Russian Cyrillic, and Floss Modded IBM Model M
February 10, 2018
With summer closing in, I’m planning on upgrading my IBM NetVista sleeper build to year 2017 specs (probably swapping out my Ryzen 7 1800X from the server build to a new mATX motherboard, and put a Ryzen 2000 series into the sever), and in case you don’t know what that’s about, here’s a quick tour I made several months ago upon a fellow Redditor’s request. With the upgrade, the not-obviously-modern NetVista would become my main desktop system…
The NetVista is outfitted with a 1987-made IBM Model M keyboard - an absolute joy to type on. However, with my Russian language studying progressing to a second major, it is about time to learn and type on a true, native Russian keyboard layout (Phonetic works, sure, but I still want to learn the “weh”).
Apart from that, I’ll be moving in with a new roommate who’s quite a dedicate learner - it would be quite rude to disrupt his work with the buckling springs clashing all the time, so it become necessary to figure out a solution to reduce the keyboard’s noise output.
And now with both issues resolved, I think it might be beneficial to leave a blog post describing the process here - as a personal note, and possibly a useful guide for others.
It is practically impossible to find a set of authentic, manufactured-for-IBM Russian keycaps (thankfully Russian keyboard layout is also 101-key, like U.S. English), not even a whole keyboard. However, all hope’s not lost.
There are several ways forward, one of the most obvious choice is to find a keycap manufacturer to custom build a set for you - I’ve found people who were willing to do so on Etsy. However, there’s a better choice in case you would like a built-to-spec set of keycaps that is guaranteed to be compatible with the Model M.
The solution would be to contact Unicomp, a Kentucky-based keyboard manufacturer who bought rights to continue to build and sell keyboards based on the buckling springs switches - and in fact, based on the Model M itself. After contacting their (extremely helpful and responsive) support staff, they pointed me here.
The page would allow you to purchase a full set of Model M compatible keycaps, based on your specifications. You would only have to mention in the “Comments” box that…
- You would like a set of keycaps with Russian layout printings on them.
- You would like the colour to be “Pearl/Pebble”, to match the original colours of the IBM Model M.
Another tip is that, if you are located in the United States, make sure you select the “US Flat Rate Shipping” - which is the cheapest option and it is in fact USPS Priority Mail. Shipping from Kentucky, it should get to the majority of locations in the lower-48 states.
I have to give them credit for their customer service, from the beginning of my first inquiry, it took them less than 6 hours to ship out my keycaps and I received them the day after in a clean and well packed box.
But how are the keycaps?
They are great, and seems to be dyesubbed. The colour doesn’t exactly match the original, however, it doesn’t seem very obvious at all that it would clash with the colour of the casing. The keycaps comes in two pieces for most keys, like it did with the original Model M.
However, it is worth mentioning that, while the keycaps fits a Model M, it is recommended to use the original inner cap so that the keycaps stays on the same height as it used to. Another caveat is that the keycaps doesn’t appear to be quite on par with the original IBM quality, some keys do deform around the lower edges when pressed onto the keyboard, but you would hardly notice it when all keycaps are replaced.
Here below are two pictures of the keyboard, and a close-up of the keycaps themselves, so you could see and judge for yourselves…
The majority of the distracting noises a Model M would emit is from the springs themselves, as keys are depressed and released, the springs make a high pitched “ringing” sound which could be quite annoying for some - not me, but one has to care for others eh?
Anyways, one of the most widely practiced method would be the so-called “Dental Floss Mod”, as described in the Deskthority Wiki article. I found the following recipe especially effective…
- A box of Oral-B SuperFloss(TM), 50 pieces (you would barely use more than 10).
- A pair of scissors with relatively sharp blades, to avoid fraying in the floss strings.
- A plastic pryer or a harder card - do not use anything metal or you risk
damaging the keycaps and the keyboard housing.
- Take the chance to clean the inside of your keyboard, will you?
- We would only need to use the “fluffy” or “spongy” portion of a floss, so cut and discard the rest (or if you really want to use it, go ahead).
- Cut the fluffy portion into segments of 1.5cm and insert them to the centre
of the springs. Going under would make the effect less significant (noiser),
while going over would completely destroy the tactile pattern, making the
- It is generally a good practice to cut and measure each time you cut, though the general rule of thumb is to cut longer than you need and trim back if needed - the 1.5cm length is to match the length of the spring itself, try and make it as long as the spring, but never longer.
- Sometimes if the key appears to be mushy, try and reinstall your keycap, inserting the keycaps could depress the springs and make the floss jump out higher than the springs.
After all these are done, you should no longer hear the “ringing” noise when typing, though you will still hear the initial “click” as the buckling springs actuate - not exactly silencing the keyboard, but quiet enough not to annoy someone to death. The mod should not alter the physical typing experience, if it does, shorten your floss.
Personally I find the new noise output quite similar to that of the Cherry MX Browns’ with a hint of the Blues - if you know what I mean… Well let’s try this again.
- You will hear a “click”, but nowhere nearly as high pitched as the Cherry MX Blues.
- The key would make a low-toned “thunk” as it bottoms out, quite similar to the Cherry MX Browns.
Here’s a picture of the finished product - sorry I don’t have a macro lens on me so it might not be very visible at all. There are plenty of better pictures on the Internet if you Google “dental floss mod model m”.
And now all is happy in Model M Land…