Looking for a keyboard recommendation

I have a little story… I have been getting a lot of packages recently, mostly keeb related stuff (including a few new boards, and switches I haven’t posted photos of yet…). Since much of this was coming from AliExpress it was shipped via USPS. Apparently our normal mail delivery person has been on vacation for the last two weeks, and his replacement hasn’t bothered to sort packages correctly, and keeps delivering my stuff to my neighbor.

Now, my neighbor is about 70 years old, and primarily does a lot of selling on eBay, so he uses his computer a lot. He’s been very nice about driving my packages over to me (it’s about 1/4 of a mile) and giving them directly to me.

So, I was talking to him, telling him that I build custom keyboards as a hobby, and a lot of the stuff he’s been bringing to me is supplies for building keyboards. He immediately started lamenting the crap keyboard(s) on computers these days. Apparently the smaller ones are difficult for him to use given his age and eyesight. I asked him what he liked using and he said old IBM style keyboards (and I immediately started talking about how legendary the Model F and M keyboards were…).

Well, this started me thinking: I would like to build a keyboard for him. (I know I could just get a Unicomp keyboard and he’d likely be very happy with it, but it wouldn’t have the personal touch to it.) But in searching around I haven’t really come up with any good full-size keyboards that have hot-swap sockets in them.

So, that’s the question: does anyone know of a good full size keyboard that has hot-swap sockets? I’d ideally like to find something with a retro look to it (along the lines of the IBM classics). My plan is to build something with a decent clicky switch (I’m thinking Kaihl box switches), and a nice retro key cap set (currently thinking the really nice 9009 set I got from Divinikey). Oh, and being a retro style build, RGB is not desirable (he stated that he hates “all the lights” on the keyboards these days).

Any help would be welcome. Thanks in advance.

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Might be difficult to find a hot swap full size. I think an 1800 layout could also work for the retro look your after and might be easier to find with hot swappability.

I also like old school, but clicky mx switches aren’t really ‘old school’ feeling if he’s used to model M or F. Why not sign up for the first round of 104 key beamsprings from the new-model-f guy? Or one of his F77s - these aren’t full size, but they have a gap between the alphas and the numpad/navigation, so it doesn’t feel cramped to me.

My first computer keyboards were C64, Apple IIe, and original 128k Apple Mac. So I find tactile switches with SA keycaps are proper old-school. The way clicky mx have a long travel, then have a click in the middle, then a bang when they hit the bottom, then another bang when they hit the top, this is just too many noises from each keypress. At least with a good quality SA on a good quality brown switch, I get a bassy thock at the bottom & then a higher pitched whack at the top. Like the old days.

I just bought a couple of Keychron K10s. Not too awful with an aluminium border and hotswap keys. The RGB is not for me but Fn-Pause, every time it’s turned on, fixes that pretty quick.

What’s your price range? And are you firm on hotswap?

@tinster4x4’s 1800 thread has some nice options, though not quite fullsize. Rekt hits the hotswap, no lights marker. Alternately, you could buy a leopold 980m and get one of Dave’s PCBs for it. Or a TKC1800; they just released a bunch.

As for switches, maybe consider Gazzew’s phoenix switches as well. I’m waiting for Zeal clickiez to compare.

If you’re looking for a standard 104, your options will be limited. Might be better off adding millmax.

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Why not an Unicomp model M keyboard?

I actually considered an 1800. I have a Leopold FC980M sitting here, and boy does it have that retro aesthetic right out of the box. But, it has MX Blacks in it, and I really didn’t want to desolder and install new switches.

Agreed, there is nothing like the Model F or M. But, I’d say Box Jades split the difference pretty well, and are close enough. (At least that was my reaction when I first started using them.)

Beam springs are even more different than the buckling spring designs of the Model F and M. Plus, I want something that can be easily maintained. It’s easy to replace a switch with an MX style keyboard, repairing a beam spring is something I’m inexperienced with. (FWIW - I worked in IT long enough to know that any technology you give someone you become their support person for it.)

Right, but I am really aiming for the Model M style, which had clicky buckling spring switches, and were closer to a DSA key cap than SA. If my neighbor had said anything about Apple or Commodore I would definitely have looked more in the direction you are suggesting.

Yeah, that doesn’t have the retro aesthetic I was hoping for, but at least it’s hot swap which is probably one of the bigger things I want to be certain of.

I’m hoping for $100-150 + whatever I sink into switches, caps, and other mods. And, I am pretty firm on the hot swap. Mainly because, as I’ve mentioned, giving something like this to a neighbor I’d bet that I become the support person for it. So the ability to just swap a switch quickly is very desirable.

I do have a 980M here, so I might look at Dave’s PCB anyway. But I think an 1800 layout isn’t a good choice. I know that I tried the Leopold coming from a full size keyboard, and I found it difficult to get used to.

Not familiar with the Phoenix;s, I’ll have to check them out. I’m waiting on the Clickiez too, but those are more of an ALPS style, as opposed to the buckling spring of the Model F/M.

As I said, I considered it. But, I wanted this to be a more personalized gift. Also, as I’ve mentioned, there is the consideration of supporting the device. I wouldn’t be able to fix a Unicomp keyboard as easily as a hot swap MX based keyboard.

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Phoenix are Gazzew’s modern Aristotle clone, fwiw.

As for hotswap 104, the new line of ducky boards has a lot of potential. Would not hesitate to give them a shot.

Looks like you can get one sans RGB for 119$ at MechanicalKeyboards.com

Looks like the Matcha is the only one without RGB, and that colorway is not really retro, not to mention the style of the keyboard. The “classic” is out of stock, and I have issues with how MechanicalKeyboards.com handles their stocking / re-stocking… I’ve been waiting on my One 3 TKL’s for over a month now (and I ordered them last November).

I’m thinking about the Keychron C2. It’s not as nice as the Ducky or some of the others, but it’s half the price and is a pretty conservative style which would look good with a set of WoB key caps… And with a bit of modding (silicon, taping the PCB, fixing the stabs, swapping the switches) it should sound pretty nice.

But, I’m still a bit hesitant in case something better comes up.

Sounds like you’ve got it all figured out :+1:

Maybe splash out for a few keycap sets so he can work out which profile he likes?

I used model F and M keyboards at my first couple of jobs (attached to IBM terminals). The keys have a high profile, but on the later model Fs and model Ms (e.g. the ones attached to PCs) they’re mounted on a very low profile curved plate. Even so, the bottom row of keys on a model M was like a cliff and the top rows (above the numbers) were soooo far away!

OEM keycaps are probably the closest in profile if you were just looking from the side of the keyboard, because of the scooped out shape of the model M.
But the model M buckling spring + high profile keycaps gave the keys a substantial feeling I definitely don’t get from even thick pbt oem/cherry caps. Cherry especially feels very shallow compared to a model M.

I think to match the model M, ideally I’d want something with the MT3 sculpt but larger less aggressively scooped out tops. ABS SA (preferably 112344) is a good alternative on the steeply inclined C2. A comfortable high profile key + high pretravel makes the keyboard feel much more relaxing and ‘spacious’ to me, in the same way as a model M.

The trick with the model F/M is that the click & actuation happen almost simultaneously, quite near the bottom, after plenty of pretravel. It really feels like the click & actuation and bottoming out are all related (which is not a feeling I’ve had with any clicky mx switch so far). I used an NEC keyboard at the same time as the model M which was just as sharply clicky, but far less relaxing to type on because the click happened near the top & the actuation near the bottom.

Given that I am doing this as a surprise gift that would be kind difficult to pull off.

Yup. I used a Model M for around a decade. The profile combined with the curve of the back plate is definitely something that isn’t easily reproduced with modern MX based keyboards. Only something like a Unicomp would come close to being a modern reproduction.

That being said, I am not going about this as a reproduction of a Model M, or another retro-keyboard. I am going about this as doing a modern keyboard that uses a modern interpretation of the retro style of a Model M. And, at this point, i don’t think that mark can be easily met. The closest in look (again, aside from a Unicomp) would the Leopold FC980. And that keyboard borrows a number of the design cues (color, lines) without trying to reproduce the Model M.

At this point, I am doubting that it’s going to be possible to hit anywhere close to the design language of something like the Model M. There doesn’t seem to be any company that’s even really trying to do something retro. Instead they are just using single or minor retro elements in an otherwise modern design.

So, instead, I am looking at kits that use a clean design language, and offer colorways that match that idea. (IE, a beige, black or cream colorway.) I think something like that paired with a key cap set that is based on a retro design (like a nice WoB, 9009, etc.) could strike a good balance between modern and retro from an aesthetic standpoint.

The other part is I would like the case to be really solid. But I know there’s literally zero chance of getting something that will approach the rigidity of the Model M - that steel back plate in the heavy plastic case is something that just doesn’t exist outside of reproductions.

Again, yup… This is the reason I’ve had problems with most of the modern tactile switches. The distance between the tactile event and the actuation of the switch is just nothing like the old style switches. Things are a bit better in the clicky area, where it’s more typical to have the tactile and actuation events happening with .5mm of each other. Granted the events tend to happen near the middle of the travel instead of at the bottom, but I think this is for the better. With the events happening around the mid-point I don’t tend to bottom out as hard as with the old-style keyboards. And, at least there is reasonable pre-travel, unlike with a lot of the modern tactile switches.

I think the other thing to keep in mind here is that I think it’s pretty likely that I would end up needing to support this keyboard after I give it to him… So I have to consider the likelihood that I will have replacement key caps and switches on hand in the case of something going wrong. And, honestly, if I know that I will have Kaihl Box switches on-hand, and I know that I will have WoB, 9009, etc. DSA key caps on hand. If I were to go with something that isn’t in wide production, then it’s likely that I wouldn’t have it on-hand when a repair is needed.

The thing to remember is this: I’m not building this for someone who is in the hobby, and I am not trying to bring him into it. Rather, I’m building it for a person who hates the modern membrane junk, and has fond memories of older keyboards like the IBM Model M. Giving him something that has the look of a retro keyboard, while using modern components is a solution that I think will work well for him.

Obviously it wouldn’t be hotswap, but have you considered restoring a vintage keyboard for him? As discussed, it’s hard to replicate that feel and could save money at the expense of additional time on your part.

That’s precisely the direction I didn’t want to go with this. The reasons for this are (a) I don’t know that I have developed enough skills to do this properly, and (b) it would be much more difficult to provide support for long term.

I don’t see how it would save money… It’s certainly going to be less expensive to grab an MX style switch than to replicate a beam spring mechanism, for example. And while the initial time for restoring a keyboard wouldn’t bother me too much (although I already have a huge backlog of keyboards I haven’t even stared on yet), I would think it would be annoying to him if something broke, and I had to take the keyboard for several days to fix it.

Maybe I can clarify what I am thinking a bit more about this:

I think of the kit cars that are available. You see people that build older body style cars from kits, paying attention to all the visual details of the car. However, underneath the body, many of those cars have modern frames, suspension, brakes, motors, etc.

It’s really a best of both worlds scenario. You have something that looks like the original, with the convenience of being able to maintain it using modern parts.

Oh, I misunderstood your goal completely. The kit car analogy made it click, pun intended. This is a pretty unique challenge.

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