Morse key HID + ugly hack

While trifting I found a battered old dusty morse key. After cleaning it up, I decided to build a break out HID box for it.

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Morse code has always fascinated me and a couple of years ago I started to train myself in signing and decoding. I'm quite proficient in tapping but I never had any use for it (who would have thunk!). My training software Morse-It on the iPad requires no key to tap as this is simply done on the touchscreen. The software is really nice with a lot of handy features to learn morse or decode it, but it's functionality does not extent to say an intergrated morse keyboard for iOS.

So if I wanted to actually have a use for my morse skills, I had only 2 choices. Either I wait until I find myself trapped in a collapsed building a use a wrench on a piece of plumbing to sign to the outside world that I am alive and well, buried under a couple of tonnes of rubble OR I get myself a morse key and build me a USB HID that acts like a keyboard.

The key

I found this straight key in a local thrift store I often visit for various parts and stuff. It was pretty battered, grimy and dusty with some weird hospital green paint on it. I took the unit apart and first cleaned the various parts of the dust and grease. Then I put the metal parts in an acid solution and I sanded the base-plate. Putting it back together, it started to look the business.

The unis is nicely adjustable with various setscrews and stoppers. The amount of force from the spring can be adjusted as well. It seems like a nicely build tough little unit and I wonder what it's original use was. I haven't been able to find a similar unit and there is no labeling or branding to be found. It could be that this key was some project for a course in metal working somewhere, I don't know. I anybody has a clue about the origins of this key, let me know!


Building a morse HID has been described numerous times on HaD and elsewhere. You get a micro that can emulate a keyboard and get some code to interpret the dit's and dah's, outputting characters and spaces. I had a micro Leonardo lying around which would do just fine. I took some code from the internet and with minor modifications I had a setup that beeped and send characters over USB.

The only real modification to the code I did was a caps-lock feature and some blicky led's

The box

Okay, this is where it gets a bit ugly. Normally I'd get some perv-board and build a simple little shield for the Leonardo to pop into which would then be mounted in a nice case. But you know when something fit's so perfectly as-is, I can't resist but to believe that it was meant to be.

For the box I wanted a nice steam-punky/rustic esthetic. I found a (fake)wood box that held some wine accessories that would fit everything easily. I "prototyped" the electronics on as small breadboard that came with an Arduino starters kit I bought years ago. It's the one with the lasercut wooden base-plate that holds an UNO and a breadboard. To get familiarized with Arduino, this arrangement is fine, but after a while it is quite awkward so I only used the breadboard for small projects.

Viewer discretion advices, It might get ugly from here on out.

Now as it happens, It turned out that the lasercut piece of wood with the breadboard stuck on fitted perfectly in the box, like it was made for it. With a fit so perfect why would I ignore that and build a shield that would add only complexity? I'm not going to spit in the face of fate! Only problem is the breadboard... Not a very permanent solution in general, albeit nothing that a bit of hot-snot can't fix!

So yeah. Hot-gluing the whole thing together may not be the nicest/sanest/correct way of doing it, But when life hands you a perfect fit, you just have to take it sometimes!

I then added a sink-plug sieve as a speaker grill for the piezo element a called it a finished project!. I'd like to say that I tapped this entire project page with my key, but that would be a lie. I often use it in chat sessions, so if you ever "see m e ty qing with stran ge spa ces ever y where" you may assume that I'm using the key!

  • 1 × Arduino Leonardo Micro Or any other micro that can act as a HID
  • 1 × Breadboard on a plank of wood
  • 1 × Piezo speaker
  • 1 × A straight morse key
  • 1 × A small box

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  • Viewer discretion is advised : Destructive mod of a GRD MT50 key.

    Timescale06/12/2023 at 17:55 0 comments

    Last year I found an East German key in a thrift store. The venerable MT50 used by many institutes during the existence of the GDR and produced right up to 1990. It basically is a Juncker key in a Bakelite enclosure with many seals. It also has passive components inside to eliminate sparking.

    What I want to do with it, which differs from my other signalling key HID projects, is that I want it to be a single USB device that plugs in directly to a computer. So I need room inside of it for a HID capable Arduino type of micro and a small speaker that is loud enough to head on the outside (that will be the challenge I feel).

    Downside is that this means I need to rip out all the passive components and slightly alter the Bakelite bottom part of the unit for it all the fit correctly. The reason I am okay with this, is because these units are still quite abundant and I am not gutting a museum piece here.

    More to follow once I get the parts!

  • New sounder/HID device

    Timescale05/23/2022 at 18:10 0 comments

    Keeping in style with the previous box, this still is a bit hacky but definitely more robust and polished. I got all the classics like hot glue, Q&D soldering, ad-hoc layout and sub-optimal connections, but it is all quite neat and fits in an old slide box. Here is the set!

    The lid still needs some work as the paint does not adhere very well and it needs a hole for the beeper to be more audible, but this is basically it. Key goes in one side, USB goes out into a pjuter and there you have a morse keyboard ready to go. There is a nice led that lights up next to the jack input and the Pro Micro inside also produces an interesting light show. This is how it looks on the inside :

    The led, jack socket, jack cord and beeper+connector are salvages parts and the case was a 10 cent thrift store item. Overall this build was pretty cheap, with the key included somewhere around 15 euros.

    But at least I can now enjoy signing into my mail client OR log posts. so here goes.


  • We got another one!

    Timescale05/19/2022 at 00:03 0 comments

    The key in this project is currently on lone to an educational institute with an interactive morse tutor for which I intend to write a new project page once that project is finished. For the moment I can not do that because it was commissioned.

    This however left me in the position of not having a straight key at home! How can I live like that, you might wonder? Well, luckily there are apps to fix my morse cravings but these are not ideal.

    As great fortune would have it, I recently found another key at a second hand store. It was, just like the last dirty and beaten up and in dire need of restoration. This short log is the first part of this particular keys journey.

    Here is how I found it :

    And this is the end result :

    There will be more details on the origins of this object in future logs as well as the new digital sounder that is in the works.

  • Using VIM

    Timescale08/08/2015 at 16:03 0 comments

    So on the Hacklet 69 feature

    Adam Fabio correctly assumed that, when out of butterflies, I use a straight key to command VIM.

    This is a short demo of my Key, the pratice setup and commanding VIM.

  • Identifying the key

    Timescale08/08/2015 at 10:25 4 comments

    I have spend a couple of hours yesterday trying to identify the brand, original application and/or the country of origin for my straight key and I have come up, again, empty handed.

    It is quite possible that this key is the labour of love by an amateur telegraph enthusiast who took various design cues from various commercial and military keys, but it looks so purposefully build, it strikes me very much as a army/naval/maritime unit.

    It could originally have had a cover of some sort or it could have been integrated into a telegraph set.

    I have searched through thousands of pictures with queries selecting Russian, German, Japanese, Italian, American, Dutch and French straight keys, but this type has not popped out.

    If anybody has a clue what the make and origin of this key is, please drop a hint!

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Adam Fabio wrote 08/10/2015 at 16:31 point

Awesome work voxnulla! I love that you actually did use it to drive vim :)

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Timescale wrote 08/10/2015 at 18:03 point

Yeah well, you kinda forced my hand ;-)


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ben.phenoptix wrote 08/07/2015 at 21:17 point

Beautiful refurb!

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Timescale wrote 08/08/2015 at 10:12 point

Thanks! (also for ignoring the ugly hack part!)

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ben.phenoptix wrote 08/08/2015 at 10:50 point

No such thing as an ugly hack!

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DainBramage wrote 08/07/2015 at 14:09 point

Very nice straight key you've re-built there. It looks like it should perform well. Likewise the keyer, though this type of setup would usually be referred to as a "practice key".

Might I offer a suggestion? If you were to obtain your amateur radio license (which ironically no longer requires Morse Code proficiency), you would be able to use Morse Code all day long, every day, to communicate with other people around the world who are likewise interested in Morse Code. You could even use your nice straight key for that.

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Timescale wrote 08/08/2015 at 10:12 point

Thanks, it does work a treat. the throw and spring tension are nicely finetunable to make for an accurate and fast key. It's now quite hard to make it rattle or crackle.

It is indeed a practice key with the added bonus of being able to practice signing while actually writing something in chat or in a text editor.

Thanks for the suggestion. I looked into what is needed to get a license over here and this does not look to bothersome. I kept the key in such a state that I could in the future use it as a radio key with a proper signal generator and transmitter.

When I got more time and space, I'll be looking into that.

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DainBramage wrote 08/08/2015 at 15:14 point

Good luck! I have found the amateur radio hobby to be fun and rewarding., I hope it becomes similarly enjoyable for you. :)

In case you are not already aware, there are a number of different types of Morse Code keys on the market including paddles, bugs, iambics, and a number of other ones I'm not familiar with.

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Timescale wrote 08/08/2015 at 15:34 point

Iambic keys really interest me because of the insane speeds one can reach.  I did some experiments with two leave switches as an iambic device which kinda worked but to really get to grips with the feel and rhythm of Morse signing I wanted to learn it with a proper straight key.

My primary interest in Morse is a historical one, but the same may be true for radio communication in a short time! We'll see how this particular hobby will spiral out of control into something unmanageably fun!

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DainBramage wrote 08/08/2015 at 15:38 point

I think you've got a fantastic attitude towards it! :)

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