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Author Topic: Keys made of brass  (Read 687 times)
WC1I
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« on: July 12, 2009, 02:51:48 PM »

I'd like to solicit any thoughts on key materials - particularly brass.  I understand the attraction of the material from a maker's point of view - it's relatively inexpensive and very easy to machine.  To me, however, the attraction ends there.  I've always regarded it as a lesser-quality material, and, unless chromed, doesn't strike me as the most maintainable material for a key.  

What are your thoughts on key materials?
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K7PEH
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« Reply #1 on: July 12, 2009, 03:18:08 PM »

Actually, I never once gave it a thought (that is, on what a key is made from).  I don't even know what my own keys are made from.  They are yellow but that does not necessarily suggest brass (they are both Begali keys).

But, I will probably never make my own key.  I did that once, back in the electronics club when I was in the 7th grade.  We used a piece of metal and I have no idea what it was (maybe some sheet steel), a wooden base and two nails pounded in one end that were the terminal ties for wiring the key up to a sounder (which we also make in this club) and a nail to provide the closed path on the key.
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WC1I
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« Reply #2 on: July 12, 2009, 03:32:22 PM »

I wasn't thinking of making a key, though if I had the equipment I might take a crack at it.  I was thinking more about maintenance of the finish.  I've rarely seen anti-corrosion finishes on brass hold up, and once you have a corrosion spot, you need to strip the item and re-polish, then re-coat.  That's difficult enough on, say, a lamp base.  But a key?
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WB5JEO
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« Reply #3 on: July 12, 2009, 06:34:03 PM »

I think a lot of it is tradition. Makers wishing their keys to have a traditional look are drawn to brass for the look, aside from the ease of machining and the fact that, while without a coating, it corrodes, it doesn't rust. Makers whose designs owe nothing to the past often use other metals and cast or stamp their parts.

Of course, brass has another trait that some do care about. Like much-handled wood, over the years of use, it takes on an individual patina. That's one of those things that either matters to you or it doesn't.
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WC1I
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« Reply #4 on: July 13, 2009, 05:03:02 AM »

I do like patina, but to get it you have to have an uncoated surface, which risks corrosion as much as encourages patina.  One way to offer some protection is to wipe with an oil rag (barest amount of oil, of course).  It's hard to wipe down complex parts, however.
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N0EQ
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« Reply #5 on: July 13, 2009, 05:46:31 AM »

WC1I wrote:
"I do like patina, but to get it you have to have an uncoated surface, which risks corrosion as much as encourages patina."

You seem very concerned about "corrosion". There are brass plumbing fixtures that have existed, unprotected, out of doors, for decades, without any kind of failure. Surely those are in a much more harsh environment than any key would be.

If you're not fond of, or worried about, the finish that brass develops, it seems that choosing something other than brass would be the logical choice for you. Chrome, nickel, gold, stainless etc would not have the "problem of corrosion risk" that you are concerned about.

Craig 'Lumpy' Lemke

www.n0eq.com
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WC1I
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« Reply #6 on: July 13, 2009, 06:27:20 PM »

I do have some concern, mostly because of commemorative articles over the years that developed spots under the protective lacquer.  The question was more musing, though, simply because SO many keys are made of brass.

As far as purchasing a key, I'd take stainless, chrome or nickel-finished, bronze, anodized aluminum, or painted cast iron over brass.  

I'm not looking for advice.  Rather, I'm interested in other hams' views of key materials.  Do you LIKE brass?  Do you look to other materials first?
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AD7WN
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« Reply #7 on: July 13, 2009, 06:58:21 PM »

Personally, I look for silver in the key contacts.  It can be burnished with a small strip of steel from time to time.  It doesn't need any other maintenance.
The key arm can be made of pot metal for all I care, as long as it won't bend or break under use.

73 de John/AD7WN
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W7ETA
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« Reply #8 on: July 13, 2009, 08:13:18 PM »

If I have to polish a key, bug, or paddles, I prefer polishing chrome.

By the time chrome on any CW stuff I have pits, I'll be loooooooooooooong gone.

Stainless is nice.

The best condition old key I have is WWII that I picked up at a hamfest.  I was covered in many places with the red and blue goop.  Turns out the thick goop was wax.  When I removed it, all of the old chrome was perfect, so was the bakelite.

73
Bob
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N0EQ
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« Reply #9 on: July 14, 2009, 09:00:57 AM »

WC1I wrote:
"I'm not looking for advice. Rather, I'm interested in other hams' views of key materials. Do you LIKE brass? Do you look to other materials first? "

In that case, my answer is - I like brass. I like the patina it develops. I even like the "appaloosa" kind of patina that lacquered brass develops on things like brass wind instruments when some of the lacquer wears away and exposes the bare metal beneath.


Craig 'Lumpy' Lemke

www.n0eq.com
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AB9NZ
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« Reply #10 on: July 14, 2009, 11:34:56 AM »

A material I really don't care for on anything is anodized aluminum. It never builds a patina, it just gets crappy looking. Just one day in your pocket, and that new l.e.d. flashlight looks like hell.The best you can do is touch it up with a Sharpy. I once did that to an aluminum framed gun that I pawned.
To my eye, nickel plating has a timeless, old time, kind of beauty, much classier than chrome.
Take good care guys, de Tom AB9NZ
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WB5AGF
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« Reply #11 on: August 22, 2009, 02:22:19 PM »

I've been thinking about this question (brass, without any kind of a coating) recently myself.

I'm getting the itch to buy a key from either VK2DLF or K4VIZ. I'm not sure about VK2DLF's keys (I need to drop him an e-mail and ask) but K4VIZ's keys appear to be strictly brass (I believe that there's a YouTube video that makes reference to a V4VIZ key taking on a patina).

When you think of modern Vibroplex keys one of the first things that comes to mind is that they have a shimmering chrome plating.

I wondered what it would take to put a chrome coat on a K4VIZ key? When I began to look into what is required to deposit chrome on a base material it began to look like a real chore. Even if the deposition process could be mastered then what has to be done to properly dispose of the plating solution ? (problems, problems).

For right now I'm telling myself that 'brass is good enough'.

- Paul, WB5AGF
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