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Unified Retrocomputer Keyboard Project

Gary C

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May 26, 2018
Messages
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Lancashire, UK
As I have a motherboard, a case, an Apple IIe PSU, disk II interface, disk II drive and a super serial card but no keyboard, I though I would give dfnr2's keyboard project a go and record the process as I go.

So first off is PCB and keyswitches.

PCB downloaded and Gerbers uploaded to JCLPCB to produce, £35 for 5 isn't too bad including delivery but means I will have four spares so if anyone wants once then let me know.

Next is key switches, the recommended futaba ones seem really expensive now but RS components sell genuine Cherry MX1A-11NW switches and are 50p each for the PCB mount version.

The PCB mount versions will simplify things as I intend not to use the aligner (maybe a mistake, only time will tell) but means I will have to stiffen the PCB, but that's an issue for another day.

Keycaps and encoder are issues for another post as time goes but apparently lead times on the recommended caps is 18 months !

To do list
Order PCB
Order Key switches
Order Key caps
Fit stiffener
Make encoder
 
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Gary C

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Also I have not ordered the aligner. I will report how much of a mistake that might have been when I get the keyboard PCB :)
 

dfnr2

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Dec 6, 2011
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Dallas, TX
The aligner really helps with the futaba keys and the 3-pin Cherry MX keys, and also helps create a torsion box structure that adds rigidity. On the downside, when using the cherry keys, there's not much room between the PCB and aligner, so you will have a tough time if, for example, you forget to install the stabilizer hardware or connector before soldering in switches. You can get by without an aligner if you make a thick PCB and/or use an alternate method of stiffening, such as mounting to a metal frame or l-brackets.

I do have an aligner tool that can be used to install futaba or 3-pin cherry keys without installing the aligner plate, if anyone wants to go that route. But the aligner plate is probably cheaper and easier than L-bracket and works fairly well, so I recommend it.
 

Gary C

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I should have the PCB in about 2 weeks (took the cheap option), and intend to use some Alu U section pieces I have to stiffen the structure.

The Cherry MX keys from RS have now slipped back to January 12th for delivery :(

I have had a reply from Signature Plastics about ordering, but not had price or dates yet. If I do get to order some keys, does anyone else want a set (I am UK based remember) but I believe it could be a looooong time coming.

Exciting :)

To do list
Order PCB - Ordered from JCLPCB
Order Key switches - Cherry MX1A-11NW ordered from RS UK
Order Key caps - Project XLS file sent to Signature plastics
Fit stiffener
Make encoder
 

Gary C

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They need ordering by creating the and uploading the gerber for the aligner from Kicad to the PCB manufacturer.

I didn't order one as I wasn't certain it would work as it wasn't showing the holes in the viewer and the keyswitches I have ordered are PCB mount versions with locating pins so 'shouldn't' need aligning as such.

But I might look at it once I get the PCB and see how practical it will be to stiffen it sufficiently.

I probably should walk through the activities to order the PCB as a record.
 

dfnr2

Experienced Member
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Dec 6, 2011
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414
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Dallas, TX
Ouch

A single set of the keycaps is apparently $900 !!!!

Another solution is required.

The prices come town quickly as the quantity goes up. For 5, it is in the neighborhood of $120/set, and for 10, it's around $100/set. The prices have definitely gone up, but not out of reach. The problem is the lead time, which has gone from 3 months pre-pandemic to 18 months currently.
 

Gary C

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Yes, Multiple orders are the way to go. They quoted me 7 months though so not completely daft.

Need a group order :)
 

dfnr2

Experienced Member
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Dec 6, 2011
Messages
414
Location
Dallas, TX
I would go with an SA profile set. The DSA keys are lower profile and won't look quite right. Also, you want to make sure that all the keys have the shape profile (row 3), so that the keyboard doesn't look and feel weird if you place a key in a different row from an IBM-style keyboard. Finally, you will need supplement sets with the right size SHIFT, CTRL, ENTER, DEL keys, among others.

Once you start adding in the cost of supplement sets, the custom keycaps start to be competitive. I'd go with the custom set, as long as the lead times are acceptable.

That said, I think it's a good idea to come up with alternate keyboard mappings for the various physical layouts, using the commonly available IBM-style keycap sets.
 
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Gary C

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May 26, 2018
Messages
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Location
Lancashire, UK
While this project is still worthy and of interest, the difficulty in sourcing both the keycaps and the keyswitches (RS cancelled my order !), a chance opportunity to buy an RFI keyboard cheaply means I now have a keyboard with a full set of keycaps.

It is missing the encoder though, so I think I will make the encoder from the project. SMT soldering will be fun :)
 
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