As mass assembly finishes this week and next week and the factory prepares to palletize the keyboards for the container ship (there is still time to order!), I wanted to write an article to help explain some of the initial hesitations people have had about the Model F before they did some more reading and research and were convinced to become a part of the project. I think that the biggest barrier to increased adoption of the Model F is lack of awareness in the market.
1. Am I sure that this is the best keyboard?
In a word: Yes. The Model F keyboard is widely considered the best computer keyboard for typing. Many consider it to be their end game keyboard after having tried those alternative MX type, primarily plastic keyboards. IBM’s approach to developing the Model F focused on years of R&D to maximize typing performance, efficiency, usability, and comfort, and it went on to be used by millions of people in the 1980s. The Model F was built up to IBM’s engineering standards, not down to a price point. And thanks to modern advances in manufacturing, the Model F reproductions maintain IBM’s exacting standards and materials while costing about 50% less and having modern technology upgrades: an open source GUI controller, configuration software and firmware allowing for native USB and full NKRO.
2. Am I sure this will work with my computers/devices?
Yes, fully functional with Mac, PC, Linux, and even Android. You do not need to install anything. Uses the standard, built in USB keyboard driver.
3. Do Model F Keyboards hold their value?
Yes, and demand for these keyboards has increased in recent years. With prices for used models now closer and closer to the brand new price, for many it is no longer worth the hassle of seeking out and restoring 35 year old circuit boards and metal parts of the original Model F keyboards. Uncertain remaining life expectancy of the originals.
4. The cost is too high:
The original Model F F77 keyboard sold for $925 adjusted for inflation, according to the January 1984 IBM Hardware Price List ($375 in 1984 dollars). New ones are less than half the original cost. Metal construction, extremely tight tolerances (a number of factories today could not meet IBM’s 1980s tolerances and we had to start over on a number of components-keys, springs), high price of zinc. Should last for decades. Replacement electronics (xwhatsit controller) PCB design, firmware and GUI software are all open source so can keep using your Model F even if the electronics fail. Alternative controller design (CommonSense controller by DMA) also proven working (in case chip of the xwhatsit controller is no longer available). The Model F Keyboard is fully and easily disassembled and repairable unlike the Model M and other keyboards.
5. Does it sound exactly like my specific example of Model F:
Variation of Model F sound (I have restored dozens of IBM Model F Keyboards and each one sounds noticeably different from the others), aging/oxidation of metal alloy springs.
6. Too loud:
IBM spent millions of dollars in R&D to design the best keyboard ever. Key tactile and sound feedback were carefully engineered to improve typing speed and accuracy. Extended key travel and precise buckling feel and sound upon the moment of actuation are unique to buckling spring keyboards. However compared to today’s $25 keyboards these are likely less tolerated in today’s open office environments. There are ways of making it quieter though: pushing springs all the way down the base of the flipper nub, using a different type of metal alloy for the springs (after researching more than 50 different spring formulations over 2 years, I have a list of quieter spring materials and expect to offer these in limited batches as replacement parts in the future)
7. Too large/heavy, too much bezel, ugly classic case design:
Ultra compact offering was added-smallest possible footprint given the design of the capacitive PCB with traces on the edges. Allows for closer mouse placement for those who prefer it. The original design is a reproduction of IBM’s original design but with a higher quality alloy than IBM used (new ones use Zinc 3 alloy and are a pound heavier than the originals). IBM designed industrial-quality business machines designed to last for decades. The IBM 4700 banking system is so well-built that a number of these systems (with their Model F keyboards) are still in use today at community banks with just a handful of branches.
8. The layout is odd, no function keys/some specific key is missing:
The Model F layout is close to the standard 60% or 75% keyboards. These keyboards do have function keys, integrated into first row. Press Fn+1 for F1, etc. The project’s goal is to reproduce the extremely hard to find 60% and 75% style Model F keyboards. All of the keys of the large Model F keyboards are available through function layers that are fully customizable with the open source GUI software. I know that most people buying the brand new Model F keyboards are used to full size keyboards. It took me a little time to get used to the more efficient layout but being able to own a Brand New Model F keyboard makes it well worth the effort! Also adding extra keys would make the keyboard similar to the Model M’s on eBay that sell for well below what new production keyboards can possibly sell for.
9. I can just get an original and restore it:
Yes you can do this. Many guides online will walk you through it. I have cleaned and restored many Model F and Model M keyboards over the years and my familiarity with their workings helped lead me to the reproduction project. However used Model F prices have skyrocketed in recent years and do not offer as compelling a discount compared to the originals. Those circuit boards on the original Model F keyboards are 35+ years old and they won’t last forever. The new Model F reproductions are designed to last for decades more. The brand new Model F keyboards are also native USB with NKRO and are fully customizable with function layers, macros, and the option to customize each key and layout. You can’t do any of that on an original Model F keyboard. I do hope you consider ordering a Brand New Model F Keyboard before production ends – it is well worth getting used to the more compact layout to be able to use a brand new Model F! Any questions feel free to contact me directly over email or on the forums.
Example of an original – dirty – Model F typically found on eBay. You can’t see the gunk in the listing photos as it is hidden under the keys.
10. Case paint chips, key tops wear down over time:
Yes, this is true just like it is with the originals. The PBT used in buckling spring keycaps resists wear significantly better than ABS keycaps. Extra key sets can be ordered if you prefer no wear in a decade or so from now). Paint also chips during shipping so there may be minor but noticeable imperfections with the paint finish even on a Brand New Model F Keyboard.
11. No drainage channels:
Yes: a sticky/sugary beverage will wreak havoc. May need Goo Gone and rubbing alcohol to refurbish. A Model F First Aid Kit is available with spare parts for future keyboard repairs (flippers, springs, inside foam, barrels, keyboard bumpers) especially if a part is too sticky to save.
12. This is a limited production run project with no plans for continuous production – future spare parts availability?
Valid point. To counter this I have ordered tens of thousands of spare parts and encourage people to buy extra parts and First Aid Kits of extra parts for future repairs long after production has shut down. New barrels, flippers, springs, and key sets are fully compatible with the IBM originals so extra parts can also be used to fix the originals.
In one minute how would you summarize the benefits/highlights of the Model F reproduction project:
An exact reproduction of the Model F, updated for the modern age
Over $800,000 raised so far. Still some time to get one
The Model F is the best keyboard ever
Best for long-term typing
Excellent build quality and long track record of continued full functionality of the originals
Fully open source electronics and fully customizable through a GUI
Sufficient key travel unlike the latest MacBook pro (!)
Removable and replaceable USB cable
Check out this great overview of Model F Keyboards by Chyrosran22 (below):
The factory is on track to finish all early bird assembly by the end of August. For those not following the posts and updates as closely, everything ships to me for final QC testing and dye sublimation (sublimation happening while I test and prepare an order for shipment – will not wait for all sublimation to finish). It will take a number of months to ship out everything. Assuming these ship to me in early September, orders should start going out in mid to late October (4-5 weeks total, including time on the container ship and processing and transportation from the port). The “low serial number” orders go out first, followed by the earliest orders. There is still time to upgrade your keyboard to low serial number by ordering this store item.
They had expected to finish in June but ran into some trouble:
- A number of die cast zinc cases were lost in a factory move and their replacements only recently finished production. They had to be remade and powdercoated from scratch. The factory absorbed most (but far from all) of the cost of this problem. The Model F accessories and key sets available separately are priced a bit higher to help cover the significant cost overruns including those stemming from this issue, so please do consider ordering extra key sets, foam, and other accessories!
- Bottom inner assembly issue: The factory had to remake many of the bottom inner assemblies as they were out of spec (they could not bend them back to shape accurately). The stamping tool broke and took a while to fix. Production finished on these but plating (the golden color finish) has taken longer than expected from the subcontractor. After plating finished, then final assembly was able to resume (can’t assemble and easily store hundreds of inner assemblies without the bottom inner assembly). Unfortunately for the relatively low quantities of this project we do not get priority timing at the factories – the finishing factories are especially busy.
While the number of completed keyboards did not increase much in July, the factory finished as much as they could without having the remaining bottom inner assemblies, including the key sheet installation (for dye sublimation) and other small item assembly (flipper+spring assembly).
The final parts of the project were completed and arrived at the assembly factory – the product boxes:
As mass assembly finishes in the coming weeks and the project wraps up in the coming months, I could definitely use some help from anyone reading the blog. Even if you have just one minute!
What I need help most with is getting the word out to the various people who may be interested – even if you have not yet joined the project. My goal is to be able to afford to make as many new Model F keyboards as possible.
Most people don’t know about buckling spring keyboards and many of those who do only discovered the project by chance / by a Google search!
I am sure that many of you know one or more people who might want to learn about the project but are not active in the keyboard forums and may not know about buckling spring. It would be a great help if everyone reading this could let 1-3 or more people, or other online communities/social media know about the project. Chyrosran22’s excellent YouTube review of the Model F would be a great link to send someone or post: https://youtu.be/y9Jds326gks
After hearing from many of you about what drew you to the Model F project, I believe that you might have the best results letting these people know about the project:
- The programmer/writer/blogger. Someone who uses their keyboard a lot for typing and wants a keyboard that could last a lifetime.
- The computer/tech/mechanical keyboard enthusiast who wants the best featured keyboard, or someone in the market for a new dependable keyboard who wants the best one. Many users who have tried the other clicky switches end up with the Model F as their end game keyboard.
- The Model F/M user looking to upgrade/looking for a brand new production buckling spring keyboard/those who remember the using an IBM keyboard at school/home/work.
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The factory continues assembly this week and they have sent some more photos of in-progress and completed assemblies awaiting packaging (the pictured bubble wrap is temporary).
The plan is to finish all assembly and packaging by month end.
There is still time to order a Brand New Model F Keyboard and be included in the early bird round! Also you can still order additional keyboards and add-ons and they will likely ship with your original order (yes your spot in line for everything is your earliest keyboard order if you order another keyboard/accessories!).
I sent them 137 unique keyboard variations to assemble, based on what everyone has ordered plus the extra keyboards I ordered for the latecomers (still have some left for the early bird round but running very low on early bird Industrial Gray F77 cases – it would be much appreciated if anyone could message me to switch to Black or Off-White/Beige!).
Also as a note, all offered key layouts have a front printed F1 etc. option with legends specific to their layout.
Nice seeing everyone at Keycon last Saturday in New York City! There was a great turnout and over 430 people signed up!
Here are some more photos of mass assembly at the factory. As noted in the prior update, mass assembly was slowed due to the bottom inner assembly parts needing to be re-curved, and then the stamping tool to re-curve these parts broke (has since been repaired). As requested they are storing the assembled flippers/springs in open air (not in sealed bags) to help maximize the quality of the Model F sound (exposure to moving air/humidity). Also pictured is a production styrofoam for shipping the classic case keyboards (the ultra compact variations will get another type of foam packaging).
Mass assembly continues at the factory. This photo of in progress F62 inner assemblies is from a week ago (the factories had a holiday break this first week of May).
We are still aiming for completion of all keyboards by the end of this month.
As noted earlier the factory caught a production error in the curve radius of the bottom inner assemblies and has been correcting all those parts before those parts can be assembled. Because of this error it was not practical to ship the first 500 keyboards first so now the expectation is that all the keyboards can ship soon after the end of this month.
Also as a reminder I have ordered extras as part of the early bird round so you can still order a keyboard and accessories and have it ship as part of the early bird round!
Meanwhile the factory is assembling all the other parts. So far the spring assembly and inner assembly closing is being done by custom built machines and the key, barrel, and spring installation is being done manually (they noted that the pick and place machine design for these custom components would exceed the cost of labor).
Some news on the bottom inner assembly front. While fixing the bottom inner assemblies the stamping tool broke, but now it has been fixed and it produces a curve that is to spec. They are now able to resume correction of the parts. Attached is a photo of an unfinished compact bottom inner assembly showing a within tolerance match to the specified radius. The curve tolerance is important because an accurate curve allows a more equal spacing of each barrel between the top and bottom inner assemblies. Too much or too little space between the sandwiched metal plates would have affected the sound. IBM Model F plates maintained the same radius tolerance even 35 years after they were made!
The expectation is still for all assembly to finish by month end, though the now-resolved bottom inner assembly issue may delay things by a week or two.
In addition to the floss mod described on the Geekhack/Deskthority keyboard forums, another mod to consider is the grease mod, researched and described by the below YouTube user. Also in my research I have found that pressing the springs down all the way on the flipper (normally there is a 0.2 to 0.3mm gap) reduces the ringing. I do not offer and have not tried any of these mods but below is some information to consider.
The purpose of the grease mod is to reduce the reverberation/ringing after each key is pressed.
His comments are copied directly below.
Apply Synco Superlube on the inside of the spring with a metal probe…just enough to dampen the vibration
As an experiment, I tried a few switches on an XT F. I did nothing to the first XT F in the video…you can hear the sound I’m referring to…it’s like a super-loud, much more intense, sharper and “drier” version of what my (in superb condition) 1988-1989 Model M boards sound like. Then on the second board, I did the Alps spring lube trick on the keypad only. The feel is the same, the click sounds great (to me), the actuation force is ever so slightly less. But the annoying (to me) spring noise virtually disappears.
video 1 – detailed key sound (lubed keypad; unmodified other keys):
video 2 – typing demo of the unmodified F:
video 3 – typing demo of the fully spring lubed F:
Here is a video of manual installation of the key sets to template sheets before the dye sublimation process (I am taking care of the dye sublimation but the factory is preparing everything to save time). Check out the other project videos in this channel for the custom-built machines helping with mass assembly. Everyone gets the full 104 key set when they order a regular key set for their keyboard.
- The factory expects to complete all the currently ordered keyboards by the end of May – great news!
- 20,000 flippers+springs have completed assembly. They are continuing to assemble the rest of them.
- They expect to complete 200 keyboards by the end of the month. Because of this I was thinking of waiting an extra week or so to get about 500 keyboards in the first shipment. The 200 figure is lower than expected because they noticed a slight error in the bottom inner assembly radius on many of the completed parts and are re-bending these finished parts before closing the inner assemblies. The IBM XT keyboards’ radii were consistently perfect so the new Model F’s need to be as well!
Here is a new video of the spring-flipper attachment machine in action!
Mass assembly continues this month.
Yes I think a Bluetooth (BLE) wireless Model F will be feasible in the future. I have discussed with Deskthority user DMA who has designed his CommonSense controller as an alternative to the xwhatsit controller used in this project and that also powers several hundred original IBM Model F keyboards. He let me know that he was able to get the F122 to run wirelessly on Bluetooth for about 20 hours on a 500mah Lithium Ion battery using the PSoC 4 BLE module and Cyprus development board (you can use this board as is for the Model F to my knowledge).
The CommonSense controller can be designed to be a drop in replacement for the Brand New Model F Keyboards’ xwhatsit controller.
Currently the CommonSense project has working prototypes but other than that it seems to be on hold. Here is the github page in case anyone is interested in contributing. Please do check out the Deskthority thread and post questions there.
It would be great if someone could modify DMA’s diptrace files to make it a drop in replacement for the Model F xwhatsit controller – please do let me know if you are able to help!
Dot matrix green bar packing slip: As we wrap things up now is the time to decide on the smaller aspects. Here is a printer font sheet from the dot matrix printer (for the packing slips). Please let me know on the forum project threads which font you think would be best.
Looks like the current international layouts people asked for are UK, Danish, Swedish/Finnish, Norwegian, French, German, and 3 people asked for Swiss French, Swiss German, or Latin American Spanish (one each). Currently all but the final three will be made, with the strong possibility that the final three will also be available.
After evaluating the latest samples, today I approved full assembly of the Brand New Model F Keyboards! It took a lot more time than expected (!) but I think the current quality of the keyboards has made it well worth ironing out the QC issues.
All three of the current spring-flipper attacher machines now produce the right sound and tactile feel (photo in the prior update).
The plan is for the factory to assemble as many keyboards as possible and ship them at the end of April, with additional batches every month or so. This way, orders can start going out as soon as June.
On the dye sublimation front, I am waiting on some additional replacement parts for the setup before I can continue with the dye sublimation testing. Two more parts require custom-built solutions different from my current setup. Both will be ordered in the US to save time. Should be a few more weeks until they are finished and in hand.
Keycaps can still be ordered and added on to existing orders for the time being, but please try to get these in as soon as possible.
Regarding the expectations for whether your order goes out in the first batch, it depends on how many keyboards the factory finishes by the April 30th deadline for the first shipment and how many people order “skip the line”/low/custom serial keyboards from now until then (so far ~162 low serials).
Keyboards can still be upgraded to low serial if you want to skip the line.
To help with everyone’s estimations, below is an approximation of the number of keyboards ordered each month through the end of last month – please note that ~162 of these will be prioritized with the first shipment out.
The intention is to ship as closely as possible by order date, earliest first, but with the low serial supporters sent out first.
If they finish 400-500 (maybe too ambitious an estimate!), maybe all the low serials and most of 2016 will finally go out in the April shipment.
Update from the factory: the factory has made good progress on the assembly preparation.
They are fully assembling 1 of each keyboard (the 4 keyboard variations compact F62, classic F62, compact F77, classic F77) as a test, along with sending me the spring samples from the newly built attacher machines.
The other good news is that the factory is designing and adapting machines to do most of the assembly work! We are expecting pick and place for the inner foam, barrels to the top inner assembly, flippers/springs, etc. This should rapidly speed up assembly time compared to what would have been assembly by hand.
Dye sub testing update: I did some quick tests but determined I needed to replace some parts and order some additional parts for the jig before properly starting the key dye sublimation tests. Will continue testing once these parts arrive.
Additional F77 right side block options now available as extra add-ons! Please see prior update post for details.
Assembly phase update: The factory expects to send assembled spring/flipper samples next week, and hopefully a few completed fully assembled keyboards with unprinted keys (following the keyboard assembly manual I sent them). Once these assemblies are approved, the factory will start mass assembly and ship about 500 units at a time to me. I am hoping the first 500 can be ready to ship to me by the end of next month. Then it will be 3-4 weeks on a container ship. If all goes well then May-June will possibly see the first shipping units.
We now have video and photos of the custom Bottom Inner Assembly machine! Here is a video of the machine that properly assembles the bottom inner assembly (F62 ultra compact specifically in this video).
Very cool to watch this in action!
The factory has also completed another pneumatic spring attacher machine:
The final parts of the dye sublimation jig have completed production and shipped this week! They should arrive next week. The dye sublimation jig has been custom designed and built based on my research over the past year or two including conversations with a number of helpful long-time dye sublimation industry experts and engineers, including a supervisor of Model F keyboard production at one of IBM’s factories in the 1980s!
Still waiting on the sample sublimation sheets from the dye sub shop and the custom stamped template sheets for the key sets to maximize alignment during the sublimation process. I am hoping to start sublimating full key set samples a few weeks from now. One of the owners of the sublimation print shop I’ve been talking with told me he worked on the IBM Selectric key legend application (non-sublimated) in the early 1980s! He said the process involved a special hard dry ink printed to hard plastic sheets and then transferred to the keys.
This month we passed the $700,000 mark in orders! A major product milestone – who would have thought? Thanks to all those who have joined the project for their support, advice, and patience throughout the now-resolved factory production delays of the past.
A special thanks to forum member Zed who has just about finished the US ANSI layout (other layouts to follow). As posted a while back, Zed has been making all the fonts for this project, making sure they are accurately representative of the early IBM Model F fonts, with some updates for the more recent Model M style keys and making them match those of the Model F.
New custom keys and new F77 right side block layouts available to order: If you’d like to see the extra/custom legends available to order here is a new product page showing all the options: https://www.modelfkeyboards.com/product/new-custom-legend-keycaps/
The factory reopens next week: The goal for the factory is to assemble some test keyboards based on my instructions, and then fully assemble and ship to me the first few hundred keyboards in March and April. Those who ordered the earliest and those with low/custom serial numbers will be going out first. Currently about 150 of the 1500 ordered keyboards are low serial.
Spring assembly: The factory is still trying to produce the spring/flipper assembly machines. Their redesigned machines’ first samples showed one perfectly working machine (machine 2) and two machines that still needed work. Assembly may be delayed if these machines are not ready. I reviewed the latest spring assembly samples recently. Spring machine 2 is excellent, perfect! Only 1 bad assembly requiring adjustment out of 20 total assemblies. If all the springs are like spring 2 samples then they will likely be approved! Spring machine 1 has 10 good and 11 bad springs so it is not approved. Spring machine 3 needs adjustment/improvement. 14 decent assemblies and 6 not good assemblies.
Model F Book: I am planning on writing a book on the Model F journey after the orders are delivered – hope you’ll consider reading it! Please do message me if you are interested in reading the book and I’ll let you know when it’s available. The book will go through bringing back the Model F as well as general recommendations for those interested in bringing a manufactured product to life.
The very first key sets are now in stock and ship tomorrow! First ones going out are Industrial SSK blue and dark gray.
I can ship more keys-only orders if you wanted your set early (the keyboards will not ship early; unprinted key sets only for now); please message me!
Now in stock and ready to ship: unprinted key sets, horizontal and vertical stabilizer inserts, flippers with springs, and inner foam for original and new Model F keyboards.
They did not mail enough space bar wire stabilizers so I can only send 3 more sets for the time being if you want the wire stabilizer (I can also send out sets without the stabilizer).
A mountain of keys!
For those new to discovering the project or who have not followed as closely, please do not be scared by what you will read below! All Brand New Model F manufacturing and other issues were successfully resolved last year and none of the below issues affect the delivery of the orders, expected to start mid-year now that the parts are sitting at the factory waiting to be assembled. I will reiterate that the factory is expected to assemble the keyboards starting in March (after returning from Chinese New Year break) and get them on a container ship as soon as the first 500 or so are finished.
- This week I will be receiving samples from the completely redesigned and newly built spring-flipper attacher machines (photo below of one of them).
- Given the failures of the spring attacher machine repair attempts last year, this month the factory started over on the spring attacher and built a machine with a new design. From the video tests the factory showed me of the assembled springs, there is a near-100% success rate of the attacher!
- The new design eliminates the horizontal movement of the posts holding the springs and instead just moves along one axis.
- I think the spring sound video I sent them helped highlight the importance of an attachment that matches the spring-nub spacing and spring angle specifications. 3 machines have been built so far, each one assembling 3 at a time. They will be making some more of these attacher machines in March after their break, maybe as many as 9.
- The dye sublimation jig is still under construction at a firm in the US and I expect to continue the R&D in February when hopefully everything will be ready.
- Also this week I’ll be receiving some stock of blank (unprinted) key sets and other parts this week so please let me know if you’d like to order key sets to be delivered early in February (no keyboards are being delivered early though!). I also have limited stock of assembled flippers/springs, barrels, and F122 / F107 inner foam that can ship within a few days of an order.
As part of my forthcoming book on the Model F project and manufacturing adventures abroad (after all keyboards have shipped), here are some notes on a proposed chapter that will offer some behind the scenes insights on bringing something magnificent back to life and the scary world of high-end hardware manufacturing overseas.
The time requirements are much higher than expected because so much goes wrong and this kind of project requires such high quality standards to get it right. Constant back and forth for very particular quality goods to my standards for this project added many months to the timeline (example – after months of the factory producing and mailing case color samples based on existing Pantone/RAL colors to no avail, the right texture and color was achieved by shipping an original F107 case and Industrial SSK case bottom to one of the factories). Parts requiring a consistent radius (the curved inner assembly plates) required getting custom stamping tools built because existing tools were not accurate enough for the precise radius IBM used. Getting the old large pitch ribbon cables like those of an IDE hard drive or floppy drive required talking with many potential suppliers.
Keeping long hours: 12 hour time difference on the US East Coast. Talk at night and in early morning. They are often responsive even at late/early hours.
Adventures with suppliers:
Getting funds back from underperforming suppliers has proven nearly impossible. Failure of the key molds in 2017 – funds were gone for good and had to start over with another factory that did a perfect job but was 6 months later than expected.
Importance of getting a good supplier, vetting the supplier through Alibaba (ideally visiting the supplier’s facilities – many great articles on vetting suppliers and overseas manufacturing), and ordering a sample first if possible to gauge the supplier.
Even getting back less than $300 from a minor supplier who sent parts completely different from those I ordered took months and the involvement of one of my managing suppliers and Alibaba who ended up telling the bad supplier their status on AliBaba was jeopardized (that was one of the only things the supplier paid attention to). Paid by PayPal which offers no buyer protection for custom made goods. Early on, the bad supplier even refused delivery on the returned parts after agreeing to accept the return. Probably the only reason I won was because I kept communications on AliBaba and the factory likely relied on the site for significant new business generation – suppliers do not want to be suspended from there or they could lose significant business. Insist on talking through AliBaba messaging for most of your suppliers of more straightforward parts.
Adventures with hackers:
Summary-suppliers were hacked and lost some money. I was also scammed but fortunately for me 100% of the funds I sent to the fraudsters were recovered a couple weeks after reporting it.
Lack of security practices especially with phishing scams and wire fraud. Important to use secure passwords and change them often – not always done by all companies. It’s good to call your suppliers or talk through a non-email platform (e.g. Skype/whatsapp chat) every so often, and if wire information changes you should call before transferring any funds. Do not transfer funds to a “subsidiary” or a company whose bank account name on the wire transfer form does not match the name of the company on AliBaba. Nearly no major supplier accepts credit cards or PayPal for large purchases – it’s payment by wire transfer which almost never can be reversed.
Both the supplier and I learned this the hard way. One supplier for this project did not change their email password and it was being accessed by the hackers for more than one year from what we could piece together. What they do was hack a factory’s email address, monitor their email communications for more than one year and when a customer is ready to pay, they altered the official wire form’s account number. After reporting this to the FBI and Hong Kong police as well as issuing a wire recall, the funds were surprisingly returned successfully – every single cent! The supplier was not so lucky and lost some money from scammers pretending to be me and asking for a refund due to a [non-existent] emergency. They registered a similar email address to the one I used and spoke with the supplier from that email – I was never hacked in any way. Usually the funds are transferred out of Hong Kong within days of receipt so this was a nearly unbelievably good turn of events for me, and not so much for the smaller amount lost by one of my suppliers. Business insurance not common in China/Hong Kong, and often doesn’t cover phishing/wire fraud (good for you to have it though!).
Lessons learned with wire fraud case:
Don’t wire funds to other accounts not matching the business name of your account, no matter the reason given, unless you call the contact person first at the publicly listed number you have called before – email can be hacked. Get to know the voice of the contact person at the factory. Make sure your suppliers use two factor authentication for their emails and have strong passwords, and tell them to change their passwords! Should educate the suppliers – I do not have alternative email addresses – be careful for an altered email address – it is not from me. Use a non-free email address, preferably of your own domain.
Despite all the past troubles, all issues have been resolved and we are on pace for these Brand New Model F Keyboards to start shipping out around mid-year. Assembly and dye sublimation are the last two major steps. Please do see my other monthly updates to learn more about the process and feel free to message me with any questions on ordering and customizing your Brand New Model F.
P.S. Even companies like Apple have had trouble with manufacturing due to supplier issues – an interesting article discusses the Mac Pro’s delays due to a single custom screw.
A forum member over on Deskthority recently asked IBM and they responded! Great detective work.
An IBMer researched the company archives and noted that IBM’s overall keyboard designs were sequentially labeled by letters. The Model F was referred to as the “Keyboard F” initially. The older keyboard designs were named with earlier letters.
“Keyboard F Mechanism Manufacturing is doing more with less versus previous keyboards, Specifically the IBM Model B keyboard mechanism and the Model E keyboard mechanism.
It would appear that Model F and Model M are sequential models of keyboard mechanism.
The article mentions that Model B keyboards have an absurd 9 moving parts, where Model F only has 3. I assume the cap, spring and flipper.
So it is actually pretty likely that “M” doesn’t reference Membrane at all.”
Some timeline updates from the factory – we still have quite a bit of assembly time ahead of us:
The next batch of spring samples should arrive next week – hopefully the spring attacher machines 2 and 3 are assembling everything to spec! So far the factory has spent several months trying to get machines 2 and 3 right. Machine 1 has been producing good spring/flipper assemblies.
Then they are going to start doing some test assemblies of a few full keyboards and testing the different configuration options.
Then in late January they start their long break for the new year.
After that assembly is expected to ramp up. Depending on assembly quality and speed I may have them assemble a few hundred and send them over right away instead of waiting for all 1500 or so to be assembled – not sure just yet if this is feasible.
Meanwhile this year I have been consulting with dye sublimation industry experts and an original IBM Model F keyboard production manager and ordering parts to design and build my dye sub system for the keys. Progress has been slower than expected. I had someone help me by building a temporary jig but the results were not to spec, and based on my conversations I decided I needed to build the real rig and then continue iterating from there.
I received some more assembled spring samples this week. Machine 1 is still producing approved assemblies. Machine 3 is improved but still needs adjustment. Machine 2 needs adjustment. I’ve asked the factory to start using just Machine 1 so we can get things moving. I sent them a quality control video showing the testing of springs and emphasizing the sound differences of good and bad assemblies. I have asked them to do the basic sound testing as part of the QC – essentially a spring with some reverb is good, but with a buzzing sound or no reverb means it should be detached and reattached, and the spring should potentially be discarded. I am not being overly particular on the length of the reverb or whatnot.
Once the other two machines are set to spec they should produce the 95%+ approval rate observed with spring/flipper attacher Machine 1’s samples.
Even a fraction of 1 mm out of spec in the distance between spring and nub causes performance and sound issues. Also even a few degrees off for the spring angle attachment to the flipper is noticeable. The assembly process delays are frustrating but the factory will keep making adjustments so all keyboards pass my quality control standards. Fortunately all of the parts have been successfully produced and are sitting in storage (they finished production about two months ago), so we no longer have to worry about manufacturing issues.
As noted in a prior update, production on all parts finished successfully and met the Model F quality standards. We are currently in the assembly phase.
You can still place your Brand New Model F Keyboard order this month if you have not done so already; I have ordered extra keyboards beyond what was ordered by everyone.
The assembled spring samples arrived this week. Machine 1 is still producing perfect assemblies but machines 2 and 3 need some adjustment.
The difference in the sound output upon key press and release is noticeable with improperly attached springs so I do not want to proceed with using those two machines until they are on the quality level of Machine 1.
I was hoping for a quicker turnaround on the spring attacher machine repair work but the final months of the year are the busiest for the factories unfortunately. I have asked the factory to start full assembly with Machine 1 for now to save time.
Chyrosran22 on YouTube posted a great overview of the original Model F keyboards – feel free to check it out below as we wait for the factory to complete final assembly:
A major project milestone – Brand New Model F keyboard production has finished!
The production of the keyboard parts finished last week, but there is still time left to customize and order your Brand New Model F Keyboard if you have not done so already!
The keys and springs were the last needed parts for the keyboards, and they are now all done. Now we just have the assembly, dye sub, and packaging to complete.
The factory produced about 200,000 springs and 200,000 keys in recent months.
We also just reached the $600,000 order mark! Thanks to everyone for their patience with the factory on the journey towards brand new Model F keyboards made to IBM’s standards.
The other keyboard parts all finished production a while back and are awaiting assembly.
The web site was down over the weekend due to a major issue with the web host that has since been resolved. No orders have been lost or need to be placed again. Orders are now being accepted once more.
Regarding the compact cases – I have received the final production case design and it is excellent. The sample cases from last year were very good but the bottom plate was a little too thin and the factory had to add more screws to ensure a tight assembly. The blue cases came out a beautiful deep blue color that I like, but they are not a match to the Carolina Blue we specified so I’m requesting they make additional cases with the correct Carolina Blue color for the final round. The regular/silver/light gray compact cases are also a match to the approved samples. I would describe the color as a little lighter than a 2013 MacBook Pro. If anyone wants the darker blue cases that look great (see photo below) please message me. A few Carolina Blue cases have not yet sold out in case anyone’s interested.
The F122 (also for F107/PC AT) production foam arrived and I have shipped out many of them – I mailed out all orders last week for those who wanted the foam to ship separately. Please message me if you’d like your Model F foam order shipped now. I have extras beyond the number ordered so feel free to place another order this week if you’d like.
Production photos: Check the recent prior updates for some photos of the keys, springs, P clip production, and cases. Also watch some videos of the first time I ever typed on a Model F Keyboard, at age 1 (!), the custom built pneumatic spring-flipper attacher, and an original IBM Model F Keyboard assembly video that someone posted on YouTube a while back.
Brand New Model F Keyboards at the meetups: in recent months people got to try out the Brand New Model F Keyboards at meetups in the Bay Area, Washington, D.C., and New Jersey. Below in one of the July updates is a great video put together by YouTuber and keyboard reviewer Nathan at the Model F NorCal meetup.
Model F Kickstarter Campaign Video? As noted earlier I am planning on a Kickstarter campaign as part of the final production run. In the coming months (after the early bird orders are shipped to everyone) I’ll be making a video about the Model F’s including clips of people using the keyboards in NYC. If anyone wants to be in the video, or can help by volunteering a nice looking venue for filming (or if you have any recommendations), please let me know.
New First Aid Kits: If you have not done so already I strongly recommend the new First Aid Kits for decades from now when production has long ended. The more parts out there, the greater number of these keyboards will be up and running in the decades to come. You can order additional inner foam mats and other accessories (or even full keyboards) and they will ship together with your earliest Model F order.
Questions for you: For those who signed up to the mailing list, I am wondering: how did you learn about the project? Why do you like Model F keyboards?
If anyone has any advice or recommendations please let me know. And feel free to follow the production updates on the web site blog.
A reminder on pricing changes: free US shipping now built into item prices; same overall cost though. I have been getting many questions on shipping, so to make things easier I have changed shipping to be free in the US and increased pricing by the amount of the original shipping charge ($21). I’ve also disclosed shipping costs for each region on the store page and each Brand New Model F keyboard page. International shipping has also been discounted to reflect the $21 pricing increase so that the out of pocket is the same with this change. The accessory key sets have gone up $4 to help cover prototyping overages. Please note that existing orders will not have to change to reflect the new pricing. Shipping Rates — US: Free. Canada: $39.92. Europe/Asia/South America: $49.30. Australia/New Zealand: $69.59.
The first keyboard I typed on was a Model F, attached to an IBM PC 5150 or 5160.
The video camera happened to be rolling the first time I typed on a Model F!
I will be at the Washington DC meetup on Saturday 9/15 and the NJ meetup Sat. 9/22 if anyone wants to try out the new Model F keyboards.
The 200,000 keys are expected to finish later this week. The 199,000 remaining springs finished production and are being packaged for transport to the factory doing the assembly.
Those are the last two parts of the keyboards themselves. We still have the packaging, assembly, and dye sub to complete. The plan as noted earlier this year is to have the assembly finish for everything and have the keys assembled to sheets so that I can dye sub and then press on to the keyboards without having to complete the dye sub and mail it back to the factory. Check out the IBM Model F keyboard production video I linked to in a recent update for the inspiration.
This way I can do a bit of dye sub and mail out those keyboards as the dye sub is completed for that keyboard, saving months of time.
Today we reached the $600,000 mark for Brand New Model F Keyboard orders!
Thanks to everyone for their patience with the factory on the journey towards brand new Model F keyboards made to IBM’s standards.
As noted in the prior update, assembly started this month with the 1,000 production springs/flippers and the final two remaining parts were approved and entered production earlier this month (200,000 keys and 199,000 springs). They are still working on producing those springs and keys. The other keyboard parts all finished production a while back and are awaiting assembly. The Carolina Blue ultra compact cases came out a darker shade of blue than specified, so I have ordered additional units to be made with Carolina Blue – if anyone wants the darker blue cases that look great (see photo below) please message me. A few Carolina Blue cases have not yet sold out in case anyone’s interested.
The 200,000 key production is moving along nicely and should be finished in the coming weeks. Below is a photo of one box of completed 1U keys. After that is the dye sub.
Production springs approved for mass production! The springs fortunately are a match to the approved sample springs and I have approved the remaining 199,000 springs for production. The factory’s first 1,000 springs were correctly assembled by the custom built pneumatic spring attacher machine #1; machines 2 and 3 require some minor adjustment to correct the seating of the spring on the flipper for optimal performance.
I also received some samples of the production compact cases and they are excellent. The sample cases from last year were very good but the bottom plate was a little too thin and the factory had to add more screws to ensure a tight assembly.
The blue cases came out a beautiful deep blue color that I like, but they are not a match to the Carolina Blue we specified so I’m requesting they make additional cases with the correct Carolina Blue color.
The regular/silver/light gray compact cases are also a match to the approved samples. I would describe the color as a little lighter than a 2013 MacBook Pro.
The production black hard anodized compact cases are also excellent.
And the F122 (also for F107/PC AT) foam arrived – I mailed out all orders last week for those who wanted the foam to ship separately. Please message me if you’d like your Model F foam order shipped this week. I have extras beyond the number ordered so feel free to place another order this week if you’d like.
So this means that all keyboard parts are now in production or finished production! The last major part is the dye sub which the other shop is still working on.
Someone posted this video on the keyboard forums a few years ago – a great look at how these Model F keyboards were assembled originally.
The pearl color is approved and the keys are now going into production! The key color is a match to the original XT set used on the prototype classic case F77 I brought to the various meetups (two keys shown below for comparison to the new keys). As noted earlier, pebble/gray and Industrial SSK blue were approved (a match to the IBM Industrial SSK Model M blue custom function keys). 60% gray was also approved.
The assembled springs first batch should be going out in a week or two. The factory has produced three of the spring attachers so far (from the video posted earlier).
As always please disregard the colors in these photos as they are not 100% accurate. In person the keys are a match.
Keys are approved for production! Industrial SSK blue color is a match and has been approved!
After 6 months of retooling the molds, the factory has succeeded! All keys and stabilizer inserts function and operate well with the barrels. The factory will either start production on all colors except pearl/off-white, or they will wait until that color is approved (they are still working on the PBT color mixing as the previous samples were very close but not an exact match).
First tests of the custom built pneumatic spring attacher!
P clips are almost finished! The P clip secures the cable inside the classic die cast zinc cases to minimize risk of damage to the USB port on the xwhatsit controller. Just another example of molds and tooling needing to be built from scratch because none of the original Model F tooling survived. Attached are photos of the P clip stamping tool and inspection process.
On Saturday 7/7 I brought some Brand New Model F keyboards to the Bay Area for a small meetup.
YouTuber and keyboard reviewer Nathan made this great video of clips from the meetup:
Some of the forum discussion threads on the meetup:
Next month marks the start of Brand New Model F Keyboard assembly! Assembly will start with attaching over 100,000 springs to their flippers using a custom built machine (link below).
After the approval of the springs earlier this month, they have entered production. Outside of the keys this is the final part we were waiting on.
The factory will make about a thousand springs next week to start with, and then official Brand New Model F Keyboard assembly will start with the spring-flipper attacher (photos here)!
I will then inspect the quality of the first production springs on the flippers to make sure they are in line with the approved samples they provided.
Pricing changes: free US shipping now built into item prices; same overall cost though. I have been getting many questions on shipping, so to make things easier I have changed shipping to be free in the US and increased pricing by the amount of the original shipping charge ($21). I’ve also disclosed shipping costs for each region on the store page and each Brand New Model F keyboard page. International shipping has also been discounted to reflect the $21 pricing increase so that the out of pocket is the same with this change. The accessory key sets have gone up $4 to help cover prototyping overages. Please note that existing orders will not have to change to reflect the new pricing. Shipping Rates — US: Free. Canada: $39.92. Europe/Asia/South America: $49.30. Australia/New Zealand: $69.59.
Bay Area California Model F Meetup planned for Saturday July 7: https://www.reddit.com/r/MechanicalKeyboards/comments/8pfa1d/bay_area_ca_meetup_brand_new_model_f_keyboards/
I need some help coordinating the meetup especially with securing a venue – please let me know what you can help with!
NY Mechanical Keyboards Meetup this Saturday June 16: I will be bringing the Brand New Model F prototypes! https://www.reddit.com/r/MechanicalKeyboards/comments/8q96lu/nyc_mechanical_keyboard_meetup_this_saturday/
Update on the springs:
Spring Success! Out of the 12 samples we have one match that will be approved for production! The search is finally complete after several dozen unique spring variations over the past few years.
I would say it is as nice or even nicer (less worn out) than my original gold standard reference (off my 1984 6110344 F122). It has a sharp click followed by a solid resonance that is not too high in pitch, not too low in volume, and not too short in duration. I was surprised the match was so close to not only any original Model F spring but to my reference spring/flipper.
I hope to bring the new springs (along with the keyboard prototypes) to the NY meetup on Saturday and to my Bay Area (CA) Model F meetup I am trying to set up on July 7.
Update on keys:
New key samples should be here later this week. They have been working on fixing a couple of the mold key cavities and getting the PBT colors right.
I know there are a lot of options for customizing your Brand New Model F Keyboard and I have to do a better job with the photos and descriptions, so feel free to message me with any questions or concerns.
My goal is to be able to make as many of these Model F’s as possible before production shuts down for good, and every order helps!
If you know anyone who might be interested in a Brand New Model F please do send them this way! I’m always glad to read in the order comments that someone discovered this project through a friend.
Any more thoughts on the 60% dark gray v. 80% dark gray keys? So far I am leaning towards changing it to 60% unless people are fine with 80%.
Four major notes this month:
- The key factory is fixing up the molds and expects to be finished by the end of next week (as you saw in the prior update, almost all keys meet the tight tolerance requirements and are approved for production). They are also working on the color matching. So we could have the final samples in hand in ~2 weeks and then start mass production of the keys in June.
- The spring factory is still working on the final samples. They had to put in a special order at the wire factory in Japan as the wire is no longer common enough to stock.
- We are wrapping up here. Again my apologies for the factory production delays, and I thank those who are excited as I am about bringing the Model F back into production!
- Speaking of wrapping, I have ordered a gummed paper tape dispenser and reinforced paper tape so the actual keyboard boxes will have a more professional IBM-like appearance, along with the dot matrix printer and green bar computer paper for everyone’s packing slip. IBM used paper tape on shipping boxes of many of their 1980s computers and Model F keyboards, and also on their 1390131 two-pack shipping boxes – see third photo here: https://www.modelfkeyboards.com/product/brand-new-in-box-ibm-1390131-model-m-keyboard/
Catching everyone up on the project:
After speaking with some very helpful advisers including engineers and someone who helped run a successful large Kickstarter campaign, I waited until the factories were able to produce fully functional prototypes and could produce the keyboards for $350 or less before accepting any orders. That was probably the most important piece of advice I’ve received for this project.
I have studied the challenges of hardware projects, especially those requiring less conventional production processes. One of the issues with some crowdfunded projects revolves around developing new technology and the project fails as they ran out of development resources – this issue is not the case here as the software and controller firmware were fully developed thanks to xwhatsit and the factory has completed the Model F molds and tooling for all the plastic and metal parts (save the keys) so the final round will be able to go much more smoothly. The Model F parts went into production with no yield issues. I read recently about e-ink phone cases and 3D VR headphones as examples of production and technology development problems resulting in them running out of money.
In summary: 100% functionality was achieved with the prototypes; the factory delays have enabled us to move towards meeting the original Model F aesthetics, sound, and experience.
The factories have eventually succeeded in producing the several hundred thousand parts I’ve ordered so far – PCBs, die cast cases, flippers, barrels, ribbon cables, inner steel assemblies, etc. All but the keys and springs passed my inspection, were produced, and are boxed up waiting to be assembled.
In general the factory production delays have historically focused on whether to proceed with the original timeline with working but substandard parts or rejecting the prototypes to make the new Model F as close to the originals as possible – I have always chosen the latter option. Few issues were with parts being non-functional. The goal of this project from the beginning has been a reproduction of the Model F, not a Model F style keyboard.
The two “key” parts remaining are the key sets and springs. The factory has proven they can make the springs within tolerance and actuate correctly; just trying to get them to sound as close as possible to the original Model F.
If the keys become a bottleneck we will still be able to deliver the orders using Unicomp keys for those who would prefer not waiting any longer for the new keys (but again almost all of the keys are now approved and within spec, and the factory is just finishing up a few corrections and matching colors).
In the final round’s month or two of accepting orders for the Brand New Model F Keyboards project (after early bird keyboards are shipped of course), I am still planning on a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign and could use any advice from those involved with major tech hardware campaigns in the past. I have been reading up on this, and thankfully a couple experts have already reached out and have been a great help.
I think the additional venue will help the factory to make as many new Model F keyboards as possible and open the project up to those more comfortable working through the Kickstarter/Indiegogo sites.
This month we reached a major project milestone: $500,000 in orders! Thanks to everyone on their confidence in the project and their patience as the factories work to make sure the new Model F lives up to the classic original.
Producing these parts to IBM’s tolerances has been a significant challenge for the factories. There have been many iterations of prototypes that I’ve rejected as out of spec. I had to cancel the agreements with two factories (key molds and springs) last year as they could not produce parts to spec and the new key mold factory had to start over.
Fortunately the constant rejection of prototype parts until they get it perfect has resulted in the factories finally succeeding on almost all parts. Many of the parts have finished production already and are waiting for assembly – die cast cases, flippers, barrels, controller PCB’s, capacitive PCBs. The top and bottom inner assembly production is almost finished (just need the powdercoating) and one key mold is good while the other needs adjustment. These are all parts whose production examples I’ve approved for quality and tolerances. Right now we just need the springs, keys, and dye sublimation to finish and then the keyboards can be assembled and ship.
Update on the springs: The Japanese material springs were technically perfect, within spec, but too quiet! They lacked the full volume Model F resonance after a pressed key is released. The factory is sourcing the same spring material from the material analysis report but from other factories (same spring factory though). Not all materials of the same grade are exactly the same or sound the same as I’ve learned. I’ve gone through about 20 unique spring production runs over the span of this project so far. We are getting there! A new run of spring samples should be ready by month end or early next month.
Update on the keys: One of the two new key molds has passed my examination of the sample parts (the mold containing the 1U cavities) so the 1U keys are approved for production! The keys meet all dimensions’ tolerance measurements (+/- 0.1 mm!); the key tops are richly textured like those of the brand new original Model F’s in my collection. They interact with both new and original barrels smoothly, including on the Model M barrel frames. Unfortunately the second mold with the other keys needs some more adjustment. The black PBT from the new production keys is of excellent quality and texture; I do not see circular areas of excessive shine on the tops characteristic of the original Lexmark black keys. And we are also waiting on the color matching. The factory has original Model F XT and Industrial SSK blue Model M keys for color reference.
Key Success! The key factory told me they have successfully corrected the key molds and showed me a video of the new keys and barrels working smoothly! I will of course evaluate the samples when they arrive in a couple weeks to make sure all tolerances are met. Below is a photo from one of the new key molds. Once the PBT material, tolerances, and colors are approved then key production will start.
After that the keys will need to be dye sublimated. The sample keys from the new factory successfully accepted dye sublimation on their key tops but the dye sublimation techniques to reduce bleeding and ensure deep black text are still being worked on. As noted in the February update the factory got the key top texture perfect their first try!
Sorry there has not been much to update the first few weeks back into production this month. The factory is still at work on the project.
The first new production parts will be shipping this week – those who ordered only F122 or F107 foam! If you need your foam early and would like separate shipping please let me know.
The ultra compact cases and inner assembly parts are still in production. Some unfinished F77 ultra compact case tops are in the photo below.
Please check out the Popular Mechanics March 2018 print issue and take a look at the article “The Hunt for the Modern Model F”! Different from the other great Model F article on the Popular Mechanics web site over the summer.
It’s also available here to purchase in hard copy and digital formats (I’m not affiliated with them and receive no comp.):
We are now into the Spring Festival/CNY so there will not be much to update from the factory for a while.
I plan on bringing some Brand New Model F Keyboards for people to try out! Plus some of the first key samples from the new one-piece molds! The factory did a great job with the keys and texture – on par with the originals! The reddit post on the meetup is linked below.
The factory has made nice progress on version 2.0 of the key-flipper assembler. It appears to work with pneumatics. This should save significant assembly time and avoid this part of assembly becoming a bottleneck to the project.
A few of each type of the completed production inner foam arrived and they are all excellent.
The key samples arrived and I can confirm that the key texture is an excellent match to the original XT keys (see the photos I posted in the first Jan. update). The keys are also great quality – nice thick walls and strong, high quality PBT.
With the next key samples arriving in a week or two, they should be within tolerance (these first sample keys were just to see the key top texture and PBT quality – they do not yet meet the strict tolerances). The factory is still working out the PBT shrinkage issues (PBT is a difficult plastic to work with because it shrinks during the injection molding process).
Soon after I am hoping for the correct key colors for the project to be confirmed (pearl/pebble, blue, etc.).
The Japanese steel spring samples are almost done – just waiting on the finishing stage and then they can mail them.
So it’s just the keys, top and bottom inner assembly, springs, and compact cases that are not yet waiting to be assembled. Everything else is boxed and ready for assembly. For storage reasons the outside protective foam and boxes will be done last by the factory, when everything else is just about done.
It is a great honor to have the Brand New Model F Keyboards project in an article in the Cornell Alumni Magazine’s January print issue!
The article is also online here:
Go Big Red!
The very first one-piece keys just came out of the new injection molds!
Below is a video of the injection mold in action! Everything is so automated. All other keys also finished.
I will receive the samples from the factory later this month for evaluation.
Regarding the other parts, the inner foam completed production. The Japanese steel spring samples are still in production and will likely finish around month end. The compact cases and inner assembly steel plates are still in production (the factory completed the newly designed tooling to ensure a perfect bend of the inner assembly late last year). The factory is working on a bulk spring-flipper attaching machine that can attach many springs at once to cut down assembly time for everyone. It is a slow process to get everything right but we are getting there!
Per the factory the key molds are expected to finish the first week of January. This is the same subcontractor that did a good job with the barrels and flippers (all to spec).
The spring samples should arrive next week. These are made with a new factory that is using the exact original standard material that IBM used for their springs (I had them analyzed at a lab). To speed up assembly, the factory expects to build a bulk spring attacher (their prototype could attach one spring and flipper at a time).
Dark gray printed and unprinted sets are now up for order! https://www.modelfkeyboards.com/product…iece-keys/
Total cost is $5 less than the $10 expected premium. These will be a limited early bird color to minimize extra setup charges for the final production run next year. You can pick free/other shipping if you want to add keys to your current order.
To keep the project on track and avoid extra assembly variations, these are extra sets only – they can’t be your only set or installed set if ordering a keyboard.
For those just catching up on the updates, much of the delay in this project is a result of trading more time for high quality output and not settling for the first samples presented to me. Retooling, reformulating paint and powdercoating processes, and cancelling substandard subcontractors have contributed to the delays. I want these keyboards to be good enough for me to use – equal to or better than the original Model F’s I’ve restored and typed on over the years. I will not ship a substandard product to meet original expected timeline predictions. Production has successfully completed on most of the components – the controller boards, die cast zinc powdercoated cases, ribbon cables, and the tens of thousands of barrels and flippers, We are waiting on the compact cases, springs, key molds, inner assembly steel plates, and inner foam to finish up, and then for assembly to start.
For this project, an equal or better quality reproduction of the original Model F is the most important goal, especially since there are nearly $400,000 in orders so far (originally I was in talks with the factory to sell maybe 100 keyboards total!). Production has taken a lot longer than expected. A saying I’ve heard definitely applies here – fast, high quality, or at a good cost – but you can only pick two of the three. A sampling of some of the issues: https://www.modelfkeyboards.com/4-11-17-major-update-catch-up-how-close-are-we/
The factory made less than expected progress in recent weeks due to a national holiday where everything shuts down for some time.
The factory is now back from their national holiday break and hopes to resume production soon on the compact cases, foam, and inner assembly steel plates. Production is approved and ready to go from my side.
Following up from the September update, I received some PCB material samples from the factories but none was a match. They were on the good but not perfect sound level of the PCBs that already finished production.
I am now in talks with a longstanding US PCB material manufacturer who identified some specific characteristics of the old PCBs from photos I sent them – he will look into this some more this week. It seems like both the PCB substrate and solder mask of the old PCBs may have contributed to the sharp click sound. I asked about a custom vintage style PCB formulation just for this project – with near 1,000 PCB orders this may be possible. If the better PCBs produce a noticeable improvement I hope to go out of pocket and give everyone a free upgrade to these new PCBs if costs allow (or pass along the costs if required). Then we would move from great to even greater with these new Model F’s.
I am still sourcing the special spring material that was successfully identified by the material analysis lab a few weeks ago (I had the original Model F XT springs analyzed at a material analysis lab). It is an old standard that is no longer as widely available in such a small diameter but will hopefully have good news from some wire manufacturers this week. Better spring materials have taken market share since the 80s but they miss out on the classic Model F sound in my opinion. The pitch will hopefully be just right with this classic spring formulation.
There were some questions about the low/custom serial option – it’s is a way of supporting the project and skipping several hundred people in line when these keyboards arrive and I start testing them one by one and mailing them out. The default “no” option on the drop down menu still gets you in the early bird round however.
Pricing may change a little in the near future as raw material prices have increased significantly since last year. Probably a price change of no more than $20 to $30 extra. If you get in your order before the prices go up you will not be asked to make up the cost difference.
The US factory’s aerospace-grade spring samples are technically excellent – they meet or exceed all the tolerances specified – but the spring sound is not yet perfect. It’s a little too sharp/high pitched. Either the material alloy is off or they were heat treated a little too long/too high a temperature is my guess. Or maybe the sound dulls a bit over time and with corrosion of the original springs after 30 years.
The factory suggested I have the original springs analyzed at a material analysis lab – I have sent off some original XT springs to a lab. They can determine with reasonable accuracy the content of the original springs. We should know more next week.
Meanwhile the main factory is still preparing to finish up production of the remaining parts – inner assembly plates, boxes, inner foam, outside foam, and ultra compact cases. I am hoping to have these completed parts, key samples from the new mold supplier, and all the springs by early November.
The other parts completed earlier this year and are sitting in boxes waiting to be assembled: original die cast zinc powdercoated cases, PCBs, ribbon cables, barrels, USB cables, and flippers. Thanks everyone for hanging in there as we perfect production of Brand New Model F Keyboards!
While you wait for your order, I am asking that you consider, if funds allow, getting a Model F First Aid repair kit for long after production ends and orders are no longer taken. The more kits and parts are ordered and out in the community, the greater the number of extant Model F’s will be in the decades to come. So far we have over 3,800 extra barrels and flippers, 60 extra factory made inner foams, and about 133 first aid kits ordered for ~850 keyboard orders.
Feel free to pick free/other shipping when adding small extras to your original order and I will combine the shipping.
A great honor from Big Blue.
The project was featured on IBM’s official Tumblr page today!
The main theme continues – it was tougher than the factories and I expected to meet IBM’s exacting standards and tolerances from 35 years ago.
Instead of delivering functional keyboards and meeting the original factory timeline (I’ve been typing on the fully working prototypes without issue this year), I want to make sure these keyboards live up to the quality standards of the originals for the clickiest, most musical typing experience possible, even at the cost of time (rejecting parts) until these standards are met. Eventually they have been met for the other critical parts, many of which finished production and are waiting in boxes at the factory for assembly (tens of thousands of barrels/flippers, the die cast zinc cases, capacitive PCBs, controllers, custom IDE/floppy style ribbon cables have finished production). Check out a few blog posts back for a detailed production update by part.
Dimensions on the keys that are off by just 0.5mm do not function well (I received the latest key samples this week). Spring free length variances are too large for a more consistent feel.
I cancelled the spring contract last month due to poor part tolerances and I expect to cancel the key mold contract as well and move it to another manufacturer this month. While this is going on I will have assembly start on the rest of the components to avoid any bottlenecking so we keep on schedule.
The springs are going to be made in the US. Almost none of the US-based spring factories had the equipment to manufacture springs to IBM’s 1980s tolerances and automatically discard all springs that do not meet the tolerances (at least one does – the one I am working with). Some US factories could only meet 4x IBM’s original tolerances!
The factory said that these springs’ tolerances are as tight as those of their aerospace customers.
I will be ordering sample springs this coming week for evaluation and then if they are good I will order all the springs from this factory – everyone will get the US-made springs.
It is an honor to be a guest tonight on NPR’s evening program All Things Considered!
The 3 minute segment on the Model F keyboards will air around 7:30 or 8pm, at least in NY. Please tune in to your local station to listen!
Update – The audio is now posted here: http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2017/07/14/537290841/this-10-pound-keyboard-from-the-1980s-is-making-a-comeback
It was an honor for the Model F project to be featured on the home pages of www.PopularMechanics.com and PCMag.com today!
Eric from Popular Mechanics wrote a comprehensive and well-researched look at the Model F project and the history behind the Model F mechanical keyboard.
Screenshot from www.PopularMechanics.com 7/5/17.
And here is the PC Magazine article on the project today:
We just reached the quarter million dollar order mark! Over $250,000 in orders so far!
There is still time to place your order. Here is a link to the order form where you can customize your layout (ANSI, HHKB, international ISO, etc.), colors (off-white/beige, Industrial Gray, Black, True Red), etc.: https://www.modelfkeyboards.com/product-category/main-f62f77-offering/
What parts and technologies make up a Brand New Model F Keyboard, what does each part do, and what is the production status of each part?
Barrels and Flippers – all production complete
These are the key (pun intended) parts of the Model F. The barrels hold each key in place and allow for smooth up-down movement as keys are actuated. The capacitive flippers make contact with the capacitive PCB and complete the signal when a key is pressed.
Powdercoated Die Cast Zinc Cases – all production complete for Off-White/Beige, Industrial Gray, Black, True Red, and Silver Gray cases
These cases are made from a dense, high quality zinc metal and powdercoated so that the texture and colors match that of the originals – the IBM Industrial SSK and the IBM Model F metal case keyboard. These cases are sturdy and will not flex or break when you are typing. These help contribute to the 8 to 10 pound weight of each F62/F77 keyboard!
The factory did an outstanding job with texture and color matching. Can you tell which case below is the original and which is the reproduction?
Industrial SSK original with powdercoated F62 case
Controller PCBs – all production complete for factory built/factory assembled compact xwhatsit controllers
Also complete is the new open source firmware/cross-platform GUI configuration software by xwhatsit, native NKRO / USB functionality with removable USB cable. Typing on a brand new F77 keyboard for this post, with one of these controllers – all is working well!
Ribbon cables – all production complete
The controller PCBs connect to the capacitive PCB underneath all the keys with a ribbon cable like those on the old IDE / Floppy Drives.
Capacitive PCBs – all production complete for F62 regular, F62 HHKB style split right shift, F77 regular, F77 HHKB style split right shift, and custom F62
The Model F design completely seals all the capacitive PCB contacts so that they are not exposed to air/wear and tear – one reason why Model F’s last so long. The flipper never actually contacts the copper inside the PCB directly, but the conductivity of the flipper material allows for a signal bridge between the two rectangles of each key when activated).
Inside foam – currently in production; expected to finish in a month or two
The inside foam ensures even pressure of the barrels against the inner assembly, and also a way of minimizing dust and other debris entering the inner assembly. Each one is custom stamped to match the top inner assembly cutouts for the barrels, whether for the standard or HHKB style layouts.
Buckling springs – currently waiting for updated samples that more closely match the original Model F springs; production will take under one month once samples are confirmed for production.
The buckling of the spring causes the flipper/pivot plate to be pressed down on the capacitive PCB, thus completing the circuit and sending the pressed key’s signal.
Top and bottom inner assembly; ultra compact cases – currently retooling; production expected to finish in a couple months
The sample parts were slightly off spec so I rejected them. The factory is retooling their equipment to produce all accurate parts. I reject out of spec parts that do not meet my quality standards, even though this has caused delays in the project. The end results though have been great so far (check out my earlier post on the challenges of making parts from the 1980s and the importance of quality control for this project).
The top and bottom inner assembly hold all the keys, barrels, flippers, and capacitive PCB securely in place. To maximize the performance, sharpness and clickiness of the Model F it is important that these parts be built to spec exactly, as they were in the 80s.
The compact cases are made of high quality but lightweight anodized aluminum – great for frequent travelers. The compact cases cut the weight down to about 3 or 4 pounds from 8 to 10 pounds of the original style cases.
Dye Sublimated PBT Keys – currently retooling; production expected to finish in a couple months
The factory has had significant delays adjusting the molds to ready them for production but they are expected to finish the tooling this month and then the keys can be injection molded. They are designed to match the original IBM XT key quality. Dye sublimation allows the keys to resist wear of the legends after decades of usage as the sublimation ink is absorbed into the key, not just sprayed on top like with the most common keyboard legend printing today, pad printing.
Product packaging – boxes and outside foam – outside foam is going into production this month; currently waiting for corrected box samples that use thick double walled cardboard for maximum protection during shipping
The goal of the Brand New Model F Keyboards project is a high quality product with the finest materials designed to last for decades. Packaging is designed to be similar to the original packaging for these keyboards (I am one of two original IBM F77 6019303 keyboard owners on the forums – I have one brand new with original foam packaging). These keyboards are also among the easiest to take apart and repair yourself – videos will be posted on how to do common repairs to keep your Model F typing along in the decades to come. Just make sure you order the First Aid Kit for future repairs – it includes springs, foam, and other parts that I’ve seen fail with the original keyboards after decades of use.
Any questions, feel free to message me or post on the Q&A page.
Any questions, feel free to submit through the web site, email me, or message me/post on r/MK (I am u/1954bertonespyder) or GeekHack/Deskthority (I am Ellipse)
I am typing on a fully assembled new prototype F62!
We are getting there – thanks to everyone for their patience with the factory delays.
The feel is very comfortable to type on. Another buckling spring fan in my family hit 112 WPM on 10fastfingers with this first-run F62! You can really notice the difference with new springs that have not been worn out and oxidized after 30 years, some more than others – creating an uneven typing experience with a high-mileage Model F.
Everything is working very well so far. The powdercoated die cast zinc cases are excellent quality. It was well worth the couple extra months to get the paint job right. The off-white/beige color is almost an exact match to the 1988 F107 case I mailed them as the reference.
The texture is the same bumpy, mostly matte but slightly reflective powdercoating as the original. The True Red and Black cases look good. In the next week or two they will mail the Industrial cases.
The capacitive PCBs, controller PCBs, inner foam, and outside foam are all good. Every PCB is being grounded in two spots to the bottom inner assembly with 6-32 screws to eliminate the risk of stray capacitive signals.
There were a number of issues that I have told the factory to work on and prioritize for completion as soon as possible. Some notes:
The top inner assembly parts are very good but slightly off spec. The TIA curve is about 1mm off from the ideal. My XT sample has a perfect curve that matches my CAD files exactly so I have asked the factory to remake the samples to this standard. The perfect curve helps ensure a more even pressure on the barrels between the top and bottom inner assembly. The wrong curve can result in wiggly barrels and clicks that are not as sharp so it is important that they get it right. To correct this issue they are going to adjust their tooling and mail corrected parts ASAP.
The compact cases had some issues with the color of the hard anodizing being slightly off. They are adding another couple screws on the bottom to further secure the case.
The product boxes were 2.5mm thickness instead of the 5.0mm I had specified so those were rejected, though the box artwork is well-printed.
Finally the springs are very close to the originals but I want to see a few more spring samples with different materials before the springs go into production.
The springs have improved sound but the top inner assembly needs to be re-made and accurately curved before the Model F sound is at its sharpest. Currently it’s well within the range of the original Model F’s that have gone through my refurbishings over the years.
For a more thorough update please see the previous post (below).
The factory is still working on adjusting the key molds – I am frustrated by these delays too but will only accept parts that meet my high quality control standards and function as well as the originals.
In the mean time, all the other first run parts appear to be finished! I am expecting them to ship everything out except the keys in the coming days.
When these first-run parts arrive I will examine each part and if it is all good, production will start on the remaining parts! (Top/bottom inner assemblies, springs, hard anodized compact cases, keys, boxes, and inner/outside foam).
The factory expects production and assembly to take 2-3 months, and then these will all ship from China to me for final testing and shipping (generally) in sequence of when you placed your order.
Here are the first run compact cases – please note that these colors are not accurate and are not representative of what anyone will get:
Here is the new batch of finished springs:
I hope this post will catch everyone up for those who have not been following the threads and blog posts as closely, and also if you are interested in how things are made.
As an update we passed $200,000 in orders a month or so back (actually over $210,000 now!) and have about 455 keyboards ordered so far. As many of you know the project has faced some challenges but these production delays are being wrapped up this month. Tens of thousands of parts are completed and sitting at the factory in storage, waiting for the other parts to finish production and then assembly can start: these parts include all the die cast zinc cases made from brand new molds-cases we successfully powdercoated to match the original Model F keyboard style and color. Also the barrels, flippers, capacitive PCBs, compact xwhatsit controllers, case molds, and ribbon cables. We are still waiting on the key molds, keys, inner assembly plates, ultra compact cases, and the final “easier” parts (boxes, inner foam, outside foam packaging).
The turnaround time for the factory is longer than expected for correcting issues before the run starts but it is understandable given my quality standards and the unique aspects of bringing back 1980s production parts. They have been very patient working with me for going on 3 years now.
The factory timeframe I believe was based on expectations of standard parts requests and finishes – they didn’t know how challenging this project would be for the nonstandard requests, nor did I.
The factory is actually building or adjusting their tooling for the special characteristics of this project. For example they are building a machine that curves the PCB to match that of the originals as there was no equipment that could delicately deal with PCB curving without damaging the copper traces. There is also tooling that precisely makes the inner assembly parts to the IBM Model F curve.
The parts requiring the most amount of work, the die cast original style cases, took 3 months for die casting, final machining, and powdercoating. Before then was maybe 3-4 months for making the molds and adjusting the powdercoating and texture.
The die cast case powdercoating process took months because the factory had to experiment with different paints and textures to match the original bumpy Model F 4704 texture – using standard powdercoating for the prototypes did not take long. The kind of texture and paint color did not exist (no Pantone color!) so everything had to be custom mixed until the colors were a perfect match to the 4704 case sample from 1988 that I provided. Then the powdercoating for some of the paint they tried did not stick well to the zinc so they had to switch to another type of paint. They ended up having to mix the custom made texture into the custom color powdercoat paint to get everything perfect.
The flippers and barrels were made from different proprietary materials (options had to be researched by the engineers) that were close approximations of the original plastic formulations that were never precisely disclosed back in the day (they work and the flippers perfectly convey the capacitive signal).
Here I recap examples of first try prototype adjustments needed – the passed parts are listed in the OP “finished production” section:
– Original cases – powdercoating color and texture needed a few tries to get right and accurately match the originals (which they do now). Their earlier samples were very well made (and without much delay) to high modern standards but did not match the texture and color of the originals.
– Barrels – some measurement errors on my part of fractions of 1 mm caused the barrels not to interface with the keys like the originals; had to have them adjust the molds
– Keys – one critical dimension of the keys was not to my spec, probably 0.5mm off spec which made the keys not buckle consistently.
– Springs – they tried a number of materials; also the spring measurements were not accurate enough, under 1 mm difference but it is noticeable and could prevent a key from buckling
– Inner assembly plates – they were not to spec, maybe under 1 mm too large (the width of space between the top and bottom inner assembly plates. The first ones had holes that were too small to fit the barrels and some of the powdercoating was flaking.
In all cases I have held the factory to my standards and have rejected substandard parts.
Once they determine exactly what is needed, production is approved to start and there should not be much of a delay due to rejection of parts.
The f62 original should be about 7.5lbs and the f77 original should be 8.3 or so pounds, (my original f77 is “only” 7.2 pounds!), 3.4lbs for the compact f62 and maybe around 4lbs for the compact f77.
451 F62/F77 Keyboards ordered so far – over $210,000 in total orders!
Industrial SSK Blue Keys 61
Front-printed keys F1, etc. 49
Extra steel spacebar tabs (pair) 43
Extra inner foam (F62, F77, F62 split shift, F77 split shift, F107, F122) 40
Compact F77 40
Extra Set of Brand New Production XT-quality one-piece keys 38
Compact F62 29
Extra F77 Case 21
Extra F62 Case – ‘Kishsaver” 21
Apple/Mac Command-Option Keys 21
xwhatsit Beam Spring or Model F USB controller 17
The factory is waiting on a subcontractor/supplier for finishing some of the first run parts (hard anodizing, etc.) and another national holiday is this week so that has caused some delays (Tomb Sweeping Day). Originally they were hoping to have the first run prototype parts shipped by the end of March but now we are looking at mid-April. Once these final parts are approved production can finish on all parts!
Youtube user Rællic picked up my pair of brand new factory sealed IBM Model M square silver logo 1390131 keyboards and has done a quick unboxing video.
I do have another one of these from the same shop in case anyone’s interested in getting a brand new IBM Model M square silver logo buckling spring keyboard (part 1390131).
We passed $200,000 in orders this week – a major milestone!
We are still waiting on the first run prototype parts to be made and then hopefully approved. I was hoping to get these earlier but the factory has been slow to get things going after the Chinese New Year holiday. Production of all parts can start after these first-run parts are approved. The current factory target is for first-run parts to be in hand for inspection by the end of March.
Anyone can still add to their order at this point with additional keyboards and/or accessories.
Several people suggested I offer a kit of spare parts for the future when production is long finished after this year – now you can order it through the store item “First Kid Kit.” No need to pay for extra shipping – I will combine orders – just choose “other shipping” at checkout.
Everyone at the factory is returning for work this week. We passed $190,000 in orders recently!
The immediate priorities are to get in hand the remaining first-run parts made to my specifications: buckling springs, top/bottom inner assembly, boxes, and the keys. After these parts have been approved, production will continue from where it left off (production has finished on the flippers, barrels, original style cases, capacitive PCB, controller PCB, ribbon cable to attach the two PCBs, and USB cables).
At this point we are waiting on the factory to do everything to spec. I will not approve or send out something that I would not want to use myself, something not to my specifications and level of quality.
Below are my replies to their questions:
1. It’s tough to fully convince someone of the appeal of the Model F keyboard in just words – you have to try one out to really understand the advantages of buckling springs, including the smooth key travel of the Model F keyboard and the sharp, satisfying click when a key has been pressed. I feel this project appeals to different people for different reasons but one major reason is that it is the very first, and so far only, project to restart production of IBM’s legendary buckling spring keyboards, now that the patents have long expired and have gone to the public domain. It offers the only alternative if you want a keyboard with one of the most widespread mechanical keyboard switches since the 1980s that is not based on Cherry MX.
Here are the main perspectives of appeal for this project in my view:
–The typing experience: The Model F keyboard offers the best typing experience. If you’ve never typed on a Model F or Model M (its significantly cost reduced successor that replaced almost all the metal with plastic) it is difficult to convey the experience. IBM’s venerated buckling spring switch technology was developed in the 1970’s and is at the core of the IBM Model F. This keyboard switch has a delicate yet incredibly tactile response that makes typing a pure pleasure. If one of your readers is new to mechanical keyboards, the buckling spring switch is what other mechanical switches are modeled after and compared against (especially those blue and green switches!). Many consider the buckling spring the best switch for typing, with anecdotal claims that using a buckling spring keyboard reduced fatigue and improved accuracy (I have personally passed 100+ WPM on my Brand New Model F prototypes with a few typing tests).
–The quality perspective: The Model F is probably the highest quality, mass produced keyboard anyone has or ever will type on. You have the solidness of the keyboard: It is a heavy keyboard that weighs 5-10 pounds depending on the model and has a metal case, steel inside plates and buckling springs. Compare this to a mostly plastic Cherry MX style keyboard that sells for $100 to $200. Then you have the legendary IBM moniker and its connotation of the highest quality of goods and a reputation for extreme durability. Many 1980s and 1990s IBM keyboards are still fully functional today. IBM’s Model F keyboard from its PC AT computer even works natively with today’s PS/2 ports, as long as you buy a passive 5 pin DIN to PS/2 adapter. Then you have the quality of the key caps – they are made with PBT plastic which does not yellow or degrade as quickly as low grade ABS plastic common to many keyboards. Also the key legends are dye sublimated onto the keys, meaning the ink is deeply infused into the cap instead of pad printed on top of the keys (the latter method often leaves sloppy looking or illegible legends and shiny/slippery key caps over time that make the user less productive with the keyboard). The interaction of all of the metal plates in a Model F as a user types produces what many describe as a musical quality of the keyboard where each key sounds slightly different (the buckling springs in my project – at least for the prototypes – are actually made of a specific material that is commonly sold as piano wire!).
–The legacy/historical perspective: Tens of millions of IBM buckling spring Model M and Model F keyboards were made over the 1980s and 1990s and many people fondly remember using that great clicky keyboard at work or at home. Some may remember when they upgraded their IBM computer to another brand and only then noticed how much they missed their clicky keyboard! Even as people upgraded their computer equipment over many years/decades, the one thing many people held on to was their IBM buckling spring keyboard, which is unique in an industry where planned obsolescence is the norm. I do hope that these keyboards survive the test of time. So many products people buy today develop issues in a few months’ or years’ time and are meant to be disposed of; it is great to be able to buy something made today that you can use every day and it will be there for you to use 10, 20, 30 years from now. I hope this F77/F62 project will be like that. I do not want to compromise a project like this by lowering standards and cutting corners to make it inferior to an original because it is something I want to be able to use and something that is on par with the original Model F keyboards that I use daily – that is why I insist on materials and production processes that meet or exceed original standards and tolerances, including lots of metal!
–The technical perspective: Building from the quality perspective, the Brand New Model F keyboards project improves upon the original F’s by offering the great Model F technology in a modern 60% and 75% style layout that can be factory customized (ANSI, ISO/international layouts, HHKB style layouts, unprinted keys, etc.), full NKRO (N-Key rollover) capacitive switch sensing, native USB connectivity with no special driver required for Win/Mac/Linux/Android, and open source firmware and GUI software to fully customize your keys, function layers, and macros.
–The ability to get a Model F brand new, fully assembled and configured, and native USB is also a big factor – most people prefer not to clean out 30 years of gunk and hair from a used keyboard off an online auction site and spend hours washing and restoring it just for the privilege of using an IBM Model F keyboard in all its prime. And then they need to figure out how to buy a teensy or Model F USB controller board, program firmware onto it, and configure that firmware – it’s just too time consuming but up to now it was the only way to use the best keyboard possible. Also many Model F keyboards came with strange layouts that were difficult to get used to, such as the IBM XT keyboard.
–The upgrade over a Model M: Most people who enjoy buckling spring keyboards know about IBM’s Model M clicky keyboards, and not the superior earlier model, the Model F. While the Model F was replaced with the cheaper and now easier to obtain Model M, the Model M made some sacrifices on build quality and tactile response, replacing almost all metal with plastic. Out was the incredibly sharp and firm click of the Model F’s flippers making direct contact with its large printed circuit board. In was the Model M’s tiny pivot plates hitting a rubber mat and underlying plastic membrane sheets with a relatively dull thud.
2. The process and history of the project: I have been a collector of IBM buckling spring keyboards for years and was able to acquire a number of Model F keyboards through my network of IT recycler contacts, but no 62-key “Kishsaver” Model F keyboards (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). (A note on the naming conventions of this project: 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. 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. I had to pay for all the tooling, CNC milling and molds – with no guarantees of success. 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 have been working with my China contacts for about a year and a half on a number of projects so it was not difficult for me to work with them on this project. My past projects included mass production of xwhatsit’s PCB’s that allowed older IBM keyboards to be USB, have full NKRO, and function on today’s computer equipment.
3. I think there are many factors for the increased interest in mechanical keyboards. One is definitely the expansion of the number of computer and gaming enthusiasts and the gaming and mechanical keyboard communities that have flourished in recent years (including reddit.com/MechanicalKeyboards
4. I am a big fan and collector of the IBM buckling spring keyboards. My very first keyboard was an IBM 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. 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. Without them this project would not have been possible.
Here is a February 2016 interview about the Brand New Model F Keyboards project. Here are my replies in the interview. You can see the published press articles on the Press/Forums page.
First time bringing a product to market? Nope – I handled two group buys for xwhatsit’s keyboard controller PCBs (one in late 2014 and one last year). I worked with xwhatsit (Deskthority and Geekhack) to confirm the recommended parts for his open source designs and then found a great partner in China to work with, a partner I am using with the current project to bring back the IBM Model F keyboard. This initiative was the first one that mass produced xwhatsit’s PCBs. Xwhatsit’s controllers were the first widely used controller replacements that enabled the original metal case Model F keyboards to work with modern-day computers. This is the first major project I’ve been involved with though. I could not have undertaken this project without the help of so many community members from a variety of professional and enthusiast backgrounds including product design/engineering/manufacturing, circuit board design and programming, as well as fans and users of original Model F’s who helped with good advice throughout the project, which started around April of 2015 and was announced publicly at the end of June 2015.
I am a collector of Model F and Model M keyboards so I used my own collection to gain an understanding of how they work and to do the CAD measurements. I actually had a few F77s and F122s (77 key 4704 F’s and 122 key Model F’s) whose parts were analyzed for this project. Fortunately the Model F design is so easily disassembled, reassembled and repairable that no keyboards were harmed in the process. I paid for the molds and tooling from China, which is where manufacturing and assembly of the brand new IBM Model F reproductions will take place.
Manufacturing of China – yes this is definitely an adventure. The important part is to make sure you have the right partner there – one that is responsive, has excellent attention to detail, manufactures a great product to spec, and stands by their work (guarantees to re-make any out-of-spec parts). Another key is to produce working prototypes and then make any small adjustments from there – some of the great advice I received from someone heading up another manufacturing project in China. Yes it was a challenge getting the right materials and learning all of the terminology involved with manufacturing, including tolerances (how different from your drawings a part can be before it becomes out of spec and is not acceptable in the product). Thankfully there were a lot of great project advisers, including those experienced both professionally and on an enthusiast basis with product design/engineering/manufacturing, circuit board design and programming, as well as fans and users of original Model F’s who helped with good advice throughout the project. This project and determining proper materials and production processes could not have moved forward without their understanding of and experience with manufacturing. Another difficulty in determining the right partner in China is of economies of scale. With such a small project, many of those in China I spoke with showed little to no interest in taking it on because they knew of all the months of back and forth that would be required to go over specifications, the hours of their engineers’ time to review CAD files, and the hours needed to tool and produce prototypes. Unless you are making thousands of units it is a major challenge to manufacture inexpensively in China. The issue is definitely of cost, even in China. Tooling costs involve paying the factory for materials, labor, and the opportunity cost of “machine hours” to set up and customize a number of their factory’s machines in a way that will make your product. Every production run requires re-tooling the machines because after your parts are made they need the machine to be set up again for another project. Mold and tooling costs run in the tens of thousands of dollars total for this project. Also getting the plastics right was a challenge and major risk for the project. Model F keyboards use capacitive buckling spring technology, which requires specialized plastic that can act as an electronic bridge on the matrix PCB even though it never physically touches any exposed metal contacts. Fortunately I had a lot of help from some professional engineers and product designers who advised me on which resins (specific types of plastic) would be a good choice for this project. We got the plastic resin right the first time for both the major plastic parts (the “barrels” upon which the keys attach to and “flippers” attached to buckling springs – these flippers flip down when the spring is buckled and form a capacitive bridge). I’m not sure these technical descriptions are 100% correct but here’s a link to xwhatsit’s project page which may prove a better resource if you’re interested.
Setbacks? Because of the months of communication back and forth in discussion with potential suppliers as well as the great support network of mechanical keyboard enthusiasts on Deskthority, GeekHack, and R/MK (Reddit.com/MechanicalKeyboards) any problems were minor at most and corrected quickly (e.g. the foam they used for the packaging was not the one I had specified – they quickly fixed it and re-made the prototype foam pieces shown with the F62 and F77 on the Brand New Model F keyboards web site). I did need to redo some measurements that were about 0.1mm or 0.2 mm off from IBM specs and believe it or not that made a noticeable difference in the functionality of the parts (it also cost me four figures for mold adjustments!). The biggest surprise/setback was that PayPal decided to freeze all the project funds [now we use a major credit card processor, Authorize.
Electronics – All electronics and software for the Brand New Model F keyboards project were conceived, designed, and programmed by Deskthority forum member xwhatsit. It is my understanding that he completely disregarded IBM’s original controller design and went back to the 1970s buckling spring patents (now long expired and in the public domain) to redesign the software and hardware from scratch. The capacitive PCB (the big PCB underneath the keys that contributes to the extra clickness of Model F keyboards over Model M keyboards) has a very similar layout to the originals. Yes this project just uses xwhatsit’s open source Model F USB controller soldered by ribbon cable (like the original Model F’s) to the capacitive PCB. I may not end up using xwhatsit’s controller, however, as I am considering another design currently in development on the keyboard forums.
I know that many of you were waiting to see photos and video of the working compact case prototypes in action before placing an order. Well they are here and they pass inspection! See the photos and video here:
For those who ordered the classic style die cast zinc powdercoated cases, all those orders are in production! Each part is in a different stage of production; most of the parts have finished production, including the powdercoated cases. So we are just waiting on those remaining parts and the final assembly of each keyboard. Then the finished keyboards will ship to me by sea mail from the factory in China. After a few weeks the container ship should arrive in NY where I will be testing each keyboard one by one to make sure it passes my strict quality standards. I expect to wrap everything up before mid-2017.
The factory has done excellent work so far and I’ve been using the fully working prototype F77/F62 keyboard for about 11 months now as my daily driver (including as I write this update!).
The delays in recent months were primarily due to my strict quality standards (rejecting factory samples one after another until they got it right) as well as factory delays. I’ve learned that complex, high quality products made from brand new molds take significantly longer to manufacture than the factory’s estimates.
For those who are thinking of ordering an F62 or F77, you still have time to order but once the final round deadline passes, no more orders will be accepted.
Check out the die cast molds, thousands of barrels and capacitive flippers, the finished powdercoated cases, the ultra compact case prototypes, the new xwhatsit compact PCBs powering these keyboards, and other factory photos from the production process. It shows unfinished parts in production as well as finished parts.
Newly added original buckling spring keyboards now available to order! Including an Industrial SSK, brand new Square Silver Logo original IBM Model M 1390131 keyboards in full retail packaging, new in box and used early 1990s Model M’s, original PC AT Model F keyboards, and more.
If anyone else wants to help with this project, the most important thing I could use help with is on the marketing strategy. I would like to have the ability to make as many new Model F keyboards as possible! If anyone can offer some help it would be greatly appreciated!
SUMMARY OF EVERYTHING THIS BUY INCLUDES
* Basic keyboard models: F62, F77, Ultra Compact F62, Ultra Compact F77
* One-piece XT-style keycaps made from new molds, including Industrial SSK style blue keys – extra sets are also available separately
* Extra parts also available separately including Model F (AT) compatible barrels, flippers, cases, PCBs, inner foam, and inner assemblies
* Available layouts: ANSI: US and HHKB style with split backspace and regular non-split backspace. ISO: Vertical enter with a variety of international layout variants: Spanish, German, Nordic, French, UK, etc.
* Ultra compact cases
* Key molds / keys / buckling springs
* Inner assembly plates
* Boxes / inner foam / outside foam packaging
* Die cast zinc cases (powdercoating is done too – the die cast cases are all finished!)
* capacitive PCBs
* compact xwhatsit controllers
* case molds
* ribbon cables (to connect controllers to capacitive PCBs)
* Cases and other parts have been ordered, so please no major changes! Adding to your order is OK as I am making extras for the early bird round (see below)!
STILL CAN BE ORDERED
* Everything. I have ordered extra keyboards and parts for the early bird round, which will be ongoing while supplies last. Then there will be a final round for about a month after the early bird keyboards are delivered.
QUESTIONS FOR YOU – please reply!
* How did you hear about the project, for those not following the Deskthority/Geekhack/reddit threads and posts?
* How do you plan on using your F62/F77? From those I’ve spoken with so far, there are quite a few programmers and writers.
* What part of the project convinced you to be a part of the group buy?
* For those who haven’t ordered yet, is anything holding you back? Was anything not presented well on the web site, that could be fixed? Any other questions feel free to reply to this email or PM me on the forums and I will get back to you.
* Do you have any advice on marketing/getting in the media? Which relevant news sites/blogs/authors do you like? I probably need to get some F62/F77 review samples out before the end of the final round.
Here is a comprehensive production update for those who have not been on the forums recently. Everyone still has time to order but once the final round deadline passes, no more orders will be accepted. Please check the web site for the deadline.
The most important thing I could use help with is on the marketing strategy. I would like to have the ability to make as many new Model F keyboards as possible! If anyone can offer some help it would be greatly appreciated!
SUMMARY OF EVERYTHING THIS BUY INCLUDES
* Basic keyboard models: F62, F77, Ultra Compact F62, Ultra Compact F77
* One-piece XT-style keycaps made from new molds, including Industrial SSK style blue keys – extra sets are also available separately
* Extra parts also available separately including Model F (AT) compatible barrels, flippers, cases, PCBs, inner foam, and inner assemblies
* Available layouts: ANSI: US and HHKB style with split backspace and regular non-split backspace. ISO: Vertical enter with a variety of international layout variants: Spanish, German, Nordic, French, UK, etc.
* Ultra compact cases
* Key molds / keys / buckling springs
* Inner assembly plates
* Boxes / inner foam / outside foam packaging
* Die cast zinc cases (powdercoating is done too – the die cast cases are all finished!)
* capacitive PCBs
* compact xwhatsit controllers
* case molds
* ribbon cables (to connect controllers to capacitive PCBs)
* Cases and other parts have been ordered, so please no major changes!
STILL CAN BE ORDERED
* Everything. I have ordered extra keyboards and parts for the early bird round, which will be ongoing while supplies last. Then there will be a final round for about a month after the early bird keyboards are delivered.
Here are over 100 production photos of the foam, metal parts, boxes, controllers, powdercoated die cast zinc cases, ribbon cables, etc. It shows unfinished parts in production as well as finished parts.