Introduction: Miss Betsy's Steampunk Keyboard

Picture of Miss Betsy's Steampunk Keyboard

The steampunk fever finally got to me and I had to build my version of a steampunk keyboard. By now, you can find quite some pictures and "How-To's" about steampunk keyboards out there
and of course each single one inspired me, if only maybe, with a little detail.
So what is new then you might ask. Probably some choices of materials for some of the parts,
the one or other manufacturing step and the installation of an USB illumination. Maybe you
want to look just at more pictures and find a little detail that you didn't see mentioned
anywhere else and inspires you...
I spent quite some time pondering about the choice of new keys. Old typewriter keys, offered
on eBay are quite expensive and usually only about 40 pieces per set. I would need at least 2
if not more of these. I also couldn't be sure if they were looking the same or at least similar. I went to Jo-Ann's to look at buttons but these were prohibitive expensive; about 3 - 6 dollars for a set of 5 or 6, depending on the make. I was really disappointed and was ready to leave the store when I saw in the last row at the very bottom these grab bags with about 100 buttons in 5 different sizes for $2.60. 5 of these would yield enough large buttons for all the keys I needed but could someone point me to an Instructable to use up 500 of the smaller ones???
Anyway, I was relieved and bought also 1' strip of velvet there.
Do not attempt this if you are not equipped with lots of patience; some of these steps need to be repeated 100 times which can become quite boring and is tedious!
Approximate costs, depending on your choice of materials and level of detail, ~ $ 40-80.
I am really lucky as the previous owner of my house in his late 80ies was a printer and left me a basement full of "stuff" and also some tools. Wherever he is now, I am very thankful!

Please vote by clicking the stars on the right side!

Please check my Steampunk Mouse too. NEW NEW NEW Steampunk Monitor

Tools used:
Drill press
Emerald paper
Assorted screwdrivers
Soldering iron
Propane torch
Different Glues
Pipe cutter
Hack/metal saw
Table saw (or a friend with one)

1 keyboard
Buttons (about 100-110)
Some nice piece of fabric or leather/vinyl
Spray paint
1/2" Copper pipe and fittings
Bic pens or similar
Styrene sheet (1/16", maybe thicker) and profiles
2 LED's + matching resistors (LED calculator)
on/off switch
#6 and 8 brass screws

A good friend who is willing to help and has all the tools you don't have.
Gallons of coffee, tea or your preferred stimulant.
A glass of wine or beer or your preferred relaxant to think things over....

(Pictures were not always taken in the order as they are arranged in the steps)

Step 1: Get a Keyboard

Picture of Get a Keyboard

Get a keyboard. I couldn't wait and instead of ordering an inexpensive one online, I went to Office Max and bought a Logitech keyboard for $29. Yeah, yeah, I know :( Anyway, the nice feature was the built in wrist rest and a Fn (function) key with indicator LED's. Whatever you get, look it over and try to imagine the changes you want to make. It didn't take me long to pop off the first key. Do it gently with a flat-head screwdriver (or similar) and the tip of your finger on the other side. During all the steps you DO NOT WANT TO MAR THE STEM of the key. Believe me, I learned it the hard (expensive) way.
Maybe you take a picture of the keyboard to make sure you know where the particular keys go. (Or  just keep the carton it came in for a change ^_- )
On closer inspection I found that all my keys were the same; that is not necessarily true with all keyboards and might make slight changes in making the new keys necessary.

Step 2: Make a Punch / Cutter

Picture of Make a Punch / Cutter

I made a punch/cutter for the top of the keys that fit in the chuck of the drill press from 3/8" pipe to barbed hose adapter and a 2" long threaded brass pipe. I screwed this pipe tight in the adapter, tightened it in the drill press and sharpened the edge with the help of a coarse file. To make it cut better I filed a few notches in the sharpened edge.

Step 3: Cut the Top

Picture of Cut the Top

To hold the key securely, I measured the stem and drilled a matching hole in a wood block which I could fit in the vise of the drill press. Here I made the mistake the first time I cut the top off. I held the drill press down till the outer ring popped off. Several times the whole key started spinning. I did not pay attention to this first but plastic is quite soft and got slightly twisted and marred in the hole of the wood block. When I put the keys back in the keyboard, many steps later, I noticed that these keys stuck. Bummer! Nothing helped and I had no choice but to buy a new keyboard. So you better be careful here!
On my second attempt I made a cut from the edge towards the stem as kind of stress relief and used several light pushes downward to cut the outer ring off. If you want to stay completely on the save side, cut the outside of the keys with heavy scissors.
Anyway, repeat this about 100 times. Scrape off any plastic from the top and sand it lightly. Make sure you keep these keys as well as all the screws and all the parts you take off save in boxes or jars. I like to use e.g. old pill bottles, empty margarine/soft cheese cups or a glass jar.

Step 4: Spray-painting

Picture of Spray-painting

I was lucky with these 'grab bag' buttons. With a slightly raised rim, they had exactly the shape I was looking for. I stuck them to some lengths of masking tape and spray painted them metal silver. At this time it still was pretty cold and nasty outside so I did it in my little "spray booth" made from a carton in my basement. Wear a respirator!
This keyboard was very shiny and didn't look very 'steampunkish' at all. I decided to spray-paint it dull (matte) black but in hindsight, a dark green or red would have worked very nice too. Before I could paint, I needed to take the keyboard apart. Several screws needed to be removed (You will find them on the underside and sometimes hidden by a sticker) and using a screwdriver I was able to pop the top from the bottom. I didn't want to get paint in the holes for the keys and was lucky to find little round felt stickers which covered the holes nicely (the previous owner of my house must have bought them in the sixties looking at the envelope they were in) If you can't find such stickers, I guess leaving the keys in the holes would work too.
The paint dries pretty fast and I applied 3 coats in about 2 hours.

Step 5: Making a Wrist Rest

Picture of Making a Wrist Rest

This keyboard had an extra wrist rest. Between spray-painting the keyboard itself I applied spray glue to the wrist rest.
Refer to the directions of the glue. After cutting a piece of velvet slightly larger than the wrist rest, I started in the middle and pushed the fabric out from there. It adhered really good to the edges and I tucked about 1/2" under onto the backside to be held there once I put the keyboard back together.

Step 6: Letters for the Keys

Picture of Letters for the Keys

To make the letters for the new keys I had thought of designing them in Photoshop. If you don't have that, any other photo editing program should do. I recommend the free program  GIMP. I measured the inside of the buttons first which was about 15/32" The maximum numbers of keys was 18 across and there are 6 rows. According to this I opened a new image 11" wide and 4" inches high. Then I drew 15/32" circles in the approximate arrangement of the original keyboard. I also measured the square keys because I wanted to keep them and not just replace them with round buttons. So I drew the exact shape of the square buttons.
Finally after a long search, I found the font I liked and was going to use. ImperatorSmallCaps by Paul Lloyd, available at:  Free Fonts.
After installing the font I typed the letter, number or text in the approximate location. Each on a separate layer; sorry I don't know much about other programs what you can do there.
Then I went back, edited the layer and nudged the letter in the exact position, likely the center of the circle. This took about 3 evenings of working in Photoshop.
Last step was to find some nice texture and the right color. I decided on an old parchment look, even if you don't see very much of it.
Some keys would be reversed, black on yellow.
After I was satisfied with the result, I copied the image to 1 layer, cut it up in 4" x 6" pieces and sent them to Walgreen's to be developed there. That would look much better than printing them out, costs just 18 cents a piece and I could pick them up 2 hours later.
The pic of the whole layout is the full size png file for those who are interested. Be aware, it is 4.6Mb !!!

Step 7: New Keys

Picture of New Keys

Back home with the print-outs, I had to find out that I didn't have a 15/32" punch and as much as I searched in my parts and pieces box, I saw no way of making one myself. Ordering it online was prohibitive expensive :(
With a heavy heart I decided to use the 7/16" punch and leave a small margin around the 'sticker'. In my opinion it still would look better than cutting them with scissors.
After punching all my letters and numbers out, I glued them to the inside of the button with 1 layer of cheap clear nail polish. Use your own or ask your wife if you can borrow hers. ^_- I covered my 'stickers' with 3 more layers allowing enough drying time in between. In hindsight though, I would use clear water soluble polyacryl; it has a lower viscosity (is 'runnier') and the chance of getting air bubbles is less.

Step 8: Attaching the Tops

Picture of Attaching the Tops

Insert all the stems back in the keyboard. Then, using contact glue, put the buttons on top of the stems. I started in the middle and made sure to get the row as straight as possible! I pried a few key-tops (buttons) back off and re-glued them because they were just misaligned :/ A ruler helped with this job and I think, at the end I did a pretty good job.

Step 9: Rectangular Keys

Picture of Rectangular Keys

What's left are the rectangular keys. If the original has any means of keeping these keys from tilting and jamming, like in my case metal bars, try to preserve them. They new keys are made from 1/16" styrene sheet and profile, available at your hobby shop. First I removed the edges of the original keys with heavy cutters. Sturdy scissors might do the job too.
Then I marked the exact size of the buttons on the styrene and cut it with scissors.  Anyway, I found this neat profile at the hobby shop and made the edge of the buttons with it. Use special styrene glue. These look quite right with the round buttons. Slightly sand the corners to round them and on to the spray both to apply a couple layers of metal silver.
Finally cut the printout and glue the pieces in. With this, the basic keyboard is done. At this point you might want to try every key if it works properly. If it has a tendency to jam, remove the key gently from the keyboard and inspect the stem. Maybe you marred it after all and there is a burr left; remove it with an X-Acto. Or a piece of dirt is stuck to the stem. Also check the hole. Use a little bit of graphite dust, cross your fingers and put the key back in. Good luck my friend!
The rest is more or less left to your fantasy.

Step 10: Making the Keyboard Frame

Picture of Making the Keyboard Frame

I have an affinity to copper pipe. Not only has it already this 'steampunkish' feeling but for me it is like LEGO and I just HAD to use it for my keyboard. I envisioned framing it with pipes, but how? Could you cut the pipe open to slide the keyboard in? My friend said that should be possible and we cut the pipe lengthwise on his table-saw. Take all precautions, use only reasonably short length of pipe and feed slowly!!! I was absolutely satisfied with the outcome. We had about a third of the pipe removed and it fit perfectly over the edge of the keyboard.
Back home I cut off 2 pieces, about 4" longer than the sides of the keyboard. Cut one end on each of these at an exact 45 degree angle and hold these pieces against the right and left side of the keyboard; hold it there with a rubber band or tape and measure from the outside of one cut corner to the other. This is the length of the third piece. Mark it on another cut copper tube and try to get 2 more precise 45 degree angles.
Deburr the edges with files and emerald paper. Now find a method to hold 2 pieces at 90 degrees together. I used bricks and checked with a square. With a propane torch I soldered the pieces together. (I probably should have used some reinforcement)
An alternative method would be using copper L's cut open, but I know I would have needed gazillions of cutting wheels for my Craftsman mini tool :(
If any metal workers read this, I would love to hear any better methods of doing this. Thank you in advance because I know, I will do my monitor in the same manner.

Step 11: Finish the Frame

Picture of Finish the Frame

I knew I couldn't do the 4th side in the same manner if I ever wanted to open the keyboard again, besides, plastic and heat don't go so well together....
First of all, cut the left and right side of the frame to exact the same length, about 1" longer than the side of the keyboard.
This done, I used a copper T in the manner depicted. One end holds the raiser securely after I pinched it slightly, the other holds the connecting rod. The 'bottom part' is secured with a #8 screw. the whole thing tightened together by a 1/4" threaded rod and brass nuts.
To get the connecting rod fairly close to the keyboard I had to file a notch in the 3rd leg of the T.

Step 12: Keyboard Illumination

Picture of Keyboard Illumination

Looking at my steampunk keyboard, it looked quite plain to me. So I decided to add a keyboard illumination. (For further information look for "keyboard LED" on this site)
Some brainstorming over a glass of $5 wine (can something good come from that???) and I had an idea how to accomplish this.
As you can see, I attached an arm to the connecting pipe which contains 2 bright LED's (13.000 mcd) hooked up to the 5V supply of the key board. (LED calculator)
In hindsight I would attach a street 45 degree fitting directly to the T (it would fold nicer)

Step 13: Illumination With LED's

Picture of Illumination With LED's

Rummaging through the copper pipe section of my favorite hardware store I found these 1/2" to 1/4" reducers. Back home I was glad to find out that they would hold the stripped down Bic pens perfectly with some help of hot glue.
One end was closed with hot glue plus a nut of a compression fitting and an orphaned green LED I had gotten in a grab bag. The other end was bored open to 5mm or rather 7/32" to house the LED. (be careful, this material is very brittle )
I filled the empty pen with hair gel. (Idea borrowed from Hair-Gel-LED-Light)

Step 14: Wiring the LED

Picture of Wiring the LED

The wires for the LED's were pushed through the copper pipes and an on/off switch was set in the straight piece and finally hooked up to the 5V wires of the keyboard. I would have hoped it to be brighter but I think I will have to devise something different. Nevertheless, once your eyes are accommodated it is bright enough to type in a dark room.

Step 15: USB Cord

Picture of USB Cord

What is left is making a steampunk USB cord. May I redirect you for this to my steampunk mouse, where I described it in detail. - (Steampunk Cord)
Plug the keyboard in and make sure the LED's are lighting up. Then you can put everything back together.

Step 16: Satisfaction

Picture of Satisfaction

There you have it.
Miss Betsy's version of a steampunk keyboard.
Enjoy the pictures!
Please check out my Steampunk-Mouse too.
On to steampunkin' my monitor and TV


LandyVlad (author)2016-10-18

What an outstanding detailed tutorial, this is everything an instructables project SHOULD be. There's a lot of stuff here I'll be able to use / adopt for my own project, thank you. :)

mchau2 (author)2015-12-21

inspirational indeed! best used with steampunk typing style haha!

GeorgianBay Scott (author)2015-09-27

I think this my fifth visit to this site and was one of a few that served as the inspiration for my own steampunk project. Great detail and a superb instructable.

Thx and let us read about your own project!

andy.knote (author)2014-12-17

I know I am late to the party- But nice job. Great Instructable with good photos and excellent job with the step-by-step. Nice Work!

Baughb (author)2014-05-28

I might have tried to make a jig to hold buttons and the stems aligned on center while gluing. Maybe some layered cardboard?

imrational (author)2013-12-01

As a typewriter collector I sincerely thank you for not destroying a typewriter for your project. It looks great!

fretted (author)2012-11-30

Simply Awesome !

Machine (author)2012-02-07

That keyboard is stunning.

When will someone steampunk a PC? That would be nice to go with that beautiful keyboard.

KronoNaut (author)Machine2012-07-23

There are many steampunk PCs. Google Steampunk PC or visit the forums at Brass Goggles.

gearhead1951 (author)2012-05-03

steel water pipe nipple with ID nearer to what you want cut square and sharpened with a file while spinning it with a drill motor makes a good makeshift paper punch

darcham (author)2011-12-31

If I remember correctly, we used a hair dryer in arts & crafts (40 years ago) to remove bubbles. The same technique works great with epoxy.
I am enjoying this instructive very much and may see what I can find at the Goodwill for parts...

JasonMyers (author)2010-10-08

McAfee said it was dangerous to download GIMP. Really? I want a free, safe Photoshop, and not Paint.NET! I need a more sophisticated program. Any suggestions?

DIY-Guy (author)JasonMyers2010-11-24

To the Author: BEAUtiFUL keyboard!

To JasonMyers:
Try AVG Free Edition, it's got so many more accurate signatures than the "pay for your continued fear" commerical programs. Last time I got the GIMP it was fine and I checked it with a few different anti-vir programs.


sde schaetzen (author)DIY-Guy2011-11-08

AVG Free Edition has gives ALOT of false positives.

jurgemaister (author)JasonMyers2010-11-19

My suggestion is: Don't listen to McAfee :)

MerlinTheGreat (author)2011-09-06

For the wiring of the led light you could have used the copper tube to guide the wire to the side and there make a hole in the side of the keyboard, which is covered by the copper tubes anyway.
That would keep the wires out of sight and less 'vulnerable'.
It would also make it possible to place the on/off switch of the leds in the keyboard case.
btw, you really should have used a metal toggle switch. One that has this red and silver plate with the on/off text. Much sexier than a slider... ;)

Nice keyboard anyway.

cincymikeb (author)2011-08-17

I would try an abrasive blade like for masonry
The black ones with no teeth,
I am pretty sure they make the same type for metal .

Mojo_JoJo (author)2010-04-29

Very interesting project, great work !!!
Here's a suggestion for the steam gauge, use a voltmeter that looks like a steam gauge but hook it to the hard disk activity LED indicator. This way everytime there is HDD activity the steam gauge would show some movement. You could add more gauges for temperature and fan speed as well.

MissBetsy (author)Mojo_JoJo2010-04-30

Great idea, thx and in one way or the other I plan on using it for the upcoming computer case mod. Hmmmm, now where would I find out how to hook it up to measure temperature and fan speed.... LOL

jackg (author)MissBetsy2011-07-28

temperature=thermistor coupled to VOM, charted to F temp

fan speed=amps of the fan converted to scaled speed chart

great looking KB

EZtrollin (author)Mojo_JoJo2010-07-01

wow, functionality, what a novel concept (lol). great idea! i might just do that.

Caerigna (author)2011-07-20

Another cool addition to the led-gel lights would be to have the light fade away or seem to be radioactive. I think this could be produced with the use of another instructable: . Only question would be if the light still diffuses through it as well as it did through clear gel.

BrefelanDesigns (author)2011-06-15

Love it! Reminds me a bit of Datamancer's, but he used typewriter keys instead of your ingenuous method! I very neat way to make it for those of use you sadly do not have old typewriter to cannibalize!

Zanaji (author)2011-05-03

I've been looking for a way to illuminate a mini keyboard, and now I'm just going to have to steampunk it too. Thank you for the inspiration!

Ludwig Von Mech (author)2011-02-01

Very nice job, young lady.

WarZombie (author)2010-12-04

I would love to try this out, my only problem however is I'm pretty sure the keyboard would no longer function as a gaming keyboard, haha.

simmonsghost (author)2010-11-19

Just having some small problems getting the picture you put up of the keys you made to turn into pictures so I can print them out. Any advice on how to make it into a .jpeg or other image file? Other than that, this 'ible is awesome. Very steampunkish.

Let.the.Rayne.Fall (author)2010-11-09

how big where the buttons? (actual buttons and diameter inside of rim)

leevon316 (author)2010-10-28

Great stuff! Well done! :)

cliff042 (author)2010-10-09

Clap,Clap,Clap ( Standing ovation crowd noises) that is fricking sweet.

Rowen27 (author)2010-08-18

I swear they are using this board or one very like it (Minus the light) as a prop on Warehouse 13 this season...

thebludshed (author)Rowen272010-09-01

hey Rowen27, I may be wrong but I think that keyboard was made by Richard "Doc" Nagy from Like I said I may be wrong but you should check out his absolutly beautiful creations anyway.

Rowen27 (author)thebludshed2010-09-27

entirely possible, I was only able to get a glimpse of it from time to time, and my DVR doesn't do frame by frame *Doh!*

dagenius (author)2010-07-20

If I had the patience to do this I would probably pour some resin into the buttons, so that the stickers don't get ruined.

manueldthomas (author)2010-07-19

sorry for the trouble i was able to download file after all thanks manuel

manueldthomas (author)2010-07-19

Hello and great work! ! I have tried to download the key pdf with no luck. I do realize you had mentioned the temp / exe file but it acts like the file is not on the server thanks manel

Rogue Gourmet (author)2010-07-18

In terms of cutting the copper pipe, my first suggestion would be to use a band saw instead of a table saw. Cutting smaller diameter things on a table saw, especially metal things, can be dangerous, and in terms of using metal, could be bad for the saw blade at the very least. Clearly it worked. but band saws are pretty much built to do this kind of operation.

sway (author)Rogue Gourmet2010-07-18

why not use a pipe cutter? Cheap, easy and no noise or sparks.

abqjohn (author)sway2010-07-18

'cause a pipe cutter wouldn't do the cut they needed; it can cut pipe to length, but not in half, length-wise... Re-examine the shots in steps 10, 11, & 12, and you should be able to see how they cut the pipe in half, along its' length, to frame the keyboard.

sway (author)abqjohn2010-07-19

Ahh I see it now. Thanks

Questor (author)2010-07-18

just a thought,but have you thought of "filling' the keys to the rim with a clear plastic or nail polish maybe 'dome' them It might make for a longer life of the lettering and may add to the look

Fretka (author)2010-07-18

I love this 'ible. I admire that you were willing to take a brand new keyboard and punk it out ! Great inspiration and fabulously well done !! saved to my favorites to try very soon !

sway (author)2010-07-18

This is so incredible. I thought it was so cool but wondered, what is this steam punk? So I googled a bit. Now i'm in big trouble. I think I might try this.

Bonzoix (author)2010-07-18

This is one of the best SteamPunk projects I've seen... This one I have got to try.

Doddity (author)2010-04-22

Epic!! Definantly better than a lot i have seen even people with heaps of experience. Also a lot easier to build than some i have seen as yours doesn't involve casting. Only thing you could improve is put a small copper gear over the left hand side of the velvet.

MissBetsy (author)Doddity2010-04-22

Thank you very much. I would even cast something if there is the need for it, it's not that difficult.
If I put  a small copper gear somewhere, it should imply that it serves a function, meaning there should be more to it. As an inspiration take a look at pictures of victorian steam somethings to see what I mean.

ps3king1 (author)MissBetsy2010-07-18

Great job, and for the guy who said you should put a gear on there or w/e, what abot making a power fake, and attaching it to the side or something, there's a video by kipkay the shows how to make one, then all you would have to do it make it match the keyboard they can like control volume and brightness and stuff, just an idea

Doddity (author)MissBetsy2010-04-22

What about this? This would fit i well and look good as a medium sized cog/gear and would fit the theme. What do you think? Too many wires? Or could you use a bigger shoelace like the mouse mod you did and fit all the wires in that?

MissBetsy (author)Doddity2010-04-23

Hmmmm........ , a wheel from a plastic buggy wasn't necessarily what I was thinking of and there is nothing on this keyboard I could influence with a scrollwheel.
If you look at this steampunk USB drive, there is a window with gearwheels underneath which do absolutely nothing but imply that there is a working mechanism in it, that's what could be added.
Thank you for your input.

About This Instructable




Bio: You might call me "Jane of all trades, mistress of none"; "all" is definitely an exaggeration but I am interested in lots of "trades" and ... More »
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