Brand New Model F November Update – outstanding dye sublimation results, second container shipment, key top wear analysis, lost/stolen keyboard found, and more!

Project status summary – what has been going on lately:

This section is nearly the same as other recent updates: 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 news from the prior update is that I’ve QC’d and shipped out 500+ keyboards so far (milestone reached in late September) and am continuing to send out shipments without printed keys to those who want early delivery, with printed items to ship later.

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 (details below).  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).

The only keyboards 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.

Dye sublimation update:

Summary: Dye sublimation quality approved for production; alignment very good for nearly all keys but not yet approved

More good news – the latest sublimation tests arrived today by DHL Express and the quality is outstanding, as good as the earlier samples and in my opinion equal to or better than my 99th percentile quality IBM Model F reference set. I have also examined them with my Meiji EMT stereo microscope like last time. The factory has made excellent progress over the past two weeks on sublimating entire key sets.

Legend alignment has improved significantly from last month’s testing, but it is still not good enough in some instances. The factory noted that they are going to focus on the alignment, now that the sublimation quality has been confirmed good. As a note, some keys are repeat keys because the jig holds more keys than are contained in a standard key set. Some keys like Ctrl, Alt, Left Shift have been left out of the key set sample. Please see my prior note about the Function keys – the below alignment is not correct for the function keys and Esc keys (as well as other keys) and they will be standard Model F / Model M locations for the production key sets.

As noted before, the goal is to get these keys in line with the 99th percentile example of the Model F, with the expectation that we will reasonably achieve the 50th percentile or better. I think we’ve achieved 99th percentile sublimation quality and am hoping for 50th percentile or better alignment.

Some keys will always be slightly out of alignment tolerance – even so with IBM – so the goal is not perfection. According to my digital caliper measurements of an excellent, probably 90th+ percentile IBM XT keyboard example with outstanding sublimation quality, 24% of its keys aligned out of the bounds of the standard deviation (an amazingly tiny 0.15mm!). IBM’s out of bounds on this set ranged up from 0.18mm to 0.46mm variance from the average alignment of the key set (still excellent results). As I’ve seen having owned and refurbed dozens of F’s over the years, the standard deviation was far larger / looser on many of the other, later production units.

The goal is to get at least the alignment consistency to around what the typical IBM Model F alignment was over the life of the Model F (I wouldn’t be holding up everyone’s sublimated keycaps orders if we’re at the 50th Model F percentile instead of the 99th percentile of alignment, for example).

Next steps: Now that I have approved the sublimation quality, they are going to continue testing to determine the best settings for correct alignment while still maintaining the same sublimation quality. Once everything is approved, mass sublimation will start. They will be sublimating and inspecting thousands of key sets so it will take some time but we will proceed only if everything is right and the factory is aware that out of tolerance alignment is not acceptable. I know everyone has been waiting a while and I appreciate everyone’s patience and support to get the best possible results with modern-day production standards.

Sublimated keys
Sublimated keys
Sublimated keys

Second container shipment update / some important project notes:

I spoke with the factory again and we are now looking at around the end of November for the second of two container shipments of the early bird round to leave the factory. They were delayed from the previous estimate of 10/31 due to a significant increase in demand for manufactured goods of higher priority (they are seeing this across many of the factories in China as you might have imagined) and the associated squeeze on the labor pool over there. The factory understands that quality control is the most important thing and they will not rush to meet any deadline if it means cutting corners.

Thanks for your everyone’s support for this project. Based on some recent forum discussions I will reiterate some points I have made before on the project web site and the forums, and over email / PM to many of you:

-While we wait for the dye sublimation to finish, I am continuing to send out shipments without printed keys to those who want early delivery, with printed items to ship later.

-If you want your order to go out within one month from now, there is a good chance that it is in stock because I ordered extra keyboards beyond what everyone ordered, and the first container shipment arrived a while back.

-The only keyboards 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 blue/black keys as well as the compact case keyboards), expected to arrive around year end.
PM or email me if you have a classic case keyboard and want to ask about the separate shipping option to get your keyboard in the next month or so. Also in stock (and able to ship ahead of keys) are some compact F62 keyboards (regular gray case color, ANSI only) and compact F77 keyboards (black case color, ANSI only).

-The best way to support the project a little more is to order accessories like extra key sets/first aid kits/controllers, upgrades to custom/low serials and custom production dates, and letting other tech-minded folks know about the project. This will help cover the significant additional expenses running tens of thousands of dollars including in the areas of failed tooling, storage, quality control, lost parts, R&D, sampling, years of DHL Express sample shipping, significantly increased international shipping costs, and other areas. I have so far been able to prevent the keyboard pricing from increasing by increasing the pricing of accessories. However labor and raw materials costs have skyrocketed over the past few years so I’m unable to guarantee the same pricing during the final round.

-Despite all this, the project successfully achieved its goal of bringing the Model F back into production and has shipped out more than 500 keyboards so far (with many more to go!). I am continuing to ship these keyboards out without issue and accept new orders for keyboards and extra parts to allow everyone the chance to customize their own Brand New Model F Keyboard and order enough parts on hand to keep their keyboard running for decades, long after production has shut down.

-Right now the reason everything is not able to ship is that either it is set to be on the second container shipment or someone is waiting for their keys and keyboard to ship together rather than get their keyboard sent ahead of the keys (see my post from the day before for details on the project status).

-I’ve been mailing out lots of orders early while the factory takes care of the key sublimation to help reduce the number of keyboards that have to be mailed out later on while I have some down time now. If you could request early delivery (see the project blog for details) that would be much appreciated.

Lost/stolen new Model F Keyboard / “Porch Pirate” blog post update:

Summary: The lost/stolen keyboard has been safely returned to me by Cargo Largo. I want to thank Cargo Largo and the buyer for their cooperation and helpfulness. I especially want to thank the buyer for checking out my blog entry about this particular lost/stolen keyboard and letting me know about it.

Here’s a link to my original blog post on the subject. As a recap (more details on the Deskthority project thread), the back story is that a few months ago, a keyboard being sent to a customer was lost/stolen while in UPS possession; UPS denied the insurance claim. Recently, an eBay user (and winner of a new Model F eBay auction in question) suspected that a Cargo Largo ebay auction listing may have been the exact keyboard that was “lost” by UPS and resold by an affiliated company Cargo Largo, which tends to sell a lot of such items “lost” by UPS. I confirmed by serial number that it in fact was the specific keyboard in question and worked with the eBay buyer and with Cargo Largo. I have received the keyboard and now consider the matter with Cargo Largo satisfactorily resolved. I am also happy to continue working with UPS as a shipping partner, as besides a few issues they have done a great job getting Model F keyboards out to everyone at a reasonable shipping cost. Everyone including the drivers and sales representatives continue to be responsive and helpful.

Key top surface wear over the years – why I strongly recommend ordering and keeping extra new Model F key sets for later on:

Below is a scan of the newly sublimated keys compared with original IBM keys. I have also added scans from many years ago of the same physical original IBM keys so everyone can see what four years of typing does to wear down the key top surfaces. As the textured surface wears down, the keys can become more smooth/slippery.

I expect the same to occur with the new production keys as they are the exact same material that IBM used for keys as per the IBM Model F Keyboard production engineer who has been a big help to the project. This is why I am hoping to be able to make as many spare key sets as possible so people can order them with their keyboards and have for future decades.

To see the texture it is best to save the photo or open the image in a new window to zoom in. At left is my IBM key from 4 years ago, and at right is the same key, 4 years later.

Request for Model F tips and tricks:

If anyone has any other Model F tips and tricks not already mentioned in the darkcruix manual or in the manual on this project web site please do share them here! I hope to add them to the manual. I am hoping the Deskthority and geekhack project threads can also continue to include a discussion on tips and tricks for new (and original) Model F Keyboards.

QMK Model F Beta Firmware:

The new Model F keyboards have been shipping with beta QMK firmware, which has been solidly reliable from reports I have seen and according to my own experience. Again a major thanks to Deskthority user pandrew. To access the QMK beta (for example if you want to customize your keyboard layout/function layers), kindly PM pandrew directly over on Deskthority.

Has anyone customized their new Model F F62 / F77 layouts beyond the standard offerings? I’d be interested in seeing what people do to optimize their keyboards.

Please do feel free to share layout screenshots / QMK JSON files / xwhatsit firmware .l files.

Status of new beam spring controllers, solenoid drivers, custom made extra hefty solenoids:

I received a few beam spring controllers and solenoids by DHL Express and have mailed some of them out (I have some left in stock). The solenoids are especially nice and hefty! The solenoid is so forceful it moved itself around my table when I was testing it loose (not installed in the keyboard)!

I have the solenoid drivers in stock now, and have been shipping them out.

The rest of the beam spring controllers and solenoids will be shipping as soon as they arrive in the second container shipment.

So far 151 solenoid drivers, 22 beamspring controllers (of which 5 displaywriters), and 130 solenoids have been ordered as of last month!

Changing between case types:

The ultra compact case works with the standard assembly. You just need to change the bottom plate which is included free if you order a spare case of the opposite type (e.g. classic F77 keyboard and compact F77 case or compact F77 keyboard and classic F77 case). Instructions to do this can be found on the project manual (click the Manual tab on this web page).

However I do recommend that those thinking of ordering an extra case instead order an extra keyboard (an option of a keyboard without keys is available if cost is a concern). Not only do you get all the parts significantly discounted from what they would cost to buy separately, but you also get a fully functional keyboard that would not require switching parts around (assuming you get the keys). If you already ordered a spare case and are thinking of changing to a full keyboard, please PM/email me to see if the option to upgrade is available.

Installing solenoids in the ultra compact cases?

You’d be correct in guessing that there is no extra space – it was designed to be the smallest possible design that still used all the same parts (except bottom inner assembly plate which was made less wide and with feet as shown in the screenshot). You can see that there is a little room underneath the inner assembly on the back side but it is not large enough for too much.

If you wanted a solenoid you could probably mount the solenoid externally (3M VHB tape or drill a hole in the case and use screws – the solenoid has tapped holes to accept M2.5 screws.

Using other key sets with the New Model F Keyboards:

Are you using Unicomp stabilizer inserts with Unicomp keys? I have found that while all the inserts are compatible, due to variations in tolerances the best experience is with matching like for like (IBM keys with IBM stabilizers, etc.).