Restoring a 1914 Telegraph Keys


Combo: A DVD showing all of the steps in the restoration of a 1914 Vibroplex Telegraph Speed Key and a book showing how to restore telegraph keys

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After many delays because of my illness, and that of my helper, Dr. Robert Chapman, my latest DVD has finally been completed. It is two-hours long and shows the complete restoration of a very old basket case Vibroplex speed key.

During the removal of parts, it was discovered that someone had washed the key in the kitchen sink. This had allowed water to rise over the steel screws in the main bridge, causing them to rust and freeze in their holes. During removal, one of them twisted off. See how the steel screw was dissolved to save the key.

Learn how the asphaltum japanning was removed, the surface of the casting treated and five new asphaltum japanning coats were applied and baked. See the application of gold stripes and corner tic marks and their baking.

Watch the replacement of the badly rusted mainspring and the hand turning of the rivets to secure it to the pendulum and the weight rod.

See the making from scratch of rope-knurled thumb screws and thumb nuts. Watch a screw being held in a special split nut to protect the rope knurling while being drilled to receive a pressed-in silver contact. Watch the installation of the contact, which was purchased, though it could have been machined from a silver rod with a hand held graver, as were the brass rivets.

Watch the cleaning of the pendulum with an abrasive block, followed by plating in the shop.
Selected parts of the key were sent to the plating shop to be stripped and nickel plated.

Learn how to clean rusted screws to bright metal, and re-blue them with the heat from an alcohol bench lamp, and oil them to prevent further rust.

See how insulating strips were made by bonding layers of black paper stock with epoxy. These insulators are usually bad on old keys.

Learn how to make new brass or copper conductors to bond insulated key parts under the base of the key.


After about six months of constant shop work, digital photography and writing, I have finally completed a new book, HOW TO RESTORE TELEGRAPH KEYS, and copies are available for shipment directly  from stock.

Although this book does not deal with clocks, it contains a wealth of workshop techniques not found in other clockmaking, clock repair books or machine shop texts. Thus it is an important source of workshop techniques and material sources.

The book is 8-1/2” x 11”, 107 pages and contains 254 high quality color photographs illustrating the various things being discussed. It offers a way to clean speed keys without doing the harm that results from washing one in the kitchen sink. Many “how to” things are offered, such as: how to dissolve broken steel screws in brass parts (in some cases, this could be worth many times the price of the book), make cylindrical and cubical key weights, shorting levers, bearing screws, rope knurled thumbscrews and thumbnuts, new dot contact assemblies, paddles, nickel plate key parts in the home shop, mix varnish and re-japan key bases, replace broken mainsprings, make shorting levers and their knobs, wind springs, heat-blue screws, remove rust from parts, coat parts to avoid future rust, remove or re-position dot bars on arbors (trundles), make dash levers, pendulum assemblies, thumbscrew posts, strip conductors and their insulators, where to order rubber feet, tools, materials, etc. The topics are simply too long to list.

The complete rebuilding of a couple of basket case telegraph speed keys and the total restoration of a large number of others are illustrated. Also included is a chapter describing the three vertical speed keys I have recently designed and built.

I have drawn on my 76 years of ham radio, 70 years of watchmaking/clockmaking and 40 years of mechanical engineering to offer what I believe will prove to be the bible of telegraph key work for owners and collectors for many years to come.


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