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Author Topic: The Ergonomics Of A Really Good Straight Key (a discussion)  (Read 25520 times)
ZENKI
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Posts: 1421




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« Reply #15 on: October 17, 2015, 10:32:51 PM »

I like to think of the best straight keys as transparent or non transparent.  On many mechanical keys you key in anticipation of the mechanisms response.
To me the best straight keys are the ones that have neutral or transparent feel. You can send CW by being oblivious to the keys idiosyncrasies  rather than anticipating or modifying  your fist for the keys mechanism. A  straight key that i feel has a transparent action is the Himound HK702 or any of their top of the range keys. Their cheaper keys you can feel the mechanism. The same goes for the GHD key. The Amplidan and Swedish keys are precise keys that  of used daily aids in sending of accurate code. I dont consider the mechanisms on these keys to be transparent. While some like that feedback that mechanism provides I prefer not to feel the mechanism or fight it while sending.
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WB5AGF
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« Reply #16 on: July 15, 2016, 05:23:39 PM »

A month ago (early June 2016) I joined the Dallas 'MakerSpace' organization (a group formed to allow individuals to have access to group-owned equipment and facilities -  for people-who-want-to-build-stuff).

I've got-it-in-my-head that I want to build (as near as possible) a copy of the Marconi PS213A Morse Key (as were used in the British Coastal HF stations).

For some months, on-and-off, I've been having a discussion with Bill, NT9K, about what goes into the making of a good Morse straight key. We've agreed that sometimes what seem inconsequential changes to a design can have unexpected consequences.

(how the two previous paragraph dovetail together)

The original Marconi PS213A Morse keys were build using 'Ebonite' (vulcanized rubber) for their bases and it seems that 'society' has moved past the use of such mundane materials. Be-that-as-it-may I'm concerned that if I use some other material for the base what the key feels like will not be the same as with a real PS213A.

- Paul, WB5AGF
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PS7HD
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Posts: 23




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« Reply #17 on: July 16, 2016, 09:05:47 AM »

Respecting individual differences and choices,,, we can accept that PS213A Marconi key is better morse key already built of all time,, (in the second position is Amplidan) .. Information coming from professional and amateur operators ...
So  I ask: Why not appear nowadays a skilled builder who play identically to PS21A?
Not a version,,
If the past manufacturers have built ...
And they were built on several different dates, 1926, 1946, 1950 and 1983.(http://www.morsemad.com/coast.htm)
Why you can not build today?
I have an original Amplidan, Also a replica PS213A

http://www.qrz.com/db/PS7HD

73
Nathan PS7HD
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KE6EE
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Posts: 1844




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« Reply #18 on: July 16, 2016, 10:08:23 AM »

The original Marconi PS213A Morse keys were build using 'Ebonite' (vulcanized rubber) for their bases and it seems that 'society' has moved past the use of such mundane materials. Be-that-as-it-may I'm concerned that if I use some other material for the base what the key feels like will not be the same as with a real PS213A.

This seems to me confused. It is the character of the material used that is significant not the actual material itself. Whether or not Ebonite is presently available for making keys seems to me much less important than whether another material (any number of plastics) is available which has the same performance characteristics.

I have to mention that Bill NT9K has been a wonderful resource for key-builders. I had a QSO a few weeks ago with someone who had built a beautiful key with Bill's help. I have one of the limited run SKCC pump keys that Bill designed. It's a fine key with all the good things of the Amplidan or Marconi PS213A without any Ebonite.
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K7EXJ
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« Reply #19 on: July 16, 2016, 11:46:55 AM »

Reading these posts, especially from the British and other former Radio Officers, has (as a football player friend once said to the doctor who was father of his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend) "did me a lot of good".

In the mid-1970s I was a watchstander on a semi-submersible drill rig (Sedco 709) which was also self-propelled by the six thrusters the rig used for station keeping when drilling in very deep (6000 feet) water. Since the 709 was (at least then) under American registry we needed a full crew of licensed people for ocean transits between drilling locations. After a particularly grueling Atlantic crossing with a union RO and an incompetent "Captain" I decided that I could at least eliminate the catch-as-catch-can RO issues and get a 2nd Radiotelegraph license. I am not sure how we evaded the six-month "apprenticeship" for a lone Radio Officer but I was signed on as RO for every transit from then on. Although we still had a series of less-than-stellar Captains.

The 709 had a radio room but it was bare bones and not actually intended to be used as a communications center. In fact the adjoining room, with the auto alarm, was occupied by the driller and never a radio officer. I continued to sleep in my own 2-man room and the driller was instructed to come get me if the alarm went off. But the 709 had Marisat and so never, to my knowledge, ever sent a message in Morse. Just as well; I am not at all certain that the key was even usable.

After a "career" keeping drill rigs on station I signed on with a tanker outfit (Sun) and completed my six-month endorsement and sailed then on a variety of tankers run by Sun, Exxon, Chevron, and others. This was the late 70s and early 80s and even though a number of those were two-house ships built in the 1950s, they also never had Morse keys remotely resembling the long-arm keys you guys got to use. But, again, they all had Marisat so, other than monitoring 500kHz and keeping batteries full of water, most of my work was taking care of the ship's electronics. My last two-house ship, the Exxon Lexington, was a lovely ship to work and live on (other than the dash aft over the catwalk for meals in nasty weather) but was terribly short-handed; she had left the shipyard rated for a crew of 55 but we ran her with 22 people.

My XYL got to ride on the Lex with me from Long Beach through the Canal to Houston and I took her on a tour of what I called "the lost city of the Lexington". An entire deck of cabins in the after house designed to house electricians, machinists, welders, oilers, and the like... empty and dark. So I had a lot of overtime. Still, it was the best ship ever in terms of riding comfort and speed. She could do over 25kts and we sometimes had trouble keeping her below 20kts. Life in the forward house was vibration free and as silent as a sailboat with only the hiss of the water heard through an open portlight.

Still, no decent Morse key on that ship either. All commo done via Marisat with copious orders, rules and memos from the home offices (including one rule that resulted in the Exxon Valdez coming to grief on Blight reef; the Captain was required by policy to prepare and send off a loading report the moment the pilot left the ship; so the Captain had to leave the ship under the command of his 3rd mate and go below to prepare his report... the rest is history).

So apparently, despite having the golden years of railroad telegraphy (and Western Union) the USA got somehow left out of good straight keys. We did have good semi-automatic keys (bugs) but using those on tankers (which tend to roll) would have probably been a bad idea. I never, personally, saw a bug on any ship; even when I was apprenticed to a senior RO (usually in his 70s and partially - or mostly -deaf).

Maybe we just had too many J38s from the war or something. Although the ship's straight keys I encountered never seemed to me to be even that good. I have an ITT MackayMarine key liberated from a tanker headed to the breakers and have ended up buying a Czech Army key off eBay because it's not good and its pigtail lead is a PITA.

So I've learned a lot about straight keys.

And I appreciate it.


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73s de K7EXJ
Craig Smiley
WB5AGF
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Posts: 92




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« Reply #20 on: July 17, 2016, 04:41:52 AM »

It is the character of the material used that is significant not the actual material itself. Whether or not Ebonite is presently available for making keys seems to me much less important than whether another material (any number of plastics) is available which has the same performance characteristics.

The trouble is that without having a readily available supply of Ebonite to play with I don't know its salient characteristics (with regard to its use in building a Morse key).

(I confess, with some embarrassment, that I'd also like the key to look like the PS213A. The engineering side of me would prefer to think that I'm above such things as looks but there is still some of the kid in me.)


I have to mention that Bill NT9K has been a wonderful resource for key-builders.

Bill is the only guy I know who will discuss the mechanical shock propagating characteristics of some material (when a Morse key's contacts impact there is a compression wave that travels through the base towards the operator's fingers as they clasp the knob) as concerns its suitability for building a Morse key.

- Paul, WB5AGF
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KE6EE
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Posts: 1844




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« Reply #21 on: July 17, 2016, 11:10:33 AM »

The trouble is that without having a readily available supply of Ebonite to play with I don't know its salient characteristics (with regard to its use in building a Morse key).

I'd also like the key to look like the PS213A. The engineering side of me would prefer to think that I'm above such things as looks but there is still some of the kid in me.

Regarding the salient characteristics of the material for a key base: It seems to me that the feel of the key is the chief salient characteristic. That is something you can determine by constructing keys and using them. With some work you no doubt can translate the feel into material engineering specifications which seems like a lot of unnecessary work to me.

The look of well-engineered designs is an important part of design and it's hardly child's play. Really well-designed tools express their function in their appearance. This has a powerful effect on their use--it's a major aspect of their "feel." Yes, adult humans have feelings about how things look. Many high-end keys not only offer a superior tactile "feel" but they maintain their place on the operating desk and their regular use by means of their careful visual design.

I think that many different materials offer useful characteristics as key bases. For example I have a Kent straight key which came mounted on a steel plate. The key works well and its feel is crisp or hard and undamped. I prefer a damped but still sufficiently crisp feel as with my NT9K pump key. If the Kent were mounted on a wood base (which is available) the feel of the key likely would seem better to me. As it is the key is also noisy. A wood base would probably lessen the noise.

Practical engineering requires a lot of trial-and-error. There is no direct route to a perfect key.

Last, there are lots of other factors aside from the key itself which affect its feel. I put my bugs on small sticky rubber mats to keep them from moving around. If I put my Kent on such a mat it would feel different. Ditto if I replaced the plastic or rubber feet on the base of the key with more resilient material. My desktop is veneered wood composite. If it were a heavier, denser material my straight keys would feel different.
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DL8OV
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« Reply #22 on: July 18, 2016, 08:45:26 AM »

I am a fan of the undamped or 'hard' key. I tried a soft key for a while but I could not get used to it and the key was returned to the owner. For a number of years I operated a Kent key with a wooden base and one thing that made it easier to operate was removing the four rubber feet so that the felt bottom was directly on the desk. This lowered the height of the key by about 1cm and is an easy modification to try. I normally send using the European method with my elbow in mid air rather than resting on the desk.

There is a modification for the Kent key which turns it into a 'soft' instrument. The existing contacts are removed and a spring is fitted to the opposite end of the armature where it strikes a new set of contacts as the arm moves upwards.

Last month I finally got my hands on a NATO key and it is wonderful to use. It also has 'hard' action but there are no bearings, the arm is fixed to a leaf spring which both holds it in place and provides the tension. The case of the key was unfortunately in a poor state so it is currently in the hands of a local body shop being restored to its former glory. Given a choice between the NATO key and the Kent I choose the NATO key, although I know that opinions may differ.

Peter DL8OV

P.S. Does anybody know what the toggle switch on the NATO key was used for?
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GW3OQK
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« Reply #23 on: July 18, 2016, 09:47:17 AM »

Peter, I believe the switch was to select transmitter on/standby. I have rewired it to short out the "Make" contact and open the "Space" contact lines when "on." On R/T or for tune up I switch on and have a hand free.

I have also removed the rubber feet from my Kent, so I can get the real solid feel of it and hold it to the bench with a clamp. My preference is the Kent.
73, Andrew
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VE3LYX
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« Reply #24 on: July 18, 2016, 01:33:43 PM »

I am not a great keyer. However a few years ago I built three wooden keys. (wooden spring) First was a bit crude but I still use it and have it currently set up on a German spy transmitter replica known as a Adapter set or Adapter Nut. (7050- 7051 on my grayline hours)It stays in my fist no matter what. Then I built a pretty one (curly maple) and gave it to a friend who does a lot of CW and is a Ham and part native.
Then I built myself another using what I had learned from the others. It is permanently installed on my 1930s breadboard station. I know , I know. Your $300 J something series A is far better then any crap I might build. Maybe it is however these have a different feel. It stays with you no matter what. Different feel completely. Ergonomics perhaps?
donVe3LYX
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KE6EE
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« Reply #25 on: July 19, 2016, 10:59:53 AM »

Then I built a pretty one (curly maple) and gave it to a friend who does a lot of CW and is a Ham and part native.

Your $300 J something series A is far better then any crap I might build.

Maybe it is however these have a different feel. It stays with you no matter what. Different feel completely.
donVe3LYX

Don, your experience is very pertinent. Curly maple is I think quite an appropriate material for key construction.

I was for years a professional piano tuner and technician. The best pianos in the world still use curly maple for most of their action parts, although at least one manufacturer, Kawai, has developed composite plastic action parts.

As you may know, well-built pianos are good for 100 years or more of service and many pianists put an amazing amount of energy into piano actions. Much more than any telegrapher on a key. Piano action parts are very small, remarkably strong and need to be dimensionally stable. Curly maple does the job.

Hams are accustomed to thinking about metals for key-building materials. I think this is an unnecessary bias.

An innovative key-designer, Bill, NT9K, uses other nonmetal materials quite successfully. I think you are quite brilliant in using curly maple--it is relatively inexpensive and very easy to work. It is very strong and stable and capable of precision milling. It can be threaded easily.

I have no doubt that the feel of a well-constructed curly maple key may offer the best possible balance between a feel that is crisp and precise and also comfortable and well-damped.

It would be great to see a picture of what you have made even if it doesn't fit within a conventional idea about appearance.

« Last Edit: July 19, 2016, 02:20:23 PM by KE6EE » Logged
WB5AGF
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« Reply #26 on: July 19, 2016, 12:18:46 PM »

For a number of years I operated a Kent key with a wooden base and one thing that made it easier to operate was removing the four rubber feet so that the felt bottom was directly on the desk.

The metal-based Kent straight key feels very different than the wood-based key.

I have found that sometimes, when seeing how lightly a key's spring can be adjusted, contact 'bounce' can be felt (and heard in a quiet room) if the key is being held-in-the-hand, or sitting on a table with something soft under it, but if that same key is sitting firmly on a solid table then no 'bounce' can be felt.

There is a modification for the Kent key which turns it into a 'soft' instrument. The existing contacts are removed and a spring is fitted to the opposite end of the armature where it strikes a new set of contacts as the arm moves upwards.

Are you referring to the modification that G3YUH describes in which he takes a Kent straight key and moves the contacts to the 'far-end' (opposite to the knob), and puts the lever-arm contact out on a strip of metal projecting from the arm, such as is done with the 'Swedish' and Amplidan keys ?

- Paul, WB5AGF
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WB5AGF
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« Reply #27 on: July 19, 2016, 12:27:15 PM »

An innovative key-designer, Bill, NT9K, uses other nonmetal materials quite successfully.

Bill has tried to convince me to use the 'counter top' material that he has used (to make some of his keys) but so far I have resisted (I'm too old fashioned).

Either I am not good at searching for old-style materials or they are not readily available anymore. (I got curious awhile back about Bakelite and looked into seeing what would be required to make/mold the stuff but quickly decided that was not something that I could do.)

- Paul, WB5AGF
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WB5AGF
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« Reply #28 on: July 19, 2016, 01:05:01 PM »

      Also a replica PS213A

http://www.qrz.com/db/PS7HD

73
Nathan PS7HD

Please tell me about your PS213A.

- Paul, WB5AGF
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ZL1BBW
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« Reply #29 on: July 19, 2016, 02:14:02 PM »

The new keys at GKA were made in the GPO workshops in the 80's, they look like a Marconi key.

Also from memory the desk tops were steel, just covered in a thin layer of something, might have been lino or formica,  this gave a very solid surface to work on.
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ex MN Radio Officer, Portishead Radio GKA, BT Radio Amateur Morse Tester.  Licensed as G3YCP ZL1DAB, now taken over my father (sk) call as ZL1BBW.
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