ALPS switches restoration research (draft)

User avatar
NeK

16 Dec 2020, 07:34

In this topic, I will try and document my research about how to do a proper restoration of ALPS (SKCM) switches to as close to their original condition as possible.

ALPS switches, especially the 1st gen, or else otherwise known as Pine ones, are considered by many keyboard enthusiasts, to be one of the most, if not the most, excellent feeling and sounding switches ever made and a pleasure to type on. And I agree, they are indeed excessively pleasant both in sound and feel.

However, they are notorious in being fragile and are prone to getting deteriorated in many and various ways, very easily. A mediocre conditioned ALPS switch, in comparison to an excellent condition one, is just awful. This is widely known and is a bad fact about them, which leads people not appreciating them because they have not gotten the full experience of a good ALPS board. Therefore I think, a guide about restoring, as much as possible, their condition to as close to factory new, is greatly needed.

I will list all the issues, that I have found and think that are common to them and will provide my research, results and hopefully appropriate solutions for fixing each one. I will provide photos, notes, information and videos wherever possible. Please note, that this is a work in progress, so stay tuned and if something is missing, please let me know in a comment. I will try to update it on a regular basis, with new content. I am encouraging everyone to contribute to it in an way they can.

Maybe this one will end up on the Wiki when it gets finished

Definitions

Condition rating
This will be a definition of a scale of the "condition" of ALPS switches. Each rating, will have specific requirements for the switch to meet, that are as objective and measurable as easy and as much as possible. This is essential in order to have a reference or basis for being able to properly discuss, compare and identify the approximate condition of a switch. I will try to include, every related aspect of a switch. For instance, the feeling of a press and a release, how it sounds, if it is having some particular issues and how much etc.

This will also help in general, to understand and know what a 10/10 condition switch should be like.

:!: WIP

Tools
These are the tools that will be used with almost all of the guides. They will make the tasks easier as I have used them over and over and have done almost anything with them and therefore are recommended. I will give only their generic description, and will not recommend some specific brand or model. I leave this to the reader to decide and choose whatever he or she likes.

Tweezer with a flat tip
tweezer-flat.png
tweezer-flat.png (7.97 KiB) Viewed 772 times
Tweezer with a flat tip smaller
tweezer-flat-smaller.png
tweezer-flat-smaller.png (6.17 KiB) Viewed 772 times
Tweezer with a curved pointed tip
tweezer-curved-pointed.png
tweezer-curved-pointed.png (11.51 KiB) Viewed 772 times
Common Issues

Upstroke click
:!: WIP
Stick-slip press
:!: WIP
Binding
:!: WIP
Keys not registering
:!: WIP

How to
Pull out a keycap
:!: WIP
Open up a switch in place
:!: WIP
Put back a switch in place
:!: WIP
Check and verify the switch parts
:!: WIP
Last edited by NeK on 17 Dec 2020, 07:18, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
hellothere

17 Dec 2020, 01:44

Not to discourage you, there are bunches of other folks (e.g. Chyros) that have put in their two cents (1.43 Edsels in metric) regarding restoration of Alps switches. I'd actually rather see that combined into a FAQ (which may be on the Wiki; I haven't checked) rather than a brand new thread. Additionally, and I don't mean to offend, but why should I take your advice over someone else's on this forum? I have almost 5 times as many posts than you and I know just enough to be dangerous.

Also, why not include SKCL?

=========

Comments:

> ALPS switches, especially the 1st gen, or else otherwise known as Pine ones
I think "pine" or "bamboo" is generally or mostly in regard to white complicated Alps. As an example, AFAIK, there isn't a pine orange Alps or a bamboo salmon Alps. There were different versions of, say, orange Alps, but I haven't yet seen something that says that, "Orange with X are better than orange with Y," whereas I've heard that pine white Alps are significantly superior to bamboo white Alps. I definitely could be wrong, so if someone wants to correct me, please do.

I really don't like to use anything metal when working on keyboard switches, because I may scratch something. I've mentioned that I've used plastic razor blades to open switches and they're easy to use, whether or not the switch is mounted in the case. There are also plastic versions of each of the tweezers you picture. I've also mentioned that orihalcon's plastic tool thingy is great for opening up switches that have been de-soldered.

You and I are participants in the thread about Nyogel 760g. That and/or lubing in general should at least be mentioned in this thread.

I'll also mention that your condition rating is going to be subjective. However, I'll be interested to see how you can describe it.

User avatar
anthonymak

17 Dec 2020, 03:54

I would like to see more options for alps switches restoration. There are always better ideas.

User avatar
NeK

17 Dec 2020, 04:48

Those are great questions and I am glad that you asked them.

Ok first of all, why yet another take on this subject? And why someone should take my advice? My answer is, that I have been working extensivey for many months now, trying out in practice various ways and thinking (making theories, crackpot or not) almost daily about ALPS restoration. I have tried a lot of things and I have failed a lot of times. However, I actually gained a lot of knowledge and made some progress and I want to share all of those with you. All of them are huge topics with so much info and so many details and nuances, that are needed to be pointed out and for so many different issues, that are frankly just too much for having them sporadically talked about in various other threads. This is why I need to write down all of them, on a nice and structured post, in order to in one place, be easy to read and comprehend and easy to discuss and comment for everyone.

Why take my advice, you adk? Or why do I think that I have something unique to say about this topic? Well this is something that you, and anyone else reading this, should decide for themselves. Once finished, it should be clear if it is worth it or not, if it is good and if it provides any new and good results.

As for moving this into an FAQ or something, well yeah I agree. I have even mentioned this right in the beginning, that if it is worth it, this may, or should go to the Wiki (when I finish it and people think it is good) at some point. For the time being, I will work on it here for practical reasons.

Why do I need a separate thread of my own for this? Well, I want to have a place where I progressively develop all my ideas, info, thoughts and guides and it needs lots of time to write them down, take pictures, make videos etc.becausr they are just so many, and they are after all my own take on all of these things. And of course, one good reason is that I want input from all you guys and girls, exactly because you have so much knowledge too. So this is why I need a separate thread of my own.

Now on to your comments. About the metallic tweezers and the danger to scratch the switches. Well, I actually did have found ways to do those tasks, very quickly, very easily and most importantly without doing any damage to them, at all. This, in fact, is one of the reasons that I want to do this. You will see for yourself, that they are indeed good ways and worth it, once you have tried them out. So please be patient.

And of course, I will indeed mention the lubricant thread, this is after all, one of the most important things.

Also thanks for pointing out the Pine thing. I will revise it, however I think "Pine" should refer in general to the 1st Gen. Of the complicated switches. Regardless of stem color. But probably you are right, it should be more specific.

And lastly, I don't have or tried any SKCL, so I don't have something to talk about them specifically. Would be great if someone gave input on that too.

User avatar
Polecat

17 Dec 2020, 05:54

I hope this isn't another case where "Pine Alps" is considered a single entity. In my experience (some thirty years now) there were significant changes to Alps switches during the "pine" period. Hint - this would be a great opportunity to document those changes, and to give us some terminology to work with.

User avatar
NeK

17 Dec 2020, 07:17

Polecat wrote:
17 Dec 2020, 05:54
I hope this isn't another case where "Pine Alps" is considered a single entity. In my experience (some thirty years now) there were significant changes to Alps switches during the "pine" period. Hint - this would be a great opportunity to document those changes, and to give us some terminology to work with.
Sure. You, having used so many ALPS boards for thirty years, are probably an undisputable expert on this. Your input is most welcome!

User avatar
Polecat

19 Dec 2020, 05:33

NeK wrote:
17 Dec 2020, 07:17

Sure. You, having used so many ALPS boards for thirty years, are probably an undisputable expert on this. Your input is most welcome!
Oh, I'm very disputable! But I'll help if I can. I have a bunch of Alps SKCM keyboards, white (mostly) and blue. I also have a database of Northgate, Focus, Monterey, and "other" Alps keyboards with switch info which may or may not be helpful. I was previously told here not to bother, because nobody was interested, but I really would like to go further on understanding these switches.

User avatar
zrrion

19 Dec 2020, 15:54

Polecat wrote:
19 Dec 2020, 05:33
I was previously told here not to bother, because nobody was interested...
Its not about what interests other people, its about what interests you. (But also, other people would definitely be interested in more alps info)

User avatar
Polecat

20 Dec 2020, 06:16

zrrion wrote:
19 Dec 2020, 15:54
Its not about what interests other people, its about what interests you. (But also, other people would definitely be interested in more alps info)
Yeah, that's why I kept logging examples for my database. I'm up to almost 500 Northgates now, and almost as many Focuses (Focii?). About 200 Montereys and a bunch of others. Many do not have detailed switch info, only what I can gather from photos and descriptions, but one has to start someplace, right? I also list serial numbers, dates on cases and PC boards when possible, details on layouts and keycaps, and anything else that stands out.

I plan to open switches and document my own keyboards as a next step, hoping to learn more about the internal parts of the switches. I have probably 60 Alps keyboards in all. I've been stalling a bit so I can do more reading first, so I'll know what changes to look for. Any and all tips would be appreciated!

Hanslau

30 Dec 2020, 10:05

500 northgates? legend

Btw would love to read more on how you polish some of the sliders and/or housings. Have some unsalvagable blue alps but perhaps some sandpaper can fix it up. 1500 grit good enough?

User avatar
TNT

31 Dec 2020, 17:05

I'm interested to know how you guys clean ALPS Switches without a supersonic cleaner? In his restoration guide Chyros uses one but I don't have and can't afford one unfortunately.

Would leaving them in warm, soapy water and giving them a rince with distilled water afterwards be enough? Mine are very dirty, even the top housings are discolored...

User avatar
NeK

31 Dec 2020, 17:29

Just buy a small packet of denture cleaner tablets (google it, you can find them in all supermarkets). They are very cheap and do the job well enough. ;)

Put water into a bowl, insert the stems, the upper housings, the springs and the click leafs. Put a tablet in and let it do its job for 30-45 minutes. I often use 2 tablets if I put all the switches of a whole board. Don't put more water than necessary, just enough to engulf all the switches.

After that, let them dry outside in the air in a towel overnight and you are done.

User avatar
TNT

01 Jan 2021, 08:02

Thanks a lot! Will do that.

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