Customized Computer Keyboard




Introduction: Customized Computer Keyboard

The first time I saw a steampunk keyboard on the internet  was a couple of years ago, and since then have seen a few on Instructables.  From the very first time I saw one of these keyboards I knew I would have to make one.

The keyboard projects I've seen on the web seem to fall into two categories:  those that use actual typewriter keys and those where the maker fabricates his own keys.  I chose to take the approach of making my own keys since so many of the keys on a pc keyboard are not found on a typewriter, plus it just seemed like a waste to tear up a couple of vintage typewriters just to cannibalize the keys.  Of course, making keys uses adhesives, lot's of adhesives......

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Step 1: Materials and Tools Required

The materials used in this project were:

- old pc keyboard
- hot glue and other various adhesives
- approximately 2 feet of 1/2 inch copper tubing
- 2 inches of 3/4 inch copper tubing
- antique looking paper
- laminating sheet
- spray paint
- 3/8 inch vinyl tubing
- masking tape

The tools used were:

- tubing cutter
- shop knife
- vise
- 1/2 inch hole cutter
- hammer
- wire cutters
- needle nose pliers
- hot glue gun
- computer printer

Step 2: Graphics for Keys

Ninety percent of the work for this project involves making new keys.  There are 104 keys on a full keyboard, and for this project I made 103 of them (I didn't make a new spacebar).

The first thing I did was raid my wife's supply of fancy paper, selecting one that looked like it had some age on it.  using my computer, I chose a font that looked somewhat vintage, and typed out every key cap that I would need.  After printing, I laminated the paper with a heavy clear laminating film to protect the tops of the keys.

After laminating, I glued the paper to a lightweight cardboard backing.  I probably didn't need to do this, but since my plan was to use hot glue to fill the new key caps I figured it wouldn't hurt to have a little bit of insulation between the hot glue and the laminating film.

My next step was to use a 1/2 inch hole punch to punch out all the new key tops.  I think they sell hole punches in craft stores, but I used one that was made for punching holes in canvas for grommets.  It worked fine.

Step 3: Making the Key Tops

My next step was to cut a 1/4 inch length of 1/2 inch copper tubing for each key cap.  I did this for every key except the "enter" key, and the two "shift" keys.  I cover them in a later step.

To make the key caps, I put the key top on a flat surface (printed side down), and filled the copper tubing with hot glue -- filling it almost all the way to the top.  I did this for each key, and and I have the burned fingers to prove it!

Step 4: Preparing the Old Keys

While the hot glue was setting up, i began preparing the old keys for the new key caps.  After removing the keys from the keyboard, I made a cut using wire cutters at each corner of each key (photo 1).

Once these cuts were made, I used a pair of needle nose pliers to snap the apron off the keys.  A couple of bends on each apron was all it took to snap them off (photos 2 & 3), leaving me with a key with only a top and a shaft (photo 4).

The final step in getting the old key ready to accept a new key cap was to score the face with a shop knife (photo 5).  I figured it would help the glue adhere if the surface was roughened up a bit.

By the way, you may notice a small black mark on the key caps in the 5th photo.  I used this temporary mark so I would know the proper orientation of the key when I reassembled it.

Step 5: Attaching the New Key Tops to the Old Keys

The final step in making new keys was to glue the old key to the new key caps.  I used hot glue for the adhesive, but I'm sure many other adhesives would work just as well.

After the glue had cured, I trimmed off the excess from the original key with a shop knife.

The "enter" and "shift" keys were done a bit different.  Because of the width of the original keys, a small wire bale is used beneath the key to keep it aligned when pressed.  Most steampunk keyboards I've seen simply use the same size keys for these as used on the rest of the keyboard, but I wanted these to be a little different.  Instead of 1/2 inch copper tubing for these three keys, I used 3/4 inch tubing, and squeezed it into an oval shape in a vise.  And since I wanted the wire bale to be intact, I had to leave the apron on these three keys.  So, I made these keys in a similar fashion to all the other keys, but glued them to the old keys without modification.  These keys are shown in photo 2 waiting for the paint to be applied. 

Step 6: Test Fitting the New Keys

Once all the keys were made, I test fitted a few to get an idea of how they would look and feel.

Step 7: Prepping the Keyboard Housing for Painting

I used a spare keyboard that I already had for this project, and unfortunately it was silver, and I really wanted a dark color.  So, I painted the keyboard housing. 

Rather than take this keyboard housing apart (it has 104 little rubber circle things instead of a single roll like newer keyboards) I blocked off every place where a key mounted with 3/8 inch vinyl tubing with the end plugged with masking tape.  This was done to keep paint from getting inside where the keys mounted.

If I had it to do over again, I would start with a black keyboard housing rather than worry about painting, but we live and learn....

Step 8: Painting

I sprayed the keyboard housing first with gloss black, then lightly dusted it with a copper enamel. 

I also used this same finish of the spacebar and the three larger keys that I left the aprons on.

Step 9: Installing the New Keys

This is the finished product.  After the keyboard had dried overnight, I reinstalled all the new keys.

This was not a particularly difficult project, but it was very time consuming since I basically had to make 103 keys.  But the end result is a keyboard that cannot be bought in a store!

As for costs, since I already had a spare keyboard, my costs were limited to two sheets of paper, two sheets of laminating film, approximately two feet of copper tubing, and a box of glue sticks.  My labor, of course, was free........

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    6 Discussions


    7 years ago on Step 4

    duh, i just realized that the letters were printed on paper. If you go with the cork idea, you would need to stamp the letters on each key


    7 years ago on Step 4

    Nice! Instead of using hot glue to fill the keys maybe you can try using cork.. They sell the stuff in small sheets (for coasters and such) at ikea and maybe even home depot. This way you wouldn't even need to raid your wifes fancy paper! :) Looks awesome!!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    It's more work, but you could wrap the space bar in copper - split a length of your half-inch tubing along its length, open it op and hammer it flat, then fold it around the space bar.

    Imagine the patina that would build up over time!


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I considered wrapping the space bar, then considered splitting a piece of tubing and attaching it to the top (where it would be slightly curved), and then considered using copper wire around the top. In the end, however, i just decided to leave the space bar as it was. Thanks for your comment.


    8 years ago on Step 9

    That keyboard looks good, a lot of hard work though! I'd get a bit bored after the 5th key :-) Does it still type the same?


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    It still has the same typing feel as the original keyboard. I know what you mean about getting bored after the 5th key. I started out thinking I'd first cut all the copper pieces, then trim all the keys, etc. What I wound up doing was tackling the keys ten at a time -- cut ten copper pieces, trim ten keys, assemble ten keys, etc. It helped to break up the monotony a bit. Thank you for your comment.