Sinclair Surplus Keyboard Graft

About: I was pfred1 but moved, changed my email address, and lost my password. I suppose worse things could happen.

No not political corruption, although I did do this project for personal gain. You see a long time ago I didn't have the money for a big fancy computer, I still don't in fact, but I did have the desire to think I was using one. Thusly this amalgamation was born. So it'd be fair to say that,

a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away I was a poor rebel electronics geek!

This is the story of my desperate struggle against the dark forces of expensive computers and how I hacked my way out of it too!

Step 1: Once Upon a Time ...

I was a wild eyed youth, filled with hopes, dreams, nay even an ambition or two, but mainly I was broke! I didn't even get my Timex Sinclair when they first came out, no, I bought mine when they were dumping them for $19.99 or something, I forget now, it was cheap though. So cheap in fact that even I couldn't say no. I had to say no to a lot of technology related stuff that I'd have liked to have had too.

But not this time, no! This time I got myself a shiny new, already obsolete, and of questionable design to begin with, computer. But what did I know? All I knew was I had an actual computer in my hot little hands. Many an hour I'd puzzle over the mysteries that are Sinclair BASIC I even tried to peek and poke a few instructions now and again too. But that usually lead to system crashes.

Anyhow what I am driving at here is Sinclairs were pieces of junk, and anyone trying to peck at one, you can't really call it typing, it was more like jabbing at the bubble membrane keyboard, instantly knew just what kind of junk this machine was. A blind man could see that a keyboard upgrade would be a huge step in the right direction.

Step 2: Act Two

Being the young proto-geek that I was of course I haunted Radio Shack stores. Back then Radio Shack stores weren't poor excuses for phone kiosks like they are now and actually sold electronics parts. One day while I was making a pilgrimage to my local Radio Shack store I came across a tatty cardboard box with surplus raw keyboards in it. These were strange times indeed!

Being the dreamer that I was I elected to purchase said worthless scrap for the reasonable price of $3.95 or thereabouts. I had delusions of building my own super computer back then or something. Well that never happened, but mating that keyboard to my Sinclair eventually did.

Step 3: Under the Hood

These next images show just how I managed to accomplish this ghoulish transformation. I soldered some header pins to the circuit board and rainbow ribbon to the keyboard itself.

Step 4: Epilogue

How I managed to figure out which wires connected to where was a bit more involved. Mostly it had to do with ringing wires out and comparing the matrices of the keyboards to one and another. Swapping a key on the keyboard completed the mutation, as a complete perfect match could not be done. Pictured here is my original notes I made for the task.

Why the Star Wars theme throughout my Instructable you may ask? Don't ask silly questions. I already said I was a geek from the era. For the graphic of Darth Vader I took a picture of the cover of a comic book I still have from back then. I edited it in The Gimp and removed a few things then added the Sinclair. I think it came out cute. The X wing fighter that can be seen in the background of  the keyboard image is actually the centerfold of the original playbill from the first Star Wars movie that I got when I went to go see the movie in the theater the week it opened.

I did this hack years after the movie came out but today those times seem blurred together to me. It is all a long time ago now.

I hope you've enjoyed my trip down memory lane as much as I have. Somehow I feel my epic tale of struggle at the dawn of the personal computing revolution parallels many others. My parents weren't rich enough to buy me an Apple ][e so I did what I could.

I know this project isn't as impressive as some others I see on this site but it is 100% my work and I was operating virtually in a vacuum with very limited resources when I did this. I'm in my garage to this day trying to do some of what I dreamed about doing so many years ago now. With your help and support who knows what the future holds in store?



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    7 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Fantastic tale. Well done on the instructable. I commend you for your hard and dedication, please post more like this it is the soul of what we do here.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I have seen a Sinclair for a very long time, but I can relate. I moved the power supply outside of mine to make room to wire wrap 8K of memory expansion(14 pin DIP). Those membrain keys stayed warm!! Your career must have been like mine, 30 years in systems control and design.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    This is so cool. I just see more and more people doing something with there old ZX80/81. I did the same with my speccie :D

    Cheers Sander


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you! It surprised me that I got it to work. I was more fearless when I was younger. Today I hardly seem to try things if I don't know the outcome at the outset it anymore.

    So the real lesson of my article is give it a shot.

    "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." -- Wayne Gretzky


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    It is very true what you say. One of my favorite sayings, of my own, is "to do anything you need a dose of unconsciousness".


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Mine goes something like, if I'd known at the outset what was involved I'd never start half of what I end up doing.

    The project I'm doing now is turning into that. A lot of things seem so easy on the face of them.