You are here:  Home > Telegraphy > The Morse Signal Keys

The Morse Signal Keys

Telegraphy can be practised various manners and there are many kinds of keys which it is possible to classify in some categories.

The following album introduces five great families of keys of which each one is illustrated of some photographs. Choose one of the tabs above.

This is of course only one example, because each type of key is declined in hundreds of versions. That goes from the oldest model to most recent, currently manufactured. Certain keys have a quality of realization and a precision worthy of a clock !

I hope that you will like this small presentation and i wish you a pleasant visit.

Acknowledgements and Copyright

Straight Key

Simplest of the keys.

Simple lever, simple contact. The action on the lever is vertical. One comes to strike the knob with the forefinger or the middle finger.

Another method with J-45 in its mobile version. It can be placed just a the top of the knee and be directed towards outside.

It is then possible to grip the knob between the thumb and the forefinger by using a negligible play.

The wrist works then taterally and one can reach a good speed without tiredness.

The Sideswiper

The sideswiper or cootie.

Simple lever, double contact, the two sides are used indifferently for the dots or the dashes.

Handling consists in making a pendular movement such as the thumb and the forefinger comes to strike the key in turn.

Speed is logically doubled compared to a straight key but it is especially the regularity which is interesting.

It is the means of reaching speeds between 20 and 30 words while having fun manipulate manually.

The Bug

The semi-automatic key or bug.

Simple lever, double contact, the action on the lever is lateral.

A side dots always actuated by the thumb. The forefinger forms the dashes like a straight key thus entirely manually.

The dots are mechanically generated.

It is the pendular motion of the arm maintained by a spring and speed is adjusted by a counterweight.

The Full Automatic

It's a double bug.

Two distinct mechanisms make it possible to form the dots an the dashes automatically.

There are thus two counterweights to operate for each shifting of speed.

The principal defect of this key will enable you to recognize it very easily.

Space between each handled dot is quite equal to a dot but that between each dash has a length the duration of a dash.

There is thus an obvious irregularity of spaces which characterizes this handling.

Electronic Keyer

The key is used to drive a generator of dots and dashes.

Any key, simple or even double lever but always double contact, is appropriate.

The generator or keyer, as for him, is very often integrated into the recent transceivers. There are external models, kits even of the manipulators integrating electronics in the same case.

The left-handeds person can easily reverse dots side / dashes side.

The iambic is an interesting alternative of the electronic keyer.


To show the principal families of manipulators could not have been done without photographs. I thank Tom W1TP, Russ WA5Y, Eliseo IK6BAK and Christian F9WT for their assistance and their kindness. Visit their sites and you will understand at which point small around fifty of visible photographs on my site, represents a negligible part of what can exist.

W1TP - Telegraph and Scientific instrument Museums : To web site (W1TP). An important sum of information and photographs on telegraphy and its history.

The Sparks Telegraph Key Review : Russ, WA5Y. A beautiful historical presentation of telegraphy. There are also some interactive animations.

IK6BAK Telegraph Collection : Eliseo proposes his collection of keys to us. There are very old and rare models.

F9WT - Manipulateurs Morse anciens : Christian presents his magnificent personal collection of cw keys, each piece has a story, great pictures.



A side dots always actuated by the thumb. The forefinger forms the dashes like a straight key thus entirely manually.
The dots are mechanically generated. it is the pendular motion of the arm maintained by a spring and speed is adjusted by a counterweight.


See the Menu , Telegraphy, "The morse signal keys", for more precise details.


The iambic mode allows to simplify handling with generating alternating of dashes and dots when paddles are pressed simultaneously.

for example, letter C _. _.
Call the dash "dah" and the dot "dit".
We start with the dah
during the execution of dah pressing dot paddle (so the key is pinched, the two paddles are pressed).

It occurs a dah followed by a dit and it is the timing to release the paddles that will determine the end of the letter. Indeed, if the paddle is kept pressed, alternating dash and dot continue indefinitely.

Mode A: you have to wait to hear the second dit following the second dah to release the key (two pallets).
B-mode: you must release the key (two pallets) during the second dah then dit is generated.

We see the avantage of B mode, which will automatically generate the opposite of sign transmitted when releasing the paddles.