Thursday, October 2, 2008

Building the Steampunk Keyboard II

Building the Steampunk Keyboard II
Making the Keys

Here's the second part, as promised, showing the process I used to make the individual keys. Keep in mind, each key was made this way, and there are a total of 104 keys on the board (not including the space bar, which I have left alone for the time being sans a little paint around the sides). I refined the process a lot while working on it, and if (or more appropraitly, when) I make another one of these, there are somethings I will absolutly do differently. This method is by no means the only way to do this.

A key, the ESC key in this case, removed and showing the underside. Note the exacto saw ominously lurking off to the side...

To expose just the key 'stalk' (as I called it), the 'flanges' on the four sides of the key must be cut away. I suppose you could just glue the key touches to the keys un-modified, it would certainly save work. However, I like the look more, and it will make a difference later...

The stalk is visible with one flange removed. 3 more to go...

The stalk alone, and the four flanges cut away...

In order to get the key touches to sit level, I had to grind the backs of the touches flat. I also hand sanded the top edges of the stalk (created by cutting) smooth and round. Sanding the tops of the stalks is a bad idea, as it will later cause some keys to be at different heights, and since not all key touches sit perfectly parallel to the floor when on the baord, this contour is important. I also drilled a small hole in the top of each stalk, to allow the epoxy used to attach the touches a better chance to grip.

A finished stalk, with a finished touch.

The opening on the keyboard where the key sits in. The key will press into this square. You get somewhat of an idea of the brass painted recievers, and the felt backing (although, really, it looks pretty bad around the ESC key, it was the first one I tried)

I first pressed the stalk into the reviever, to make sure it sat right. Because rows of keys are leveled to have their tops all lay flat in uniform, I then glued the touch onto the stalk, and could use the other touches as a guide to get it leveled.

I used a quick setting '5 minute' two part epoxy to bond the key touches to the stalks. This has proven very durable and easy to work with; I put a good 3 or more hours typing on this keyboard a day since I finished it in late August, and its still solid as a rock. As always, I'm happy to answer any other questions you may have about this, or any of my other projects.

Building the Steampunk Keyboard

Building the Steampunk Keyboard

I thought some might be interested in the process of making a steampunk keyboard. There have been blogs about this before, with a pretty good step by step. I don't intend to go into great lengths about the exact process of building the piece; this is art. These pictures will (hopefully) give a glimpse into my process, and serve as guidelines for anyone attempting this project in the future.

To start: This keyboard is based around a Dell Slimline (not sure if thats really the model name) keyboard. A pretty basic keyboard, and perfect as I didn't want all kinds of extra task buttons and such to get in the way; I thought they would detract from the overall look, prove difficult to integrate into the cosmetics, and make the piece look less 'rustic'.

For the key touches themselves, I used vintage typewriter key tops. I got most of mine from ebay (the old Royal typewriter sets with the neat rectangular keys that prove wonderful for the larger keys on the board), and some from my personal collection of 'scrap' typewriters. Here's a shot of them pulled appart, labels removed, cleaned up, and backs ground flat. Its a process in itself, and quite time consuming. This is only a fraction of the keys needed; I wound up using 2 complete sets of Royal keys, and the "F" number keys were from an Underwood typewriter (slightly different style, used for conformity).

In the project itself. You can see the keyboard in the background, with the keys removed, stalks painted a brass hue, and (hard to see) felt lining between them. I re-made all of the labels for the keys, printed them out, and hand cut each label to fit inside a key touch to replace the existing character (necessary since many keys from the modern keyboard like ALT, and different arrangements of number shift symbols don't exist on old typewriters).

Some keys taken appart in varrious stages, visible is the newly cut ALT lable.

A better picture of the painted key stalks and felt backing. To get the pieces of felt cut exactly, I made templates. Using card stock, I cut a shape to exactly fit the area of felt needed. I repainted the square openings of the key stalks, and pressed the cardstock down on them This left a perfect layout of the spaces between the keys. I taped this to the back of my felt pieces, and used an exacto knife to cut out the square holes. You can see my arrow keys in place here.

I'll follow this shortly with the process for making the complete individual keys...