I don't remember how I got started building my own keys and paddles, but it may have had something to do with QRP operation. As my rigs got smaller and lighter, my Bencher paddle probably seemed out of place, so I wanted to build a QRP-style paddle. With my limited fabrication skills and tools, the key word was "simple".
This was my first attempt at a homebrew paddle. I thought it would be a good idea to use self-wiping switches to keep the contacts clean, so I used some Radio Shack pushbuttons. This is a single-arm paddle to keep the mechanics simple. As you can see, I made extensive use of copper-clad pc board that I picked up at a hamfest. It's cheap, easy to cut, and you can solder to it. The pivot at the far end of the arm is just a hollow spacer sitting on a 4-40 screw, and the brackets are from Ace Hardware. The finger pads are rubber stick-on feet for a project enclosure. The paddle works pretty well, but occasionally the arm will swing back too far and close the opposite switch just long enough to generate an extra dot or dash. I think if I made the arm shorter, that might not occur. But I've moved on to other designs now.
I found this design on the Internet at http://paddlette.com/pkproduct.htm. I got the brass shim stock at a hobby store, and since then I've seen the same stock at hardware stores. It is smaller than the Ugly Key (above), and it has a very nice feel to it. One big improvement is the adjustable spacing. I used those nuts with the nylon insert to hold the adjustment once you have it where you want it. The wooden base and supports make it more attractive than the "bench look" that you get from copperclad pc boards. It also has two arms instead of a single arm. I don't really use the iambic feature, but the two-armed paddle does have a nicer feel. And some rigs like the DSW II can be programmed by pressing both paddles at the same time. The finger pads are guitar picks that I bought at a music store. It was fun to watch the expression on the owners face when I told him what I wanted them for. The guy at my local Ace Hardware store used to get that look too, but he knows me now, and nothing surprises him any more. In fact, he's always interested in my latest project. I've taken this paddle camping several times, and used it on a few sprints. It's my favorite for now.
This is a smaller version of my Camper Paddle, and I'm back to pc board construction again. The reason for the switch back to copperclad is that I wanted to make this paddle light weight for the Adventure Radio Society Sprints. I plan to use this paddle with my ATS-3A. The spacing is adjustable by loosening the screws and sliding the arms in or out. It's not as simple as the "turn the screw" method, but it does save weight. So far, I've only used this paddle at the home QTH, but next Spring I'll give it a field test.
I've never tried a "touch paddle", so I ordered the kit from CWTouchKeyer.com and built up the little board. Then I packaged it in a little box I found at the Container Store. If you've never been to that store, I highly recommend it for all sorts of containers for your rigs and projects.
UPDATE: The March 2007 issue of QST has an article on building a set of touch paddles. It's on page 28.