PA3CLQ's Leuke Linken Nr. 405

"Discussion in the SKCC Group about Favorite Key"


Favorite Key

With the every present danger that this will degenerate into a "Chevy versus Ford" truck discussion, I'd like to start a discussion and analysis of keys.

It seems <grin> that people on this group spend more time talking about telegraph keys than actually using them.

    For starters, I'd like to exclude bugs, paddles, and "Cootie" keys, and limit our inquiry to "straight" keys.

Some we love, and some we hate, and all of us have more than one key, right?

Some have MANY.

One would think that the only parameters to set are contact spacing and tension.

But, why do some keys "feel" better than others?

    I suffer from being an Engineer (EE) in a previous life, and the last statics/dynamics course I had was as a sophomore in about 1957-58 (one semester of each, taught by an incomprehensible Dutchman in the Civil Engineering Department).

    I have a few keys in my collection, to wit:

Whiterook mini-key -- basically a micro switch and lever made out of stiff plastic.

Nice for REALLY light QRP field operations, but "feel" is terrible, and no adjustments.

    WW2 surplus J-38 - bought in 1954 for $1.00.

Classic design.

In some sense, a little "light."

Very subjective factor.

    American Morse Equipment KK-1 "straight" key -- beautiful machine work.

Lever seems a bit "short."

    Bunnell Navy "flameproof" key.

Navy style knob (which I like), and very different feel than the J-38.

Most of the mass is between the pivot and the knob, and the distance between the pivot and the knob is about twice the distance between the knob on the AME key.

    The early "spark" keys (Titanic, for example) have quite heavy levers, and are quite large.

    The only thing I can conclude is that we are dealing not only with a spring-mass system (return spring, lever), but with a rotating mass -- think "balance wheel" in a mechanical watch. The design of the "camel back" or "Swedish pump" keys come to mind, where the mass is concentrated around the pivot point, versus being distributed along the lever.

Pivot at the back is not going to change the mathematics of the matter.

Torsion spring designs just move the spring back to the pivot.

    The "cheese block" keys made from a piece of spring are going to have very little mass.

I've not used one since I was a kid and had a "toy" telegraph set.

What is the wisdom of the group on the matter?

73 /paul W3FIS


I use all my keys on HF.

What's the point of owning em if you don't use em HI HI.

Last SKSE I used a fabulous little WW2 spy set key - great fun !

John Snell / GØRDO


I wonder how many think "you get what you pay for"?
We all know some keys (many) are wicked many cases, more than the radio they are plugged into!!! ...for a switch!
But you can also pick one up for a buck at the next hamfest...It will say "CQ" also!
Dave Edwards KD2E


I suspect the key parameters (comfort, solidity, accuracy, speed, etc) will be satisfied differently for individual hams, based on things like operating height, position of address, grip, keying pressure, and physical differences among us.

For me, the ranking in my personal collection:

1. Czech Army key... Perhaps it's because mine was NIB.. it's very solidly built and sure footed.

I had to add some nonskid stuff for it to sit upon, but otherwise is my favorite key.

My acid test is speed sending the dit characters: "eish5 5hsie eish5 etc... but the Czech key has a quick rebound that makes a string of 5's easy.

2. Navy Flameproof. I like to slam the key down a bit, and this one is forgiving.

I also operate in the basement, near a natural gas fireplace ;-)

3. J-38. I own three of these, and love each one.

The one with the most serious dings is my favorite... It has the Signal Corps stamp, so I fantasize it was actually used in earnest.

4. J-37. So similar to the J-38s, there's really not much of a distinction. A little lighter weight.

5. Ameco J-38 style.

Lighter weight still.

6. Various homebrew keys.

Hacksaw blades, doorsprings, binder clips.

I've always had fun with the simplicity of a straight key, but never rivalled the feel of a real piece of engineering.

72/73 Randy NC4RT


Hi to all,

I love and use only my Mae West J-37 key I once buy when I was 12 years old (now IТm 58) It works fine, I like to fingertalk a lot so in does not have to be a speedracer.

It is a simple gear maintains well and with a yearly cleaning he is happy.

(And yes I only do CW on the HF bands)

IMHO I can very well understand that handmade keyТs demand a lot of work but more than 200$ for a key is a lot of money.

Perhaps when IТm retired (Yes in Belgium we have to work tell the age of 65)

IТll make a throw to make my own key but till then I can only hope my oldie will continue working as he does now.

73 de ON7AMI Jean Paul Mertens


Hello all

Relating to keys, a couple favorites - note all these are surplus keys I have picked up over the years:

Czech Army Key - that one has been discussed plenty

Navy Flame Proof - also on this one - both of these keys have a nice sending action

    Pryce Edwards (NATO) key - I call this the brick key as it is pretty much a brick - this key has a fantastic keying action and due to its weight, doesnt move around the desk.

Due to its size, I have to have it parallel to the desk front and I have to sit perpendicular to the desk/radio - I have read this is a variation of the Swedish pump key style.

    Marconi 365 EZ - this is a sturdy, stocky key that has bearings for the key pivots - it has a very nice keying action

Great Northern Telegraph (Denmark) - Im working on a base for this key - I think I will have to send European style with this one - so the verdict is still out for operating but it has a nice keying feel.

    Finally - a Soviet Army heavy duty key - hammertone cover, large, vertical box - Navy style knob - I am always impressed with the Comm Bloc keys - utilitarian, inexpensive, kinda ugly but boy that key has a great keying action - I could wear snow mobile mitts and key this thing.

    BTW I found that some old crystal sockets have the exact spacing for the Comm Bloc and also German Baumuster/Maus key type plugs
Anyway, my $.02....73, Mike AA9IL


I've used the following keys:

1. Speed X rectangular base. Too low.

2. Ukrainian key. High enough. Didn't like the feel.

3. Czech Army key. Very smooth but too low.

4. Lennart Pettersson Swedish Pump. Just right. My favorite straight key. This is the only one of the four I kept.

73, Joel - W4JBB


Mostly personal preference.

I read so many things about how well different keys feel.

Several ops prefer the J37 or J38 key but I don't particularly like them.

Can't get the tension to the right feel.

Cheap and very good for feel and tension is the Czech key.

I have used one on and off mostly in the field.

My favorite is the Schurr Mahogany straight key.

I have had ops tell me the dits sounded like a bug.

Hard to find as they have not been made for many years.

Also very pricey.

They retailed for $300.

If your not satisfied with your current straight keys, I would try some others, especially the Czech key.

It has a soft touch to it.

Also at issue is how you hold the key.

Only you can figure out what is right for you.

Steve, K2DEP 9273S


Hi Gang,

Good subject; everybody has an opinion.

I have many keys and I prefer a straight key, although I also have several bugs and use them if higher speeds are necessary.

My favorite is the Begali Blade.

It is silky smooth and a thing of beauty.

2nd place goes to the new LNR SKCC key. very nice action, easy adjustments, visually appealing, but a bit lightweight.

3rd spot goes to the Navy Flame proof.

Very quiet, nice action, and holds adjustments forever.

Also lightweight and not very pretty.

When I am camping, I use a Nye Master key, as it is dead quiet and has a fair action.

Quiet is important because the XYL wants to sleep while I'm DXing in the early AM.

The Pacific Rim is hot in the wee hours.

73, Al, W6SQQ


I am too new to have a key collection.

I own one key.

It is a J-38. It is my favorite.


I like the Nye Viking hand key.

Nicely weighted and feels good.

"Too many projects - Not enough time!"

"Retirement = Every day is a Saturday except Sunday"

Gary H. Harmon, Jr. - K5JWK - HAM Radio Archaeologist


A couple of other considerations are

1. height of knob above desktop -- this has a lot to do with comfort when sending

2. smoothness of pivot/bearing action

My primary straight key (which I use for all operation below 18 wpm) is a Kent with a heavy metal base.

I have a J-38 attached to my TenTec 4020 qrp rig.

It isn't as comfortable as the Kent but works very well.

Andy, K2OO


I will second Al's preference for his Begali key, only mine is a Spark.

I am a bit heavy fisted and this hand key is perfect for me.

It replaced a Kent model that was really good too, but I had to choose between them.
My second favorite is a Nye Master Key that I use with my tube (Drake/Heathkit-Hallicrafters) station.

I did use a Navy Flameproof for a while but found it too springy.

73 ..mike AI6II



Paul et al :

I tend to think that Morse keys are a bit like underwear .... one size doesn't fit all and the comfort of fit is really a matter of personal preference.

    That being said, I have a few dozen straight keys and I do personally prefer the European-style of sending with the elbow off of the table.

That means that I gravitate towards liking keys that have a knob that is reasonably high off the the table as that facilitates this style of sending.

    I would have to say that the best feel overall (IMHO) comes from Swedish-style hand keys that use a leaf spring and a long lever arm (i.e. like the coveted Amplidan).

I have a Swedish Military straight key from the cold war era that I love, It is my favourite key.

The style is very much like the Lennart Petterson hand keys.

I also have a Hi-Mound HK-706 which is a Japanese take on the Swedish design and it is also an excellent key.

I think that next in line I would place German keys such as the Junker.

I think the quality of design and manufacturing (i.e. German Engineering) is really noticeable in the feel of these keys.

    The other thing I have noticed, that I rarely see commented on is the shape of the key knob.

I personally prefer a convex knob versus a concave one.

This is again a matter of personal preference, but I find that a concave knob somehow doesn't quite feel right.

A flat knob like what you find on the J-38 is ok, but I prefer a rounded convex knob.

It is not so much the size of the knob as the shape.

    Another consideration is the key base, if present.

The Junkers have a solid steel plate that makes it unnecessary to attach them to anything else; they don't move and they have a very nice crisp solid feel.

The Kent hand keys are really quite nice and solid and well made (if you a like a large key) but the model I have is on the wooden base which is somewhat hollow and it makes a heck of a loud clack when sending, so much so that I stopped using mine at our cottage where my station is in our family room as the clacking was too distracting for family members trying to read while I operated with headphones on.

If not for the cost of shipping from the UK I would upgrade it to use the metal base that is available.

I think that would solve the clacking issue.

    Lots of things to think about, but it is very hard to quantify what makes one key "feel" better than another, and as I stated earlier, like underwear, the choice is very personal ;-)

Cheers Michael VE3WMB


I find three factors in the feel of the keys I have.

1. Spring return strength, some are too weak to give a wide range of settings.

So stronger is better for me because I can always lighten it up.

2. Type of Knob-I prefer the Navy Knob to give me better control and more comfort for longer operating periods.

3. Contact-Meaning the lower contact attached to the base.

One of mine the lower contact is mounted so it flexes.

That makes it feel like I'm pushing down into a sponge.

I prefer a solid non-flexible base contact.

    That's my 2 cents worth.

I have 3 straight keys and 4 bugs plugged into my rig at all times so I can switch between them.

All is good.

Jim Bassett, 


My two favorite keys to this day is the Kent straight key and Czech Military key.


Since this is being discussed on multiple reflectors I'll just re post here what I posted on the 4 States reflector:

Hi Wayne/Paul,

Eliminating Bugs and Sideswipers this is what's active on my desk at all times and are my favorites in order.

Pump keys:

Marconi AS300A (Only three known. John G0RDO has the other two)

Marconi PS213 and 213A (Very similar to the AS300A)

NT9K Pro Pump ( By LnR Precision)

Amplidan Key

Bunnell Navy Flameproof (CJB) (This is the smallest and most compact pump key I know of. I much prefer the pump style keys over standard front contact keys.)

SKCC Club Key
The Begalli's are too soft for my taste, but fine keys.

I much prefer the pump style key since it makes contact on the up swing with the contacts being behind the fulcrum.

Tension is provided by a spring behind the fulcrum "pulling" the lever arm back "down" to rest rather than the standard front contact keys that use a coil spring in front of the fulcrum to "push" the lever arm "up" to rest.

I also use the European style of sending.

For standard front contact keys I find it hard to beat the Junker or Kent key.

I much prefer the J-37 over the J-38 since the 37 uses a leaf spring instead of a coil spring.

Gives a much smoother and tactile feel.

For front contact keys the Hi-Mound's are hard to beat also.

If you are only sending short exchanges or chats most any key will work.

Which ever one you fell good and confident with.

If you are sending long ragchews, roundtable QSO's or hours of sending, the pump style and heavy professional keys mentioned in the beginning of this email will allow hours of effortless sending at very respectable speeds in the 18-22 wpm range with little fatigue.

The absolute worst key I've ever laid fist on is the "Bathtub Key".

While it was a welcome addition to my collection it is a horrible sender.

When we get to "bugs" I may chime in again.....heh heh.

I have all but one of everything Vibroplex made from 1948 to 1976. (missing the Vibroplex Midget)

Favorite vibroplex is the Martin Jr. Five McElroys, Lionel's, Speed-X and a host of others.

My most favorite bug is the RCAF bug by Wilson.

It is made to operate left handed or right handed simply by flipping it over.

It is the smoothest bug I've ever laid fist to.

73 for now, Randy_KB4QQJ


Hi all,

I have two Bugs and my NT9K Pro Pump hot all the time.

I have a mini Straight Key that my brother made for me but it sits on the shelf, it is a very nice key but I just donТt use it.

Kelsey KK6AW


" For standard front contact keys I find it hard to beat the Junker or Kent key "
Yep I love the sound it makes when you use it, but not at night when everyone is sleeping.


+1 on the Kent key.

I've never used a Junker but the Kent is my all time favorite straight key.

73, John W7SAG


Using a Kent as straight key, a single lever by Kent, wired as cootie and a Begali Simplex Mono, even wired as a cootie.

Each key has his duty: the Begali is my main key, the Kent (cootie) is for operations on holidays and the Kent straight key for demonstration purposes and when using my tube transmitter ;-)
73 Tom DF5JL


Good evening everyone.
Personally I am not very easy with the right keys.

My arm is paralyzed in two minutes when I send a message with.

I prefer the bugs and I have a preference for my VIBROMORS.

The only French bug manufactured by "Radio Moon" in Paris in the 50s.
It is very difficult to adjust when we do not know how.

I added a little weight on the pendulum to slow Morse keying speed (Initial speed was too fast for me).

I found it on square counterweight.

Now it's a big pleasure to use it but It is not the quietest.

That's what said my YL. Hi
73 - F5NFB


I'm with Bob... too new to have a key collection :)

I have the MFJ economy key which I bought to use to learn cw with and it works just fine but I prefer my J-38 that I picked up at the local hamfest.

I still use both though. and I never have any moments while using that $10 MFJ key where I think "I should just throw this toy out".

It doesn't slow me down.

I'm sending 16wpm with the toy key and with the J-38 key.

    Sometimes I see threads like this or hear about keys people are using while on the air talking to them and look at those fancy $500 keys and think "wow, sexy" but I'm not ever thinking I need to drop that kind of cash on a key.... to the OP... it's not Chevy/Ford... both of those are junk... DODGE!!!!

73s & Enjoy! N4IVE - David Gale


In the middle of the night either a W1SFR TBSK or a GHD cootie because they are very silent.

During the day or whenever the sound of the key is unimportant, a Vibroplex straight key or a Vibrokeyer setup as a cootie with the dash and dot binding posts shorted.

73 Alan KC4ZA



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