Custom 40% Model F Keyboard Is 100% Awesome

Look closely at this beauty. No, that’s not a chopped IBM Model M or anything — it’s a custom 40% capacitive buckling spring keyboard with an ortholinear layout made by [durken]. Makes it easy to imagine an alternate reality where IBM still exists as IBM and has strong keyboard game, or one where Unicomp are making dreams come true for those who don’t need anywhere near 101 or 104 keys.

Buckling what now? This lovely board uses capacitive buckling spring switches from an old IBM Model F. Basically, every time you press a key, a little spring is bent over (or buckled) in the name of connectivity. In the capacitive version, the spring pushes a hammer onto a pair of plates, causing a change in capacitance that gets recognized as a key press. In this case, those key presses are read by a TH-XWhatsit controller.

Using a Model F XT’s PCB as a guide, [durken] made a field of capacitive pads on one PCB, and made a second, ground plane PCB to avoid interference. In a true homage to these keyboards, [durken] decided to curve the PCB slightly, which naturally complicated almost everything, especially the barrel plate.

The solution was to make a separate barrel plate that slides into the case and gets screwed to the top via mounting bracket. For an extra bit of fun, [durken] mounted an SKCL lock switch under the IBM logo which enables solenoid mode. Be sure to check that out in the (updated!) video after the break.

One of the best things about a buckling spring keyboard is that each key sounds slightly different. Not so in solenoid mode, unless you were to use multiple solenoids.

Continue reading “Custom 40% Model F Keyboard Is 100% Awesome”

Illustrated Kristina with an IBM Model M keyboard floating between her hands.

Keebin’ With Kristina: The One With The Cat Keyboard

Special thanks to [Maarten], who stumbled upon this old gem of a geekhack thread by [suka]. It’s essentially a show and tell of their DIY keyboard journey, complete with pictures. [suka]’s interest started with a yen for ergonomic keyboard layout alternatives. They soon found the geekhack forum and started lurking around, practicing layouts like Neo and AdNW, which [suka] still uses today.

A pair of num pads wired up to a Teensy becomes a keyboard.When it was time to stop lurking and start building something, [suka] got plenty of support from the community. They knew they wanted a split ortho with a trackpoint and plenty of thumb keys. [suka] started by building them from old Cherry keyboards, which are easier to come by in Germany.

The first build was a pair of num pads turned landscape and wired up to a Teensy, but [suka] wanted those sweet, clacky Cherry MX switches instead of MLs. So the second version used a pair of sawed-off num pads from old MX boards.

When the Truly Ergonomic came out, it got [suka] interested in one-piece splits. Plus, they were tired of carrying around a two-piece keyboard. So their next build was a sexy monoblock split with a laser-sintered case and keycaps. But that was ultimately too uncomfortable, so [suka] went back to split-splits.

Everyone takes a different path into and through this hobby, and they’re all likely to be interesting. Is yours documented somewhere? Let us know.

What Could Have Been: The Dygma Raise

I do some streaming here and there, mostly for the sense of focus I get out of being live on camera. I like to find out what my people in chat are clacking on, and one of them told me they have a staggered split called the Dygma Raise. I hadn’t heard of it before that day, but this keyboard has been around for a few years now.

This same person told me that Dygma might make an ortholinear version sometime soon, but apparently Dygma wanted it that way from the beginning. According to the timely video below sent to the tips line by [de Éhipu], Dygma’s original plan was a split ortho with few keys and presumably a layer system.

Continue reading “Keebin’ With Kristina: The One With The Cat Keyboard”

A composite of a disassembled and reassembled Model F keyboard

Model F Keyboard Restoration Goes The Extra Mile

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.

Continue reading “Model F Keyboard Restoration Goes The Extra Mile”

Bringing An IBM Model F Into 2020

We know that the Hackaday family includes many enthusiasts for quality keyboards, and thus mention of the fabled ‘boards of yore such as the IBM Model F is sure to set a few pulses racing. Few of us are as lucky as [Brennon], who received the familial IBM PC-XT complete with its sought-after keyboard.

This Model F has a manufacture date in March 1983, and as a testament to its sturdy design was still in one piece with working electronics. It was however in an extremely grimy condition that necessitated a teardown and deep clean. Thus we are lucky enough to get a peek inside, and see just how much heavy engineering went into the construction of an IBM keyboard before the days of the feather-light membrane devices that so many of us use today. There follows a tale of deep cleaning, with a Dremel and brush, and then a liberal application of Goo Gone. The keycaps had a long bath in soapy water to remove the grime, and we’re advised to more thoroughly dry them should we ever try this as some remaining water deep inside them caused corrosion on some of the springs.

The PC-XT interface is now so ancient as to have very little readily available in the way of adapters, so at first a PS/2 adapter was used along with a USB to PS/2 converter. Finally though a dedicated PC-XT to USB converter was procured, allowing easy typing on a modern computer.

This isn’t our first look at the Model F, but if you can’t afford a mechanical keyboard don’t worry. Simply download a piece of software that emulates the sound of one.