The KK1 Straight Key From American Morse Equipment

A couple of days ago, this turned up in the mail:

Almost as exciting as getting Lego for my birthday as a kid - a package containing the KK1 Straight Key kit from Doug at American Morse Equipment.
Almost as exciting as getting Lego for my birthday as a kid - a package containing the KK1 Straight Key kit from Doug at American Morse Equipment.

Now, you have to understand how exciting this was for me. I’m trying to find an analogy here.  Mmm….the first time I made out with a girl? Well, I’m not THAT much of a nerd, but close.  For a start, I haven’t owned a straight key in about 15 years, and the ones I owned in the past weren’t of very high quality.  My last key was a cheap practice key, and I only had a few on-air QSO’s with it. So…….this was going to be my first decent straight key.  Secondly, seeing this key in the flesh is a bit like seeing your favorite celebrity in person. You’ve seen them in magazines and on TV, and you can’t quite believe that they are really in front of you.  Well, I haven’t seen the KK1 on TV, but I’ve seen it plenty in magazines and online and have been considering it for a while now.  I was thinking that for the main station key, perhaps I need something a little larger and heavier, but my ham budget is limited.  Doug Hauff, the chief bottle washer at American Morse Equipment told me that it didn’t need to be held down while operating, so I thought that perhaps this little key was going to be substantial enough to be the main key while using my FT-817 at home, as well as while on portable operations.

Ordering is a breeze.  You click the appropriate button on Doug’s website, pay by Paypal, Paypal send you an acknowledgement of your payment, and that’s it. A couple of days later the above package turned up in my mailbox.

Here’s what I got when I opened the packet:

IMG_7280On opening the outer plastic pack, here’s a look at what’s inside:

IMG_7286I like the fact that instead of including an assembly manual, Doug points you to his website, which has a downloadable pdf file with complete assembly instructions. This is really the way to go.

Before doing anything, I spent a good 15 minutes looking the parts over, and in particular, marveling at how well machined the aluminum base, operating lever and other parts were.  It’s a pleasure to look at well made parts like this, so I did.  I had a good look at everything before proceeding.

I emptied the parts into the lid of a Quaker Oats box.  The lid has a small lip that prevents small washers, screws, springs etc from escaping. Lots of things you could use here.  An egg carton would work also:


I eat a lot of oatmeal, so it’s nice to find a use for the lid before I toss it.  I’m thinking I should get back into building crystal sets so that I can use the cylindrical card oatmeal containers for winding coils on.

Although some owners spend quite a bit of time polishing and buffing the aluminum base and brass parts of the key, as well as performing other customizations, such as fixing a knob to the paddle, the only thing you do need to do before assembly is to deburr the clevis (it’s the two vertical “posts” sticking up out of the aluminum base).  I used a fine file; you can also use fine sandpaper or a small pocket knife.  Only a light touch is required here, so go easy on it; it doesn’t take much.

I won’t say much about the assembly. The instructions are detailed and straightforward to follow. Anything in the instructions that doesn’t make immediate sense to you will most likely become apparent after looking at the pieces and the photos in the instructions. I only had one slight uncertainty during the assembly process, and that was the following instruction:

“Locate the 4-40 x 1/2 ground end machine screw. There are two ½ inch screws, the smaller is the 4-40; you can easily see the ground end.”

The other 1/2 inch screw, according to the parts list, is a 6-32 x 1/2.  Well, the problem I had was that both my 1/2 inch screws looked exactly the same.  The pitch was the same and the ends both looked the same.  Although the ends of both my screws were ground a little,  but as this screw is going to be used as the electrical contact for the key, I think that perhaps the end was supposed to be ground smoother than it actually was. Anyway, the thread on the screw fit the thread in the hole easily, so I went ahead with the assembly, deciding that if I had problems further down the road, I would contact Doug for a replacement part.

I had one extra part – an extra #0/1 washer.  No problem.  I’d rather have one part too many than one too few.

The assembly didn’t take long, at the end of which, I had this:

The finished KK1 Straight Key
The finished KK1 Straight Key

Yours could look even more beautiful if you want to polish the main parts.  It looks perfectly nice to me the way it is, so for the time being, it stays the way it is. Maybe one day I’ll find myself with a little time on my hands and a can of brass polish to hand.

One more thing before it could be used – a cord and plug.  I found an audio connecting cable that had come from Radio Shack and hadn’t been used in a long time.  It had a molded 1/8″ jack on each end.  I cut it in half, and used one half to make a cord for this key, along with heat-shrink tubing.

Here’s the finished item:

The KK1 Straight Key from American Morse Equipment - A solid little key.
The KK1 Straight Key from American Morse Equipment - A solid little key.

I have never used a straight key that was this small before, and was pleasantly surprised.  For the size (approx 1.5″ x 3″ x 1.375″ tall), it is quite heavy, and it definitely stayed put on my wooden desk top while I was keying it.  It’s not very apparent from these pictures, but the key comes with 4 clear rubber “bumpers” that you stick to the bottom of the base, and these do a splendid job of keeping the key in place while you’re pumping brass.  I also tried it on a tile countertop with no problems, so if you have any concerns about the possibility of a small key scooting all over the place while you’re trying to key your transmitter, I don’t think that’s going to happen with the KK1.

I did at first find it a little unusual using a straight key with a paddle instead of a knob.  Some have attached their own knobs; I will most likely keep my key the way it is.  I seem to be getting used to it.  Having not used a straight key in 15 years, I was disappointed to find that I need to work on my sending in order to develop a more natural rhythm. At first, I wondered if a larger key with a knob would help.  It may, but I think that lack of practice is the bigger factor here.

This key was fun to assemble and will be a pleasure to own.  For $36 plus shipping you have a straight key that can be used as the main key in your station as well as an excellent key for portable ops too. It’s well made and looks great.  I can’t keep my eyes off it. Kudos to Doug Hauff W6AME, and his company American Morse Equipment.

Now please excuse me while I go make a cup of tea and come back to the computer to apply for my FISTS and SKCC memberships!

This news just in: I just heard from Doug that he has turned the 6-32 x 1/2 inch screw into a 4-40 and eliminated the end grind, so I did have the correct part. He just hadn’t made the change in the documentation.  You can grind this screw yourself with a piece of sandpaper if you wish; my key is working fine using the screw as supplied.

More news just in: I’ve been using this key for almost a week now and have gotten fully used to using it.  I’m pleasantly surprised at how such a modestly sized key not only feels solid and stable on my desk, but also feels natural for sending code.  Any shortcomings in my sending are due to operator error, and not to the key. I wholeheartedly recommend this key.  Great value for money!

12 thoughts on “The KK1 Straight Key From American Morse Equipment

    1. Hi Christopher –

      I just read your QRZ entry. California IS grand – I definitely agree with you on that one!

      To connect the key to the FT-817ND (or the FT-817) all you need is a length of cable with a 3.5mm jack plug on one end. You can use either a mono plug or a stereo plug. I used a stereo plug and connected one side of the key to the tip, and the other side to both the ring and sleeve. I believe the convention is to leave the ring unconnected, but this way worked for me. Page 5 of the FT-817 manual has a diagram that shows how to connect a straight key to the radio; it should make things a bit clearer. You can solder up a cable yourself, but an easier way is to find a made-up cable that already has a 3.5MM jack plug on one end. I had an old cable from Radio Shack lying around that had a 3.5mm plug molded onto each end. I cut it in half and now have 2 cables – one for my straight key, and one for my paddles! By the way, what I call a 3.5mm plug is also known as an 1/8″ plug.

      When you’ve hooked up the key, make sure to disable the electronic keyer on the 817. You do that by pressing the F key momentarily and rotating the selector knob until you get to the function row that contains VOX, BK, KYR. Press the button below KYR if necessary to ensure that there is no arrow to the left of KYR on the display. This means that the internal electronic keyer is disabled.

      Good luck, and feel free to ask if you have any more questions.

  1. So pretty thing, seems so precision. Unfortunately this key is completely unusable for the European style sanding, so I can see, but can’t touch anyway. Well, I still have my favorite Navy Flameproof and I can pounding that piece of art.

    73! UU1CC #3072c

  2. I recently bought and built the KK-1. And I prefer the European style of sending. I used the key (or keyette?) during a recent Straight Key Century Club weekend sprint. I spent about 12-14 hours on the air, using the KK-1 European style. It took a QSO or two to get the feel of the key. After than, it was off to the races. And I have hands that require a XL winter glove. So I’d recommend this puppy for either approach to keying — US or European.

    With best regards,

    SKCC # 4853T

  3. And now, you can customize your KK-1 with a wooden finger pad from WB8LZG! See my link below…

    QRP to go

    With best regards,

    SKCC # 4853T

  4. I have a KK1 still in the bag. A couple years ago I built a KK2 paddle and it performs excellently. Going to build the KK1 over this holiday; contemplating the finish. Stove black and gold pinstripes might be fun. Also contemplating a 1/4″ spacer and buffalo nickel for a faux “Navy knob” along with the clear plexi/polycarbonate paddle. We’ll see. I also have a completed single-paddle Sidewinder key from Doug, along with the heavy base. It operates very well. Aside from their excellent function, I particularly like these American Morse Equipment keys because of their low cost, small size, and ability to stay put on the operating desk. I think these are great products. 73 Ric K5RIX

  5. I am thinking about getting another key and have looked many times at this one. I read both this article and your other comments in Ham Radio Nation and you are the 4th person I have come across to make comment on the fiery attitude of the manufacturer when dealing with a purchaser, but YOU still liked the product anyway. Unfortunately because of that fiery nature and the comments made I will now be looking at another brand key. If you sell a product you must always act with a courteous nature towards your customers or lose business. I owned my Ham Radio Sales and Repair business for 30+ yrs before retiring and also manufactured products for sale. I was always prepared to “be humble” when dealing with a customer re missing or bad parts and always replaced them with a smile. I never lost a customer I know about.
    That old saying is true…A good customer will tell his friend but an unhappy customer will tell everybody.
    I hope the manufacturer changes his way of dealing with his customers cause he has lost me as a prospect.
    regards from Down-Under
    QRP Extrordinaire VK3YM Rick

    1. Rick –

      I don’t know what you’re talking about I’m afraid. I have never posted anything on Ham Radio Nation. My experiences with American Morse Equipment were all good. If untoward comments about them were posted on another website, they weren’t made by me, even if they were attributed to me.

  6. This is one heck of a nice key! I got it on 31th day and builded it today and tested.. then adjusted and seems to be working fine! It needed some nice file.. But yea, I fully suggest this to all! This is my first CW key and good one! Greetings from Finland
    Joni Alavesa de OH8EFI!

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