Introduction: Create External Buttons for Your Keyboard

Picture of Create External Buttons for Your Keyboard

There are times when it would be useful to have external buttons for your keyboard. This can let you make a custom gaming setup with foot pedals. You can make a simple data logger that tracks how often some event happens. Or you can just make a remote play switch to start and stop your music.

So in this project, I am going to show you a simple way to make external buttons for your computer keyboard.

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

Here are the materials and tools that you will need for this project.

Materials
Keyboard
Large Push Light
Masking Tape
Thin Insulated Wire

Tools
Wire Strippers
Knife
Screw Driver

Step 2: Open the Housing of the Keyboard

Picture of Open the Housing of the Keyboard

Start by removing the screws on the back of the keyboard and opening it up. Inside you will find several sheets clear plastic. The top sheet and the bottom sheet will have etching that resembles a circuit board. These are the button contacts. The middle sheet is plain but has a hole at the location of each contact. This sheet acts as an insulator between the top and bottom sheet.

The etched plastic sheets connect to a small circuit board. Whenever a button is pressed, the contacts on the plastic sheets touch and the circuit board registers key stroke.

Step 3: Locate the Key That You Want to Be Able to Activate With an External Switch

Picture of Locate the Key That You Want to Be Able to Activate With an External Switch

Locate the contacts for the key that you want to be able to activate with an external switch. Larger keys like the space bar may have more than one contact. 

Step 4: Attach Wires to the Keyboard Contacts

Picture of Attach Wires to the Keyboard Contacts

Take a pair of small insulated wires and strip the insulation off of the ends. Place the exposed copper wire over the keyboard contact. Then tape it down with a piece of masking tape. Try to tape it down tightly so that it makes a good connection. Do this for the contacts on both the top sheet and the bottom sheet. 

Now you need to test it. Plug the keyboard into your computer. Then take the free ends of the two wires and touch them together. If everything is working properly, the computer should register the key stroke just as if the button had been pressed on the keyboard.

Step 5: Cut a Slot in the Side of the Housing for the Wires

Picture of Cut a Slot in the Side of the Housing for the Wires

To route the wires outside of the keyboard, we need to cut a slot in the housing. Hold the wire up to the edge of the housing where you want the slot to be and mark the edges. Then use a sharp knife to cut a slot for the wire in the side of the keyboard.

Step 6: Select a Button That You Will Use to Activate the Keyboard

Picture of Select a Button That You Will Use to Activate the Keyboard

Now you need to find a switch or button that you can connect to the wires and use to activate the keyboard. This can be any kind of switch. I chose to use the switch from a small push light. But you could also use any small push button switch. You could use a magnetic reed switch. You could even use a pressure plate.

Step 7: If You Have a Latching Switch, Convert It Into a Momentary Switch

Picture of If You Have a Latching Switch, Convert It Into a Momentary Switch

You need your switch to be a momentary switch. If the switch latches and stays in the ON position it will just be like someone is holding down the key on the keyboard. But if you have a latching switch that you would like to use, you can often modify it so that it acts as a momentary switch.

To do this, start by taking apart the housing of the switch. Be very careful not to lose any small pieces that might be inside. Somewhere inside the switch, there will be a pin or a hook of some kind. This is what latches the switch and holds it down. Carefully remove this pin. Then carefully reassemble the rest of the switch. Be sure to get all the small parts back in their original locations. If all went well, you should now have a momentary switch.

Step 8: Connect the Wires From the Keyboard to the Switch

Picture of Connect the Wires From the Keyboard to the Switch

Now you just need to connect the switch to the wires from the keyboard. To do this I cut the wires that connected the switch to the light and I stripped the insulation off of the ends. I inserted the wires from the keyboard through the mounting hole in the back of the push light. Then I soldered the wires together. To help keep the solder connections insulated, I wrapped them in tape. 

After making these connections, you should again test it. Plug the keyboard into your computer and press the switch. If everything is working properly the computer should register the keystroke.

Step 9: Close Up the Housing of the Switch and the Keyboard

Picture of Close Up the Housing of the Switch and the Keyboard

Now just reassemble the housing of both the keyboard and the button. Try not to disturb the wires too much in the process.

Step 10: Use Your New External Keyboard Switch

Picture of Use Your New External Keyboard Switch

Now you just need to find a few creative ways to use your new external keyboard buttons. The simplest application is to just use it to scroll through Reddit or to start and stop your music player. Or you can use it or gaming. That way you can control character movement, aim and hit commands all at the same time. You can also use it to help data logging. You can easily count the number of times that an event happens using a spreadsheet. Just count the number of times that a letter is typed. This design also makes it easy to set up controls for people with limited mobility. 

The only down side of this design is that you can't use that key on the keyboard while the external switch is attached. So if you want to be able to still type on the keyboard like normal, then you need to two keyboards. One will let you type and the other will have the external switches connected. This shouldn't be too much of a problem because you can get cheap keyboards at a thrift store and most computers have plenty of extra USB ports to use.

Step 11: Trouble Shooting

Picture of Trouble Shooting

Most problems that you will experience are caused by a loose connection between the contacts on the keyboard and the wires. There are several ways that you can deal with this.

You can make the connection tighter by applying more tape. You can use a paper clip to hold the wire tightly against the contacts. Just cut a small hole in the plastic that will let you slide half of the paper clip to the other side of the plastic. You can also use conductive glue to attach the wires. If all else fails you can trace the wires back to where they connect to the circuit board and solder the wires directly to the circuit board.

Comments

kaustubhs3 made it! (author)2017-01-31

Thanks for the tutorial. Worked good.

aldava (author)kaustubhs32017-01-31

Hi! I'm trying to do the same did you use some kind of cable in particular? I was using the tiny cables inside a network cable with no luck. I'm new to this and any help would mean a lot. Thanks!

kaustubhs3 (author)aldava2017-02-01

I just used a regular electrical cable. Not a single wire cable but one with multiple strands. Drilled a hole on top left corner to feed the wire through.

zposner (author)2016-12-13

Awesome, I've been working on something similar using an arduino leonardo

go5 (author)2016-08-13

Thank you for this great tutorial. This gave me an idea for my next stuff to tinker with, but I'm not sure if it would work because I don't know about electronics stuff. So, will this work if the pushbutton is 5 (or more) meters away? Can this be done with only 1 keyboard and 10 pushbuttons? If not, what workaround can be done to achieve this?

Yes. If you have a good connection, the distance shouldn't really matter. You can use as many keys as you want. But it can be difficult to setup multi-key functions that use the same keys.

Really!? Wow! Our problem is solved . . . thanks to this instructable (and to you). One more thing, any ideas on the kind of wire that is best for this setup? My friends and I are going to make a quiz buzzer sytem out of this.

I would recommend using fairly thin wire so that it can fit between the sheets on the keyboard. If you use larger wires, use stranded rather than solid wire.

well actually if cable is really long this can cause to some problems, in some cases it will may not work, or can work as different key.

this is happened to me. that is why I had to update my project to arduino.

MarcS138 (author)2016-10-14

i made it but no pictures basicly my mom bought lots of halloween decoration and you know how there is those buttons it comes with i used one of those and put it directly under the spacebar i wired to to F3 for minecraft

JayD55 (author)2016-03-26

Thanks for the 'ible, just used it as an inspiration to add palm keys to my keyboard! I was able to maintain functionality of the original keys by using a small wire hooked up to one of the extra, unused contacts.

Blacker94 (author)2016-03-16

Hello, and thank you very much for great tutorial, I think it might be only one of it´s kind (that I found)! I have a question, do you think, that I can trigger the key not by external USB button, but with switch, that will send 5V impulse? Thank you again :)

It depends on the kind of keyboard that you have. I had the best luck just using a regular switch/button and one wire on each side of the keyboards key conductors. If you want to get more complicated you can setup an Arduino that will activate certain functions certain functions when a button it's pressed.

PHEONIXFOX24 (author)2015-03-11

I have exactly the same keyboard

legless (author)2014-08-21

The keyboard matrix is simply a bunch of contacts laid out in columns and rows. Each combination of a single column contact and row contact produces a keystroke. You can do away with the keyboard itself and just keep the controller circuit. So you could make a box with say four footswitches to control cursor movement (or whatever).

Samimy (author)2014-07-26

awesome !

47K views on instructables but only 5K views on youtube? what the hell?

youtube doesn't count embedded views anymore?

Embedded view do count. But most people who click on an instructable, don't read through it or watch embedded videos.

MisterM (author)2014-04-29

Excellent, quite fancy doing this with a passive IR sensor - wave your hand to play/pause!

MisterM (author)MisterM2014-06-26

I was inspired by this instructable! It helped me to make https://www.instructables.com/id/Google-Voice-Search-O-Matic/

Arrghot (author)2014-05-24

Would this hack work for multiple-key commands like [Ctrl-Alt-Del] or [Ctrl-X / Ctrl-C / Ctrl-V]. I do data entry and that'd seriously make my day.

Either way, great instructable! Really clear and straightforward!

Yes. You can activate multiple keys. But it may be easier to connect to one of the function keys and program it to shortcut a given command.

chrisgward (author)2014-05-01

I saw this on Facebook, and immediately thought I need one of these

Source: http://www.somethingofthatilk.com/index.php?id=274

kidos100 (author)chrisgward2014-05-11

This is the best thing I have seen all day!

LesB (author)2014-05-02

One way to use this is to connect it to a foot switch to take the load off one's fingers. For example, it could be connected to the shift key so when one wants to key in a capital letter they use the foot switch to shift up. Or the enter key would be a good one.

Ori Roundtree (author)2014-05-01

Instruction readers should note that the button you use on the keyboard you hack will no longer be usable on the external keyboard except through the external button, due to tape blocking the contact.

Has anyone found a solder that can adhere to the sheets? I made an attempt during an earlier project, and it just rolls off. I ended up having to solder directly to the encoder, which was fine for my purposes.

LesB (author)Ori Roundtree2014-05-02

I have seen a conductive adhesive for use as a cold solder. That might work for you. Last time I saw it was at All Electronics.

msemtd (author)2014-05-02

This is a great hack - and a good gateway to hacking keyboard controllers! A quick and easy way to retain use of your chosen key is to follow those little tracks back to the keyboard controller circuit board and with luck you will be able to attach your wires there instead. Then you can do without the spare keyboard entirely - a hack I used on my arcade machine (http://youtu.be/pcR7ylW-Gok)

moonpuppy (author)2014-05-01

One of the things knitters bemoan, is the fact that we have to take our hands off our knitting to page down when we read while we're knitting. This is a perfect solution. I'm going to pass this around my knitting community (Ravelry). I suspect you're going to register a lot of hits. Thanks so much for fixing a long-known wish!

boocat (author)moonpuppy2014-05-01

YEAH!! Thanks, I never would have put this together with my knitting, but I need it. :D

noahspurrier (author)2014-05-01

Also consider using a USB Keyboard external IO interface. One of the best known is the Ultimarc iPac and MiniPac designed for building MAME consoles. It makes it easy to add lots of external buttons. Of course, not as free as hacking a spare keyboard, but it's much easier to setup and modify.

BillMil (author)2014-05-01

This is something that special education teachers use all the time. It's usually very expensive as well. Great job!

teenaginglikeaboss (author)2014-04-30

woooo this could become an awesome racing game controller. thnx.

bobbiy (author)2014-04-29

this is awesome, I made this with a old doorbell and added a autohotkey script, now I can pauze and play my music with a doorbell!!!

That's cool. I like it.

The Electrodog Show (author)2014-04-28

You could also build an external device with something like Adafruit's Bluefruit or a Teensy!

andrea biffi (author)2014-04-28

great, it can be useful in many circumstances

About This Instructable

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Bio: My name is Jason Poel Smith I am a Community Manager here at Instructables. In my free time, I am an Inventor, Maker, Hacker, Tinker ... More »
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