Introduction: Miss Betsy's Steampunk Keyboard

About: You might call me "Jack of all trades, master of none"; "All" is definitely an exaggeration but I am interested in lots of "trades" and try to master at least the basic steps so that I understand what the real…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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