How This Project Came About
The Goal - A Perfect, Working Reproduction
So many products that people purchase today develop issues within months or years - no surprise, since they were designed for disposal. It is great to have the chance to buy something made for real-world use today that will be just as usable and enjoyable ten, twenty or thirty years from now. That has been my unchanging hope and goal for this F77/F62 project.
To make this possible, I have not wanted to compromise the project by lowering standards and cutting corners to produce a reproduction inferior to the original. Just like you, I want to use a new F77/62 that is on par with, or better than, the original Model F keyboards that I use daily.
This was why I have ordered tens of thousands of dollars in brand new molds and materials matched to production processes that meet or exceed original standards and tolerances. Lots of metal in these keyboards!
I am a big fan and collector of the IBM buckling spring keyboards. I have tried Cherry MX mechanical keyboards and regular rubber dome ones and they do not compare! My very first keyboard was a Model F. The first family computer was an IBM PC (5150) or IBM PC XT (not sure the exact model) with its IBM Model F XT keyboard. In recent years I've used the 122 key Model F keyboard as my daily driver thanks to Soarer's great work with his converter and Fohat's guide to refurbishing and adjusting the F122 layout to more of a 1391401 Model M ANSI layout. In 2014 xwhatsit helped me to bring his Model F keyboard controllers to mass production and assembly in China at a significantly lower cost.
I was able to acquire a number of 4704 keyboards including 50-key, 77-key, and 107-key models through my network of IT recycler contacts, but no 62-key "Kishsaver" models (Kishsaver refers to a nickname given to keyboards that Deskthority contributor Kishy described in detail on his web site and helped reintroduce to the public a few years ago). While the brand new Model F keyboards from this project can support any number of keys, I chose model names that reflect their original key counts; hence they were named F62 and F77.
To no avail I spent a while looking for more 62-key F62 Kishsavers and 77-key F77 keyboards. Given the high demand for Kishsavers and 77-key Model F keyboards and the non-existent supply, as well as my own interest in a Kishsaver, I looked into what it would cost to bring these great keyboards with metal cases back into production, working on the CAD files and discussing ideas with a number of very smart people including professional engineers, PCB designers, and product designers, some of whom have contributed to the DT/GH/reddit forums. I was also inspired by the significant interest and discussions on the forums regarding bringing back the Model F buckling spring keyboard. This project is definitely not a one man show - I could not have done this project without the help of so many community members, especially xwhatsit for inventing a reliable capacitive controller replacement for Model F keyboards, as well as others whom I have not yet asked if they would like to be publicly recognized. I have learned a lot along the way about manufacturing, PCBs, materials, micrometer measurement, CAD (computer aided design), and about the specifications of Model F keyboards. This is a unique project in that it is the first one to bring back Model F buckling spring technology, which has been out of production for essentially 25+ years (with the exception of some low volume refurbishings/repairs primarily from new old stock and reproduction PCBs in the mid-90s at Lexmark). The buckling spring patent expired long ago, opening the door to "generics" but no projects involve brand new buckling spring keyboards made from 100% new stock and made in 2015. I had to pay for all the tooling, CNC milling and molds. Another forum member pointed out that the Cherry MX and other custom keyboard projects have lower production costs as the individual key mechanisms are pre-made, unlike Model F components.
I will be carefully testing my Model F keyboards to make sure they live up to the originals and to my quality standards. The intention of the project was to faithfully recreate the 77 key and 62 key keyboards, whose designs are both proven and in high demand as they are, without any alterations. Changing things around would have brought both positive and negative feedback and would have been considerably more costly to make a series of prototypes and test them. I do not have much CAD skill for that kind of work and actually taught myself CAD for this project.
I have been in talks since last April with a number of product design experts, engineers and forum contributors, including my contacts at a major factory in China.
From a young age I have had a great interest in computers and have done a lot of typing on Model F keyboards. I have taken them apart and repaired/restored a number of them. But no related background for me; I am not a professional programmer or CAD person. The professional and/or enthusiast-level background of those who have helped me with this project include programmers, PCB/hardware designers, engineers, product designers/inventors, and other Model F keyboard fans.
The keycaps from this project will be sourced from old IBM keyboards (for those who want to borrow caps from their old Model M or Model F keyboard) as well as Unicomp for those who want new keys. Tooling and quality control for key caps would take a significant amount of additional funds and time which are unfortunately out of budget for my project. My suggestion for those taking on Model F keycap production is to make them up to the standard of the original IBM PC XT keyboard: "rough" textured tops that will not wear down as quickly as Model M keycaps, deep/black/bold dye sublimated legends, and one-piece (integrated cap and stem) instead of the two piece Model M design.
The project certainly was one of the more ambitious ones out there, and I could not have accomplished this goal without the help of many individuals in different professional / enthusiast capacities.
Also feel free to PM me on the Geekhack and Deskthority forums. My user name is Ellipse. Registration on the forums is free and they are great communities to be a part of.
The $325 price has been finalized for the "bring your own keys" crowd. The keyboards will be assembled in China at no extra charge, and I will do final testing/QC on each keyboard. The cost of keys will be a factor of whatever Unicomp charges, which is about $29 and up depending on what options you would like (split shift, black blank keys, APL keys, RGB modifiers, F1 etc. front printing on the numbered caps, etc.). I will do a group buy to ship and install all the keys for those interested (factory installation in China will be no extra charge). I also have 5 sets of original used Model M keys available and I hope to get more if there is demand for it.