Apple IIc Inspired Maple Keyboard
A new member Rob came into our hackerspace and had a cool looking keyboard. We chatted and he mentioned that he made he boards himself and if I wanted one i could have one. He also offered me some Alps Orange keyswitches out of an old 1986 Performa Keyboard. I looked forward to making this fun project but it ended up being more than that. I fell in deep. I never realized how deep the keyboard rabbit hole of keyboards is.
The mechanical keyboard community is as diverse as it is deep and maybe more eccentric then the car modding community. I say that because with all of the available interchangeable parts, there is not one build that is the same. I would recommend checking out /r/MechanicalKeyboards though be careful, you may catch the bug. I’m may be using a bunch of new of new keyboard related terms. This article helped me out getting acquainted with them.
I can personally say, I have spent hundreds of hours obsessing creating the perfect keyboard for me.
Keyswitches can vary from style, to weight, sound, action, and more!
There are hundreds of different keycaps out there. I’ve personally tested more than 73 different keyswitches and I can tell you, not one feels the same. Some even go further to get the feel that is right for them by disassembling, modding and interchanging parts in each switch itself. One feature I like about this keyboard is that the function key (old caps lock key) is a non momentary switch. This key when activated puts the keyboard into a layer I created for macros.
For this build I wanted a nostalgic feel. I choose Alps Orange, one of the two style keycaps that were default on the Apple IIc. You can now type with that feeling of you first put in that Oregon Trail or or Number Munchers floppy disk and started to play.
The board I used is an ortholinear matrix style keyboard that is 60% compact. The Stand Aside Mark III Designed by Robert Bedel has many features including support for, Alps or MX-Compatible key switches, LEDs, the Elite C microcontroller, and more. One feature I like about his board is that he offers through hole and SMD options on the same board. I recommend checking out his site at https://steelcityinterface.com.
Because my build was designed to have an old feel, I decided to use through hole components on my board. I soldered 64 diodes onto my keyboard, then switches, then the Elite C. I recommend installing the default firmware and testing each switch before going forward.
I modified the default keyboard layout and layers in the QMK Configurator and uploaded it to my board. The elite C is a great powerful board that offers USB-C. I added a bit of a flourish and added a cloth braided magsafe cable I found online.
Keycaps are just as diverse as keyswitches. There are so many different profile keyscaps out there. There is even a market for custom ones. This is where you can loose a lot of money. Artisan keycaps are BIG! Keycaps can go upwards of over $100 each, though they average around $40.
I originally used the keycaps that came off the Proforma keyboard for a few weeks but they were not doing it for me. Looking at all of the custom keycaps that were out there made me yearn for something more. I wanted to create something that would make Woz proud so I decided I wanted to go Apple IIc.
I thought this would be an easy task. I would just go on thingiverse and download the keycap and print it… Nope. Not one Apple IIc keycap existed. The only solution to get my fix for this keyboard was either to buy very expense Apple IIc keys and ruin a beautiful computer or get a few keys off of a broken one or borrow a few and CAD them. I ended up going the cheaper route and buying a few keys on ebay.
Full disclosure, I didn’t know how to use CAD or CAM before this build. It’s amazing the lengths a maker will traverse to create something. I learned fusion 360 to make this project. It’s free very powerful cross platform software for makers, students and educators. I think it’s simply amazing that when we learn a new tool or piece of software, our world opens up. We can can see the world in CAD at that point. Oh this was machined this way and looks like this because of the machine they used to make it. If you want to learn CAD, I highly recommend this webinar from Autodesk.
It took me most my free time for over two months. Sketching in my notebook, designing the levels on the keyboard, figuring out the proper profiles, fillets, and weight. I went as far as to machine these keycaps to be the same weight as the original injection moulded keys. I went through over 10 prototypes. Some 3D printed, some machined to come up with the final part. I was surprised and delighted to find out that the post on the keycap was strong enough to be machined from the same wood. The pressure I had to exert to break it was would have bent a plastic key.
Each 8 keys took a little over 2 hours to machine. I used a BoXZY to machine everything. After finally getting to 64 keys, I created a jig and laser etched the letters and symbols on each key. While lasering, I bumped the jig and ruined 32 keys. I had to go and machine them again, taking another 8 hours. This mistake could have been avoided if I took my time and was not tired. I can’t stress enough that if you’re tired, go home. You will be more productive if you’ve gotten sleep.
After lasering them, I sealed them with very thin CA glue and a cotton swab. This will give them a nice matte finish and will key oils from getting into the keys.
My Gift to you
Because it took so long to create these keys, I want to gift the design to the world. I’m open sourcing the keys to you with an Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0) license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/
Get the file HERE!
If you would like to purchase already finished keycaps, please check out https://steelcityinterface.com or my etsy store https://etsy.com/shop/makerchad