TELEGRAPH KEYS DESIGNED OR RESTORED
BY W. R. SMITH
(Most of the images below can be enlarged in a separate window by clicking on them.)
FOR TRIGGERING ELECTRONIC KEYERS
Designed and built by W. R. Smith (1946)
While a student at the University of
Tennessee 57 years ago, one of my classes had to do with
designing and building something and writing a paper regarding it.
At that time, electronic keyers for making automatic dots and dashes
used for sending Morse code were beginning to be popular. Thus, I
decided to build a paddle with which to key one of these for my ham
station located in the 17-foot trailer of our UT trailer village.
The paddle shown is the result of my effort.
The paddle is composed of two levers hinged
at a common arbor. However, it is unique in the manner in which the
two of them are maintained centered without making contact to either
the dot or dash post. As can be seen, there is a screw through the
nearest lever that passes through a larger clearance hole in the far
lever and ends up with a spring and a nut. This holds the two levers
together. At the far side of these levers is a spring applying a
force to rotate them clockwise. However, in the nearest lever, there is a hole and through this
hole is passed the end of a screw that centers the two levers in the
neutral position between the dot and dash contacts without touching
either. This is the secret of the paddle’s design. As the round knob
is pressed to the left, the far lever remains stopped against the
end of this screw but the right lever moves clockwise and makes the
dash contact. However, if the paddle is pressed to the right, both
levers rotate counterclockwise at their hinge arbor and the dot
contact is made. As will be seen later, this design trick allowed
me to design and build vertical speed keys shorter than any ever
No information for the making of this paddle
is available. It is shown only for its interest value.
THE MINIKEY TELEGRAPH SPEED KEY
Designed and built by W. R. Smith in 2006
One day, Tom Perera showed an e-mail picture of an Ultimate 73 key made
by the Los Angeles Transmitter Company many years ago. According to his picture
of the key by a ruler, it measured 2-1/2” long. I thought it would be fun to see if I could build a working speed key smaller than that.
So I set about the task.
I always strive to avoid copying the work of others. However, any short, right angle speed
key that has the pendulum vibrating on a mainspring forces the paddle to be at the left and
end of the base. Thus, I had to place it there. The resulting key is shown at left.
It has silver contacts, all of the adjustments found on a normal speed key and
functions well on the ham bands. The speed range is from about 15 to 35 WPM.
The binding posts for attaching a cable for keying the transmitter are the
two posts in the upper right hand corner. The key has three rubber feet and
all metal parts are nickel plated. To save space, I designed the posts so
they grip the screws to retain their setting and avoid the need for thumbnuts.
The mainspring is held in place by 0 – 80 pan head screws and nuts.
The picture of the key beside a ruler shows that I have managed to beat the size
of the Ultimate 73 key length of 2-1/2” by a considerable amount.
The two pictures shown are of the key as first made. However, I soon discovered
that it was very difficult to hold it still without interfering with the function
of some of the parts while sending. There is almost no place to grasp it. To
solve the problem, I machined an ornate post and a finger pad, plated them and
installed them as shown in the next picture. In use, one
places a finger on the pad and presses down to lock the
little key to the table top. Reflections in the highly
polished, nickel plated surfaces make it difficult to
see some of the parts. Note the signet paddle with the “S” for Smith.
The picture at right was made before the finger pad was installed. I enjoyed making the
key very much and it has become an interesting conversation piece.
I managed to find a finger ring box in which it would
just fit. This makes it easy to carry in the pocket. I also quite often give viewers
a set of 4” x 6” photographs of the key so they can prove to others that they are not
fibbing about what they have seen. As might be expected, there has been considerable
interest in the key among hams. However, I have been quite surprised
at the interest shown by the general public. Here is the little key in its ring case.
THE NANOKEY TELEGRAPH SPEED KEY
Designed and built by W. R. Smith in 2006
Having just completed the Minikey, I decided to build a
small straight hand key. I had seen a number of small ones from the past and realized
that to be of any interest, the key would need to be quite small by comparison. I made
a base that had a length approximately ˝ the diameter of a penny and set about making
the remainder of the key to fit that base. It is shown on a penny in the figure at left.
As you can see, the base needs to be pushed back to have its end over the edge of the
penny. It would then look to be ˝ penny in length.
I then began work on the lever portion. A pattern was roughed
out and soldered to a piece of steel. Metal was then removed to
the edge of the pattern. The pattern was finally removed and the
remainder of the work was done on the lever. A spring and a
silver contact were added to the base and it, along with two
binding posts, was mounted on a black plastic base. A silver
contact was added to the lever and a knob was made and
installed. The key at this point appeared as shown above, right.
Rope knurled screws and rope knurled thumbnuts were made
for locations where various adjustments had to be made. The little key was assembled
and adjusted for a good feel. It was then put on the air and given a shake-down run to
be sure it functioned properly. It performed well and a number of e-mail pictures of
it were sent to friends.
Again, I went to my favorite jewelry store and was able to locate a very small ring
case into which to carry it. Like the Minikey, this allows it to be carried in the
pocket. I usually offer it with a large magnifying glass so the viewer can see the
details of the key.
Much interest has been shown by the ham fraternity, and an amazing amount of interest
has been shown by ordinary people who know little of nothing about CW and telegraph
keys. Even more often than with the Minikey, I offer photographs of this key so the
viewers will not be held in question when they mention what they have seen.
THE RIGHT-ANGLE MAGNETIC TELEGRAPH SPEED KEY
Designed and built by W. R. Smith,
W4PAL, in 2006
Since I first
owned an Australian right angle speed key, while serving as a
radio operator on C-47s in the Pacific during WW II, I have
always been interested in them. Having just completed making my
fifth unusual speed key, I thought it time to try my hand at a
right angle version but using rare earth magnets to make it unusual.
After considerable puzzling, I finally came up with a design
that I liked and started work on the key. Here is the result of
Like all of my keys, it has a signet paddle with an “S” for
Smith. The pendulum is composed of a square, thin wall tube brazed
to a cylindrical weight rod. Because there is no mainspring in the
pendulum it can’t bend. Thus, the damper had to be hinged so it
could be swung out of the way for weight changes. The dashes are
made with fixed silver contacts on the dash paddle and dash post;
however, the dots are made by a rare earth magnet passing over a
reed switch contained in a small brass tube.
Since the pendulum is rigid, the key has no mainspring. Thus, the
vibrations are created by rare earth magnets. There is one on each
side of the pendulum. Facing each of these is a magnet in the head
of a thumbscrew. All magnets are oriented to repel each other. A
spring pressing against the end of the dot paddle rotates the
pendulum clockwise against the force of the magnet pair on that side
of the pendulum. When the dot lever is pressed, an arm that has been
holding the pendulum against the opposing field of the magnet is
moved out of the way. This frees the pendulum. It is forced away
from the magnet it has been nearest and rotates counterclockwise
into the field of the other magnet. This repels it and sends it back
toward the first magnet. In this manner, the pendulum is set into
vibration. It continues to vibrate until the dot paddle is released:
the bias spring forces the pendulum clockwise toward the first
magnet and the damper.
The key has a range of from 15 to about 40 WPM and has functioned
well in bench tests and on the ham bands. I built it to add to my
telegraph key collection and am very pleased with it.
THE VERTIREED TELEGRAPH SPEED KEY
Designed and built by W. R. Smith,
W4PAL, in 2006
Having completed the designs and building
of the Monovert, Duovert and Magnevert vertical speed keys, I decided to build a key
that would be identical to the Monovert but would make the dots magnetically instead of
with the conventional dot spring and a dot contact post. Thus, I set to work on it.
Here is the result of my effort.
On the weight rod, there is a collet and on the bottom of it is mounted a rare earth
magnet. Directly beneath the magnet is a brass tube containing a small reed switch.
As the pendulum vibrates, the magnet passing over the reed switch closes it and makes
The key is the same height as the Monovert and all other mechanisms are the same except
for the dot making portion. However, this has resulted in a rather unexpected result.
Because of the removal of friction and other mechanical losses associated with the
conventional dot spring system, this key has repeatedly shown an ability to make over
100 consecutive dots before giving up. Of course, that many dots are never needed but
it is interesting to have a key capable of producing them.
The key has a signet paddle with an "S" for Smith. It is heavy enough that it does not
need to be held down while sending. All of the parts are made of brass and nickel
plated except for the steel arbor, the bearing screws and terminal post screws.
While making the key, I did color photographs of each step of the
fabrication and wrote a description of what was being done. These
were sent daily to my CW friend, Shelby (Coach) Rye, AD4WQ in Dixon,
TN. When completed, the second key was presented to him as a gift.
He has used it on the ham bands for over a year now and considers it the most favorite
speed key among his collection of keys. I am pleased to have been able to do this because
Coach was the one who encouraged me to start building speed keys again after a silence of
about 70 years.
To adjust the dot portion of the key, the pendulum needs to be moved to the dot making
position and barely vibrating. While in this condition, loosen the thumbscrew securing the
tube containing the reed switch and slide it until the key is making good dots. Lock the
The key has a speed range of about 15 to 40 WPM. However quite a few people have been
astounded to hear a mechanical speed key make an unheard of number of dots. Aside from
that, it is a very smooth operating speed key and a pleasure to use.
Like all of my vertical speed keys, it owes its short stature to my design trick of
stopping the dot bar with a screw through a hole in the dash paddle. This allows the
dash paddle to be rotated above the arbor instead of below it, as is the position in
most speed keys. This was discussed in the description of the paddle for triggering
electronic keyers that I designed over 60 years ago.
Here is a back view of the speed key. I puzzled for a very long time as to what the black
area on the picture represented. Here is the answer. The vertical portion of the key is
set forward of the back surface of the base on two nickel plated cylinders. A portion
of each of these is seen. Then, there is a reflection of a portion of the main frame
(arch) shown as two brass squares, finally, there is the reflection that contains a
portion of the red contact strip. Very puzzling!
THE MONOVERT TELEGRAPH SPEED KEY
Designed and built by W. R. Smith in 2005
At the age of ten, I built a speed key for my ham friend from
information in a magazine article. It was quite simple, used a spring from my mother’s
discarded corset and was built on a wooden board. At the age of twelve, I built one for
myself--a modern type speed key and made of metal. Almost 60 years ago, while attending
the University of Tennessee, I built the electronic keyer paddle shown in this site.
Thus I have a longstanding interest in telegraph keys.
After returning to ham radio following a sixteen year silence, I
again became interested in telegraph speed keys and used my
clockmaking skills to restore several for my friends and for my own
collection. I then decided to build another key but I wanted it to
be very unusual.
Because it had been about eighty years since the last vertical speed
key was produced, I decided to do a vertical one but unlike any that
had ever been built before. By using the design trick that was used
when making the keyer paddle at UT, I was able to fold the paddle
and knob of the new design above the point of rotation and make one
that stood shorter than any key using a conventional pendulum
The sketch at left shows the workings of the new key. Its base is of
3/16” nickel plated brass and its foot is formed from a 1” thick
sheet of brass and is also nickel plated. As can be seen, the dash
bar is hinged to the dot bar at the arbor, and the arbor is
supported by bearings in the bridge and the base. The dot and dash
bars are held together with a spring and a thumbnut. A second spring
against the dot bar rotates the total pendulum assembly
counterclockwise against the dot bar position screw. The unique
design allows the position screw to pass through a hole in the dash
bar to reach the dot bar.
The pendulum assembly is shown in the rest position. As the dash knob is moved to the left,
the dash bar rotates counterclockwise at its hinge and contact is made when it strikes
the dash contact. Code dashes are thus made individually by hand.
When the dot paddle is pressed to the right, the entire pendulum
assembly rotates at its arbor and the dot bar finally strikes the
dot bar stop screw. Motion of the weight on the pendulum rod bends
the mainspring and causes the pendulum to go into vibration. The
contact on the end of the “U” shaped dot spring makes contact with
the dot contact and is capable of making about fifteen dots.
However, never more than five dots are ever required in code.
The key stands seven inches tall, weighs 3-1/2 pounds, has a speed range of 15
to 40 words per minute and has performed flawlessly during several months
of one-the-air test.
This key and my Duovert key are described in my book,
How to Restore Telegraph Keys,
listed in this Web site.
THE DUOVERT FULLY AUTOMATIC SPEED KEY
The world’s first fully automatic mechanical speed key
Designed and built by BY W. R. Smith in 2006
My design of the Monovert key created so much interest
in the CW world that I decided to build another key. This time it would be something
that had never been seen in the telegraph world—a mechanical, vertical, fully automatic
In the past, there had been several automatic, mechanical keys made but none were
vertical and all were extremely complex with multiple arbors and difficult speed
adjustments. I envisioned one with only a single arbor and simplicity of speed
A sketch was made and work started on the key. The dot portion worked very well
but the automatic dash portion with a “U” type dash spring did not produce
an adequate number of dashes and the dash to space ratio could not
be made correct. The “U” was abandoned and a reed switch and a rare
earth magnet were incorporated instead. This solved the dash problem
and the key would then make 50 dashes before the stored energy was
The sketch below shows details of the mechanism. The key is composed of two
pendulum type vibrators, one for the dots and one for the dashes. The two
pendulums are hinged together and have a common arbor that is
supported by bearing screws in the bridge and the base plate. The
dot pendulum is quite conventional and has the standard “U” spring
for making contact for the dots.
The dash pendulum is also quite conventional, except that
instead of the “U” spring for making contact for the dashes, it uses a magnet to trigger
Directly beneath the collet on the dash weight rod is mounted a round, rare earth
magnet. In a fan-tail holder is a brass tube in which is mounted a reed switch.
This arrangement avoids much of the energy losses in the pendulum and allows it to
make far more dashes than if a “U” spring had been used. Also, by adjustment of
the fan-tail reed switch mount, the dash to space length ratio can be brought to
To change the speed, the weight on the dot pendulum is moved to a location that
produces the desired dot frequency. The dash weight is then moved to a position
that produces dashes that are of correct length relative to the chosen dots.
There is a separator screw that allows positioning of each weight rod against its
leather pad in the damper. My design trick of the dot bar stop screw passing
through the dash bar allows the paddle and knob to be folded above the arbor and
shorten the height of the key. Its speed range is about 15 to 35 WPM and it has
performed well in on-the-air tests. This key and my Monovert key are described
in my book, How to Restore Telegraph Keys,
listed in this Web site.
THE MAGNEVERT TELEGRAPH SPEED KEY
Designed and built by W. R. Smith in 2006
After having built the Monovert and Duovert
speed keys, I became interested in another approach to speed key
design—the use of rare earth magnets to make the pendulum oscillate.
The idea was simple but it was months before I was convinced that I
had found a satisfactory way to start and stop the pendulum motion.
The design details are sketched below. Unlike a conventional speed key, the pendulum has
no mainspring. To lessen its mass, its square portion is made of thin wall tubing. One end
terminates in a weight rod and the other end in ball bearings.
The dash bar and dot bar are hinged and have a common arbor at the lowest portion of
the key. To shorten the key, the dot bar stop screw is allowed to reach it through a
hole in the dash bar. When the dash knob is pressed, the dash bar rotates CCW on
its hinge and dashes can be made. When the dot paddle is pressed, both dash and dot bars
rotate CW on a common arbor. A dot spring pushes the dash and dot bars CCW. At the end
of the dot bar is a “U” shaped yoke that goes down and under the pendulum and rises on the
far side. This U presses on and rotates the pendulum CCW against its stop.
Bonded on each side of the pendulum is a rare earth magnet. Opposite each of these is
a magnet in the head of a thumbscrew mounted in a post. These magnets are all oriented
to repel each other. When the dot paddle is pressed to the right, the U yoke, that has
held the pendulum against its stop, releases it. Since it has been held away
from its neutral
and against an opposing magnetic force, it rotates rapidly CW. However, the magnets
on that side stop it and it rebounds toward the force of the original magnet pair.
In this manner, it oscillates without the need of a mainspring.
A magnet is mounted on the bottom of the pendulum. Beneath this in a brass tube
is a reed switch. As the pendulum oscillates, the magnet passing over the
switch triggers it and makes dots—about fifty of them. When the paddle is
released, the U of the dash bar returns the pendulum against its stop. The
damper can be swung away to allow weight replacement.
The key can
also be configured for use as a paddle for keying an electronic
keyer. To do this, the stop in the upper right hand corner is
released, moved over, and locked against the weight rod to restrain
the pendulum. The post, which has previously been used to stop the U
yoke of the dot bar, now serves as a dot contact. When the dot
paddle is pressed the contact on the U yoke makes with the contact
on the dot bar stop screw and causes the electronic keyer to make
dots. When the dash knob is pressed, contact is made to cause the
electronic keyer to make dashes. The key has operated well in use
and has a speed range of about 15 to 35 WPM. Construction techniques
for it are given in my book, How to Restore
Telegraph Keys, listed in this Web site.
MY SMALL COLLECTION OF TELEGRAPH SPEED KEYS
Restored by W. R. Smith
After becoming interested in speed keys a couple of years ago, I
began restoring some for friends and collecting a few of my own.
Most of those shown above in my collection have been completely
restored from true “basket” cases to those only needing cleaning and
Almost all of the keys are of a collectable variety and several of
them are quite rare. The three vertical keys at the back of the
picture are keys that I have designed and built during the past
couple of years. They are described here in the Web site and details
of their construction are given in my book,
How to Restore Telegraph Keys.
I have a double lever Vibroplex, not shown, that I am presently
restoring. It is a right handed key that someone had inverted the
base and put all of the hardware on the opposite side in order to
make it a left handed key. I will re-japan the base, pin stripe it
and upgrade all of the hardware.
TELEGRAPH KEYS RESTORED BY W.R. SMITH - W4PAL
THE REFINISHED PARTS OF A VIBROPLEX DOUBLE LEVER,
LEFT HAND SPEED KEY READY FOR ASSEMBLY
THE VIBROPLEX, DOUBLE LEVER, LEFT HAND, SPEED KEY
FULLY RESTORED BY W. R. SMITH, W4PAL
ANOTHER VIEW OF THE VIBROPLEX, DOUBLE LEVER, LEFT HAND, SPEED KEY
RESTORED BY W. R. SMITH, W4PAL
A BASKET CASE VIBROPLEX ORIGINAL
THE VIBROPLEX ORIGINAL AFTER BEING RESTORED
A SECOND BASKET CASE VIBROPLEX ORIGINAL
THE SECOND VIBROPLEX ORIGINAL AFTER BEING RESTORED
A BASKET CASE VIBROPLEX MODEL-X
THE VIBROPLEX MODEL-X AFTER BEING RESTORED
A BASKET CASE VIBROPLEX DOUBLE LEVER:
( Note: This is all that I had to work with. )
THE MISSING DASH LEVER ASSEMBLY WAS MADE
BY HAND FROM RAW MATERIALS FOR THE BASKET CASE
VIBROPLEX DOUBLE LEVER RESTORATION
THE MISSING DASH LEVER AND THE MISSING PENDULUM ASSEMBLY
WHICH WERE MADE BY HAND FROM RAW MATERIALS HAVE BEEN INSTALLED
ON THE FRAME OF THE BASKET CASE VIBROPLEX DOUBLE LEVER RESTORATION
THE VIBROPLEX DOUBLE LEVER BUG AFTER RESTORATION
(Many of the techniques used in this restoration are described
and explained in my new book.)
ANOTHER VIEW OF THE VIBROPLEX DOUBLE LEVER BUG AFTER RESTORATION
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