Who Knew Keyboards Were Such a Big Thing?

A project log for 2:3 Scale VT100 Terminal Reproduction

I want to make a scale model VT100 terminal for use with my 2:3 scale PiDP-8/I.

Michael GardiMichael Gardi 02/12/2021 at 14:390 Comments

Probably most of the people reading Hackaday knew, but not me. I think because I'm not a touch typist (long story), one keyboard is pretty much the same as another to me. That is certainly not the case for the large and vocal group of keyboard enthusiasts out there.

When I scaled down the keyboard frame and measured, I found that at most I had an area of 295 x 110 mm to fit the actual keyboard. Yikes! So I began my quest for the perfect keyboard for this project. 

I have a couple of smallish bluetooth keyboards around and thought something along those lines would do the trick, but after a pretty extensive search could find nothing suitable. 

For a while I thought about creating a custom keyboard based on the SICK-68 design I found on these very pages. But that felt too much like a complete project inside of my project.  So no.

After that it didn't take long before I stumbled upon the wild world of mechanical "gaming" keyboards.  40%, 45%, 60%, linear vs tactile, Cherry MX, ortholinear vs staggered, so much to learn. The good news for me was the many of these designs had a form factor small enough to fit into my VT100 keyboard frame. 

Case in point, the Planck EZ is only 234 x 82 mm, well within the limits for my build.  However the cost of this absolutely gorgeous piece of technology was prohibitive for this project, and the ortholinear layout not in keeping with the original VT100's.  But I felt I was on the right track here. 

Eventually I found the MOTOSPEED CK61. 

At 290 x 100 mm the CK61 just fit into my design. It was well reviewed and reasonably priced enough that I could afford to use it for this project. I ordered the version with the "Blue Switch" which I assumed were Cherry MX BLUE (or clones) and in fact turned out to be nice and "clicky". The more conventional staggered layout is definitely a better look for this reproduction. I knew that I would never find a keyboard with a number pad that would fit, so I feel that this keyboard is a reasonable choice.

And here is the result.

On the left is the VT100 frame. I had to print it in two pieces which I glued together and reinforced with the cross piece you can see, also glued on, which supports the front of the keyboard at the proper height. On the right the finished keyboard. 

I'm happy with the result which is authentic looking enough for me. Until it was all together, I had not realized how uncomfortable some of these early keyboards must have been to use.  Again as a hunt and peck guy I didn't notice back in the day when I'm sure that I used said keyboard at some point in my career.