I’ve been racking my brain for quite some time, to find a solution on what to do with my MechBoard64 (link) keyboard project… The project started as I needed two new keyboards for my C64 Reloaded boards (link, link). Going into such a large project was quite naive, as I had absolutely no idea how much effort I actually had to put into it to get my two keyboards. However, I truly enjoyed the engineering part of creating the keyboard PCB, the search for a solution for the Shift Lock circuit, the drawing of the keyboard bracket, sending the drawings off to China and finally see it all come together. I’ve never drawn a PCB before, so that took me quite some time to learn. The laser cutting companies all ask for Adobe Illustrator files for their machines. However, I have never used that software either so that also took me a while to be acquainted with. Truth is (and don’t tell anyone, ok?), I’ve never actually owned a mechanical keyboard, so I’ve also spent a bit of time trying to understand the differences between switches, brands and where to get a hold of them.
UPDATE: An illuminated version of the MechBoard64 (Light Mod Edition) is also available. There is no functional difference between the Light Mod Edition and the standard version of the MechBoard64 – except for the LEDs. Furthermore, the LED circuit functions seperately from the keyboard. It is therefore not neccessary to install the LEDs to make the keyboard work! More info here (link).
When the MechBoard64 was finally realized and presented on my blog, it soon came clear that a new mechanical keyboard was the missing piece in the creation of a brand new Commodore 64 (…well that and some new keycaps…). As I have no intention to become a Commodore 64 mechanical keyboard manufacturer, I’ve therefore decided to release all information regarding the creation of the MechBoard64 . This includes files for creating the keyboard PCB (Gerber, Excellon, BOM), the keyboard bracket (Illustrator, PDF, bend allowance drawing), 3D printed keycap adapters (.STL), the keyboard stabilizers (dimensions, material) and all miscellaneous parts (cables, screws, nuts, super lube). This way users can make their own keyboards, modify them to accommodate modern day keycaps, make groupbuys or start making batches for everyone to enjoy 🙂
Below you’ll find everything you’d need to make your own MechBoard64.
Copyright (c) 2021 MtnBuffalo, breadbox64.com
Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of this software and associated documentation files (the “Software”), to deal in the Software without restriction, including without limitation the rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is furnished to do so, subject to the following conditions: The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software.
THE SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED “AS IS”, WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO THE WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE AND NONINFRINGEMENT. IN NO EVENT SHALL THE AUTHORS OR COPYRIGHT HOLDERS BE LIABLE FOR ANY CLAIM, DAMAGES OR OTHER LIABILITY, WHETHER IN AN ACTION OF CONTRACT, TORT OR OTHERWISE, ARISING FROM, OUT OF OR IN CONNECTION WITH THE SOFTWARE OR THE USE OR OTHER DEALINGS IN THE SOFTWARE.
Here is the complete .zip archive containing all the files needed for making a MechBoard64 keyboard. The files can be downloaded using this link:
Printed Circuit Boards
The standard printed circuit board can be ordered from PCBway.com using this direct link (a new tab/window will open).
UPDATE: The Light Mod Edition printed circuit board with optional LEDs underneath each keycap can also be ordered from PCBway.com using this direct link (a new tab/window will open). More info on that particular MechBoard64 can be found here (link).
The keyboard bracket should be made in 1.5mm aluminum to fit the microswitches. The bracket can be plain, anodized or powder coated. Powder coating is stronger than just anodizing the surface. I used a company in China called Shanghai Yinuo Machinery Co., Ltd. Their webside can be found here (link). They powder coated my brackets with great results. Their email is this (email).
UPDATE #1: In the comments section below is information on a US based company that can also produce the brackets (thanks Stefan!).
UPDATE #2: The bracket drawing has also been updated with two more slotted holes on the top rail for better compatibility with the various third party keyboard brackets available online.
If the bracket is powder coated, the coating adds to the overall thickness of the bracket. This will not allow the Costar plate inserts (Space bar and Return keys) to snap correctly into place. Using a Dremmel can be used to remove the excess powder coating to make a perfect fit.
A 20 cm ribbon cable is used to connect the MechBoard64 to the motherboard of the C64. Depending on the C64 motherboard version, use the pin header that is the closest to the socket on the C64. Text near the 20 pin pin header indicates what motherboard each pin header is best suited for.
Commodore 64C slim cases with long boards installed (e.g. Assy 250466 and 250425) place the keyboard pins on the C64 motherboard quite far from the keyboard pins on the PCB. A 10 cm extension ribbon cable will make it work. The cable can be made from two 10 pin cables and a 2.54mm pitch male single row straight pin header. I’ve makred the cable and added an extra pin to make sure it was not inserted incorrectly. The cables can be found on Ebay.
The MechBoard64 use Cherry mx style switches including switches from Gateron. I have found that Gateron yellows (55 g linear) resemble the original C64 keys the best. The microswitches can be found in numerous webshops.
The Shift Lock can use either a standard non-latching microswitch like the rest of the keyboard (using the Shift Lock circuit) or a Cherry mx Locking switch that bypasses the Shift Lock circuit.
3D Printed Keycap Adapters
To use original Commodore 64 keycaps with the stems of modern day microswitches, 3D printed key adapters are needed. The keycap adapters can be printed by e.g. Shapeways in a material called Strong and Flexible which is also known as Nylon Plastic, PA12 or Polyamide. If using Shapeways for the 3D printing process, make sure to have them done as a ‘prototype’. Otherwise the print may fail their quality control…
Please note that the 3D printed key adapters only work with Cherry mx style switches and the standard Commodore 64 keycaps. Other C64 keycaps, like the strange ones shown below, will not work and hence cannot be used with the 3D printed key adapters! The same holds true for keycaps found in Commodore VIC20 keyboards that some of the early Commodore 64 keyboards came with (link).
The keyboard stabilizer system uses Costar keycap inserts and Costar plate inserts. The Costar inserts are needed for the Return key and the Space bar. These can be found in various webshops.
The size 2u stabilizer wire usually comes with the inserts. However, the stabilizer wire for the Space bar is size 9u and have to be made by hand. I used a DuBro EZ Bender no480 tool and a 1.00-1.09mm piano wire to make them.
SuperLube can be added to the Costar plate inserts to make the travel of the keys even smoother.
The PCB is assembled using plastic screws/bolts (M3 x 10mm), plastic nuts (M3) and plastic spacers (M3 x 3mm). The spacers should be 6-7mm in outer diameter. It is important that one of the spacers are no more than 6mm in diameter as this is the maximum size that will fit the top row, center hole.
Supported LED Types
If making the MechBoard64 – Light Mod Edition, 66 3mm LEDs should be used. The forward voltage of the PCB is 2.0VDC. This is the same voltage that the ShiftLock circuit LED gets. In this context, e.g. blue and green colored LEDs usually support a forward voltage of about 3.0VDC while red colored LEDs only need around 2.0VDC. To keep things simple, I simply went with the 2.0VDC using 56Ω resistors. This will obviously reduce the amount of dissipated light from LEDs which can handle a higher voltage. It should be noted, that if e.g. 0Ω ‘resistors’ are used instead of 56Ω resistors, the forward voltage will increase to about 2.5V and hence increase the strength of the illumination. This will only work safely if the LEDs can handle at least 2.5VDC!
A manual on how to assemble the MechBoard64 can be found here (link).
A complete overview of all published data regarding the MechBoard64 on this site can be found here (link).
I truly hope to see some nice modifications of the MechBoard64. Ideas that I’ve never thought of and will be proud of being a little part of. Good luck with your MechBoard64 projects!
© breadbox64.com 2021