Brand New Model F August Update – dye sub, product manual, new reviews, hefty solenoids, improved firmware

Project status summary – what has been going on lately:

For those who have not been following recent updates and frequent postings over on the Deskthority and geekhack project threads, I will note that there is still time to customize and order your Brand New Model F Keyboard and/or any accessories like the First Aid Kit for future repairs, extra key sets, inner foam, extra flippers/springs, Model F key pullers, custom made 3 meter USB cables compatible with these keyboards, and other parts. Also I will note that the keyboards have started shipping – it does not mean that your keyboard will be shipping right away! There is still a ways to go to get everyone’s keyboard out.

The major update is that I’ve QC’d and shipped out 469 keyboards so far and am continuing to send out shipments without printed keys to those who want early delivery, with printed items to ship later.

The only ones that are not going out are those who prefer delivery all at once (e.g. if they do not have extra Model M / Model F / Unicomp keyboards to borrow keys from) and those whose keyboards are in the second of two container shipments of the early bird round (mostly the remaining keyboards with installed, unprinted keys as well as the compact case keyboards).

The last step is the dye sublimation which they are working on setting up and still needs more time to complete.

Total number of Brand New Model F keyboards shipped so far:  469.  As a note this does not indicate the future pacing of order fulfillment, which will ramp up significantly once the rest of the keyboards are ready to go out (including the sublimated keys).  Right now all but a few keyboards have been mailed, for those who requested shipment.

The factory continues to work on dye sublimation and additional QC work on the second container shipment of the early bird round. They succeeded with the actual sublimation this month (see nice sublimation quality example below) but need to work on optimizing the jig for proper alignment of all keys. Essentially they make a test jig and then make another one, and do this as many times as needed (it is not inexpensive!). Vertical alignment is consistent within tolerances for 7 of the 8 samples (except “S” – all legends need to be repositioned lower on the key tops of course), but horizontal alignment consistency in these samples (distance from left side of key cap) is not yet acceptable. I was hoping that they would be finished by now but they need more time.

For those not aware – the “separate shipping” option is still available for you to request – more details in point 3 of the June update below.  I continue to mail out keyboards, First Aid Kits, and anything else in stock to those who request it, with printed keys to ship later.  Most classic case keyboards can ship in the next month or so upon request, except some black and True Red cases.  Many keyboards are arriving in the second of two container shipments for the early bird round, expected later this year.  Black, Industrial SSK Blue, and Dark Gray unprinted key sets will arrive later this year as well.  Pearl/pebble unprinted key sets are in stock and can ship with your keyboard if you have ordered it (you can still place a new order for one of these key sets as well, so you have keys to use now as well as having printed keys that will arrive later).

Regarding new Model F orders, orders can ship in two parts if you’re interested, with the keyboard and non-printed accessories that are in stock to ship within about one month of ordering, and the rest to ship later when ready. Please feel free to email me to make sure the option is available for what you’re ordering, if you are interested in that option.

Recent reviews:  I have been updating the May update post with dozens of reviews and customer postings as they come in (check them out and let me know if I missed any!). Here’s a great review on the ultra compact F77 keyboard from Level1Techs on YouTube. Very thorough and professional! I like how they explained everything clearly, introduced the xwhatsit configuration software, and showed how the stabilizer inserts work.

I also wanted to share a recent, thorough blog review of a new Model F F77 Keyboard with great photos:

http://ryan.abel.space/blog/model-f-keyboard-review

Dye sublimation update – excellent progress:

The factory has done an outstanding job with the latest key samples. They seem to have perfected the various variables to get a good quality result.

On my Meiji stereo microscope it is almost impossible to tell the difference in sublimation quality (sharpness, color quality) from my top reference standard F122 from 1984. I was surprised that there was nearly zero off color bleed / dye migration in the new samples, while even my ’84 keys had a tiny amount of this only visible on the scope.

Right now you can tell the difference from the originals due to the poor legend alignment which is far from approved.

I have just approved the sublimation quality of these samples. The next steps are for the factory to work on the alignment which involves more work on the jigs.

Below are some (slightly out of focus) phone photos below. It compares the 3 new S D F key samples to original IBM XT keys (installed on the keyboard) and the S key borrowed from my reference F122.

The legends are a bit too thick and will require adjustment to match the originals.

Update on the Model F manual:

I have put up an initial manual to help with troubleshooting, maintenance, and configuration of Model F Keyboards, now available at www.ModelFKeyboards.com/manual

On the product manual page, please do check out the “Statement of Brand New Model F Keyboards Project Philosophy: Full user control of product maintenance and repairs”

A number of Deskthority and geekhack forum members are contributing text and artwork to create a definitive, far more thorough Model F manual, with excellent attention to detail so it resembles the original 1980s IBM manuals.  They are even using the original IBM manual font, which IBM freely released to the public recently.  This project is being led by forum member darkcruix.  This manual is an excellent resource so far, and will include content from my online manual.  Previews and discussion can be found on the forums as well as the dedicated forum topic:  https://deskthority.net/viewtopic.php?p=470489#p470489

Custom made extra hefty solenoids, solenoid drivers, USB-C Model F, USB-C beam spring (non-displaywriter), and USB-C beam spring (displaywriter) controllers are still available to order but I do not have much stock left.  Shipping of all these items will be later this year, with the next container shipment, except for the solenoid drivers which are in stock and can ship.  I have a very limited supply of production samples for the other items – if you require immediate shipping please email me for pricing (there will be an extra fee to help cover the significant cost overruns for the new Model F project).

A few of the production solenoids arrived and they are excellent!

For those not aware, a solenoid contains a metal cylinder that vibrates the keyboard and/or makes a noise every time you press a key (with exception for certain key programming like the Windows GUI key, etc.) and helps add even more clickiness to a keyboard.

These solenoids are also a great option as an upgrade to IBM’s original solenoids too (I’d always save the originals of course for the sake of completeness).

The solenoids are more than double the weight of the original IBM beam spring solenoid in one of my 3278 keyboards.  The solenoid drivers and solenoids are compatible with the xwhatsit Model F and xwhatsit beam spring controllers, so you can add a solenoid to your Brand New Model F Keyboard! Check out the keyboard project thread for photos and a discussion of this option!

The adjustable stroke of the new solenoids works well. At full stroke (5mm) the solenoid is at its heftiest. The solenoid was also well engineered and was able to keep up even at full stroke with my typing of 90 wpm without noticeable queueing of clicks (I prefer the 5mm maximum stroke setting. The factory default setting is 0.5mm which produces a more comparable stroke to the original solenoids). It was set to 25ms extend, 50ms retract in the xwhatsit controller settings.

As of last week, 90 solenoids and 106 solenoid drivers have been ordered. Both are still available to order!

Below is a video of the solenoids in action! They sound hefty even before they are attached to a metal case which should add further impact!

Why pick this solenoid over other solenoids or over IBM’s original solenoids?

The new solenoids are far beefier than IBM’s originals, so your solenoid clicking will be even better! It’s a custom design that you can only order here. The specifications are 6v, 40 ohm, 0.15A, 0.9W, adjustable throw factory set to 1mm but with a user-adjustable range of about 0.5mm to 5mm (there are 2 screws that can be loosened to adjust the distance of the strike bar). The factory throw setting allows you to start using this solenoid with no modification (still need to follow xwhatsit’s solenoid installation guide to avoid damage to equipment).

This solenoid has the dark blue outer covering, black and white twisted wires and 2.54mm connector like the original IBM solenoids, but with a strike bar so it won’t exactly resemble the IBM solenoid.

This solenoid is not the one that may still be available on other web sites, though it looks similar and the voltage and resistance specs are the same. Also that other model doesn’t have the adjustable throw – you would have to spend time milling the strike bar to modify it for correct usage with the solenoid drivers. If the ebay solenoid’s throw distance isn’t changed, your solenoid will be very sluggish and won’t be able to operate at full typing speed. Also my solenoid is even larger than the eBay solenoid, the 26mm height dimension on eBay is set to be ~29-30mm on my solenoid (the solenoid goes sideways in F62/F77 so it fits) though all the solenoid specs are subject to change. With a larger metal frame, my solenoid should be a little louder than the eBay model and far louder than the original IBM! This is the largest possible solenoid that will fit inside the classic style F62 and F77 cases.

QMK firmware update:

Since I switched the keyboard firmware over to QMK in the last month or so, that is what many recently mailed keyboards may be running, especially if your keyboard was mailed out in recent weeks. You can check Windows Devices and Printers I believe. The xwhatsit utility won’t launch in those cases. To switch back to xwhatsit I have posted instructions in the above manual. QMK works by flashing the firmware and layout all at once. The editing of the layouts is done on a web site instead of a standalone program.

So far QMK has received zero complaints and it has been functioning 100% perfectly according to all the feedback I have seen.  Please do look into it as xwhatsit may not be the better option for certain computer setups.

I have created some QMK Model F layout files from pandrew’s beta, based on the available layout options and have posted them on www.ModelFKeyboards.com/code

Those layout files won’t work on the regular QMK site just yet – only on the beta site requiring an invite.

Feel free to request access to the QMK beta by posting on the Deskthority.net project thread.

Powdercoating update:  Due to the extended lead times for powdercoating in China, the factory is starting preparations for colors for the final round (for both classic and compact cases). Please do post if you would like to order any previously unavailable colors and if there’s enough demand (not sure of the minimum order quantity just yet) then I will look into offering them. I like Dark Blue as a powdercoated zinc case option, and maybe doing another run of the True Red which came out nice.

Interest check: ultra durable modern style powdercoating for classic zinc and/or compact aluminum cases?

Just to show everyone how far powdercoating has come: here’s a video of me taking the end of a screwdriver and trying to damage these samples. Only the faintest of marks was left on these powdercoated metal samples.  Note:  this powdercoating is not available to purchase with your keyboard, but is just an idea for maybe the end of the final round.  I cannot switch prior or future orders to one or the other type of powdercoating.  I am just wondering if anyone would be interested in tough coatings for the final round. I am planning on switching at least the compact cases to the tough powdercoating instead of the anodizing. The appearance is great for both of them and the powdercoating is far more durable than anodizing. You’ll still be able to get the classic powdercoating no matter what, as a possible option for the classic style cases.

There was a note on space bar compatibility over on reddit that I wanted to post over here:

Unicomp offers two 5.5U space bars, one known as “pre-2013” and one known as 2013 onwards. Only one is compatible with the Model F keyboard (don’t remember which!). They are physically different designs.

https://www.pckeyboard.com/mm5/graphics/ProductNews7-25-13.pdf

The Unicomp 7U space bars I believe are the same as Model M space bars and are compatible with the new Model F Keyboards.

Every new Model F has a pad so you can split the longer space bar to use the shorter space bar if you have a spare barrel and flipper (I also sell the shorter space bars – just order one unit of “Extra keys”).

Model F space bar custom fine tuning:

I custom adjust each space bar for every keyboard by hand so I do not recommend removing it unless it has stopped functioning.

You have to lift up the space bar until the stem clears the barrel inside, and then only touch the metal stabilizer wire to push the wire away from the tabs and towards the space bar barrel so that this action slightly pushes up the metal tabs, while making sure no sudden movements result in the plastic space bar tabs snapping off.

When putting every thing back, you have to bend the metal tabs a little so that the space bar doesn’t get stuck and/or rattle too much. This is more of an art than science and you can significantly alter the sound for better or worse by adjusting the position of the metal tabs. That’s why I recommend not altering it at all.

There should be a slight gap in the classic style zinc cases – the original IBM tolerances were more generous than those of today’s manufacturing standards. You could take a rubber mallet or try to bend the zinc case by hand with everything removed from inside the case including USB cable and P clip, but this is likely to result in damage to the finish of the case and is not recommended. I’d leave it be or add a piece of foam or felt if needed.  You can easily break the space bar’s little plastic tabs by removing the space bar incorrectly.

Key splitting:  All 2U and larger keys can be split, including the space bar (shorter space bar + 1.25U or 1.5U key) like on the JIS layout on new Model F photo I posted before.  It’s built in to each PCB design on all keyboards.

Case tightening:  A Deskthority forum member had a great recommendation for the classic case models: “I seemed to improve the key feel and sound ever so slightly by tightening the screws of the case” – definitely check to make sure your zinc case screws are fully tightened as it will press the bottom and top inner assembly plates closer together, which should help the sharpness of the clicks.

Here’s a post on buzzers/beepers for Model F keyboards:

https://deskthority.net/viewtopic.php?p=463031#p463031

Screw sizes – thought I’d put all the sizes in one place:

Yes you can purchase extra screws from me – please email me for current pricing and to confirm availability. All classic case screws are Pan Head screws. You can also purchase them locally or online for a low cost, probably lower than my cost.

However I recommend ordering from me if you want the Torx T8 screws I’m using for the compact cases (I also sell Phillips head compact case screws). They are of excellent quality and are custom made just for this project from a brand new mold. (the factory is replacing the lower quality phillips head screws on all the ultra compact cases that have not yet shipped to me)

Always compress the compact case right next to the screw with firm pressure (the same firm pressure to the screw with the screwdriver), go slowly, and use the correct bit (Phillips #1 PH1 for compact case screws and PH2 for classic style case screws and controller ground screws). Use only manual hand screwdrivers. Do not overtighten or the screw will strip. The small screws are far more likely to strip if the screwdriver slips.

6/32 x 3/16 in – controller and P clip screws (total 3)

6/32 x 1/2 in – classic style zinc case 4 screws

M2.5 x 4mm – compact case 4 screws to attach bottom inner assembly to case

M2.5 x 20mm – compact case (F62 12 screws, F77 14 screws)

Photo album of new Model F keyboard variations that have gone out so far – same as prior album continually being updated, just linking to it again here:

The blue gray / silver gray cases came out great and look even better in person than in these photos. This is a great color and I had extras made beyond what was ordered, in case anyone wanted to upgrade or order a keyboard or case in this color.

Also the Regular Gray Ultra Compact cases look great. The finish is excellent.

Note on dust covers:  for dust covers I have used the Fight Computer Dust Antistatic Vinyl Keyboard Cover (Keyboard Cover: 20W x2H x9D-Large) for my buckling spring keyboards. It is a soft cover. I was looking through my old emails and it looks like this month is actually 7 years since I ordered it, and it has remained in good shape without discoloration or other damage. I added a thick copper wire around the bottom to give it some more structure for ease of removal and installation.

First New Model F trackpoint mod!

Submitted to me by a non-forum member. I believe there are multiple options for doing the trackpoint mod as described here: https://www.modelfkeyboards.com/questions/question/success-trackpoint-mod/

“I used the Unicomp M13 trackpoint but the others I mentioned will also work. I used the unicomp controller and have two USB cables running out the back. If the current controller has any extra inputs that handle PS2 or some unused GPIO pins then it could be integrated into the existing controller with the stand alone SK8702 trackpoint controller. I plan on going bluetooth in which case I can join the two controllers through a hub internally and not have to worry about two controllers and cables. I used the Unicomp GHB keys with the cutout to clear the trackpoint.”

Here’s a link to the photos from silentbob’s Brand New Model F trackpoint mod.

https://imgur.com/a/Sp7sfYO

Photos of key colors all in one photo (from left to right: Pebble, Pearl, Black, Industrial SSK Blue, 60% Dark Gray):