RESTORE/CTRL – Baseplate of Operations (Part II)

So in the pursuit of FINALLY building the perfect, modern replacement for the C64 keyboard, I started with the designs offered up by MtnBuffalo.

I brought in the keyboard plate design and started working on modifying it to be possible to build from a 3D print.

When I first encountered the project, I couldn’t help feeling like the step of “get somebody to make a mounting plate” was essentially leaving out a lot of details. It should have said “go find an industrial manufacturer who is willing to use their equipment and take the time to produce a few unique pieces just for you for a not-insane price” was glossing over a big problem here. Kind of like somebody gets a beginner’s paint set for Christmas, and the instructions say “paint gorgeous scene”. The end.

Yes, there are plenty of manufacturers who actually do just exactly as I spelled out, except for the not-insane price part. These places are in business for a reason; they don’t have time to deal with our one-off hobby projects when suppliers are coming to them with standing orders for hundreds or thousands of units. Almost all of them focus on efficiency of scale, not necessarily infinite flexibility. A cruise ship is great at carrying a lot of people, but you wouldn’t try to charter one to cross a lake…

The Pearl Mist sails the Great Lakes as part of the Pearl Seas Cruises fleet.

Shut up, you know exactly what I was talking about.

So anyway, switch baseplate. Not easy to get manufactured for you, unless you have a contact with a reliable laser or waterjet cutter. Then you’ll need to build or find a press brake to handle the final bending to form the bracket.

Or, you could 3D print one instead. Of course, you’re going to have to compensate for the thing not being solid metal a little, but here’s a little secret: THE ORIGINAL BASEPLATE WAS PLASTIC ANYWAY!

So MtnBuffalo captures the original dimensions and re-specs the design for metal cutting and bending, then I take his work and re-shuffle it for plastic. It’s the CIIIIRRRCLE of LIIIIIIFE- *ahem*

The plate was thickened and strategically chopped to allow a small household 3D printer like my Ender 3 Pro to produce it. The chop points have reinforcement to allow superglue to do its thing and make the final component easily as strong as the original. The mounting rails have additional structural support to prevent unwanted flexing, and the original single-space screw holes have been elongated to allow the keyboard to be shifted for fine-tuning the final position.

The plate’s thickness was increased everywhere except the keyboard switch apertures, as it was discovered the PCB needed more space for the switches to mount effectively.

The switch apertures for the wider keys (indicated by arrows to the right) were moved to be on-center relative to their row. Enter key gets stabilizers, since it’s a longer key.

Alll of this said, even if the design works, I’ll eventually look into modifying this design to work with acrylic sheets instead. At least those are cheaper to obtain and can be cut by even hobbyist level laser engravers, plus bending can be done with a cheap-to-build diy plastic bender!

Wider key spaces are now centered relative to their row, so their caps will sit centered overhead. The white squares are reference pieces showing the case gap created by the new modern spacebar being used.

So now we have a baseplate that honors the original C64 layout, but accommodates mechanical switches and adheres to the keycap sizing standards in use today. Accordingly, the spacebar area has also been adapted to accommodate the longest standard spacebar available, doing away with that 9U monstrosity for which there was no replacement (and the stabilizer bar had to be completely custom too, yet another special tool/process to complicate the concept). The Commodore case will of course have extra gaps as a result of this last change, but I’m working on something for that, too.

Standing brackets were designed for a potential emulated C64 in an authentic case project, which would have enabled the keyboard to brace against the bottom instead of hang from inside the top of the case as per the original design.

So the switch apertures have been shuffled to address the expectation for keycaps to be centered over their switches, regardless of width.

Naturally, this has to be done for the PCB too, since, as can be seen in the example image above, the switches have a central post that helps them center their alignment against the PCB during installation and soldering. If a switch is shuffling to one side or the other on the baseplate, so must its PCB sockets.

Now, getting that PCB made is kind of pricey in its own right, but thankfully there are plenty of companies around online who handle this sort of thing all the time, and they’re geared to do it pretty cheaply too, given how quickly their turnaround times can be. PCBWay is of course one of the big players, along with Elecrow (my personal favorite).

So that’s our baseplate and PCB ready to go.

Now for the real bugbear. The one thing that’s been standing in our way of having a truly modern, NEW keyboard replacement for our beloved machines.

The keycaps.

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