DIY MechBoard64

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.

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

Below you’ll find everything you’d need to make your own MechBoard64.

Copyright Notice

Copyright (c) 2020 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.

Files Download

Here is the complete .zip archive containing all the files needed for making a MechBoard64 keyboard. The files can be downloaded using this link:

MechBoard64 version 1.06

Printed Circuit Board

The printed circuit board can be ordered from PCBway.com using this direct link (a new tab/window will open).

Keyboard Bracket

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).ย  They powder coated my brackets with great results. Their email is this (email).

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 e perfect fit.

Cables

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 toย  make sure it was not inserted incorrectly. The cables can be found on Ebay.

Microswitches

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 (link) 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!

Keyboard Stabilizers

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 1.00mm piano wire to make them.

SuperLube can be added to the Costar plate inserts to make the travel of the keys even smoother.

Miscellaneous Parts

The PCB is assembled using plastic screws, plastic nuts and plastic spacers. 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.

Assembly Instructions

A manual on how to assemble the MechBoard64 can be found here (link).

Complete Overview

A complete overview of all published data regarding the MechBoard64 here on breadbox64.com can be found here (link).

Final Comments

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!

ยฉ breadbox64.com 2020

19 comments on “DIY MechBoard64

  1. I love this project and want to try putting some together. I already received a quote for the keyboard brackets. Now I am trying to order the PCBs. Using your direct link offers me to add the PCSbs straight to my cart. However, when I do that I am basically ordering an empty PCB, because the Gerber files are not transferred over. I downloaded the Gerber files directly from here, and I can upload the Gerber files to make that order, but I am unsure of all the individual settings like thickness, hole size, track distance, etc. I also opened a ticket with PCBway why it’s not adding correctly to the shopping cart.

  2. Hi Sascha, sorry to hear that you have difficulties ordering the MechBoard64 PCB. If you use the direct link to PCBway you will get an empty PCB, but without having to worry about PCB thickness, color, vias etc. This approach uses the exact Gerber files I’ve used for my own MechBoard64s. On the order page there is also the BOM file (parts list) which should give PCBway enough information to assemble a complete PCB with components. I have never ordered anything from PCBway using their ‘shared projects’ section before. So I cannot help you much ๐Ÿ™

    Would you be kind and share your experience here for others who may get ‘stuck’ like you did? Thanks.

    Hope you get it all working! Good luck with the project!

  3. Good on you for completing this project. At one point I thought, “wouldn’t it be cool if…”, but you actually went and made it happen. Very nice. Who knows, now that you’ve done all this work, maybe the folks who make the new C64c cases will manufacture these keyboards and order a run of keycaps. Then they would have complete chassis for rebuilt original boards, new boards, and raspberry pi or other emulators. That possibility is pretty neat; the C64c is about as ergonomic as any other keyboard, save the unusual special key layout itself, so it’s not like it’s some weird product with super specific uses.

    Anyway, thanks for being awesome.

  4. I received a reply from PCBway.

    โ€œ I have checked this link but the original author has closed to share this project so that it cannot upload the file.โ€

    Iโ€™m sure thatโ€™s just some weird project setting thatโ€™s incorrect.

  5. I have an additional question, if you don’t mind.

    The 20 wire Dupont cable that you are showing in the picture. Did you make it yourself or did you order it prefabbed? I am asking because I am having difficulties sourcing these.

  6. Hi Sascha, I assume you are referring to the 10 cm extension cable (Dupont cable/Ribbon cable/rainbow cable), right? If so, I’ve made mine using two 10 cm 10 pin cables with a 2.54mm pitch male single row straight pin header for the gender change. You could also use an extra 20 cm 20 pin ribbon cable and the pin header, but this will give you a lot more un-needed cable to hide inside your case. I’ve added a few extra images in the post for your reference. Hope this makes better sense ๐Ÿ™‚

    I’m not sure what PCBway are referring to with their comment regarding the shared project. However, I’ve added all the Gerbers + Centroid file to the shared project on PCBway. Hopefully this will fix the issue.

  7. If someone offers a modified version suitable for use with off-the-shelf keycaps (link), I’ll happily purchase one ๐Ÿ™‚ Unfortunately, I’m definitely not a hardware guy.

  8. That fixed it! Thank you so much! This really is an awesome project and I can’t wait to have all the parts here to start building this.

  9. Hello again! Iโ€™m sorry for all these questions. Please bear with me. I ordered the PCBs from pcbway earlier today, and they came back with a question. This is what they wrote:

    There is a solder ring on the top layer of the circuit, and there is no solder ring on the bottom layer,it will damage the drill when spraying:
    1. we make as immersion gold but the price may will more expensive.
    2. We add a small pad on the side without the pad (the bottom layer) (0.15MM larger than the single side of the hole)

    I assume option 2 is the way to go, but I wanted to check with you first.

    Thank you!

  10. PCBWay came back to me with questions for assembly only regarding the pin headers (“missing” pin on pos 2).
    Looks like they got it correct and are just asking to be sure.
    I was not asked those questions Sascha has been reporting, though.

  11. Hi Baker, the BOM file, on the right hand side of the PCBway projects page, holds images of the pin-headers (J1 and J2). Double check that they provide the correct version of the pin headers – they didn’t with me the first time…
    I’m not sure what issue PCBway has asked Sascha about. They have created the exact same PCB that is on the project’s page without any issues. I’ve PM’ed Sascha and will report back whatever the problem was when I get a hold of him ๐Ÿ˜‰

  12. Thank you for the heads-up. They came back with something like this: 1*20pin 2.54mm 90ยฐdegree.
    I know there are two types of angled pin headers, one that sits much closer to the pcb.
    I will report back on that issue here when the PCBs arrive.

  13. Happy to hear that you are aware of the two types of 90ยฐ angled pin-headers ๐Ÿ™‚ For those who don’t, here’s an image of the differences… (link)

  14. Hi Sascha, apparently PCBway has issues with the bottom layer of the SIP sockets for the LED for the Shift Lock key. They want to have solder pads on each side and not only on the top of the PCB. What they should do is simply put in vias like in this image (link). Try and send that image to them. This should work ๐Ÿ™‚

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