ, has been whippin’ up a mean mess o’ bases. You can see one of his mounts here.

And here’s how George Rancourt, K1ANX, has mounted his key. Oh, yes, he’s the source for these little jewels of a Morse-code key.

Others have fabricated bases from ABS plastic, wood blocks, and who knows what else.

I had already taken a stab at mounting my key on a Altoids tin, as much for yucks as anything else. But when I saw GR’s approach, with nifty knurled nuts at the terminals that would connect the key with his radio, I said to myself: “Self,” says I, ” we have to try that!”

So here’s the tack I’m taking.

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The Siren song of a tiny Morse-code key

Posted in General Operating with tags , , , , , , , on 2011/03/26 by Pete Spotts

N2JNZs nicely mounted Western Electric mini key -- the key that opened at least 19 wallets.

On his way home after lending a hand in the conquest of Troy, Odysseus encountered the hauntingly beautiful songs of the Sirens as his ship glided past their rocky island.

The only thing that saved the day was some stout rope, with which his crew tied him to the ship’s mast (he just had to hear for himself), and beeswax, which the crewmen used to plug their ears so the alluring voices wouldn’t tempt them to steer toward their doom.

Would that we had done the same when George Osier, N2JNZ, first began singing, in an email kind of way, the praises of a tiny Morse-code key. It is now on the verge of becoming something of an unofficial club key among a small but growing band of Straight Key Century Club members.

For those who, Odysseus-like, may be a tad curious about this sending device, Continue reading

Key on a can — curiously strong CW!

Posted in Miscellaneous, Portable operations, Projects, QRP with tags , , , , , , , , on 2011/03/19 by Pete Spotts

The basics: an Altoids tin, a line-test key used in Western Electric test gear but built by Bunnell back in the day -- all the ingredients for a QRP key on a can.

OK, I admit this up front: This little Morse-code-key project is 90 percent whimsy, maybe even 99 percent.

But as an amateur-radio operator who revels in low-power (QRP) communication, where many a radio is built from scratch and can fit into an Altoids tin or two, I couldn’t resist an attempt at combining a tiny key and the ubiquitous tin.

The key? I first saw one of these at last summer’s regional ARRL convention and hamfest in Boxboro, MA. Out among the flea-market tables, another ham from Massachusetts had a slew of the keys for sale, mounted on small pieces of what looked like Bakelite.

If you check out my key-collection page, one thing becomes clear: I’m partial to mini keys. I passed on the keys for sale last summer. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I got an unintentional prod from Georger Osier, N2JNZ, a ham in upstate New York. Among George’s other accomplishments, he turns out some very nice exotic-hardwood bases for straight keys in need of a place to sit.

George picked up one of these keys from eBay, cooked up one of his hardwood bases for it, extolled its virtues on the Straight Key Century Club’s email list, and in short order, members began scooping them up — yours truly included.

By some accounts, these little keys were made by J.H. Bunnell, also a source for the highly regarded US Navy Flameproof keys. The keys were used in mobile line-testing packages made by Western Electric. You can see a photo of the test package here; to save time (it’s a l-o-n-g page with lots of images), search the page for 1495b and you’ll go right to it.

With no base to speak of, mounts for these keys are left to the imagination (in my case, perverse) of the keys’ new owners. And that’s where the Altoids tin comes in.

Continue reading

A Morse-code memory keyer tweaked for the fickle

Posted in Miscellaneous, Projects with tags , , , , , , , on 2011/02/12 by Pete Spotts

K1EL's K12 memory-keyer kit ready for the Straight Key Century Club's Weekend Sprint. Keyer? Straight-key operating event? What's up with that?

Radios these days! I tell ya!

If you love to use Morse code and you also enjoy using a straight key as well as an electronic keyer, switching back and forth between the two can be a pain in the bazootus, as my Mom used to say.

You’ve got to unplug one sending device, then plug in the other — a hassle if the jacks for these are on the radio’s rear panel. And depending on the radio, you have to enter its menu to turn the keyer off if you want to use a straight key or bug.

At least that’s the way it is with my favorite QRP radios, a Yaesu FT-817 and an Elecraft KX1.

Meanwhile, I’ve become increasingly interested in contesting, which led me to hunt for a memory keyer that wouldn’t break the bank. I came across K1EL’s K12 kit, and it seemed perfect for my needs. Up to six 40-character memories, plus a bunch of other features, and all programmable using a keyer paddle.

The challenge: Turn the keyer into something that will handle keyer paddle and straight key without having to swap devices or kafiddle with menus. After some chin scratching, and a valuable bit of encouragement from Steve Webber, KD1JV, on the QRP-L email list, herewith the K1EL K12 tweaked to use just about any arrow in your CW quiver: Continue reading

Time for a weekend sprintathon — straight-key style

Posted in Contests, General Operating with tags , , , , , on 2010/11/12 by Pete Spotts

Dust off those mechanical Morse-code sending devices — straight key, side swiper (alias the cootie key), or bug. The second Sunday of the month is nearly upon us; time for the Straight Key Century Club’s Weekend Sprintathon.

Bulletin: You don’t have to be a club member to participate. Heck, the folks who run this gig even have a shortwave-listener category!

The operating event begins at 0000 UTC this Sunday (basically late Saturday afternoon/early evening for folks in North America). The exchange is simple: signal report, QTH (state, province, or country), operator name, and membership number. For hams who aren’t members, send the word “none” in place of the number, and you’re good to go.

Like many contests and operating events, the Weekend Sprintathon has QRP and QRPp categories.

And to make things interesting…

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Tiny Morse Code keys, the next big thing?

Posted in Miscellaneous, Projects with tags , , , , , , on 2010/08/10 by Pete Spotts

Key from a WW 1 field-telegraph set

Over the last couple of years, I’ve developed an affinity for small Morse Code keys. So when I saw this orphan — a key from a World War 1 field-telegraph set — I couldn’t resist. Thank you eBay.

I actually had no clue about it’s provenance until I received help from John, G0RDO, and Tom, W1TP — avid collectors, both.

Because the key is said to be fairly common (though I’d certainly never seen one before), and because it’s already suffering separation anxiety, I’m making this my first antique-restoration project.

At the moment, my plan is to strip the paint off the metal parts, polish them up, then reassemble the key and mount it on a nice wooden base. And yes, it will be operational.

I’ll keep you posted as the project progresses!


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