Hamcation Treasure: Mike discovers and restores a mystery key!

Many thanks to Mike (VE3MKX) who writes:

Hi Everyone,

While at Hamcation (a great event) this year, I picked up this little Gem. It was found at one of the club tables located inside the Swaps building. When I saw it, I said, ‘wow…way cool!’

It didn’t have any markings on it and the seller said he thinks it was home made.

The hamfest bartering fun then began. He wanted $40 for it and me, being the cheaper than usual Ham, I said
‘How much do you want for this $30 dirty old key ‘ ?? He laughed but did not budge on the price.

Being from the North I calculated the price with the 35% currency exchange rate.

So I started to hem and haw….it was one of those…. Do I buy it or not. I’d kick myself after if I didn’t !!

I bought it and I’m glad I did !

After my southern vacation, I placed it on the bench for the restoration that was about to begin.


I took apart the key taking various pictures along the way so I wouldn’t have anything placed in the wrong spot or left over. Even something as simple as fastener lengths could make a difference placed in different spots.

I got out the Brasso cleaner, fibre cloth, Q tips, and rubber gloves. In hindsight, it might have worked better cleaning with a toothbrush. I’ll save that idea for next time!

Once the key was totally dismantled, I inspected all the parts. The black base was too far gone with scratches and chips to restore to my liking.

So I then took some 220 grit sandpaper and gave the base the once over. I went over to the local Walmart and picked up some flat black Rustoleum spray paint.

I was expecting a true flat dull black finish. What I finished with was like a flat egg shell black which to my surprise I like a lot better!

After each coat of paint (letting it dry for 24 hrs ) I then did a quick sanding with 220 grit water paper. So after three coats of paint it was done !

The key came with very small wooden finger paddles. I wasn’t a fan of those because of the size and shape. So I went into my junk drawer–sorry, my ‘ham radio treasure collection’–and found a pair of spare Begali finger paddles.

These finger paddles were acquired a few years back at Dayton, another fantastic don’t miss event ! With a little cutting I made these fit onto the cleaned brass arms of the new key.

The key was then reassembled. One thing that I did do while reassembling was to wear gloves, so I wouldn’t leave fingerprints all over the freshly restored key.

I also gave the swivel arms a few drops of WD40 which would prevent any sticking.

The reassembly went fine. The overall project took a few days to complete. I did place a small piece of cupboard lining rubber under the base of the key to prevent the key from moving on the desk when in use.

The key weighs about 5lbs, so it didn’t move much to begin with, but ya never know–!

Overall, the key has a very nice feel to it,

I still have some tweaking to do to get the paddle to my liking.
A was a fun little project.

If by chance you know anything about this key, please let me know !

Have a great day and see you at FDIM at Dayton !

72 Mike VE3MKX

10 thoughts on “Hamcation Treasure: Mike discovers and restores a mystery key!”

  1. What a nice restoration job! I have a Carson brass key which was the predecessor of the Vibroplex Brass Racer. Someone painted it with a black matte paint and I have some work to do on my own. Thanks for your inspirational post!

    73 de KC1FUU

  2. Great job! Hope you can discover the origins of the key. Let us know if you do.

    Tnx es 73,
    Randy, KS4L

  3. Very satisfying work. I’ve rebuilt a very small WW2 RAF straight key, an old US railway straight key, and even a bronze WW2 naval sextant. Restorations are both a rare occurance and a rare delight. I really respect your loving care in seeing this beautiful restoration through Mike.
    Kevin, VE7KHI

  4. Bravo Mike! Great report, and I imagine a very satisfying project.

    I have a couple of older straight keys and a sounder I should restore. The patina being far from functional, it’s time.

    72 Mike de W7UDT (dit dit)

  5. Mike it’s lovely to see! It is very satisfying to do a job like that and I am so glad you shared it. You have given a lot of pleasure, just look at the posts above.
    But don’t throw away the old wooden bits!
    1. The original owner or someone else might contact you and give some history.
    2. You might find a good chippy who could restore even those bits. and
    3. It might be worth more with the wooden bits. You might not want them but remember, a shroud has no pockets; when you leave, as we all do, someone will have to sort out all our junk. Leave the (restored / replaced) wooden bit too, along with enough documentary evidence, in case your heirs might make a bit more when disposing. Sorry to sound morbid, I wish you a very long, prosperous and active life!

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