I went to Lowes and picked up a 3/4" x 4" x 5" Hardwood floor sample for 25cents and mounted my key to it after sticking some rubber feet on the bottom of the wooden base.
Walla... I have a $12.25 straight key. I practiced for a couple minutes and then made a few contacts with other straight key operators on 40m. For some reason using a straight key seems more natural than using paddles although I seem to make an equal number of mistakes with each. Straight keys certainly seem more "traditional" to CW but I'm sure I'm harder for the receiving OP to copy than when I let the radio do the dit-dah spacing for me with its keyer controlled by paddles. But I digress... I'd like to try a good straight key to see if there's much of difference other than hopefully reduced clacking (that MFJ plastic base is a little resonator for the contact closure).
So... if you're looking for a cheap (and I mean cheap) straight key option, you can usually find these keys in trash cans, add a 25cent hardwood floor base, some rubber feet and there you go.
BTW I use 3 feet on the base of a key. I saw the 3 foot layout on my Bencher paddle. It seemed odd at the time (3--odd, get it? no?) but now I understand. One rubber foot goes in each of the front corners and one foot goes at the rear of the base at the middle. That way if the surface isn't entirely level the key won't rock back and forth. Brilliant, eh?
That's all for now....
Lower your power and raise your expectations
Richard -- N4PBQ