Kishsaver with USB cord Photo from Muirium at Deskthority

The greatest keyboard revival project in current memory. This is the project to revive and fully re-create the IBM 4704 terminal keyboards. Lead by Ellipse this is a faithful recreation of the F62 and F77 4704 terminal keyboards.

This may seem a little unusual but this is being done for good reason. These 4704’s are model F capacitive buckling springs. In a variety that is extremely hard to find. They are being made in two varieties the 62, and 77 key versions. Although similar to the ever, and increasingly popular model M. The capacitive pcb more commonly associated with the Model F, adds another dimensions to the switch feel.

To understand the root of this project I will go over a little bit of the history. Pretty much all information about the 4704’s was originally collated by kishy which is why the 62 key 4704 is generally referred to the Kishsaver. Pretty much all of this information is coming from kishy’s website. It was not solely Kishy as I believe it was a joint project to actually track down one in the first place. It is a very hard to find keyboard at the moment because it is quite old and I’m not quite sure how many were made. They were originally used by tellers, back-office or administrative personnel. I imagine if the 62 key model was being used, it would have been used in conjunction with the 50 key 4704 which is an oversized numpad. The fact that this keyboard exists is slightly confusing to me as it seemed IBM’s style in the 80’s was more in-line with the unsaver keyboard. It has been fairly recently where we are seeing a huge popularity boost of the 60% and even 40% style boards. The kishsaver is an enigma of old keyboard design because of it’s size.

4704 Keyboard Family

4704 keyboard family Crude but characterful trace by me.

Why the kishsaver?

The main interest is the fact that it is a 60% sized keyboard in a switch type that is not easily transferred into custom projects. For this reason the Kishsaver is really one of a kind, as it is something that is a sought after form factor today. There are many articles detailing the fact that people still enjoy using the Model M and F keyboards today. But the Kishsaver includes both the switches that are loved from those boards, and the increasingly popular 60% size, this is just something that has not been available until now.

The first 4704 62 key was shown by Kishy but there was a subsequent discovery by tinnie that got a few more in circulation. Getting one today you are either going to be extremely lucky coming across one at an electronics recycler, or you would be buying one for a high price in the after market. This alone makes it such an incredible project. Without this happening, it is would only get increasingly harder to get one of these excellent keyboards.

I have been focusing on the 62 key variety, but the 77 is also a very rare keyboard. Even more so than the Kishsaver I can’t say that I have come across one of these F77’s in the wild at all, before the introduction of this project. What Ellipse is doing is producing more of the these 4704 terminal keyboards in 2015. Unicomp is still producing Model M’s to this day, but no one has produced a Model F in possibly 25+ years.

This is not at all an easy project to take on. Unlike a cherry or alps switch, the switches are not single units and so not produced in the same way. All the custom moulds for each part have to be recreated. Designs and schematics for the PCB, all need to be created. At the end of this project there will be fully programmable new F62 and F77 keyboards with xwhatsit controllers and firmware. This is keyboard history in the making. Getting a newly made F62 or F77 is incredibly unlikely to happen again.

This is a custom keyboard project on a scale that I haven’t seen before. I really wanted to know why Ellipse would do something like this. It just seems beyond the call of duty of a keyboard enthusiast.

Questions for Ellipse:

What drew you to this project? From all the people in the keyboard community there is a lot of excitement about the Kishsaver and rarer model f’s. But no one (until quite recently) has really been able to do a ‘custom’ buckling spring. It seems incredible that you have taken this project on and are progressing so fast.

I am a big fan and collector of the IBM buckling spring keyboards. I have tried Cherry MX mechanical keyboards and regular rubber dome ones and they do not compare! My very first keyboard was a Model F. The first family computer was an IBM PC (5150) or IBM PC XT (not sure the exact model) and its IBM Model F XT keyboard. These days I use the 122 key Model F keyboard as my daily driver thanks to Soarer’s great work with his converter and Fohat’s guide to refurbishing and adjusting the F122 layout to more of a 1391401 Model M ANSI layout.
Last year (2014) xwhatsit helped me to bring his Model F keyboard controllers to mass production and assembly in China at a significantly lower cost. I spent a while looking for more F62 Kishsavers and F77 keyboards to no avail; I was just able to find some F77 keyboards including one brand new one. Given the high demand for Kishsavers and 77-key Model F keyboards and the non-existent supply, I looked into what it would cost to bring these great keyboards with metal cases back into production, working on the CAD files and discussing ideas with a number of very smart people including professional engineers, PCB designers, and product designers, some of whom have contributed to the DT/GH/reddit forums. I was also inspired by the significant interest and discussions on the forums regarding bringing back the Model F buckling spring keyboard.
This project is definitely not a one man show - I could not have done this project without the help of so many community members, especially xwhatsit for inventing a reliable capacitive controller replacement for Model F keyboards, as well as others whom I have not yet asked if they would like to be publicly recognized. I have learned a lot along the way about manufacturing, PCBs, materials, micrometer measurement, CAD (computer aided design), and about the specifications of Model F keyboards.
This is a unique project in that it is the first one to bring back Model F buckling spring technology, which has been out of production for essentially 25+ years (with the exception of some low volume refurbishings/repairs primarily from new old stock and reproduction PCBs in the mid-90s at Lexmark). The buckling spring patent expired long ago, opening the door to “generics” but no projects involve brand new buckling spring keyboards made from 100% new stock and made in 2015. I had to pay for all the tooling, CNC milling and molds. Another forum member pointed out that the Cherry MX and other custom keyboard projects have lower production costs as the individual key mechanisms are pre-made, unlike Model F components.

Do you see it as a perfect keyboard? This is a faithful reproduction I was wondering if there is much reasoning behind not changing much.

I would say Model F keyboards are great, though I have not yet received the completed prototypes, which are expected to arrive from China in a few weeks, so I can’t say whether my Model F 2015 keyboards will be great. When I get them I will be carefully testing them to make sure they live up to the originals and to my quality standards. The intention of the project was to faithfully recreate the 77 key and 62 key keyboards, whose designs are both proven and in high demand as they are, without any alterations. Changing things around would have brought both positive and negative feedback and would have been considerably more costly to make a series of prototypes and test them. I do not have much CAD skill for that kind of work and actually taught myself CAD for this project.

Are you finding anything that you would have liked to have changed?

I would liked to have changed the cases to being made with die casting instead of CNC milling. There are no economies of scale with CNC milling as each cover piece is made one at a time and it takes a set number of machine-hours per piece. Die casting would have brought more economies of scale (and therefore a lower price!) but would have required high 100s/1000s of units to be economical due to the significantly higher tooling costs of tens of thousands of dollars more than CNC milling.

Have you been working on it longer than when you went public with the project?

Yes I have been in talks since April with a number of product design experts, engineers and forum contributors, including my contacts at a major factory in China.

Is this the first of multiple projects? Could you do something like a beamspring or topre board? I can see beamspring being revived in the same vein as this project.

I am making some extra Model F barrels/flippers/springs and other parts that people can order separately if they’d like to create their own Model F related projects without the need to pay for all the tooling. I will not be working on beamsprings anytime soon. I have done repair work on my own beamsprings and their internal mechanisms are extremely fragile and prone to interference from dirt/dust. On the other hand Model F keyboards were designed to be much more robust and reliable. A great quote from one of the forum contributors is that beamspring keyboards were built up to a spec, not down to a price point. I hope someone else is inspired to take on beamsprings, but the tooling costs alone would be astronomical - probably $50,000 or more plus the significant variable per unit production costs.

What’s your background? Does it have anything to do with vintage keyboard production?

I have had a great interest in computers from a young age and have done a lot of typing on Model F keyboards. I have taken them apart and repaired/restored a number of them. But no related background for me; I am not a professional programmer or CAD person. The professional and/or enthusiast-level background of those who have helped me with this project include programmers, PCB/hardware designers, engineers, product designers/inventors, and other Model F keyboard fans.

The keycaps seem to be an issue at the moment. It’s not that unicomp doesn’t exist, its just their apparent lacklustre approach to buckling springs. Would you be able to aid in the new production of BS caps? Or is this just entirely different?

The keycaps from this project will be sourced from old IBM keyboards (for those who want to borrow caps from their old keyboard) as well as Unicomp for those who want new keys. Tooling and quality control for key caps would take a significant amount of additional funds and time which are unfortunately out of budget for my project. My suggestion for those taking on Model F keycap production is to make them up to the standard of the original IBM PC XT keyboard: “rough” textured tops that will not wear down as quickly as Model M keycaps, deep/black/bold dye sublimated legends, and one-piece (integrated cap and stem) instead of the two piece Model M design.

Its not easy to reserve judgement on this project I find myself taken away by the scale of it.

Yes the project certainly was one of the more ambitious ones out there, and I could not have accomplished this goal without the help of many individuals in different professional / enthusiast capacities as mentioned above.

Are you still currently on track for the December ish date?

Yes - my intention is to put whatever orders come in by early December so that they can be here by Christmas ideally, though this may prove too ambitious. The major risks with this project is that the prototypes are not up to standard and may require some slight adjustments to the design, as well as the capacitive flippers not being of a suitable resin material, as well as quality control of the finished products which are all being made overseas. I asked the factory to mail me a few of the new prototype injection molded barrels and flippers ahead of the full prototypes to minimize the delay to the project from needing to altering the flipper resin if it proves to be not usable. After receiving and thoroughly testing the prototypes later this month, I expect to post some photos and videos and allow anyone in the NYC area to meet up and try out the keyboards. For more information on the project and to ask questions and stay in touch with updates, please check out the Deskthority.net and Geekhack.com forum threads here:

If you are interested please fill out the Google Docs form here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/18jlh9q … w/viewform

Also feel free to PM me on the Geekhack and Deskthority forums. My user name is Ellipse. Registration on the forums is free and they are great communities to be a part of.

I do hope that these keyboards survive the test of time. So many products people buy today develop issues in a few months’ or years’ time and are meant to be disposed of; it is great to be able to buy something made today that you can use every day and it will be there for you to use 10, 20, 30 years from now. I hope this F77/F62 project will be like that. I do not want to compromise a project like this by lowering standards and cutting corners to make it inferior to an original because it is something I want to be able to use and something that is on par with the original Model F keyboards that I use daily - that is why I expect to end up spending $50,000 or more on this project for materials and production processes that meet or exceed original standards and tolerances, including lots of metal!

I will post a link on the forums right after the order forms open up, so those keeping up on the forums will be first to know about it. I expect to assign serial numbers just about in the sequence of receiving the orders.

The $325 price has been finalized for the “bring your own keys” crowd. The keyboards will be assembled in China at no extra charge, and I will do final testing/QC on each keyboard. The cost of keys will be passed along from whatever Unicomp charges, which is about $25 and up depending on what options you would like (split shift, black blank keys, APL keys, RGB modifiers, F1 etc. front printing on the numbered caps, etc.). I will do a group buy to ship and install all the keys for those interested (factory installation in China will be no extra charge). I also have 5 sets of original used Model M keys available and I hope to get more if there is demand for it.

Final Thoughts

It makes sense that Ellipse has done a more faithful re-creation, as this is uncharted territory. Doing this re-creation is an incredible feat which just seems incredibly that it has actually happened. Most questions of “Can I make a custom buckling spring keyboard?” are met with “no not really”. The future is now uncertain and the answer to that question could be “possibly”.

This project is incredibly interesting for the community and whoever has an interest in old keyboards. It is most likely going to be a one time deal and you will have a keyboard that is going to be in usuable condition for a long time. This is not a usual GB and I think the end product will be satisfactory. Ellipse along with others have put a lot of effort into getting this to where it is. It is both something for the general enthusiast and the collector who might want a new version of the kish to go alongside the original.

If you are interested fill out the interest check form for the new F62 and F77.

Stay up-to-date with whats happening at either link:


Typed on HHKB Pro 2

100 Colour Keycap Set

100 colour pbt dyesub keyset I thought this set was worth mentioning as I felt it did catch my eye differently when I saw it compared to many others sets I see.
These are going to be available by thee end of the month on geekkeys.com. This news after all does come from feng the owner of geekkeys.

They are dyesub PBT and come with an equally interesting keycap stand.

Hot Keys Project November Sale

Aqua green x-ray eyes HKP

As it’s happening and is a limited engagement. I thought I should mention it.

Aluminium HHKB Disappointment

With the announcement of a aluminium HHKB case people were not too excited. This was for good reason. It was very boxy not particularly appealing and possibly not what the HHKB owners were looking for. geekhack community member CPTBadAss is currently in possesion of the case for testing.

Read what CPTBadAss first impressions of it.

To sum it up this quote from CPTBadAss works well:

So as some of the community is aware, Massdrop came out with a metal HHKB case. I asked to review it because I was just curious and I was willing to put aside my Topre bias to try it out. I had planned to write a review but unfortunately, the case isn’t ready for market. The design isn’t complete right now and I believe that at best, it’s a proof of concept and MD ran an IC. Because the case isn’t at final, market ready condition, I won’t be writing a full review.

livingspeedbump of keychatter is next in line to get the case so more opinion should be available soon.

If however you remain undiscouraged, it is the HHKB aluminium case is now available on taobao

SKIDATA+ GMK GB Live

SKIDATA  base look This GB is taking place on zealpc.net. More information in the geekhack thread.

Leandren Round 3 60% GB

Leandren runs great groupbuys that seem to be exactly what people are looking for. Orders are not currently live but expect it fairly soon.

Round 3 includes:

  • Winkeyless b.face 60% PCB
  • JDcarpe’s 60% Plate in many colours
  • Stabs
  • Possibly Gateron Blues

  • geekhack Info Thread

Fallout Themed Novelties

With the release of Fallout 4 this is particularly relevant. It has been a long time in planning and ran into legal issues with use of some copyrighted images but the final designs have been finalized. The two designs are available in SA ROW 1, SA ROW 3 and DSA.

Topre Poster

Roastpotatoes topre poster

As, I will probably have some of these soon. I would just like to get them out there a bit more. I am getting some A3 prints. Price yet to be determined.

Compact SQ

This is a new custom keyboard kit based on the cherry 1800 layout. It is an affordable custom with a nice amount of options.

I think this layout always looks fantastic, but it is not what I prefer for use.

You would be looking at a 140 USD price for the basic model but the alu skin set will be more expensive around 245.

New Kishsaver F62 and F77

I thought it was worth another mention as it is getting closer to fruition. I am writing a bit about it in another post including small Ellipse interview. But if you were not in the know. It is a recreation of the very popular and rare kishsaver F62 and F77 Model F buckling spring keyboard. With prototypes hopefully getting here in the next few weeks this could be possible quite soon.

This is a very rare GB and is the first of its kind at this scale.

Keyboard Links of Interest:


Typed on The Planck

Armor V2 and Woodland Raven I was never too interested in Hotkeys but I was aware of their presence. Unlike other artisans they are made to order, meaning there are more keycaps to go around. This is one of the things that makes them stand out. If you want one and participate in the sale you will be able to get one. This means there are a lot more out there and a lot more opportunities to get something nice to add to your keyboard. The motivation behind this is exactly the aforementioned reason.

These are my first Hotkeys and they were given to me by Martin. So thanks very much Martin. What I received was a Woodland Raven and a Silver Armor V2.

I will preface this with saying I was never really sure about HKP. But what I received was very pleasing.

woodland raven packaging

The Woodland received the special treatment in the packaging department. I am not sure if this is standard with all HKP stuff. But I always like when I get artisans in their own little bags. The Raven is the design I am more familiar with and it is really the design that makes me think of HKP. In the bag the Raven came with the visor detached. As an unboxing experience goes this really makes you look at the cap and I instantly began to appreciate it. It is actually a very nice looking keycap.

Construction:

Woodland raven One thing that is very cool about the raven design is the fact it is in some sense modular. Not really for the consumer as I belive there may be some glue used to hold everything together. But you can see that there are different parts that make up the cap. Not only the visor (which is the most obvious) the eyes and the mounth piece are all separate parts.

underside of raven The visor is the first part that I was really drawn to when I first got it. It is incredibly effective at doing what it does. I was not sure whether a moving part would really work, and if it would look silly. But this perfectly works and just seems incredibly in keeping with the design. It is held in fine and fits into place without issue. If you really wanted to, you could change these between any other ravens you may have. This is certainly something that set’s these keycaps apart. Since it does include a moving part, it is a little more fragile than some others. It could be easy to knock it off if it is on a high use position on your board. So far I have not had any issues with this.

The Armor V2 is also modular in design as I believe the chest piece could be swapped out for different transparent colours. Again, I don’t think this is something you should do as you may damage the cap.

Sculpt

woodland raven with visor down artisan If you have ever seen any photos of HKP stuff before you will have certainly seen the quality of the sculpt. The Raven is nicely detailed. In fact this is true of both the caps I received. The main body of the raven, the breathing apparatus and the visor all work really well together. I’m not entirely sure if this is based on an existing design but it works perfectly by itself.
The visor does give the Raven a little extra height when compared to the Armor. This is noticeable if you have it in a high use position on your keyboard.

Armor v2 artisan keycap The Armor V2 is greatly detailed. It has very sharp clean lines all over which is necessary for a design like this. It does not go too far with creating this hyper detailed armour which is possible with a design that is not really bound by a source. There is clear progression in this design in comparison to the previous iteration. I don’t think it is impossible to say that some inspiration may have been taken from the iron man armour. But it is a unique looking keycap however you look at it. The Armor is impressively detailed but I really like the raven design over this. This is possibly because I like the idea of faces, heads or busts as keycaps.

Both of these have very nice clear stamps of the ‘H’ logo on the underside.

armor underside showing logo

Colour of the Keycaps

This is another feature of HKP. They come in a lot of colours. The Woodland Raven is obviously Woodland themed with browns and green. There are some very nice colour schemes available for these keycaps. I like that they come in such a variety, as it continues the theme of trying to get them to as many people as possible.

The chosen colours always seem to be to someone’s taste and I really like the Woodland Raven’s colour. The Armor has just a silver surface that is really enhanced when used with a backlit keyboard. This is true with all the Armors colours. But I think the darker colours work a little nicer for the Armor.

This is a good thing about Hot Keys. There are many colours available and more to come. This just makes it easier to get a keycap you really like.

Where to get Hot Keys Project Artisans.

Getting these keycaps can be a lot easier than many others. Martin often runs monthly-ish sales and keycaps are made to order so no raffle, and you are guaranteed a keycap.
The November sale is next and I think it features some great colours.

november Gray wolf gasmask v2

I really like both of my HKP keycaps. These are some lovely keycaps and I am very happy to own them. I have been thinking about the keycaps as keycaps, and them as objects and the artistic value they hold. Although I have a lot of artisans, they are not often on my keyboard. I like how they look and what they represent. The fact that they are keycaps often doesn’t matter, as that is just the context of these small sculptures and creations. I like them as the canvas that creates possibilities. At the same time I appreciate this as a limiting factor and like how keycaps are designed by the confines of what they are, and in the end they have a very simple function, and they all do the same thing. Many caps like clacks and bros create high resale prices and I don’t think that is wrong, but I like the keycaps I have for various reasons. The prices are an inevitability of objects like this.


Typed on The Planck