We are pleased to present the AF6L Spirit Dual Paddle Morse Key!
Spirit key in black and silver
If you are quarantined from the Coronavirus, or still free to move about, now is a great time to learn / improve your morse code and it's very important to give yourself a self-improvement goal along with a fantastic reward to look forward to.
Morse, and ham radio in general, is a great tool to connect with others worldwide from home and keep that outward looking positive attitude!
Whichever receiver, amplifier, tower or antenna you use, the morse key is the part that connects you to your equipment. The way you communicate through cw is entirely dependent on how your fingers interface with your equipment. A crisp, clean consistent key reduces errors, making you more understandable.
A quality Morse key helps you maintain a subconscious frame of mind while keying, letting the code flow from your fingertips without interruption. If you don't have to fight your key, you can concentrate on enjoying the conversation.
While looking for the perfect cw (Morse) key, I found it hard to find something modern-looking, consistent in action and at a reasonable price. While meeting over coffee with local machinist Erik, a plan started to formulate. Erik used to work for Boeing as a designer/machinist and runs his own small business machining all kinds of high-end parts.
I decided to make our own key, commissioning Erik to draw on his experience to design something beautiful, solid, and extremely functional. He built in all the features of expensive keys and avoiding all the pitfalls of many of the cheaper offerings.
And that is how the Spirit morse key concept came to be!
The Spirit Morse Key - Individually Made for you in the USA!
Rather than supporting Italian or Chinese manufacturers and other large corporations, the Spirit Lake Morse Key is designed, machined, assembled and tested here in north Idaho.
Each key purchased helps support our family and provides work for Erik the local machinist too.
We're self-employed and reachable, and you're much closer to the creators than just purchasing a box off a shelf.
The Spirit Morse Key - Modern Design
Rather than follow the traditional, steampunk designs in brass and wood that make up most of the current market, the Spirit Morse Key was designed to be modern-looking from the outset, individually custom-machined to exacting dimensions.
The design is heavily inspired by the B2 Spirit Stealth Bomber, known for its dark, sleek lines, and a shape born from function rather than tradition.
Machined from a solid block of billet 6061-T6 aircraft-grade aluminum, the Spirit represents the culmination of modern design and development efforts to create a crisp and consistent key that looks at home with modern radio equipment.
The final design is the result of the experience of master-machinist Erik, who spent many years working at Boeing, designing and making all kinds of classified parts for military stealth programs including the B2 itself.
The production version has a black anodized finish with clear anodized lid and paddles to match the B2 and, of course, most modern radio equipment. We also plan to offer other color combinations such as the clear anodized base shown above if we are able.
The Spirit Morse Key - Consistent Performance
Many keys drift out of consistent feel as they are used, some even after just a few minutes use and often in the middle of a treasured QSO.
The driving aim of the Spirit design is the ability to finely adjust the paddle movement and pressure.
Each fine adjustment is easy to achieve, yet locks firmly into place to avoid changes during use.
The clean, simple design is also free of external knobs or screws to bump, misalign or catch to upset the adjustments once made.
The Spirit Morse Key - Stable and Solid
Weighing in at a healthy 2lbs, the Spirit anchors firmly to the table with its silicon rubber feet, providing a stable experience even during enthusiastic keying. For those requiring even more stability, tapped threads are hidden under the feet to facilitate bolting the key to any surface.
The mono-block concept means that all parts are anchored firmly within the same solid metal block. There are no wooden parts to expand and contract with the seasons and no subassemblies to come loose.
The key is just under 4 inches square and the top surface sits around 1.5" above the table top.
The paddles protrude just over 1.3 inches, giving plenty of room to grasp with ease. The paddle surfaces are just over 0.65 inches apart (16mm apart), designed for efficient and comfortable use for most average to large male hands.
We plan also to offer paddles with different thicknesses after a successful Kickstarter campaign, if there is demand. These would just slide into place once the lid is removed.
The Spirit Morse Key - Dust Control Built In
Many keys need the extra purchase of a cover to keep dust from getting into the mechanism. These never seem to fit right and as dirt builds up, it can quickly change the feel of the key.
Careful consideration has been made to minimize dust entry, with the engraved lid sealing the top and help keep the internal key parts free from dirt and dust.
The lid of the prototype is held in place by miniature, but strong, rare-earth magnets, set into the lid and body, but the production version will use small 4-40 stainless screws instead to ensure it stays put.
The Spirit Morse Key - Floating Paddles
The paddles themselves are fast and smooth moving, with gentle dimples to facilitate positional memory.
Erik really delivered on the engineering of the pivots, allowing the paddles to almost float. Many high-end keys use bearings, but the Spirit goes a step further. By using a post and hole pivot with a large contact area, machined to within 0.0005 inches and lightly lubricated with dielectric grease, we have reduced the drag and response time. The quicker key movement comes from lighter paddles, made thinner by not having to incorporate bearing pockets.
When you consider the fraction of an inch of movement at the end of a long paddle, the minute rotational and stress forces do not justify the loss in performance of building in bearings, which often have more slop too. For the technically minded, the rotation is 0.38 degrees with a 0.001" contact gap, approximately 0.0006" at the edge of the pivot post, less than the take-up clearance in regular ball bearings!
Again, with an eye to consistent feel, rare-earth magnets are used to regulate paddle pressure rather than springs which are prone to wear and develop a sluggish response, with continuous pressure adjustment right down to zero!
The Spirit Morse Key - Stainless Steel Contacts
The electrical contacts are stainless steel and hemispherical in shape to permit a clean contact and break. When considering the choice of materials, both silver and gold are far softer and are less likely to stand up to hard use. The quick paddle movement and contact shape make for a clean, crisp make and break, allowing the key to maintain this performance in the long run.
The 18-8 stainless contacts have a hardness of Rockwell B80, around 6 mohs, whereas silver and gold are around 3 mohs.
The Spirit Morse Key - Easy Connections
The output is found in the form of a standard 3.5mm stereo socket on the back, recessed to continue the smooth look. This allows the use of any standard 3.5mm stereo cable for connection, without being tied to proprietary connections or irreplaceable fixed and soldered cabling.
The Spirit Morse Key - Competitively Priced - Great Value
The workmanship of this key really stands out, with every edge lightly chamfered, accurate radii and smooth surfaces.
Quality engineering, design, machining, material, and service are not cheap, but the Spirit Morse Key is certainly good value. Small quantity, individual manufacture, and testing mean that you get a high-quality key without the usual fuss and problems.
The key will become available here at www.AF6L.com at $275 following a successful Kickstarter campaign here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/af6l/the-spirit-morse-key?ref=727ayz
Whether starting out in cw, or an expert with years of experience, the Spirit Morse Key represents an excellent choice at this price point.
The parts of the prototype Spirit key
David and Erik working on the main body
Erik machining with the Hass CNC
Final measurement checks
Erik making sure the pins start true with the Bridgeport Mill
Final part fitting of the prototype Spirit Key
Prototype key in bare aluminum
Many thanks to the following for their support during the Kickstarter campaign:
Marek & Erin Kolar