IBM Displaywriter -- Seeking Advice on Restoration

User avatar
Hypersphere

09 Jun 2014, 19:59

My IBM Displaywriter (DW) keyboard arrived today. This is the model of IBM beam spring keyboards that has been dubbed the "Great White" (like the shark) owing to its monochromatic white case and keycaps and large size. In fact, it is not the largest IBM keyboard I have owned thus far except in height. Here are some approximate measurements of the DW compared with dimensions of some Model F keyboards (l x w x h; inches); the height is the least accurate measurement and taken at the highest point of the keyboard without the legs extended:

DW: 20.9 x 8.5 x 3.9
F122: 22.0 x 9.0 x 2.5
AT: 18.2 x 8.2 x 1.4 (length not including the leg wings)
XT: 18.0 x 7.6 x 1.2 (length not including the leg wings)

When I unboxed the DW, I noticed lots of black flakes in the packing material and adhering to the keyboard. Apparently, this is the protective membrane that was originally installed to protect the switches from dirt, but now ironically seems to be contributing to most of the foreign material that might get into the switches.

The modifier on the left side of the spacebar (Code key) is missing. I have never seen key stems like those on the DW before, but I am told that they will accept keys from at least some models of IBM Selectric typewriters. I have oredered a very inexpensive Selectric from eBay so that I might replace the missing Code key, albeit with something like the right shift and in a different color from the white keys on the DW.

This is my first DW and first beam spring keyboard. I will seek out posts to pick up tips on how to restore it and get it working with a modern computer, but of course any additional suggestions would be most welcome.

My first impressions from trying out the keys are that I really like look and feel of the double-shot sphericals, although it would be nice to have them in a two-tone color scheme to provide contrast between the keys and the case and between the alpha keys and modifiers. If indeed keys from Selectrics can be transplanted to the DW, it would be worth acquiring a couple of these typewriters with different key colors (a quick search on eBay showed that there are many Selectrics for sale and that they were produced in various colors). I would appreciate tips on how to pull keys from the metal stems without damaging the switches.

The action of the beam spring switches seems lighter than my capacitive or membrane buckling spring keyboards. The click is more pronounced than that of a Model M, but softer and mellower than that of a Model F. There is an almost buttery feel to the switches and a melodic sound. Unfortunately, some of the keys seem sticky; perhaps the switches have become clogged with bits of degraded membrane. Here again, I would welcome tips on how to clean up the insides of this board without destroying it.

I was surprised to find that the Lock key (Caps Lock) actually stays depressed just like the shift lock on a manual typewriter until you hit a shift key to unlock it.

Finally, if someone could point me in the right direction to get the electronics working with a contemporary computer, I would be most grateful.

User avatar
Muirium
µ

09 Jun 2014, 20:10

Every beam spring needs some Xwhatsit inside:

Image
http://deskthority.net/for-sale-f55/xwh ... t7993.html

That will get you straight to USB, much like Kishsaver. Drop him a line and see if he has enough parts to build you the appropriate board from his current supply; Xwhatsit just ordered a load of bits the other day.

The flaky bits are from the "contamination shield" in beam spring parlance. Unlike the foam of a Model F, this stuff actually curves up and over all the switches, and can be optionally replaced. I'm sure the beam spring owners here can clue you up on all of that.

There's also an art to getting off the caps. I asked about it before and recall there's a good axis, and a bad axis, to move them in. You definitely want to get that right!

So, what do you make of the feel of the better keys? With a bit of renovation, the whole board ought to be restored to that or better! The great white I've tried feels to me like IBM's Topre.

User avatar
Hypersphere

09 Jun 2014, 21:39

Muirium wrote:Every beam spring needs some Xwhatsit inside:
Spoiler:
Image
http://deskthority.net/for-sale-f55/xwh ... t7993.html

That will get you straight to USB, much like Kishsaver. Drop him a line and see if he has enough parts to build you the appropriate board from his current supply; Xwhatsit just ordered a load of bits the other day.

The flaky bits are from the "contamination shield" in beam spring parlance. Unlike the foam of a Model F, this stuff actually curves up and over all the switches, and can be optionally replaced. I'm sure the beam spring owners here can clue you up on all of that.

There's also an art to getting off the caps. I asked about it before and recall there's a good axis, and a bad axis, to move them in. You definitely want to get that right!

So, what do you make of the feel of the better keys? With a bit of renovation, the whole board ought to be restored to that or better! The great white I've tried feels to me like IBM's Topre.
Thanks. Regarding the controller, I have sent a PM to Xwhatsit, and I will read about his controller. I am looking for the best solution for getting the Displaywriter up and running, and I am also looking for the best solution(s) for doing the same with my XT, AT, and F-122 boards. It appears I might have missed the deadline for June orders, but I can be patient. I have many other projects waiting in addition to the usual backlog of work on the "day job".

Yes, I think "IBM's Topre" is an apt description of the feel of the beam spring switches in the Great White Displaywriter (GWDW). Definitive yet buttery. Now I am on the lookout for a somewhat more compact beam spring with keys on contrasting colors. However, given the scarcity of beam spring boards, I am going to devote attention to the one I have as if it were the last one on the planet.

quantalume

09 Jun 2014, 21:50

The nice thing about beamspring keyboards is that you can separate out the capacitive "sandwich" without dealing with metal tabs, plastic rivets, etc. Just be careful handling the "switches" after you separate everything; the conductive plate can be a real pain to reattach.

User avatar
Hypersphere

09 Jun 2014, 22:08

Muirium wrote: <snip>
There's also an art to getting off the caps. I asked about it before and recall there's a good axis, and a bad axis, to move them in. You definitely want to get that right!
<snip>
From what I can see, it appears that you can pull the keycaps using the same kind of puller one uses on other kinds of caps, such as Cherry, Alps, BS, or Topre, pulling straight up and using a bit of a wiggle. The keycaps have a slot that fits on a flat metal stem. They are stubborn, like some Alps caps.

The really tricky part seems to be if you need to disassemble the switch assembly, as detailed in the following post:

http://deskthority.net/photos-f62/teari ... ml#p167504

User avatar
Hypersphere

09 Jun 2014, 22:12

quantalume wrote:The nice thing about beamspring keyboards is that you can separate out the capacitive "sandwich" without dealing with metal tabs, plastic rivets, etc. Just be careful handling the "switches" after you separate everything; the conductive plate can be a real pain to reattach.
This is my first experience with any kind of beam spring board. To clean out the degraded membrane bits, do I need to take the keyboard completely apart, including removing each of the switch assemblies? Are each of the switch assemblies equivalent? That is, is there any need to keep them in identifiable order for reassembly of the board?

quantalume

09 Jun 2014, 23:23

Assuming the DW keyboard is built the same way as the other beamsprings, here's how I would go about it:
  1. Remove the outer case
  2. Remove the keycaps
  3. Remove what remains of the moisture barrier. My 3278 board had a thin, blue layer like Saran wrap in addition to a black rubber layer.
At this point, you can decide if you want to disassemble it further. If everything works fine with xwhatsit's controller, then there is probably no need to. The pictures in the beamspring switch wiki entry (http://deskthority.net/wiki/Beam_Spring) should help guide you to further disassembly. Basically, there are 6-8 screws around the perimeter which screw the backplate to the flange around the upper half. I didn't find it necessary to pull out the individual switch bodies. You can simply lift off the upper half as a unit and set it aside while you clean the PCB. Be careful with those fly plates! I recommend placing the upper half upside down, supported on each end, so there is no pressure on the key stems.

User avatar
Hypersphere

10 Jun 2014, 01:15

quantalume wrote:Assuming the DW keyboard is built the same way as the other beamsprings, here's how I would go about it:
  1. Remove the outer case
  2. Remove the keycaps
  3. Remove what remains of the moisture barrier. My 3278 board had a thin, blue layer like Saran wrap in addition to a black rubber layer.
At this point, you can decide if you want to disassemble it further. If everything works fine with xwhatsit's controller, then there is probably no need to. The pictures in the beamspring switch wiki entry (http://deskthority.net/wiki/Beam_Spring) should help guide you to further disassembly. Basically, there are 6-8 screws around the perimeter which screw the backplate to the flange around the upper half. I didn't find it necessary to pull out the individual switch bodies. You can simply lift off the upper half as a unit and set it aside while you clean the PCB. Be careful with those fly plates! I recommend placing the upper half upside down, supported on each end, so there is no pressure on the key stems.
Thanks for the excellent advice!

Further questions, for you and/or other interested Deskthorians:

Is it possible to move any switches around on this keyboard to achieve something like an ANSI mod or beyond? For example, on my other keyboards, I have been rearranging things so that I end up with a standard ANSI Return key and a Backspace key directly above the Return. This might depend, in part, on finding suitable substitute keys from sources such as Selectric typwriters.

Further to this, is it possible via Xwhatsit's controller to add a Fn key and Fn layer so that I could add F1 through F12 as well as to create modifiers such as Control, Option/Alt, and Command?

It looks like making CapsLock = Control might be out of the question unless there is a way to change the physical locking mechanism on the Lock key.

By the way, is it true that Ray Bradbury preferred to write his books and short stories on an IBM Selectric? If so, which model of Selectric did he use?

User avatar
kps

10 Jun 2014, 03:12

quantalume wrote:Be careful with those fly plates!
Be extremely careful with the fly plates, and in fact, extremely careful if you remove the capacitive board at all. The beam springs break very easily; I lost several when I disassembled my Displaywriter keyboard to get a photo to trace out the matrix for xwhatsit's USB controller.

quantalume

10 Jun 2014, 03:57

Hypersphere wrote:Is it possible to move any switches around on this keyboard to achieve something like an ANSI mod or beyond? For example, on my other keyboards, I have been rearranging things so that I end up with a standard ANSI Return key and a Backspace key directly above the Return. This might depend, in part, on finding suitable substitute keys from sources such as Selectric typwriters.
On the 3278, there is only one "dummy" switch, and it serves as a stabilizer for the space bar. I suspect that the DW has two or three: one for the space bar, one for the Return key and possibly one for the right shift. Those would be your only options for gaining positions. Maybe someone who has actually had one apart can enlighten us as to whether or not there are spare pad positions.
Hypersphere wrote: Further to this, is it possible via Xwhatsit's controller to add a Fn key and Fn layer so that I could add F1 through F12 as well as to create modifiers such as Control, Option/Alt, and Command?
Sure, that's how I have mine set up.

User avatar
kps

10 Jun 2014, 04:15

quantalume wrote:Maybe someone who has actually had one apart can enlighten us as to whether or not there are spare pad positions.
There's only one extra position, at the right of the space bar.
dw.jpg
dw.jpg (151.46 KiB) Viewed 832 times

User avatar
Hypersphere

10 Jun 2014, 16:49

Thanks, quantalume and kps!

I'm confused about the extra pad to the right of the space bar. On my DW, there is already a modifier key on each side of the space bar. On the left is "Code" (missing from my DW) and on the right is "Enter". This "Enter" key is separate from the backwards-L-shaped "Return" key.

Looks like I won't be able to put a Backspace immediately above the Return key.

I might try to assign the "Index" key as Fn.

User avatar
Hypersphere

10 Jun 2014, 17:31

Regarding the shift lock key -- What would I need to do to make this key behave like a normal key (non-locking)? After I get Xwhatsit's Controller installed, I would like to remap the Lock key as a Control key if possible. Thanks.

Note: It appears that the Lock key is mechanically linked to both the right and left Shift keys. When the Lock key is pressed, it locks in the down position; it is released by pressing either the left or right Shift key.

Edit: I've been advised in a different thread in which the same question was raised to keep this unique feature intact. I see the wisdom (and respect) in this, and I now plan to keep the shift lock feature. I suppose for this very special keyboard, the Control key could go elsewhere.

User avatar
Muirium
µ

10 Jun 2014, 19:25

Here's a peek of what Xwhatsit's controller can do:

Image

This is his GUI. Note the "State" map of the bare matrix. You have total power over what to assign to every key on the board. Each one of the cells in the main view at the bottom of the window contains a drop down of every value from the entire USB keyboard spec, and several layer switching additions that you can use to switch out of layer 0 and reach layers 1,2 and 3.

Powerful stuff! If you can think it, you can almost surely do it on your shark!

User avatar
Hypersphere

11 Jun 2014, 19:09

Thanks for the insights into Xwhatsit's controller. I've placed my order for the hardware, and I will certainly download the software.

Back to the restoration of the DW, the Code key (the modifier to the left of the spacebar) was mising, but I followed the suggestion to get a Right Shift key from a Selectric typewriter to replace the Code key. My Selectric II arrived today -- What a beautiful machine! Nice spherical keycaps of a deep hue, possibly dark green (I am a bit colorblind). The Right Shift does indeed fit as a substitute Code key on the DW. I had hoped to balance this by using the Selectric's Backspace key for the Enter key on the right side of the DW spacebar. Alas! The Backspace mounting slot on the Selectric is off-center! I found the same thing with the "Exp" key on the Selectric. However, the alpha keys have their mounting slots centered, and so these would work if I wanted to use them as alphas on the DW.

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