Making a Telegraph Machine at Home for Communication and Morse Code

The telegraph was a revolutionary device that allowed for long distance communication.  Invented by Samuel Morse in the 1830s, the telegraph would communicate electrical signals over wire laid between telegraph stations.  These signals could be interpreted by Samuel’s electrical language, Morse code. Morse code uses dots and dashes to represent letters, numbers and characters. The communication method would quickly catch on and spread like wildfire.  A line was even laid between the United States and Europe.  Morse code was the first type instant communication (short of fire signals). Morse code was used globally soon enough until the 21st century would replace it with the telephone.

In the event of an emergency, the telegraph can be used to communicate with other fallout shelters, if a hard wire line is laid between the shelters.  It is also possible to learn Morse code to communicate over radio waves, as some longer distances and interference can prevent understandable voice communications.  Using Morse code and a hardwired telegraph to communicate between households is an excellent idea as well.  In certain situations, such as military takeovers, EMP attacks, and other war or martial law events, telephone and internet cables may be disrupted or destroyed; having your own cable buried between you and a neighboring household may be invaluable.  It may be easier to store a roll-out cable that can be easily covered or hidden, with a pair of telegraphs…so that they may be rolled out in an emergency.  

How to Make a Telegraph Yourself

You can build a couple of simple telegraph machines with some common parts yourself at home.  In order to build your own telegraph, you need a few ingredients:

(2) Iron Nails (must be iron or steel, must be at least 2 inches long)

(2) Pieces of Wood (any type, but the blocks should be a minimum of 12 inches long by 4 inches)

(9) Wood Screws

(3) Strips of Metal (any kind non-ferrous, that is, not naturally magnetic, and each should be roughly 4 x 2 inches long)

(1) Strip of Metal (must be ferrous, meaning naturally magnetic; it can be tested with a magnet to ensure it is ferrous before use; many times the metal used in canned food is ferrous, allowing for metal can openers to more easily function; *this strip needs to be 7 x 2 inches long)

(2) D Cell Batteries (the larger kind used in flashlights)

(1) Insulated Solid Electrical Wire, 24-30 gauge (should be a minimum of 20 feet of wire)

(1) Rubber band

(1) Permanent Marker

Note: This guide is to build a single telegraph, you will need to build two of these in order to communicate.

Survivalist Tip: To avoid making matters worse, you will want to be careful when cutting your metal strips; getting cut will compound your problems! Additionally, you will want to be careful while handling the sharp metal strips. You can sand the edges of your metal strips to make them safer to handle and use.


Making the key is the first step of building your telegraph. To begin, using one of the blocks of wood, and one of the shorter strips of metal, use one wood screw to HALF WAY screw one of the sides of the strip of metal to one end of the wood block (resting flat on the table).  You do not want to fully fasten the screw because you will need to attach wire to it shortly. 

Next, bend the side of the metal that is not screwed down, upward, causing the metal strip to sort of “curl” upward, from the position where it is screwed. Underneath the upward bent end of the strip, half-way fasten another wood screw, so that if the metal were to be pressed down it would make contact with the screw. This screw will also have wire attached, so we need to leave it only half fastened. 

Now we need to make the battery holder, so that you can power your telegraph with your D cell batteries.  Line your two batteries up and place them on the left side of the second block of wood, beginning roughly 2-3 inches from the left edge of the block of wood.  Using the permanent marker, mark the edge of the left side of the batteries, and the edge of the right side of the batteries, thus marking the size of the two batteries, lined up, as they would take up space on the wood block.  This shows you where to mount your other two small metal strips.  Bend your metal strips into two “L” shapes, ensuring the longer end of the L-shaped metal strip is taller than a D cell battery on its side by at least 1 inch.  Now is time to drill your battery holder contacts to the lines you drew with the permanent marker.  The left side will be drilled with the L-shaped metal strip being backwards (drill into the small end of the metal strip, so the taller end is pointed up, this will be taller than the batteries). The bottom corner of the metal strip should be flush with the left line you drew on the wood, to ensure that the batteries will be pressed tightly between the two L-shaped contacts. You will repeat the process on the right side, ensuring the corner of the L-shaped metal strip is pressed against the line on the right side (this metal strip should look like a normal L, not backwards like the left side). 

Important: When you are drilling the L-shaped metal strips into the left side of the second wooden board, you will want to ensure you place the screws as close to the corner of the metal strips as possible.

Some of the Best Telegraph and Morse Code Equipment

Here is some great telegraph and morse code equipment we recommend on amazon:

MFJ Enterprises Original MFJ-557 Deluxe Morse Code Practice Oscillator Straight Key w/ Volume Control

Eisco Labs Contact Key, Telegraphing/Morse Code, Single

The reason you drilled the screws firmly into the strips as close to the corner as possible, is because there will be a need to drill two more screws into the small end of the strips, towards the outer edges.  These screws should only be fastened half way, because you will need to attach wire to both of them. If you have done the battery holder correctly thus far, you will have made a container that is the perfect size to fit your batteries into (lined up in a series, positive to negative). The two metal strips will be fastened on either side, pointed in opposite directions (from a side view, the left strip will be a backwards L, while the right strip will be a correct L shape), and you will have four screws total, two per strip…and two of them (the most outer screws on either strip) will be only half-way fastened.  You can now press the batteries into the battery holder (negative side on the left, positive side on the right), and to keep them in place, use the rubber band to pull the top ends of the strips together.   This will be easy, considering the top of the strips will be much taller than the batteries (at least by an inch if you have done it correctly).  The series connection will provide the 3 Volts of power your telegraph needs to be operable.

It is now time to make the sounder, which is basically a strong electromagnet, that pulls a metal strip bent to hover slightly (a few mm) above a nail to make a clicking sound.  To make your sounder, begin by pounding a nail into the right side of the second board (the board you used to make your battery holder on the left side). The nail should only be pounded in enough so it is not removable by hand (do not go all the way through the board).  The last, longest metal strip should be bent into an L, with the smaller end of the L being drilled down into the right edge of the board (should look like a normal L shape from the side view). The tall length of the metal strip, should run parallel 1-2 inches away from the nail you just pounded into the board…careful as to not touch it.  The strip’s height should still be much taller than the nail it resides beside.  The top of the strip needs to be bent now so that it will hover roughly 2 mm above the head of the nail (it will naturally want to bend upward more, so do not worry about this, it is okay for this resistance to exist and even desirable, we are going to make the distance less between the strip and the head of the nail with the second nail).  Using the second nail, line it up as if you were getting ready to pound it in, so that the edge of the nail is pressing against the edge of the strip…as you pound this nail in, the head of the nail will “catch” the metal strip and “pull it down” towards the head of the other nail.  You will want to stop tapping the second nail into the board, when the strip is forced to remain roughly 2 mm above the first nail head.

Now we need to turn the sounder into an electromagnet. To do this, using your wire, you will need to make between 100 and 200 wraps around the first nail (the one that will cause the clicking sound as the ferrous metal strip is attracted strongly and repetitively in different patterns to the original nail head).  You only need to worry about saving enough about 12 inches of wire on either side, minimum. The more wraps of wire around the nail, the stronger the electromagnet will be and better to communicate longer distances more effectively. One side of the coil’s wire will run off to the right side of your key…with about an inch of exposed metal at the end of this side of the wire, wrap it around the screw that is sitting by itself, half way fastened underneath the hovering metal strip of the key.  You can then finish fastening this screw down, as to keep the wire in place.  The other side of the wire from the sounder coil you had just built runs to the half-way fastened screw on the right side of your battery holder.  You can repeat the same attaching process you used in the previous step, and fasten the wire in place by finishing this screw too.  Now you need a 10 inch strep of wire by itself which you can attach to the half-way fastened screw on the left side of the battery holder, and the other end to the half-way fastened screw on the left side of the key.  As you attach both of the wire ends, you can fasten these screws all the way down as previously done with the other two wire attachments.


You have now built your key, sounder, and battery holder, assembling them into your own homemade emergency telegraph.  Congratulations, you can now use your telegraph to communicate.

Click here to learn how to communicate using Morse Code

Tags: Making your own telegraph at home, homemade telegraph machine, build a telegraph yourself at home, building a working telegraph, how to build a real telegraph yourself, building an emergency telegraph system

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