Introduction: Typewriter Computer Keyboard

Picture of Typewriter Computer Keyboard

A typewriter that's a computer keyboard? Or a computer keyboard that's a typewriter?

The world may never know.

Regardless, using one of these brings with it a certain giddiness not normally found in typing one's own name. Not to mention, it's ever so popular with the ladies, house guests and lady house guests.

Step 1: Go Get Stuff.

Picture of Go Get Stuff.


1 - Model A IBM Electric Typewriter (EBAY!)
1 - Cheap USB keyboard
50 - Mini momentary push buttons ( Part #G12851A)
8 - Multi-strand spacer bars ( - Part #QB7853Y)
4 - 12" round brass rods ( - Probably, if memory holds true, Part #BR6075)
2 - Prototype circuit board (PCB)
1 - Tube syringe-type epoxy
1 - Spool of 22AWG black wire
1 - Role black gaffer's tape
1 - Role white gaffer's tape
50 - Small plastic pull-ties


- Soldering iron
- Metal clipper
- Small metal handsaw
- Needle-nose pliers
- Screwdriver set

Step 2: Remove the Power Switch.

Picture of Remove the Power Switch.

The first thing you are going to want to do is flip the typewriter upside down and remove and/or break some of the parts.

There should be a switch which is connected to both the power supply and the key-lock bar. This switch needs to be detached completely and removed by clipping the wire. Also, now would be a good time to cut off the power plug.

Step 3: Pop Out the Metal Bars.

Picture of Pop Out the Metal Bars.

With the On/Off switch removed, the next step would be to remove the bar that locks the keys in place as well as that other redundant metal bar. This is a bit trickier.

The other redundant metal bar can be easily pried out. Do that.

Now locate the metal bar that locks the keys in place. Remove the spring wrapped around the middle of this bar. You can try pulling it off with your pliers. If that does not work, try snipping it with your clippers. If both of those methods are giving you trouble, you can always saw it in half. Once the bar no longer has the spring action, removing it should be a tad bit easier.

The next thing that needs to be done is to saw off the little round tab that helps keep the bar pivoting along its path. This is a small steel bar and hard to remove short of sawing it off. If you are looking at your keyboard with the key-side closest to you, it should be on the right.

Once the small metal guide bar is removed, the next step is to forcibly remove the key-stop. Simply, close your eyes and pry it out with a screwdriver. You are closing your eyes on the slim chance it pops out and hits you in the face.

Step 4: Prepare the Bracket System.

Picture of Prepare the Bracket System.

To begin with, cut 4 of the multi-strand spacer bars in half so that they look like the diagram below. You do this so that the thin metal bars can slide in on one side and drop in on the other (also in the diagram below).

Once these 4 multi-strand spacers are cut, put them in pairs of two. Line up the holes and go get your epoxy. Glue them together on their ornate side (i.e. the side you didn't cut) so that they are glued together side by side with the holes still lined up. Be sure not to get epoxy in the holes.

Do the same thing with the 4 multi-strand spacers you didn't cut. Make groups of two and glue them together in the same manner.

Trim the brass bars so that they can precisely fit across the legnth of the inside part of the typewriter (the section above the keys).

Step 5: Arrange the Switches on the Bars.

Picture of Arrange the Switches on the Bars.

Now would be the time to put the switches on the bars.

But first, it would be helpful to understand how the typewriter is going to work. When a typewriter key is pressed down, the long bar the key is attached to will strike a button which will then interface with a keyboard circuit and send that letter into the computer.

Therefore it is important that the bar is able to strike the button.

From my research, I have found that with the switches I am using, no more than 6 can be placed side by side. Once a seventh is added, it will start being missed by the striker bar.

To combat this, I have set up a system where I have created two staggered rows of switches that alternate groupings of 6 (see diagram).

Start putting the switches on the bars. Wrap the groups of six tightly together with thin strips of black gaffer's tape. Remember that some keys (such as "Return") may be on their own and not in a grouping.

Step 6: Glue the Brackets Into the Typewriter.

Picture of Glue the Brackets Into the Typewriter.

This step seems simple enough. All you have to do is glue the brackets into the typewriter. But don't be fooled, this may prove to be the most difficult part of the process. You may end up having to redo this step many times before you get it right.

Essentially the brackets are glued to the inside of the case, upside down (because don't forget the typewriter is still upside down). There should be one glued to each side of that big bolt (see picture).

Now here is the tricky part. The brackets need to be glued in a manner so that when the typewriter is flipped back right-side-up, the buttons will be as close to the striker bars as possible without being pushed down.

Again, this may seem easy enough, but remember that the weight of the buttons will make the bars sag towards the middle, which means when you glue in the brackets you should overcompensate with the placement a tiny bit on each side. If you don't overcompensate, the keys in the buttons in the middle won't be hit by the striking bar.

But wait! If you overcompensate too much, the buttons on the end may get pushed down without being hit. Again a major problem.

So, in short, be very careful placing the brackets just right.

Which brings me to the next big reason this step is so annoying: the epoxy takes about 20 hours to fully set. Thus, the length of this project is dependent on how many tries this step takes. Every time you have to redo this step, the project will take one day longer to complete. Still, don't be disheartened if you wait an entire day for it to dry only to learn that you have to break out your chisel and glue it again.

With that said, you also have to figure out a way to firmly hold the brackets in place for the 20 or so hours for the epoxy to reach full strength. This can be tricky in and out of itself. I used a thin piece of tape wrapped tightly all the way around the side of the case.

Step 7: Hack the Keyboard.

Picture of Hack the Keyboard.

Hack the keyboard as seen in the Instructable Hacking a USB Keyboard.

Make sure to map out all typewriter keys that you intend to use.

Step 8: Prepare the PCB Registers.

Picture of Prepare the PCB Registers.

One PCB will be for "Side A" of your shift register and the other "Side B"

So, for instance, if "Pin 3" on "Side A" has 9 alphanumeric symbols associated with it, then the PCB that represents "Side A" should have 9 connected wires of about 12" running off of it.

And to these 9 wires (electrically connected on the PCB) you would then connect the wire from your hacked keyboard that represents "Pin 3" of "Side A".

Essentially, all of these 9 wires would need to be connected to "Pin 3."

So..... when you're done, each board should have one wire running off of it for every typewriter key you plan on using.

They should be a mess of wires, as seen in my picture.

Another thing to consider is that some PCBs have holes in them to connect them to stands. I connected mine to a small acrylic stand. I did this so that none of the soldered connections accidentally get bridged if they come into contact with metal on the typewriter (see secondary picture).

Step 9: Connect the Keyboard to the PCB Registers.

Picture of Connect the Keyboard to the PCB Registers.

Basically connect each pin from the hacked keyboard to the corresponding grouping of wires on the PCB.

Step 10: Connect the PCB Wires to the Switches.

Picture of Connect the PCB Wires to the Switches.

Now is the time to line up your switches just right and to solder wires to them.

Make certain that you are soldering to the terminals that make a connection when the switch is pushed and not the terminals that are connected when the switch is not.

With that said, to one of the terminals solder the wire that routes to the corrsponding pin on "Side A" and to the other terminal solder the wire that routes to the corresponding pin on "Side B."

Do this slowly and carefully with every switch.

Step 11: Troubleshoot Until There Is No Tomorrow.

Picture of Troubleshoot Until There Is No Tomorrow.

Flip it over and open up Textedit or Note Pad. Place your cursor in the window and plug in the typewriter.

No matter if you've done everything right up until now, chances are you will probably have something go wrong.

If absolutely nothing happens, your keyboard is probably dead. Make certain of this and then go hack another one.

If one key is being typed into the window over and over and over, then one of the buttons is being pressed down by the striker bar. See if it stops when you slide the button out from under that key's striker bar. If it stops, all that means is that you have to reposition your bracket so that the key isn't being pushed down. Pry it lose and break off the epoxy. Reposition and re-glue the bracket.

If it does not stop hitting the key over and over, start to cry. There is something very wrong with your wiring and/or many keys are being repeatedly struck at once and confusing the keyboard. Determine which it is and then act accordingly.

If nothing happens until you press a key down, then you are doing well. See if you can get every key you press to show up on the screen. This may take some repeated calibration.

Step 12: Glue Everything in Place.

Picture of Glue Everything in Place.

Once all the keys are calibrated, slowly and carefully flip the computer back over. Glue the brass bars into the brackets with hot glue and the groups of switches in place on the brass bar with hot glue as well.

Wait a few minutes for it to dry and then flip it back over.

Plug it in and test to see that all of the keys still work. If they do, good. If not, break off the glue and reposition the afflicted keys once more so that they do. Repeat this until it works solidly.

Flip the typewriter upside down one last time and using your twist ties organize the wires into groupings as best you can for the sake of neatness. Only do this part if you care about neatness.

Step 13: Do As the Ancients.

Picture of Do As the Ancients.

Now is the time to pound away at those keys. This can get to be kind of brutal on the wrist after a while. Although, it is kind of fun to pretend to be Ernest Hemingway (even though I doubt he ever used one of these International Business Monsters).

One last thing... If you find you are sometimes hitting a key and the letter is showing up twice, slow down the speed that the computer is checking for new keystrokes. That should do the trick.


8bitbeliever (author)2015-06-03

I literally just made a joke the other day to my friend in my computer engineering class about if someone asks us to hook their typewriter up to their PC. I now know how. Thank you for this instructable!

Cajundweeb (author)2009-07-19

I should point out that Sullen 70's comment regarding the Movie "Brazil" also brings to mind the TV series "Max Headroom," which also had old typewriters as computer keyboard terminals in the offices of the fictional Network XXIII (Those of you not familliar should Google it for more information). Several scenes in this series also show close-ups of old typewriters that were wired as computer input devices.

Treknology (author)Cajundweeb2010-03-20

Actually, if you pay closer attention in Max Headroom, the typewriters are often not "wired" at all.

Cajundweeb (author)Treknology2011-08-13

I stand corrected. I guess I must have had too much caffeine that day, ;-)

Ziggyblew (author)2010-07-04

I can't believe I finally found you. Maybe. Does this make it possible to hit a key on your typewriter which will play a note on the musical keyboard? Zig

sarahjanemaher (author)2009-08-13

Love this. Could you do this for a Music Keyboard as easily ? Have a university assignments in which we create a art animation with music. I thought if i could somehow connect a usb keyboard to the electric paino when a key was being pressed on the electric paino it would recognise and correspond to a key on the usb keyboard. Any ideas? Sarah

randofo (author)sarahjanemaher2009-08-14

Not really sure. It would be trickier I would imagine. This seems like something that would be easier to do in software than in hardware.

Veeence (author)randofo2010-03-21 Bome's MIDI translator is the software you're looking for.

You'll need a MIDI to USB converter if your keyboard doesn't already have a usb plug on it. Either way, you'll be plugging it directly into your computer. 

You then can use the software to translate notes into actual keystrokes.

Sara, I hacked open a casiotone keyboard some time ago, and there are a LOT more cables, scratching off stuff, and I think that it would save you a lot of time to just learn to control midi events.

You are going to have to do the software work anyways, so you might as well do everything in software.

79spitfire (author)2010-03-21

Too bad you couldn't leave the typewriter functioning. The model A was a great clunky beast with a wonderful sound as it typed!

mr monoply33 (author)2010-03-21

LOL I'd love to the the look on the engineers face that made this typewriter if he saw the main picture for step 12, and knew what this machine is being used for. It looks like it has been assimilated by the borg.

Kasm279 (author)2009-09-11

Mac ftw! Im just wondering what Mac that is. 

n0ukf (author)2007-06-05

Using Firefox, I'm getting "QuickTime is missing software required to perform this operation. Unfortunately, it is not available on the QuickTime server." when I try to view your video. Since it won't tell me WHAT software is missing, can anyone else tell me what I need? (And don't tell me Internet Explorer!)

Kasm279 (author)n0ukf2009-09-11


Green_Primus (author)2009-08-04

Have you ever thought about "steampunking" this design up a bit? And with that in mind couldn't you simplify the design by putting corresponding buttons were the hammer hits thus reducing the amount of visible wire"s? I'm asking having just been inspired by SyFy's new show "Warehouse 13" some paint, some misc gears, rivets, and add a flat screen (where the paper drum used to be) and perfect 1800's computer.

Sullen70 (author)2007-02-28

Ever see the movie "Brazil"? A fitting tribute.

moseph (author)Sullen702009-07-11

i agree. now i kind of want to make a computer like they had in the movie. but i think that is a dangerous project (in that i can see myself pouring a lot of time and effort into but ultimately not completing it). this guy made one though

sycocid (author)2009-06-19

The value of making paper copies of all computer based correspondence is priceless. So now when you email a friend you can send a backup snail mail copy. Amazing!

=SMART= (author)2009-06-10

That is awesome !! May i ask how much the typewriter was ? i'd love to get one to play with :D Haha this is very cool fav, 5*

randofo (author)=SMART=2009-06-10

Honestly, I don't remember. You can find them on Ebay for pretty cheap.

=SMART= (author)randofo2009-06-12

Ok thanks ill check

Damage, Inc. (author)=SMART=2009-06-15

Just in case anyone else would like to know, I checked ebay and there's tons of 'em on there, for anything acceptable it'll probably be from 10 dollars and up (although I didn't check specifically for the typewriter in the instructable). Shipping's gonna be killer though.

=SMART= (author)Damage, Inc.2009-06-15

right about the shipping

Redgerr (author)2009-06-13

really cool chief -- im astonished at how much work you put into this! im glad it works though! :) grats- have fun!

zootsuit7 (author)2007-09-14

There are freeware programs that play a 'clack' typewriter sound whenever a key is pressed and even the 'Carriage Return' when the Enter key is pressed!

theadamlevy (author)zootsuit72007-12-06

thats great or you could follow this Instructable and not be lame

Derin (author)theadamlevy2009-06-11

fail It was an addition,a recommendation.He wasn't suggesting another solution IMHO.

=SMART= (author)theadamlevy2009-06-10

not very nice..


=SMART= (author)zootsuit72009-06-10

That sounds cool !!

greensteam (author)2009-06-10

Awesome indeed. I have a fancy to do this with a proper mechanical typewriter. They are currently breeding in our house. My hubby and i had two old portables (now never used) and I bought a beautiful old black and gold situpandbeg type 1930s machine off ebay thinking to do the conversion but it is too lovely to mess up. However what happened next was interesting: in a house with 3 PCs and 2 laptops, our teenagers appropriated the old typewriter and started writing novels (1 each!) on it. Then my son obtained two more of the more modern portables, one for use when typing in bed and the other for modding. We are awash with the things but still havent done this mod which I really want to do. Essentially what I wanted to do was set a keyboard under the typewriter strikers somehow.

angela_irene (author)2008-10-10

Nice work. Does this still function as a typewriter as well? I've been interested in modifying a Casio keyboard into a typewriter for musical purposes, but I would also like it to function as a typewriter still. My understanding is that the matrix for most computer keyboards isn't that different from the matrix for a musical keyboard, so I thought your Instructable might be a good starting place.

randofo (author)angela_irene2008-10-10

No, it made my life a lot easier to disable the typewriter function. I suppose you could keep it working as a typewriter, but it may take a little work. I've seen a couple different schemes for musical keyboards, but you should be able to find one that has a nice matrix like a computer keyboard.

captainjohn (author)2008-07-26

Do normal Typewriters work? I have an old one and wondered if it was usable.

randofo (author)captainjohn2008-07-29

If all the key bars are level it should work just like this. If they are not, then you need to figure out another method.

cynvision (author)2007-08-17

This immediately reminded me of Max Headroom TV show.

lacrosseislife24 (author)2007-03-29

wow that must have taken persistence and a LOT of time. very well written.

CameronSS (author)2007-03-12

Wow...would it be possible to stick the keyboard inside the typewriter so that pressing a key on the typewriter would also hit a key on the keyboard? Then you would also have a hard copy on hand for when you computer dies just as you move the mouse to click the save button...

speedy pc (author)2007-02-23

That's awesome. But it would be more awesome if the typewriter would also function as his printer too!

endarthur (author)speedy pc2007-03-05

maybe you could do that with a teletype and some software

jomodv (author)2007-02-24

A fine addition to the land of retro novelties.

jeffreyf (author)2007-01-12

Truely cool. I *love* retro-tech.

servant74 (author)2006-12-16

Neat. ... Kind of the reverse of the first 'letter quality printer' I saw. A guy had mad a 'unit' with lots of solenoids that would press the keys on his IBM Selectric typewriter to write business letters for his small business. I am sure he doesn't have it anymore, but it was great to watch, interfaced to his Altair 8800 computer through a parallel port!

IngridG (author)2006-12-11

...great way to get my mother used to the computer...

graymalkn (author)2006-12-06

My hat goes off to you, sir, for making yours far more stable than mine ( was. I think the momentary buttons are just the thing I've been looking for to make it more practical. Thank you for doing it *right* and thank you for describing it so well.

randofo (author)graymalkn2006-12-06

No problem. If it makes you feel any better, my first attempt was a mess of electrical tape, wire, glue and copper tabs.

LasVegas (author)2006-12-06

Now that's dedication to a project! I think I would have shelved the project after the first dozen or so switches... I haven't seen an "IBM Electric" in ages! Quite a find.

PeterTheUnGreat (author)2006-12-05

Fantastic - true pointless genius Pete

wperry1 (author)2006-12-05

That's awesome!

About This Instructable




Bio: My name is Randy and I founded the Instructables Design Studio. I'm also the author of the books 'Simple Bots,' and '62 Projects to ... More »
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