Model F Keyboard Restoration Goes The Extra Mile

A composite of a disassembled and reassembled Model F keyboard

The IBM Model F keyboard should need no introduction. Famed for its buckling spring key mechanisms, the Model F is lusted over for its satisfying typing experience and Armageddon-proof build quality. First introduced in 1981, many of these keyboards will now naturally require basic maintenance. However, [Epictronics] recently went a step further and restored a Model F to like-new condition.

Missing keycaps were the least of his worries, as both new and old replacements are relatively easy to come by. [Epictronics] was more concerned about the forty-year-old foam sandwiched tight inside the keyboard, most likely having long since degraded. Apart from being plain gross, the decaying foam has the potential to foul the buckling spring switches. After taking apart the body and removing the ‘disgusting’ foam pad, a replacement was forged from neoprene and a handy-dandy hole punch.

Disassembly of the keyboard case required the gentle touch of a mallet, and reassembly needed similarly inappropriate tools. As demonstrated in this vintage clip from IBM, keyboard assembly was (and still is) performed automatically by robots, driven by an IBM Series/1 minicomputer. These robots were equally impressive for their precision and strength. Without access to IBM’s aptly named ‘closing tool’ and various other robotic helpers, [Epictronics] had to settle for pool noodles and a comically large clamp during reassembly, mixed with sheer determination.

Other neat tricks in the video include applying heat to reform the coiled keyboard cable, and using car polish to clean the case plastics. The latter has the potential to make things worse, so a delicate hand is needed to maintain the textured plastic.

We recently covered another Model F restoration, and it’s exciting to see so many dedicated hackers keeping these keyboards clickety-clacking well into the 21st century.

19 thoughts on “Model F Keyboard Restoration Goes The Extra Mile

  1. Thanks for posting. A viewer pointed out to me that this very keyboard belonged to IBM Deutschland. The black sticker is apparently their inventory number. Knowing this, I will revert this keyboard back to it’s German caps of course.

  2. I have a Model F with some pretty nasty rodent damage. Maybe I can finally take on cleaning it up. It’s for an XT so either I’ll get one of those adapters or plug it into an actual XT. I have a Pentium MMX 233 as my DOS computer, seems overkill to have an XT in the house too. So the lack of motivation in fixing it up. Especially when I can throw money at modelfkeyboards.com

      1. Nope! You’re thinking of Unicomp, which used to be Lexmark keyboards, which was the original manufacturer was spun off from IBM. Modelfkeyboards.com was a Kickstarter project that recovered original equipment from Unicomp to recreate the keyboards. They also sell refurbished Model Fs. Of course all of their keyboards go for $450 and up. BTW Unicomp is only selling Model Fs customized for modern Macs at this point. You should try clicking on the link.

      2. No, they aren’t, not at ModelFkeyboards. Perhaps you are thinking of Unicomp “Model Fs”. ModelFkeyboards also sell original Model Fs and Ms. There’s one “boxed original” for $250, but most of these keyboards, re-created of new, run ~$400

        1. Ah, I see. I thought they also made the F with upgraded layout. The M was my first ever PC keyboard back in the day and I’m still using one as my daily driver. However, I would consider the F as my main keyboard if it only had a few keys changed.

    1. I would think since broken and “untested” Model Fs bring about $150-200 on eBay and individual keys are $8.40+$3.75 shipping, that might be motivation enough! Maybe it’s not a priority for you, but there are a lot of people who would really like to get to fix one, to resell if not for their own collection. The humblebrag about being able to afford a $450+ keyboard is a bit much.

  3. I have a buckling spring keyboard that was produced with the PS2 connector. I use a PS2 to USB adapter although it’s non-responsive until the computer actually boots all the way up. I have to wait 30 seconds while being prompted to hit a key before windows will boot (on a power-loss reboot). The keyboard came from a mid-90s PC and was discovered in a collection of old keyboards around 2000. I’ve had this keyboard hooked to various computer builds since then and after 25 years since it was new, it keeps on working. I’m using it to type this right now. I learned to type on IBM Selectric and Adler typewriters and I’ve found this keyboard to be the most pleasing of any I’ve tried to use. Looks like it’s about time to take mine apart and clean it again for the 4th time. :)

    1. That’s very cool, was it for special PC’s or something one would recognize?
      I imported this Model F together with a 5150 and a 5151. However, the CRT and PC were not made in the same year. I think someone pieced the set together from different systems. I plan on making at lease one video about this set in December but hoping to make two :)

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