Speedex Rebuild

A friend of mine (and the president of our radio club), N4ESS, heard I was interested in CW. Being mainly a CW guy himself, he stopped over at the house one afternoon and brought me some equipment. One of the things he had with him was a beat up hamfest-special, Speedex straight key. It needed some work, but he said I could have it if I wanted it.

Seen better days...
Definitely seen better days…


Pretty much all the hardware was corroded, some of the screws were stuck, and the paint was peeling off. With a little bit of Kroil + Leatherman, it didn’t take too long to get everything apart. The hard part was cleaning up all the hardware.

I tried everything I could think of: toothbrush, wire brush, brillo pad, WD-40, etc., etc. after a couple hour of alternate scrubbing and soaking in Kroil, most of it cleaned up alright. I did have a couple of stubborn ports that just wouldn’t come clean…for future reference, laquer thinner is the FIRST thing I should’ve tried, not the last. Worked like a champ. With everything all shined up, it was on to the paint.

First I tried brushing the paint stripper on. Being naturally impatient, after about 2 minutes of that I dumped around 1/3 of the can of stripper into a #10 can and dropped the base in. 10 minutes or so later, this is what came out…

Stripped base
Nice and clean

The original finish was kind of a really light orange peel texture, which I wanted to try and replicate. I took a trip to the auto parts store, and $9 later came home with a can of VHT black wrinkle paint. After reading the directions carefully, I took the metal base out in the yard in a cardboard box and sprayed it all up: applying paint first one way, then 90° to that for the second coat, and finally 45° on the final coat. I stuck it in the garage overnight to dry.

Next morning I went out to check, and it had dried with a perfect wrinkle finish…if I had been trying for that high-heat valve cover look.

Valve Cover  The wrinkles were HUGE! Way rougher than I would’ve liked. So, it was back to the #10 can-of-paint-stripper bath. To save everyone the long, painful, trial and error route that I took (and a lot of paint stripper..), I will try and break the process of wrinkle painting down thusly:

1) Wrinkle paint works on the principle that the surface of the finish dries faster than the rest of the paint underneath. They apparently actually used to accomplish this in times past by mixing various ratios of tung oil (or other similar additives) with the paint.

2) Heat is key. Unless you want your project to look like it belongs under the hood of your car, you need to heat it rapidly after you apply the paint. This can be accomplished in your oven, if you can gain the permission of your wife, mother, or equivalent in charge of the kitchen area. Microwaves are not recommended.

3) If you CAN’T gain access to the oven (you more than likely won’t), you will have to get creative. I made a little hot box out of cardboard and aluminum foil.

How’s that for a piece of thermal engineering??


4) Next I needed a heat source. After scrounging around in the garage awhile I turned up one of those aluminum worklights with (gasp!) an INCANDESCENT BULB. Having had past personal experience melting PVC piping in our irrigation system, by using one of these lights to keep the pump from freezing, I knew it should do the trick.

5) It seems to make no difference what kind of pattern you use when applying the paint, at least not when you are heat-treating. After I had the hotbox all ready, I just kind of sprayed the key base all over, making sure I had covered the entire surface.

6) All I had to do then was drop the freshly-painted key base into the box, flip on the light, and kneel next to it on the garage floor for the next approximately 12 1/2 minutes, watching until the paint started to wrinkle up. If you’ve got one of these fancy laser thermometers like I do, it was at around 120 degrees F.

In the hotbox

Baking the paint

121 F

After FINALLY accomplishing the right look and feel to the  paint, I had to let it cure. Because of the surface of wrinkle paint drying faster than the paint underneath, it takes a while for the paint to fully dry. If you mess with it too much before it completely cures, you can damage the wrinkle finish, or smear the paint (don’t ask me how I know this…). I left mine sitting on a shelf drying for around 2-3 weeks. You might be able to leave it for less time than this, or possible heat treat it after the initial “wrinkling stage.” I’ll leave this up to your own experimentation.

After reassembly (finally!), this is how it turned out. Pretty slick, huh?

Finished key

I have been feverishly practicing my code, and hope to get a chance to try this thing out on the air soon. Thanks again to Rich, N4ESS, for the key. This was an interesting project, and hopefully this might help someone out there with some wrinkle painting projects of their own!