A Vintage Morse Key Turned into USB Keyboard

Time was when only the cool kids had new-fangled 102-key keyboards with a number pad, arrow keys, and function keys. They were such an improvement over the lame old 86-key layout that nobody would dream of going back. But going all the way back to a one-key keyboard is pretty cool, in the case of this Morse keyer to USB keyboard adapter.

To revive her dad’s old straight key, a sturdy mid-20th century beast from either a military or commercial setup, [Nomblr] started with a proper teardown and cleaning of the brass and Bakelite pounder. A Teensy was chosen for the job of converting Morse to keyboard strokes; careful consideration to the timing of dits and dahs and allowances for contact debouncing were critical to getting the job done. A new wooden base not only provides stability for the key but hides the Teensy and makes for a new presentation. The video below shows it in action; our only complaint is the lack of sidetone to hear the Morse as you pound out that next great novel one click at a time.

Lovingly restored telegraph gear is a bit of a thing around here; we featured this vintage telegraph sounder revived with a Morse code sender not too long ago.

[via r/DIY]

Thanks to [Liz] for the tip

23 thoughts on “A Vintage Morse Key Turned into USB Keyboard

  1. @[Nomblr]

    Love it!

    It has the classic “because I can” hacker cred.

    Though I probably won’t be reproducing it to enter code lol.

    The chip on the breakout looks massively overpowered for the task but it obviously works. What is it?

    1. This is taking being a hipster to a whole new level.

      The USB cable seems to sport the Particle logo, but I don’t think this is a current board. Maybe a legacy solution, or it’s only their cable.

  2. That’s a very cool hack – well done AND pointless. It’s also wonderful that a piece of vintage gear was saved without mangling it. This is so much nicer than the “hacks” of ripping tubes out of vintage TVs, mounting LCDs and making Netflix boxes out of them.

  3. As long as the actual Morse key itself wasn’t destroyed in the process, I’ve got no problem with this. They are little pieces of history. Destroying it would be up there with hacking up a retro game system and replacing the guts with a Raspberry Pi. It would become more irrelevant over time than if it were to be just left alone.

    1. Well, a hardcore historian might worry about the piece of wood the key is mounted on. Actually now I have a question for the really old telegraph operator I know. Maybe those things were mounted onto the table directly.

      Personally I’m willing to forgive a flat piece of wood so I consider the CW key not modified. They even use brass screws to attach to the base. The key itself has screw terminals to wire it in, and it’s just a switch.

  4. As someone who learned the code in 1957 as an 11 year old and who uses the code on the air regularly today, I love what you did.

    A couple of points: What is being used here is not the American landline Morse code, but rather the International, or Continental, code as used on the radio. It shares a majority of characters with Morse’s code, but did away with the odd spaces within a few characters.

    My second comment is perhaps a nit-pick about the keying technique which appears to be tapping the key rather than gripping the knob between the thumb, index and middle fingers. Gripping gives better control and is what the military taught as well as the telegraph instructors before radio.

    I could definitely see making a version of this. One thing I would add, as someone else mentioned, is sidetone so I can hear what I am sending as dots and dashes. I would build this as a separate unit so I can plug in one of several keys that I have in my collection. Other than that, it’s a great project. Big kudos.

    73

  5. Morse keyboard to text is how this ham radio device handles text sending modes such as PSK. Sending “dit-dah” on the attached keyboard with send out “a” as text.

    http://www.elecraft.com/KX3/kx3.htm

    Also, Apple’s iOS has several keyboards that use the screen as a Morse key and convert the results into alphabetic characters. Search the app store for “morse code keyboard” and you’ll find them. Here’s one:

    https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/morseboard-morse-code-keyboard/id927529935

    I’ve often thought a stealth send/receive system using Morse would be marvelous. Sending would mean using Morse with a small switch that could be hidden in a coat pocket. The receiving side could read out the letters one at a time, but a text-to-speech reader would be even better.

    It’s be great for security staff. Communicating that way would be less obvious than chattering to your coat lapel. And since it requires no talking, it’d be great—linked to radio—for special military operations where silence is a must. Send “move out” in Morse, and the device would say into a earphone “move out.”

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