Cheap and Easy to Make Steampunk Keyboard




About: I tinker, therefor I am!

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.



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    72 Discussions


    3 years ago

    Thanks, unfortunately many of the second hand, and antique, stores
    around my area have mostly furniture and very little, brass or bronze
    items. :-(
    I do plan to add some hose covering over the wire, as soon as I can get my hands on some of decent length.


    4 years ago on Step 7

    This article should also specify that you need a mechanical keyboard to really pull this off. A membrane keyboard won't make a good keyboard to mod.

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    Actually, I do mention that in step 1 where I talk about the keyboard I used, and why I chose it. To keep it simple for everyone to understand, I didn't specifically call it a mechanical keyboard. But I do make a note that it does make noise and other keyboards may not (membrane keyboards). However, noise aside, you can still do it with a membrane keyboard. I've been meaning to update this with images of a modern membrane keyboard. As I mentioned in the last paragraph of step 1, what matters more is how the keys are attached to the keyboard, ie is there space to do this or not? Some membranes do look exactly like the mechanical keyboard I used and have room to do this, and some don't. Hence, why the first step is all about choosing the right keyboard.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you for a great project. As a typewriter collector, it pains me to see keychoppers destroying typewriters for their keys. It's great to see projects that avoid this.

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks I kinda feel the same way. Though I imagine that there are many broken ones that are only useful for parts.
    I should add I've found people on e-bay making laser cut keys out of wood that look just as great as well.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    That's funny because I was watching that show too. But no, I am not a member of Abney Park, nor am I Jake Von Slatt. (I am a big fan of both btw) However, as I note in the beginning of the introduction, this was inspired by his designs, and I did follow some of his steps. And like all Steampunk ideas, I have seen some copy mine as well.

    Though I have to add I thought it rather amusing for G4 to post on TV that Steampunk keyboards cost over $1200+ when this one can be made for under $100 and I've yet to see one "sell" for over $300 on ebay.


    *ahem* Go look at the price of Datamancer's custom boards.
    That's what they were referring to.
    Sure, the ones on eBay are around 300 finishing bid, but custom craftsmanship costs a lot more.

    The difference between handcrafted but sold as a finished product and custom is that when you pay to have it made for you it not only costs more, you get to specify how you want it to look.
    And you aren't generally paying most of that for the materials. You're paying for things like the fact that Datamancer has heavy duty metalworking tools and has spent probably several hundred to a couple thousand hours work getting as good as he is with them. Which means making a bunch of stuff that used materials, and from experience with metalworking myself, you don't sell most of your learning pieces. You scrap them or give them to your mom.
    And the tools themselves are expensive. Sure, if you're clever, you can DIY and make some of them less expensive, or do the legwork to find them used/cheap somewhere, but that's more hours of labor.

    This design you came up with is excellent for someone with few tools who can't afford one of Datamancer's custom boards, and I applaud you not only on the design and execution, but also for sharing it. It's wonderful work and you are a generous soul for sharing it.

    However, I would really appreciate it, as an artist myself, if you would not make comments that imply that the high-end steampunk board mods are overpriced or don't exist.
    As someone who DOES have the skills (though not currently all the tools) to make the quality of work that Datamancer does, I can tell you that I would be charging in the over $1000 range myself for the same quality of work, and that well over $100 in materials goes into one of his boards.
    (For one thing, he uses only mechanical buckling spring boards like the IBM Model M. I'm currently typing on an unmaintained 20 year old Model M I saved from my mother-in-law trying to throw it out. It works perfectly. I had to throw away 4 newer keyboards like the black one in one of your photos in the 3 years before I got lucky and found this baby. And it sounds wonderful. Yes, it will eventually get modded when I have the tools.)

    I'm GLAD that they're not undervaluing the price of this kind of work on TV.
    Way too many TV shows have done the "You can buy this expensive crap from an artist, or get these cheap supplies and make it for like $5 instead" already.


    I should point out that I did not mean to imply that high end Steampunk stuff is overpriced. What I was commenting on was that the G4 show simply said "Stempunk keyboards cost over XXX" implying that all Steampunk keyboards, not just the ones they were showing, cost that much or more, when clearly that is not the case.

    And while I can understand your reasons for not wanting to undervalue things on TV. The fact is, doing that does more harm then good as it then turns would be enthuses/buyers away thinking it's an expensive hobby when it doesn't have to be. And while there is always something good to be said about quality and craftsmanship, fact is most people don't care about that. Wal-Mart is proof of that :-P People who want to pay for quality and custom work know where to find it... but for the rest of us... there is this site!

    And I feel I should also point out that this site undervalue's many things by teaching people how to make it themselves and make some things cheaper then buying it already made!

    Please don't think I am attacking you, I just don't like the idea that just because something is custom means it has to be expensive. Many things truly are worth their price, but sometimes they are only expensive because the person/company making it doesn't know how/want to make it cheaper, when a way might exist!


    When you are talking about why things are expensive, the impulse that "this should be cheaper" is actually a symptom of the Wal-mart mentality, and a direct betrayal of some of the fundamental ideals of the Steampunk movement.

    When you buy cheap stuff from Wal-mart, you bought stuff that often required the same amount of materials and labor as an item that was made in the USA and costs more.
    The difference in the price?
    LABOR, and the QUALITY of the materials.
    Ok, the materials part is simple. Buy better stuff. Don't buy the item made with a cheap plastic, buy the longer lasting metal version.
    The labor part is not so simple. The problem is that the less we pay our labor, the closer we get to some grand societal collapse.
    Because the labor is "the common man", the basic size of gear in the machine, and the less we pay, the less the labor has to spend back into the machinery. The cheaper stuff gets, the more the money actually ends up in banks, not in circulation.

    Or, to put it another way: Every time one of my customers gets me to make something with less profit, I can't afford to buy from local produce growers or a locally owned meat cutter. I'm forced by lack of funds to buy cheaper goods from a corporation that leaves a lot of it's money in the bank. And the produce grower has less money to pay his employees, as does the meat cutter. It is the luxury item that funds this surplus that allows economic growth.

    So, could I make stuff cheaper? Sure, if I sacrifice the money needed to eat something other than rice. If I never want to have money left over to grow the economy by buying from other artisans.

    Here's the basic issue: Steampunk isn't just a "look" or "style". If it was, it would be called Neo-Victorian Fantasy Style.
    The "punk" in steampunk is a statement of willingness to CREATE social change. To move away from a cheap throwaway culture before our own world becomes a post-apocalyptic hell in which we scavenge materials in hopes of keeping a semi-solid roof over our head to keep out the rain.
    Yes, it's about not wasting what we have, and the DIY movement is important to that, to learning to repair stuff instead of throwing it away.
    But it's also about learning to properly value new items based of their construction, materials and source. Steampunk is about learning how to not only repair our own clothing, but also about learning to buy better clothing that will last longer instead of buying cheap stuff that profits only banks in the long run.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Anybody else notice that the original keyboard was an awesome IBM style spring keyboard?

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Yeah the springs make a better sound then most newer membrane keyboards. Also, it has it's own internal frame that makes this look much better.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    This is way cool!
    You could use some steel braided hose covering or spark plug wire dress coverings to cover up that cord.
    Also, don't be bashful about hitting up second-hand stores for all kinds of Steampunk building materials on the cheap!
    The craftsmanship and creativity really shows. The brass-work you've done shows that you have very good spatial acuity. The angles seem to be perfect as well. Nice re-tasking of the lid-support for this build.
    Bravo!!! Keep it up!

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks, unfortunately many of the second hand, and antique, stores around my area have mostly furniture and very little, brass or bronze items. :-(
    I do plan to add some hose covering over the wire, as soon as I can get my hands on some of decent length.


    8 years ago on Step 7

    Now you need to replace that glaring white plastic covered cable with a vintage looking fabric covered one.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Hey, great instructable, in my search to collect items to make my own I came across a set of typewriter stickers with a few more than were in the set you mentioned. go to and search typewriter. Hope this helps!

    2 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    That is interesting because Oriental Trading was one of the first places I looked for the stickers back when I made this. And at the time they did not sell any. However, those do look nice, and thanks for the tip, I'll add it to the steps.