Cleaning/Restoring my IBM Model M

Discussion in 'Overclocking & Hardware' started by mr626, Oct 1, 2011.

  1. mr626

    mr626 Member

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    2017 edit- I changed imagehost and the pics are all dead, sorry. If anyone really cares send me a PM and I'll see what I can do.

    Preface

    A few people have expressed interest in me posting my Model M restoration project, so here it is. As I was fortunate enough to get one in good working order there wasn't any major work to be required, but I'll touch the more major things you may want to do with your Model M, depending on what condition its in. There are other examples of restoring Model M boards around that go into much greater detail so if you need to do things like bolt-modding and spring/hammer replacement you'll need to look elsewhere!

    Apologies in advance for the quality of some of the photos- I took some of them on my phone when I didn't have access to the SLR, but hopefully all the important details are still visible.

    Be warned, I'm known to waffle on a bit, especially when it comes to things like keyboards...

    Why spend all this time and effort on a ~20 year old keyboard?

    For me, it comes down to a few things:

    -I like old things, and I like rescuing them from being thrown out and restoring them to as near new condition as possible
    -I like well made/built, over-engineered things. Be it clothes, furniture, cars, computer parts, whatever
    -The Model M is widely regarded as one of the best keyboards ever made- definitely worthy of fixing up
    -I enjoy the whole process, from hunting one down to fixing it up to (finally) enjoying the results

    Some history on my particular Model M

    I have been extremely fortunate in that the previous owner of my Model M insisted that I have it for nothing- he was just happy to hear that it would be restored. He did mention that the board holds some sentimental value for him, and I'm sure he won't mind if I include an excerpt from an email he sent me:

    To me, this was just icing on the cake- knowing the history of the board is something that many Model M owners couldn't claim to do.

    Like all Model M boards, mine has the 'birth certificate' attached on the back:

    pic

    The details:

    Part number: 1391401
    FRU: 1392090
    Made in the USA date 12-4-90

    So, my Model M celebrated its 21st birthday earlier this year.

    The 'before' pictures

    Firstly, these are the images the previous owner sent me, when he was checking to see that the keyboard he had was the one that I was after:

    pic

    Needless to say, I was very happy when I saw these pictures (despite the board obviously needing some work). My four month search appeared to be at an end.

    A couple of points on the above photos:

    -There are obviously some keys missing (and to date, these keys are still missing but I've had a few offers from around the world to send me spares). As with many Model M boards, the keys are actually in two pieces. There's the outer part of the key that actually has the markings on it (which is what I'm missing for a few keys) and there's the key stem which is the part of the key that actually sits in the board and makes contact with the spring/membrane (Model M boards actually do have a rubber membrane sheet in them!). The exception to this is the larger keys such as backspace, shift keys, enter etc- these are all one piece including a plastic stabiliser.

    The key stems without the outer part work perfectly fine (and clearly the previous owner had no problem 'adjusting' to this with the help of a permanent marker). Still, I'll be replacing those missing keys as soon as I can.

    -The gunk along the top of the board was obviously left over from a sticker of some kind. My best guess would be a Word Perfect function key template (which obviously ties in to the story behind the board).

    When I got the board in the mail, the first thing I did was plug it in and test out that everything works. Happily, everything did. The keys all worked well and were consistent in how they felt to press. So far, so good.

    Here are some 'before' photos I took when I got the board (I've already partly cleaned the outer casing in these shots and removed the outer keys for cleaning, will elaborate on this later):

    pic

    As you can see, it wasn't the cleanest keyboard around (although far from the dirtiest). The design of the Model M means that the all important inner workings are very well protected from dirt/dust bunnies etc, but that doesn't stop it getting in between the keys.

    The Restoration process

    I'll preface this section by saying that due to the board being in great condition mechanically, the restoration process is really just pulling it apart, giving it a good, thorough and careful clean, and putting it back together. However, there are a few things that many people who restore Model M boards end up doing:

    -Bolt-mod: inside the Model M is a number of layers consisting of the steel plate, rubber membrane and a few other layers. Bizarrely, for a board of such robust construction these layers are held together with plastic rivets. The rivets often break over time, resulting in the board losing it's consistent feel across all the keys. The solution is to strip out all the rivets and replace them with bolts. Apparently, this ensures a consistent, sturdy Model M for many years to come.

    I had decided that I would only do the bolt mod if the Model M I eventually found needed it, as the process isn't without risk and it isn't like I can easily get another Model M if I stuff it up! As mentioned, my board feels great as is so I won't be going down this path just yet.

    For details on the process of bolt-modding a Model M, check out these links:

    pic

    -Spring replacement: once again, something that I haven't had to do since my board is mechanically in good condition, but it's pretty common for boards that have had a harder life and as a result have rusted and/or bent springs. As you probably know, each key on a Model M literally has a spring inside it that buckles when the key is depressed (hence 'buckling spring')

    pic

    You can see above the exposed springs for the shift, enter and backspace keys.

    As with the bolt-mod, spring replacement is usually done to restore consistent key feel across the board. I don't have any links to spring replacement, but I'm sure there are some out there if you Google it.

    Anyhow, on to what I did to restore my board. Firstly, the tools of the trade:

    pic

    Nothing particular exotic or expensive here.

    -Denture tablets: a fantastic way to clean keyboard keys without the need for scrubbing and without damaging the keys. Highly recommended.
    -Metho this was an interesting one. You need to be very careful with using metho or similar to clean anything plastic- some plastics will react badly causing damage, which is the last thing I want to do to my keyboard. I tested a very small section on the underside of the board first, and gradually tested larger sections and left it for an hour or so to ensure there was no damage. End result was it was perfectly find to use metho to clean the board, but I'd advise anyone who tries it to TEST FIRST.
    -General purpose cleaner: I didn't use this much actually, it was mainly used to gently clean any residual dirt or grime left over after other cleaning processes had already been completed. As with the metho, TEST FIRST before using it all over the board.
    -Cheap cleaning cloths: doesn't matter too much what you use for this, but I just wanted to avoid anything paper-based that might leave bits of itself behind during cleaning.
    -Cotton buds: essential for cleaning the inner workings of the board. Expect to use lots of these!

    Not pictured, but I also used at various stages of the process:

    -Dustpan and brush
    -Can of 'compressed air'
    -Vacuum cleaner

    As far as actual tools go, the only thing you need to open up the board itself is a slim profile 5.5mm socket driver. I made sure I had one of these before I started...only to discover when I went to open up the board that I had ordered the wrong one! I was still able to give it a good clean without pulling it apart, but I may add some more content to this thread when I get the socket driver and actually can get at the inner workings properly.

    For reference, this is the sort of thing you want (there's plenty of cheap ones on ebay):

    pic

    Step 1: Dusting / cleaning the outer case

    This is step one because the most delicate part of a Model M is the insides of its key switches. So, the more cleaning / dirt removal you can do before you start pulling switches apart, the better.

    The very first thing I did was to remove any loose dust and dirt. I took the board outside and using a combination of a brush and compressed air I removed as must of the loose surface stuff as I could. Naturally you want to be careful doing this- you don't want to be forcing dust and dirt into even harder to reach places! I then vacuum-cleaned the board, going gently over the keys with the brush attachment.

    For cleaning the outer case, I used one of the cleaning clothes with a small amount of metho and lightly rubbed as required. It probably took about 15-20 minutes of this before I was happy with it. Had I the proper socket driver, I would have pulled the board apart and washed the outer casing in warm soapy water and then used metho to remove anything left over. Still, I'm pretty happy with the results.

    Step 2: Keys

    Some of you may be familiar with other mechanical keyboards. The most common switch used these days is the cherry mx range, and to remove keys easily from these switches you generally want to use a 'proper' key puller.

    The good news is that most Model M board (mine included) use two piece keys that are very easy to remove and clean just using your fingers. For the vast majority of keys on my board the process was just grasp the key between my finger and thumb and gently pull. For one or two stubborn keys I had to use the point of a knife to gently lever the keys off.

    Here's a shot of the F1 key removed from the key stem. You can see the two small tabs that hold it in place on the key

    pic

    As mentioned earlier, the exception to this is the larger keys like the shift keys. Just carefully pull them upwards, but be extra careful to not pull them off at an extreme angle because you risk damaging the spring inside.

    The spacebar is a special case, in that it has a thick metal stabiliser bar. Still, the removal process is the same- just carefully pull it up.

    Here's some shots of the left shift key removed. You can see the design of the larger keys includes a plastic stabiliser.

    pic

    Once you've removed all the keys, its denture tablet time! I use standard Woolworths brand ones (approx $4 for a box of 48). Put 6 in a container, then put all of your keys in. Fill with hot (not boiling!) water- I just use hot water from the tap. Make sure that all the keys are submerged (you may need to turn them upside down so that any air pockets escape and they sink). Then, just leave to soak for a few hours.

    pic

    Then, rinse them thoroughly and leave to dry. To dry my keys, I put them all in one of those wire mesh bags you get oranges in and hang them on the clothes line outside for a day.

    Step 3: Cleaning the insides of the board, between keys etc

    This part took the longest for me. Had I been able to pull the board apart this part of the process would likely have been quicker and/or different. However, this method is a good way to clean the board without exposing the inner workings and risking any damage.

    Basically, I used lots of cotton buds with metho to clean all around and under the keys. I probably went through about 30-40 cotton buds and worked for about an hour or so. For a couple of really dirty sections I removed the key stems as well so I could better get at the board, but for the most part I was just able to clean around the keys. The results were worth it though

    pic

    Step 4: Put the keys back on

    Pretty straight forward process. A couple of points to remember though:

    -Make sure the keys are well and truly dry. You don't want to be introducing moisture to the inside of the board
    -Be careful when reinstalling the larger keys that make direct contact with the springs (this applies if you removed any of the key stems too). Make sure that the springs are sitting fully upright, and that the plastic guides for the key / key stem go around the spring properly so you don't damage any springs

    pic

    The 'after' shots

    It's a testament to how well these things are made that they clean up so well. I'm pretty happy with the results:

    pic

    As you can see I'm still waiting on my replacement keys, will take some more shots when they are installed.

    There you have it- that's the process I went through to restore my Model M. I fully expect to have made some errors in writing this up, so feel free to point them out. If you have any questions about the process let me know and I'll do my best to answer them.

    Thanks for listening to my ramblings :)

    Further reading / references
    http://geekhack.org/showwiki.php?ti...+Keyboard+Guide+-+Includes+Glossary+and+Links
    http://www.clickykeyboards.com/index.cfm/fa/pages.main/pageID/5
    http://www.dansdata.com/ibmkeyboard.htm
     
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2017
  2. FOXH0UND

    FOXH0UND Member

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    That looks unreal dude!
     
  3. mr626

    mr626 Member

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    Thanks. I'm very happy with how it turned out. Just waiting on the socket driver and the replacement keys to finish it off.
     
  4. FOXH0UND

    FOXH0UND Member

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    Awesome, can't wait to find and do mine! What's the keyboard behind it?
     
  5. mr626

    mr626 Member

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    That's my KBC Poker (Cherry MX Blues) with some keys from my weird 'Apricot PC' keyboard and coloured RBG modifier keys. It's actually back to using its standard black keys now. Great little board- highly recommended.
     
  6. FOXH0UND

    FOXH0UND Member

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    I'm actually about to order one haha :)
     
  7. amisty

    amisty Member

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    that is amazing would of never of thought, from that first pic!
     
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2011
  8. mehkat

    mehkat (Banned or Deleted)

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    Amazing work mr626 it looks like you pulled it out from under a bush in the back garden in the first pics.

    looks good as new, can't wait to see finished pics with all the keys in

    +1 on the poker, loving mine. I have some very special caps on the way for it ;)
     
  9. mr626

    mr626 Member

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    Thanks. Yeah, it was fairly dirty when I got it. I'm just thankful it didn't have any tobacco staining- I've tried to clean up a board that had it and it was impossible.

    The plastics used in the Model M are much more resistant to yellowing than other boards from the same era, which is a bonus. As you can see from the photos mine has no yellowing at all.

    The Poker is hard to beat for its price and form factor. I use mine for gaming rather than the Model M (not because you can't game with a Model M but I'm sort of babying it at the moment I guess!).
     
  10. Kevlarman

    Kevlarman Member

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    Hey, my Model M is two months younger than yours! :p

    I've been meaning to replace it with a Leopold or Ducky, but after reading this thread I've gone a bit nostalgic and am having second thoughts. :upset:

    P.S. I've got two more Model Ms back home in the States. :D
     
  11. ravescar

    ravescar Member

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    bloody hell, it look so new it is unreal.
     
  12. oztrailrider

    oztrailrider Member

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    Wow, awesome work. Have you thought about ordering replacement keycaps from clickykeyboard.com?

    i.e these and these

    The whole range of replacement caps is available here
     
  13. mr626

    mr626 Member

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    Thanks for the replies guys. Glad you like the finished results as much as I do :)

    Why 'replace' the Model M? Why not have both it, and a modern mech? (or 5). Yeah, one thing that I've learnt from looking for a Model M in Australia is that the best place to find them is the US.

    I've already been promised keycaps from a couple of very generous geekhack.org members (one of whom is an Aussie) and I don't mind waiting. The Aussie is a total legend- sent me most of what I need for $0. Totally owe that dude a beer :thumbup:

    Keycaps are soaking in denture tablet mix right now. I took some 'before' shots close up as they were fairly dirty (more so than any of the original keycaps) and I'll take some after shots so you can see how well the denture tabs really work- no scrubbing required.
     
  14. oztrailrider

    oztrailrider Member

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    Glad to hear you have got some keycaps on the way. I have also had good results with whiteboard cleaner when cleaning keyboards. It restored a filthy MS multimedia board I got given a a while ago back to brand new. :thumbup:

    Looking forward to seeing some shots when she's all done.
     
  15. brayway

    brayway Member

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    WOW looks amazingly better!:thumbup:
     
  16. mr626

    mr626 Member

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    Well, the guy from the US will be sending me the remaining keys I need shortly, so it won't be long before I can finally say that this project is 'finished'

    I also got the 5.5mm socket driver today, so I'll be able to open up the board and properly clean the internals, check for broken rivets etc.
     
  17. Little Man

    Little Man Member

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    Terrific thread dude.

    Will be very useful for when i go to clean mine, glad i decided not to sell it. :D
     
  18. mr626

    mr626 Member

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    Yeah, they aren't getting an easier to find. There's no way I'd ever sell mine.

    I managed to lose my first Model M that I owned when I was a teenager (don't ask me how its possible to lose something as heavy and bulky as a Model M...I still have no idea how that happened). When I started looking for one again recently it was on a whim- I naively thought that I would be easy to find one.

    I guess if you really want a Model M, you can buy one from the states (ebay) or clickykeyboards.com. Ends up being a lot of money though. If I was going to spend that much, I'd rather support Unicomp and by a brand new buckling spring board.
     
  19. Little Man

    Little Man Member

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    I got really lucky and bought one off here for like $30 as faulty.

    Arrived and it works 100% to this day, using it right now. :thumbup:

    You could get a unicomp, but its just not the same (even though unicomp made the Model M's im pretty sure). :lol:
     
  20. mr626

    mr626 Member

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    Nice find :) I've no doubt there are still unclaimed Model M boards out there in all manner of strange places. Its just finding them that is the hard part!

    Over at geekhack a few members have done some comparisons and there are some differences between Unicomp boards and original Model M boards (despite the fact that Unicomp use the exact same plastic molds and manufacturing process as was used with the original Model M boards made by IBM and Lexmark). The metal plate in the Unicomp boards isn't as thick/heavy, and some people say the keycaps aren't as good quality. Personally, I can't stand the Unicomp logo they put on their boards- as ugly as sin :sick:

    I'd still happily buy one if I had the cash though- happy to support a business that still makes brand new buckling spring boards in an age when keyboards are typically afterthoughts made in an overseas sweetshop for $2.
     

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