Genuine Florida Keys - By Bill NT9K 
Custom Handmade Sideswiper Keys

Step by step instructions to build your own sideswiper.
This is a piece of raw solid surface material. The color of this piece is called Avonite® NewCaldron. In its raw form, it is hard to tell what you have until you sand and polish it. You can order 4x4x.5 inch samples of Dupont Corian® online for 2 bucks each here - 3 samples of Corian® will be enough to build this key. The samples will come finished on the top with rounded edges. Solid surface materials can be cut, drilled and shaped with ordinary woodworking tools.

I start by marking a 4 inch cut line. From that cut, I will mark the 3 base pieces. This way, they all will have the same front and back edge. For this key, I used 2 C-clamps and clamped a makeshift fence to the material and cut it with a jigsaw and fine wood blade. You can use masking tape on both cut lines to make cleaner edges, but I did not use tape for this key.

The finger piece is drawn on the material with a Sharpie®, using a paper template. I cut the part in one consecutive cut using a scroll saw running a slow speed with a 14 tooth wood blade.

I then take the finger piece and slice it in half using the scroll saw. Be careful and watch your fingers. To finish, I use a block of wood wrapped in 220 grit sand paper. Always use a block of wood to sand with! Once you get the parts flat, you can start wet sanding with 400, 600 and 1600 grit. I polish with 2 grits of polish. The final polish is a very thin corian polish I got from Walmart®. Notice in the photo, how the top finger piece shines.

Now I have the 3 pieces for the base. The bottom layer is 4x4x.5 inches, the middle layer is 3x4x.5 and the top layer is 2x4x.5. These parts have had many hours of sanding and polish time already.

I call the small 1 inch square blocks on top, the sandwich blocks. They will squeeze the lever and hold it in place. All the parts are starting to shine now, but still not quite perfect. These 2 small blocks may be the most difficult parts to make. Some tips would be to keep your cuts straight for these, use sanding blocks and try taping the blocks together while sanding them square. Use your Sharpie and mark the bottom. You need to make sure the bottom is as flat as possible or it will leave gaps under the blocks, between the base.

Time to start fabricating the brass adjuster posts. These are being made from 3/8ths square brass cut 1 1/8th long. I got the brass square stock from The lever will also be brass, cut from a half inch wide strip shown. The .5 inch strips of brass were from Ace hardware and were very cheap, like .58 cents a foot.

To mark and drill all the holes and to get them to align properly, I use a ruler and layout the parts to determine the center line as illustrated by the red line in the photo. From that line, I can get my marks for the sandwich block, both ends of the lever, both adjuster posts and the finger piece. This step is essential, or things will be crooked.

Again, be sure to keep the bottoms as flat as possible. For these adjuster posts, using a large metal file is the way to go. Take a screw and run it through both adjusters or tape them together. File the bottoms and tops to be the same length. If you use a screw, it will keep both of the adjuster screws, which are the contacts, at an even level where they will impact the lever.

The holes in the bottoms of the posts are tapped 6-32 and the horizontal adjuster screws are tapped 8-32. The advantage of the 32nd threads is a finer range of adjustment. You can get these taps cheap at Ace hardware for less than 3 bucks each. They cut the brass threads like cutting hot butter.

This photo just shows the completed adjusters sitting on the top layer. Do not drill the holes for them yet. The placement depends on the length of the contact screws. Be aware of how much adjustment range you want to have.

You can get the 8-32nd brass adjuster screws from Ace hardware® cheap too. The round knurled brass nuts came from Antique Lamp Supply.

The next step is to fabricate the lever. First we have to find the proper length. Lay out your parts to get a basic length. Make a stiff paper template and actually install it in the screws as if it were the actual brass lever. Once you get the proper length, you will have your screw hole guides too.

Now, using your paper template, which will give you the overall length, measure 1/4 inch in front of the sandwich blocks and mark the template. Mark the front edge of the finger piece.

The idea is to use 1 very thin piece of brass strip for the center of the lever. This piece will extend from the front of the finger piece to the rear of the sandwich blocks. There are 2 thicker pieces of brass that sandwich the thinner piece. One thicker piece extends from the rear of the finger piece to the 1/4 inch mark in front of the sandwich blocks. The other thicker piece will be a shorter piece that extends from the front of the finger piece to the 1/4 inch mark in front of the sandwich blocks.

What you end up with is a 3 thickness lever that has a 1/4 inch of thin brass that will be the flex point. You don't want the rest of the lever to flex. Only at the flex point. This will improve the action. I could have soldered the 3 pieces together, but I chose to use 2 screws size 4-40. This way, the thinner piece could be swapped out with other thicknesses, and would let you change the feel and amount of flex at the flex point. The thinner guage metal you use, the lighter the action will be.

Assemble the lever and use tape to hold everything together. Punch your marks and drill the holes that will hold the lever assembly together.

This photo shows the completed lever assembly. Notice the flex point. Again, you can solder the 3 pieces of lever together versus screwing them. It would cut your build time down, but you are stuck with the feel. If you do this and your action is too stiff, you could thin down the flex point and modify the action, but it would be easier to just drill the holes, if this is what you want to do.

Now with the completed lever assembly, lets take a look at how things will line up. We want to leave enough room behind the sandwich blocks for the 2 binding posts, but we don't want the finger piece to extent too far past the edge of the base.

Cut a small notch in the bottom of the lever between the 2 screw holes. This will allow for an electrical connection that will be hidden from view. Try and keep the notch as thin as possible, or you will have to fill the void with solder.

Solder a thin copper wire inside the notch you made in the bottom of the lever. Grind the excess solder down flush to keep the sandwich blocks from bulging, due to excess solder. Be careful and not grind off the wire! This wire will go down through a tiny hole in the top layer and will run to one of the binding posts.

All the parts have had a final wet sanding with 1600 grit Aluminum Oxide sand paper. Then polished by hand with Blue Magic® polish. Time to drill the holes in the top layer for the sandwich blocks, the binding posts and lastly, the adjusters. Do those last, placement is critical.

Take your time on this step. This is the most likely place to make an error. Measure all your holes carefully. I mark my center punch marks with a Sharpie and recheck twice. Use care with your center punch. You do not have to hit it very hard to make a good mark. I used an 1/8th inch drill bit and the hardware is 6-32 x 3/4 inch brass screws, washers and knurled round nuts. All available cheap at Ace Hardware®, but if you notice I am missing my washers and will be making another trip to see the Helpful Hardware Man before I can really finish.

On this key, I drilled all the holes with a drill press, but you can do it with a hand drill, just take your time. If you foul up, drill the hole out larger and cover it with a larger washer. Another technique to repair a bad screw hole is to fill it with JB Weld®, let it dry and redrill it.

To countersink all the holes, use a dremel tool with a cone shape grinding stone, as in the photo. It will work quickly, but be careful and don't be too aggressive. A bit hard to see in the photo, but the small wire we soldered to the bottom of the lever can be seen. I use a dremel® tool with a cutoff wheel, to cut the grooves for the binding post wires.

Now all the holes have been drilled, countersunk and the parts installed, tightened and soldered underneath. Time to test it out. The top layer is a bit light and must be held down to send with, but the action is very good, light but not too light with no flex in the front of the lever, only the flex point. All that is left to do, is screw the 3 layers together, sign the bottom and put a shelf liner on it.

I mark all of my home brew keys with my name, call sign and a serial number. I usually draw it on with a pencil, then etch the letters using a dremel tool. I use fine point paint pens to fill in the letters. This one was gold leaf and came from Staples®.

I always use shelf liners on my keys. I prefer the thinnest type. It still has the grip of the thicker shelf liner, but keeps your key lower to the desk. You can get this material at Walmart® in the kitchen department. A large roll only costs a couple dollars with lots of colors and thicknesses available. I normally glue them on the bottoms with a small dab of wood glue in each corner. If I need to replace it, the glue will peel off the solid surface material easily.

That completes the assembly. Time for some photos of the finished key. After spending so many hours polishing the key parts, we need nice pictures. We need light and lots of it! I use a white 2 foot by 3 foot melamine shelf board as my backdrop. I either take the photos outside or inside using flood lamps and a reflector, made from aluminum foil attached to a piece of cardboard. The reflector helps control the shadows like you see in the photo above which was taken outdoors.

No shadow here. This one was taken indoors. When the light is just right, you can see through the finger piece. I am very pleased with the final results. Each key I make gets better and I learn more. But, how does it perform?

This key has a very light action. Due to the design, it does have some lever stutter. Meaning that if your finger slips off, the lever will chatter and sound like a machine gun. This is caused by no dampening of the lever. I could improve this design with use of some springs, magnets or a damper for the lever.

This key was fun to build and I learned a lot doing it. I have named this key Ruby Stairsteps and have started work on a matching long lever pump key. I hope that you will give key making a try. Please feel free to use any of my key designs, anyway you like. Who knows, maybe some day you can make improve the design!
73, Bill NT9K


. Hand Made

. Custom Built
. Many Colors and Options

. Stainless Steel Hardware
. Brass Hardware
. Custom Plating
. Solid Surface Materials
Copyright 2015 © Projects & Designs by Bill NT9K
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