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Hardware Hacking Input Devices

Do-It-Yourself Steampunk Keyboard 159

An anonymous reader writes "Who said there's no use for your old IBM "M Series" keyboards anymore? This creative fellow shows us step by step how to convert the keyboards of yesteryear into keyboards of an even further distant, fictional time. H. G. Wells would be proud."
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Do-It-Yourself Steampunk Keyboard

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  • Brazil (Score:4, Insightful)

    by suso ( 153703 ) * on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @10:56AM (#18181058) Homepage Journal
    It reminds me a lot of something you'd see in the movie "Brazil". Pretty cool. I like the "Shift Freedom" key.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Right now it won't make people remember much. I tried to load the page when there were only 3 comments, and 5 minutes later half the images didn't load yet...

      coral cache []

      No Karma Whoring, posting as AC!
    • Does anyone have a mirror? I checked the site 3 times when there were 5-6 comments on the story and it was /.'d.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Yeah it looks really cool, but the board is going to die faster now. The original keycaps are vaguely umbrella shaped for a reason: to keep dust out of the buckling spring mechanism underneath them. Those little black plastic tubes that he pulls the keys out of now have their tops slightly exposed, so dust can settle down into them and interfere with things.

      If anyone is looking to make their own, they should just be aware of this.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by nytes ( 231372 )
        I guess what you're saying is: It's all fun and games until someone loses an 'I'.
      • Suggestions (Score:3, Interesting)

        by salec ( 791463 )
        It would have been even more "steampunk" if numerical keypad was replaced with an old telephone rotary encoder (ah, the sound) and various "lock" keys replaced with pole switches. That would require some additional electronics hacking, though.

        Oh, and... LEDs should be replaced with little light bulbs from torches or, even better, wavelength scale backlight bulbs from antique radios (perhaps bulbs from Christmas tree lights would do fine), in nice little light "towers".

        Of course, an old 4-circuit woven fabri
    • > OMFG!!!1 the model m is the only keyboard evar!!!

      and still, you're typing this post from a shiny apple keyboard... tsk tsk tsk

      btw, you disgraced an apple product by praising another one. Go kill your self ritualistically.
  • Keyboard (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MattSparkes ( 950531 ) on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @10:57AM (#18181062) Homepage Journal
    I've been looking for one of those for ages, I want to use it standard. Modern keyboards just don't make the right noise...
    • by smaerd ( 954708 )
      I don't know about the UK, but here in the states, you can find them at thrift stores all the time (namely, a thrift store called Goodwill).
    • by Hatta ( 162192 )
      No kidding. I actually had 2 of them die on me not too long ago. Not sure why, I thought they were indestructible. They still work actually, they'll just freeze up every half hour or so and I have to "reboot" them by disconnecting and reconnecting the cable. It's probably the cable connector on the back of the keyboard getting loose or something. Anyone know if this is fixable? Or do I need to hit up ebay for a lot of model Ms?
      • Re:Keyboard (Score:4, Informative)

        by R2.0 ( 532027 ) on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @11:23AM (#18181360)
        My guess is it's your motherboard, not the keyboard. Some later motherboards don't adhere to the original standards - kinda like the "lame serial port" problem in some laptops.

        Drop the guy at [] a line - he's quite helpful. They also have an adapter that will convert the PS/2 plug to USB, which might be a way around your problem.
        • by Hatta ( 162192 )
          hm, they worked just fine with the same motherboard for several years before they quit, and it's not like they quit at the same time. Probably 6 months or so between. Thanks for the link though, I'll check it out.
          • Check to make sure you're getting a good, steady +5V inside the keyboard. Then add a small NP cap and a big electrolytic cap near the microprocessor. "small" and "big" don't really matter, try .01 and 220uF.
          • Patriotism is akin to racism.
            context update: s/Patriotism/Jingoism/

            Patriotism is fine, its the extreme version that has the worlds eyebrows rising.
    • Re:Keyboard (Score:5, Informative)

      by SMQ ( 241278 ) on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @11:17AM (#18181326)
      They're still being manufactured by Unicomp []; same layout, same technology. Plus, they come in black []!
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        A real vintage (1985 - 1992) model M keyboard built by IBM (when they were still INDUSTRIAL BUSINESS MACHINES corp)

        ...weighs almost 6 pounds and has steel parts and removable key caps. []

        Unicomp has since simplified and reduced the design and changed quality of materials so that the units no longer have two-piece removable keys, aluminum instead of steel plate, and reduced weight to 4 pounds.

        • by Lehk228 ( 705449 )
          as of last march or so they still have removable keycaps and are solidly built.

          i haven't done a side-by-side comparison with a vintage keyboard so it may be lighter but it certainly isn't light. compare with every other modern keyboard which weighs practically nothing, and losing 2 lbs is worth gaining USB support, which is vital if you use it with a laptop or other newer machine lacking a mini DIN connector
      • they come in black!

        Not really - if you'll look at the picture you linked to, the keys are not black, thus making this only 'mostly black.' 'Mostly black' also means 'slightly white,' which is a real problem. Yuck.

        I'd like to have a *real* black Model M, but the short kind - with no numeric keypad. That would be awesome.
    • I've been looking for one of those for ages, I want to use it standard [] has what you need.
    • Try making a few friends in IT departments in larger companies or schools. I happened to get my Model M (dated 20-SEP-93) because one of the departmental IT guys was getting ready to give a heave-ho to about 10 of them and one of my friends (who knows the IT guys quite well) managed to requisition one for me.
  • keyboard ever?
    • Re:the finest... (Score:4, Informative)

      by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @11:11AM (#18181254) Homepage Journal
      I'm trying to remember the name of the finest keyboard, I actually own one but I don't use it because I use a laptop these days... Northstar Omnikey Ultra, that sounds right. Supports XT, AT, Tandy, and Amiga with interchangable cables. Has dip switches for keyboard mode, to switch keymap to Dvorak, and to swap caps and lctrl. It actually came with a key cap remover so that you could switch your keys to match your layout. Very sexy. But just as importantly, it has that clicky feel (a little softer but with excellent feedback) and every key switch is replacable. They use an Alps part you can order from digi-key.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Canthros ( 5769 )
        Northgate Omnikey, I'm guessing. (Just stumbled across it looking for an inexpensive source of Model M keycaps.)
        • Ah yes, that's the name all right. Thanks for the refresher. Seriously, I like it every bit as much as the Model M, but it does have a slightly easier keypress so for those who would like their typing to sound like the wrath of god, it's probably not the answer.
        • by wampus ( 1932 )
          Just out of curiousity, did you find a source for keycaps? I am missing the Esc and an Alt cap for my Model M, and came up dry a few months ago. I can't complain, though. The keyboard was $2 at Goodwill and cleaned up very nicely.
          • by Canthros ( 5769 )
   [] sells them on a limited basis--I guess they salvage them from defunct Model Ms--at $1 per. Not too bad if you need a few, but I was hoping to find a better price, which I haven't. I'm short a couple arrow keys and an Escape key, IIRC. I'd have to dig the spares out to inventory and check.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by gkitty ( 869215 )
        The Alps keyswitches you like were found in many top quality keyboards of that era, and I do agree that these are about the best ever done. Northgate used them, so did the keyboards of SGI, Control Data, Dell, and others. I know this because I used to cruise Silicon Valley thrift shops, and on quite a few occasions I would bring home an excellent used keyboard, only to realize it was exactly the same as all my other favorites.

        I also have a bunch of IBM model M's. I like them, but they make quite a commot
  • Mirror Dot (Score:4, Informative)

    by A Name Similar to Di ( 875837 ) on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @11:05AM (#18181194)
    Since I already can't get to the site...there's a mirror dot here [].
  • Mirrordot link (Score:1, Informative)

    by HockeyPuck ( 141947 )
    Looks like the site's on fire....

    Mirrordot: 20ca22c50cd9b7e/index.html []
  • But does it still make that super loud clicky noise when you type?
    • YES! :)
      • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

        by nra1871 ( 836627 )
        Good god I HATE that clicking. I refuse to use those things for just that reason. For me, the perfect keyboard is the one on my Powerbook. My hands glide across it effortlessly, I love it.
        • I don't know why your comment got flamebait, some people just choose a quieter keyboard and aren't bothered by the lack of physical response to a key press. I know a lot of people, including myself that know automatically if they miss a letter or some other typo. Having said that, there are keyboards even I can't stomach, such as the rollable waterproof keyboards, and the mother of all bad ideas: LASER keyboards.
          • by nra1871 ( 836627 )
            LOL I've been out at the bar... I had no idea I was modded as flamebait. I'm serious, I hate the clicking, there's no ajenda behind it. My first real exposure to it was after I dumped Ramen on my keyboard, and borrowed my dad's spare until I got a new one. Holy the clicking drove me nuts. I got a new one as soon as I could. Keyboards are very personal, you either like it or you don't. At $15 a pop, I can't see getting upset over one or another.
    • Re:but (Score:5, Insightful)

      by value_added ( 719364 ) on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @11:36AM (#18181540)
      But does it still make that super loud clicky noise when you type?

      Even if it doesn't, it would definitely go a long way to training people to avoid the carpal-tunnel-inducing-typo-generating bad habit of resting their wrists on the keyboard.

      For anyone who never learned to type in a typing class on a real typewriter, I'll point out that most everyone who finishes such a course ends up typing at about 90wpm. I enrolled on a lark (to meet girls, actually, but they all ended up resenting me because I typed faster than they did), but the habits drilled into me I keep to this day.

      Take that Mavis Beacon. Now get off my lawn.

      Great looking keyboard at any rate. What's missing is a big magnifying screen like those found in Terry Gilliam's Brazil. And some pneumatic tubes. Gotta have pneumatic tubes -- you can impress your friends and family and have fun scaring the shit out of the dog at the same time.
      • Re:but (Score:4, Insightful)

        by gEvil (beta) ( 945888 ) on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @11:37AM (#18181576)
        You've made a good point. I still consider the keyboarding class that i took on a whim in high school to be one of the most useful classes I took there.
      • what about a typing class for someone who's been typing for 15+ years? i don't hunt and peck anymore, but i also don't use the home row, and i only use two or three fingers. lots of typos i make, but i'm also pretty fast with the backspace. i'd love to get better, but my style is so ingrained, i dunno if i can change...any suggestions?
        • I spent 5 years without knowhing how to type properly, but they were very formative 10-15 years old. I took a typing class and had an easier time than people who'd never seen a keyboard before. At least I knew where the keys were. I'm very glad I did it. I can type over 100wpm now if I'm in my groove.

          You should go to your community college and take typing class. It'll be the best hundred bucks you've ever spent. You'll save ten times that much on carpal tunnel savings alone.
      • by tb3 ( 313150 )
        I took typing in Grade 9 (yes, I'm from Canada) and we learned on Underwood Upright manual typewriters. I'll never forget our teacher's mantra, "Short, Snappy Strokes". God, my first electric typewriter (and it was only semi-automatic, the carriage return was manual) was such a blessing compared to those upright beasts.
        • took typing in Grade 9 (yes, I'm from Canada) and we learned on Underwood Upright manual typewriters. I'll never forget our teacher's mantra, "Short, Snappy Strokes".

          LOL. I'm from Canada, too -- sounds like we had the same teacher! FWIW, here in the US they have Grade 9, too. It's just that in high school, they only go to grade 12 and don't do the extra year we get.

          I think the earlier poster's comment that typing was the best thing he learned in high school was spot on. Most of us spend our lives workin
          • by tb3 ( 313150 )
            Ah, but the subtle difference is that in the US it's referred to as the "9th Grade". That's why the Barenaked Ladies song was so quintessentially Canadian.
      • Even if it doesn't, it would definitely go a long way to training people to avoid the carpal-tunnel-inducing-typo-generating bad habit of resting their wrists on the keyboard.

        A keyboard in my size doesn't exist. I need one scaled up about 20% before I can touch type. Resting my hands on the home row keys causes me pain, and pretty much always has. I usually blame it on the size of my hands, but I think there's something about their "design" that makes it just not work for me.

        What I actually do is semi-tou

  • Not for me (Score:3, Funny)

    by LearnToSpell ( 694184 ) on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @11:12AM (#18181272) Homepage
    I perked up when I saw the ol' Model M. Got a couple lying around, and I've been using the same one for the last 10 years or so. But this! Drill press?! Band saw?! What is this, shop class? Sounds like a hardware problem, boyo. Not my department.

    • Not for me either. I still got my M. He's been my faithful fox hole buddy as my fingers wage battle with C/C++. M has bellied many nades for me too - tobacco nerve agents, coffee napalm, salsa ICBMs, and many other weapons of mass code construction. They just don't make 'em any tougher than the 'ole M. I salute you brother!
    • by dpilot ( 134227 )
      I'll see your 10 years, and raise you 10 years. Don't know if it's exactly the Model M, but I'm still using the same old 101-key keyboard that I got back in 1987 with my first IBM. A few years back at a hamfest, I found a brand new old 101-key, still in the unopened box for $25, but my mistake was only buying one.
  • While I agree that the whole project was very nicely done, it doesn't look like he even tried to match the type between his 'new' keys and the vintage ones he bought off ebay. Look at the picture with the two green lights for an example--the type used for the 'Page Up' and 'Home' keys looks nothing like that used for the 'Shift Lock' key.
  • Keyboards (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PatrickThomson ( 712694 ) on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @11:25AM (#18181382)
    not that I want to be pedantic, but the model M's are about the only old keyboards worth not cutting to bits.
  • "Who said there's no use for your old IBM "M Series" keyboards anymore?"
    What the hell?! Anyone with sense knows that the Model M is the best keyboard ever made. C'mon!
  • I have a couple spares, actually, though I'm not sure if they're all of the removable keycaps variety. I'm not totally satisfied with the result in the article: I think I'd have used a piece of stiff, black plastic instead of felt. Looks pretty nice, though.
  • "Max Headroom"
  • UK refurb'd Model Ms (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I got mine from DUCT=13 []

    30quid, and it arrived looking like new.
  • Steampunk? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Rob T Firefly ( 844560 ) on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @11:45AM (#18181662) Homepage Journal
    Where do you load in the coal?
  • I actually convinced my boss to order me a brand new Model M keyboard, and in my opinion it's the best damn keyboard there is.

    Tactile feedback people, tactile feedback... (of course, my colleagues aren't too intrigued about the clicking of the mecanic keyswitches...). I'd recommend this keyboard for anyone that does a serious amount of coding/writing in their work.

  • But he did a lot of work that I don't know if I could do.

    On the other hand, I would DEFINITELY buy what he made, it looks a lot better than most of the plastic crap out there.

  • by internic ( 453511 ) on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @12:03PM (#18181932)
    I guess that keyboard goes with this case [].
  • Beautiful project (Score:2, Insightful)

    by siegesama ( 450116 )

    The end result is very beautiful, and I'm seriously considering attempting to duplicate this project, but with a few changes:

    • use green felt (like from a pool-table)
    • use symbols for the non-alpha-numeric keys (print screen, num lock, etc)
    • do something about that cable, it doesn't quite match the look of the rest of the project. Maybe some flexible shielded conduit?

    This project reminds me of a case mod featured here a long while back, where the entire inside of the case was covered in chromed panels, an

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by BJH ( 11355 )
      That would be Orac. I believe the article you're looking for is this one [], and the associated mod page is this one [].
    • I thought it was nice, but a bit too understated by Gilliam-esque standards.

      My favourite steampunk-style computer mod must be the ElectriClerk []. Not nearly as practical as the keyboard in the article, but even more wonderfully anachronistic!
  • Still made (Score:2, Informative)

    by Visual Echo ( 928267 ) *
    Unicomp (the original contractor who made IBM keyboards) still makes them and are for sale at [] . My undiagnosed 'carpal tunnel' pain went away after I started using one.
  • I must say, that has to be the most gorgeous keyboards I have ever seen. If I could buy one, I would spend up to $150 on it. Well done Sir, I tip my hat to you.
  • Come on! And that can't possibly be comfortable to type on for long periods of time....
  • Bravo!
    That is very very nice. When does mass production start?
  • I mean, yeah, it's pretty and all, but he just glued the keycaps on with silicone adhesive. I'd put $10 down that if you actually -used- the keyboard that the keys'd be falling off within a month.
  • I'm dead serious - I absolutely love this keyboard, but lack the skills to be able to build it myself. Is there anywhere that a person can go to actually buy things like this? I want one!
  • What's with the felt? Any one with a sense of aesthectics would use mirror matched burl maple veneer panels or engine turned brass plate instead of felt. Very nice as far as it goes though. "Me too" on the Model M. Mine's gotta be over 20 years old now. Amazing piece of hardware.
  • by wehe ( 135130 ) <<wehe> <at> <>> on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @02:22PM (#18183852) Homepage Journal
    There is a project dedicated to keyboard modding, repairing and cleaning [], which lists many more guides for keyboard hackers.
  • This is a nice little bit of crafting. Although it's not entirely a "hack", it's not like he breadboarded the keyboard controller or something, it's still a nice piece of work. I certainly wouldn't be above having one on my desk (though I'd have to make it ergo).

    Of course, he DID desecrate a Model M to do it. So he's going to hell. But it's still a nice bit of work.
  • How about as a regular keyboard? I still have one i use daily.. and 2 spares in the closet.

    The new mushy garbage you get now is awful.

    And no i dont need a 'windows' key, so being 'up to date' means nothing to me.
  • Well, while that keyboard does look rather nice, I find that these IBM keyboards are - to this day - the only ones I use. I couldn't damage one like this...

    Yeeees, okay, I'm an Old Fart.
    But since about '82, this is the keyboard I've been working with. The quality is amazing, spilling coffee over it will not damage it, it always, always, always works, it has a very pleasant hard feel to it, very definite feedback, and a lack of these moronic Windows-Keys which are always in my way.
    I take the keys off once a

"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." -- Will Rogers