Introduction: Cheap and Easy to Make Steampunk Keyboard

After looking at some of the fancy retro keyboards at Datamancer's Site and the nice tutorial over at the Steampunk Workshop, I really wanted to make one myself. Unfortunately, I lack the tools/space and money to get and cut brass, and I'm not confidant enough to do so with any other metal. Also, I did not like the idea of spending $60+ for two sets of old typewriter keys. So I went looking for other ways to make one.

It was at this point that I found stickers of old typewriter keys and realized another way I could make my keyboard "look" like it had old typewriter keys

Thus I present a way to make a steampunk/typewriter looking keyboard for under $50 that the average person can easily make him/herself

Tools Used:
Screw Driver - both Philips and flat head will most likely be needed
Dremel Tool - with plastic cutting blade
Pliers - Needle nose work best for the finer cutting
Small saw for cutting the scrap wood

Materials Used:
A Keyboard - DUH!
Roll of felt a bit larger then the size of the keyboard - Black looks best
Gaffers Tape
scrap wood
Brass Friction Lid Support - found at Home Depot
Brass Spray Paint
Type Writer Key Stickers - Nostalgiques by Rebecca Sower
- Also the website has Typewriter stickers now.

Step 1: Select a Keyboard

Obviously if you are going to do this you will need a spare keyboard that you can take apart and cut up.

You can use any keyboard you have, even cordless, though when selecting one, try to keep some things in mind.

The one I used here was an old Packard Bell keyboard. I chose this one because I liked how the keys sounded when pressed. They made a nice clicking noise that was almost like an old typewriter. Which would be perfect for a steampunk mod. However , not all keyboards make noise, and after modding, the noise might not sound the same.

Be sure to take into account the size and number of keys, as you will be cutting ALL of them by hand.

If you are using a cordless or newer keyboard, you may have some buttons that will require some additional modding or might prove too much work to mod.

Before you start you should open up the keyboard, (see step two) to look at how it's put together to decide if you can/want to mod it. Mine had a nice metal piece in the middle that made putting this together 10x easier (see step 4). However, some keyboards may not have any extra support for the keys. What you need to be looking for here is that you do have something to hold the keys with the top piece off.

Step 2: Take It All Apart!

Next we are going to take apart the keyboard. This is as simple as turning the keyboard over, finding the screws, and unscrewing them
Most keyboards should have visible screw holes on the bottom. But take note that some holes might be covered by stickers or even padded rubber feet.

Once you have all the screws out, the top and bottom parts should separate easily and might even fall apart. If they do not come apart right away, check for any screws you might have missed under stickers or rubber feet. If not that, you might have to pry apart some plastic latches. Don't worry too much about breaking them unless you intend to re-use the original case. But even then, you DO have the screws to hold it together.

Step 3: Cutting of the Keys

This is by far the longest and most tedious part of this, and any Keyboard mod. The Cutting of the keys! Here we will need to modify the existing keys to look more like the keys on an old typewriter.

Before we start this step, if you don't have a photographic memory, I might suggest that you take a picture or make a diagram of the keyborard before you start popping off keys.This way you can reference it later when you need to put the keys back on.

Taking the keys off is very easy to do with a flat head screw driver. (See Pic 1) Simply push the flat head screw driver all the way down between a key. Then gently move the handle away from the key and it should pop right off. Now find the key that you just popped off as it probably went flying!

Once you have the key off, we need to mark the area that we are cutting. Since I am using stickers I traced the size of the sticker onto the key and then cut off everything else. (See pic 2)

To cut the keys I used a Dremel tool. While cutting, take care not to cut off the center shaft on the underside (See pic 3) this is the peice we still need to put the key back on the board.

Now here's the fun part! You need to do the above for ALL the keys on your keyboard. This will probably take you quite awhile. But don't fear, because as you keep it up, you should gradually get faster as you learn how to cut the keys right the first pass. My first key took about 2 minutes, the last key took less than 30 seconds.

PLEASE NOTE When cutting plastic, it will melt and harden into weird chunks on the plastic and or go flying as well. The pieces of melted plastic on your key can easily be broken off, so don't worry about cutting them off. However, flying plastic that is melted is HOT and could burn you if it makes skin contact. It also smells. So be sure to wear proper eye and skin protection, as well as do this in a well ventilated area.

Step 4: Make the New Keys

At this step you should have a pile of keys all cut and trimmed that are waiting to be given a new look!

For mine I decided to paint the keys brass before putting on the stickers. However, now I think silver might have looked better.

The best way to start is to turn all the keys over and spray paint the bottoms first. After that you should find some styrofoam to hold the keys upright so you can paint the tops. Once the paint is dry you can begin to put the stickers on.

Since the stickers only come with A-Z and 0-9, I had to make labels for the rest of the keys. This can be a little tricky at first, but once you get the size down right, copy and paste becomes your friend. I then printed them out on regular paper, cut them out, and glued them on to the rest of the keys.

Since these are just stickers and paper, you should consider adding a coat of gloss or epoxy to protect them for long term use. I sprayed on a coat of clear gloss on mine. However, as a word of caution, I sprayed the gloss on too thick on one set of the keys and instead of becoming glossy and shiny, the got a little flat. Though the odd discoloration of the keys does add to the look

Step 5: Making the Frame

Now that the keys are done, lets move on to the board.

The first thing you will probably want to do here, if you haven't already, is clean off the board you popped the keys off of.

From here on, this step may be slightly different depending on the keyboard you used. Some may require additional parts for support.

As I mentioned in a few previous steps, I got lucky with this keyboard as it already had a black metal frame inside that the keys were already attached to. Even more lucky was the fact that I was able to use existing screw holes to make my supports. You might not be as lucky, but it shouldn't be something that a little extra Dremel cutting and drilling of new screw holes couldn't fix.

Here I took a peice of felt, layed it over the top of the keyboard, and cut out holes for the keys to go through. To start I used Gaffer's Tape to hold the felt to the back side of the keyboard. I used gaffers tape here because it can be removed without leaving a reside and it isn't affected much by heat. I also covered the rest of the backside with gaffers tape to cover up the circut board.

Step 6: Adding the Leg Supports

Now moving on. What really helped convince me to do this was the brass supports (pic 1&2) that I found at Home Depot. The brackets reminded me of the side pieces of the DIY Kits Datamancer sells. They came as a right and left bracket (sold separately) They are sold as support rails for a lid to a box. However, I found that it would make a great back foot for a keyboard and the rail added a means to adjust the height of the keyboard.

Now all I had to do was attach the rails to the side of my keyboard base. This was easily done with a piece of scrap wood I found.

The keyboard base had two screw holes on either side. So I cut my wood to the side length of the keyboard. After the wood was cut I rounded off the ends with some sand paper and stained the wood to give it a nice victorian look.

Next I screwed the wood to the board with the existing holes. Then I screwed the support bracket to the peice of wood. Once done on both sides the keyboard should now stand angeled on it's own!

Step 7: Wrapping Up / Final Thoughts

With the board and keys done, the last thing to do was put the keys back on and see how it all looks/works.

I really wanted to change the status lights, but as of this writing I haven't found anything that I liked yet. However, one option I am considering is cutting off the old LED's and soldering on some amber ones

Total cost of all parts here was less then $50.
Total Time was about a week.

Making your own steampunk keyboard can actaully be a cheap and easy thing to do if you just be a little creative.