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IBM FSSK Build Log

Posted: 24 Jan 2021, 02:41
by pyrelink
Hello everyone it's been quite a while! Alas I have finally returned to share with you a project that took me almost 5 years of procrastination to finally put together. This is my IBM FSSK! One of very few fully assembled Model F/SSK hybrids, as originally designed by i$. I type this post on my FSSK and it is without a doubt a perfect keyboard. I am still a little in shock. Click the spoiler for way too many photos of the build process.
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Spoiler:
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I got in on i$ original group buy for round 1 of the FSSK PCBs back in 2016 and wound up with PCB #18. The SSK that I am converting, was a 1391472 with a birthday of November 25th 1987. The original barrel plate was one of the white ones and pretty badly cracked, so I wound up scrapping it and ordering a new one from Unicomp.

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The first step is prepping your barrel plate for a screw or bolt mod. On a stock Model M the barrel plate has a bunch of these plastic rivets that go through the metal backing plate and get melted down to hold everything together. We will be using the same points to hold everything together with screws, so I used a razor blade to chop the rivets off. Your goal is to get everything flush.

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With all the rivets cut off, the next thing to look for is on the bottom row above the spacebar are two raised plastic sections in the channel. These plastic pieces would not normally block the smaller Model M flipper from flipping, but as you can see, it doesn't allow the Model F flipper to lay flush.

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This is was pretty easily accomplished with a combination of razor blade, clippers, and wet sanding. There might have been a Dremel involved at some point but however you accomplish it, make sure its nice and smooth and the flipper can sit flush in the barrel plate.
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Speaking of the Dremel, its time to break out the small carving bit. Before we drill the holes in the barrel plate, I went through all of the cut rivets and made a small starter hole. After wards I went back over with the razor blade and cleaned up the plastic to ensure it was once again flush. This step just made drilling holes easier.

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Having a drill press for this step was immensely helpful. For reference sake I am using M2 1/4" Flat Head Screws
(Part Number 90065A077 from McMaster-Carr) and I used a 1.7mm drill bit (Part Number 2958A41 from McMaster-Carr) I read some conflicting reports on whether or not a 1.5mm hole or a 1.7mm hole worked better for these screws so I bought both bits just in case. I did some testing with both bits and the 1.7mm felt like the right choice. After putting this board back together and taking it apart 4+ times I would say that is still the right choice.

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Believe it or not the gap from drilling the barrel plate to this picture was almost 2 years! The rest of this build process was completed in the last few days, and all the pictures were shot on my iPhone. I bought this WCass Xwhatsit converter from Ellipse, along with some extra flippers and a USB-C cable. Props to him for the fast shipping, it was the off chance of seeing that he had converters in stock that made me take the leap to get back and finish this damn project. First thing first, I split and separated all of the wires in the cable. Used a razor to start the cut and then just pulled the wires apart.

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Soldering the controller was surprisingly easy. I started with the two extremes and worked my way towards the middle. As with soldering most thru-hole components I found it was easiest to insert the wire and then bend it forward towards the pad to hold it in place before applying solder.

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If I wasn't clear before, I have been following along with the official i$ FSSK Installation Guide. I am not exactly sure how necessary this next step was but it was in the guide, and no matter how nerve wracking it was to bend the PCB, it didn't seem to hurt anything, so I say go for it!
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The process was pretty self explanatory. Just like i$ I used two strips of cardboard on either side of the PCB. I spent a while (~10 minutes) heating up the whole PCB which just wasn't really working. So I focused on one side at a time getting it hot to the touch, and tried to bend it as much as I could without pushing it too hard, and taping it. I repeated the same for the other side, and once both sides were taped up, I heated the center and sides of the PCB more and increased the amount of pressure on each side. I let this cool for a good 20 minutes and I was left with a slightly bent PCB


One of the more annoying parts of dealing with these Model F keyboards and controllers is getting the controller properly grounded.
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I took another page out of the i$ playbook and made myself a grounding wire with some spare screws and nuts, and I think wire from a cut up USB cable. Later on I made a second grounding wire for the other ground spot on the controller, but I don't think I took a clear photo of that. Same process, and bolted to the same spot on the metal backing plate.

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Next up is insulating the metal backing plate. For this I used regular old duct tape and took a screw driver to poke holes through the tape.

Now we finally get to the ultimate in tedium - the final-ish assembly. Before proceeding please note that getting an FSSK (or any Model F completely dialed in - is quite the effort of trial and error. You almost certainly will have to take this apart again after your initial assembly, its just the way of the Model F. To mitigate some of the error you can do some testing now and save yourself some headaches. If you plug the board in to the computer now you can use a single flipper and test all of the pads on the PCB to make sure that every key does in-fact register with the controller. Hopefully of course all the keys will register, but if not - at least you found out before you put it all together right??

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Populating the barrel frame with springs and flippers can be a pain in the ass. Especially if you have to do it multiple times. I would highly recommend propping up the two ends of the barrel frame with some wood or a couple books or something so that the flippers can be completely suspended in the frame when you attempt to assemble everything.

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Obviously the next step is lining up the metal backing plate and PCB onto the barrel frame and screwing everything together. This is where the tedium comes in. All I can say is that I think I got incredibly lucky that it only took a trial and error process of 4 assemblies/dis-assemblies to get everything dialed in. I tended to start in the 4 corners of the keyboard and worked my way into the center row when screwing everything together. Trying not to put too much screw pressure in one area of the board over another.

Technically you do not need ALL of the screws in place to test the keyboard, but I found that the capacitance and the xwhatsit software was very sensitive to how much pressure was holding everything together, and whether all the keycaps were on. So for each of my tests I wound up putting every screw in.

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I will spare you the minutia of all the annoying issues I ran into but it basically amounted to being very delicate with the barrel plate and backing plate as you were starting to screw everything together. On my first attempt I believe I jostled the table and that knocked loose some of the flippers, and resulted in a handful of keys not working and even 2 flippers with broken feet!

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In this photo you can see two interesting things. One is the difference between the OG Model F flippers and Ellipses reproduction flippers, but more importantly you can see that the screw right below the Ellipse flipper made its own path into the barrel plate! On multiple attempts of assembly the 'J' key was consistently not only not registering, but also not sounding right either. Having ensured that the pad on the PCB was properly functioning, I realized that when the screw dug through the barrel plate it was blocking the flipper from hitting the PCB. I wasn't really able to repair this, but luckily this was the only spot where I ran into the issue so I simple left that screw out of the final assembly.


We are at the home stretch now. Assuming you have everything functioning properly with the software, and all the keys click as they should, its time to fit everything back into the case.

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Since I purchased this OEM barrel plate from Unicomp it had some extra plastic bits at the bottom of the barrel plate that did not fit into my 1987 case. A couple quick cuts with the Dremel fixed that right up.
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The next issue was the location of the integrated USB-C connector on the Wcass controller. Unlike on the original Model F Xwhatsit converter with a side mounted connector, this one was directly lined up with the back of the case... Seeing no real good option for routing the cable through the existing port hole in the case, I decided to Dremel it out. I really didn't want an integrated cable on this keyboard anyway - its harder to store and its unruly - so this was the best case scenario.

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I joined a group buy hosted by Seebart (I believe?) for these awesome black and silver IBM logos (cut out of PCB). I put some double sided Gorilla Tape on the back and stuck it on.

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I gave my OG one piece keycaps a nice bath in detergent.

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Finally I did a floss mod. This keyboard was very pingy without the floss, and with the floss it sounds absolutely perfect. I also added some Krytox 204 on the spacebar stabilizers.

As a thank you for reading this far, I present you with two typing videos. The first one is before the floss mod and it wasn't entirely perfect, and the second is after I sorted out all of the software bugs and took it apart 4 times and did the floss mod.
Also all of these images are available in full resolution in a Flickr album

Re: IBM FSSK Build Log

Posted: 10 Mar 2021, 23:26
by ramnes
Awesome build, thanks for sharing! Mine is still unbuilt...

So after a few weeks, how does it feel? Did it become your daily driver? :)

Re: IBM FSSK Build Log

Posted: 10 Mar 2021, 23:56
by Muirium
And is it reliable? I heard something about these actually being quite flaky in extended real world use. Which is a shame.

Personally, I go complete monkey-balls when keyboards get glitchy on me. Zero tolerance! They either work or they don't.

Re: IBM FSSK Build Log

Posted: 11 Mar 2021, 02:56
by depletedvespene
AWESOME.

I remember reading the keyfeel was "in between" F and M. How's it? Did the floss mod affect it (beyond the sound)?


As much as I'd love to have an F keyboard in the TKL layout, this kind of work is definitely beyond my skills. So I'll just look at this post and dream...

Re: IBM FSSK Build Log

Posted: 11 Mar 2021, 03:17
by E TwentyNine
depletedvespene wrote:
11 Mar 2021, 02:56
As much as I'd love to have an F keyboard in the TKL layout, this kind of work is definitely beyond my skills. So I'll just look at this post and dream...
Take an AT F, do the alt key mod and rearrange the numpad into a SSK navigation keyset, you'll get very close to an SSK on a true F chassis.

Re: IBM FSSK Build Log

Posted: 11 Mar 2021, 03:20
by depletedvespene
E TwentyNine wrote:
11 Mar 2021, 03:17
depletedvespene wrote:
11 Mar 2021, 02:56
As much as I'd love to have an F keyboard in the TKL layout, this kind of work is definitely beyond my skills. So I'll just look at this post and dream...
Take an AT F, do the alt key mod and rearrange the numpad into a SSK navigation keyset, you'll get very close to an SSK on a true F chassis.
Who is to say that ain't currently a work in progress? ;)

Re: IBM FSSK Build Log

Posted: 11 Mar 2021, 09:57
by dcopellino
Very nice reading. My congrats for your perseverance. I am wondering when will there be a second GB round. I am ready here. Who else is with me?

Re: IBM FSSK Build Log

Posted: 11 Mar 2021, 10:21
by Muirium
I've got enough harvested XT flippers and a spare SSK to definitely give this a try. I would like to know, objectively, if the final result is up to front-line keyboard use though. Model Fs are solid in build and response. Thngs lkke stuuuuuuuuuuckkk or mssng kkeys wouuuld drve me nuuuuuuts.
depletedvespene wrote:
11 Mar 2021, 03:20
E TwentyNine wrote:
11 Mar 2021, 03:17
Take an AT F, do the alt key mod and rearrange the numpad into a SSK navigation keyset, you'll get very close to an SSK on a true F chassis.
Who is to say that ain't currently a work in progress? ;)
Image

I did the latter a long time ago. Haven't ever gotten around to the destructive part where you need to drill your way in for those extra keys within the original spacebar.

Thing is: I actually quite like the extra weighty AT spacebar. The size? Hell no! But the weight and stabilisation are both thoroughly AT to me. I'd want to replicate both. That stuff about stabilising its replacement with a couple of washers never seemed to work on my Kishsaver.

Re: IBM FSSK Build Log

Posted: 11 Mar 2021, 11:13
by Muramasa
Really awesome build! I'm in the same boat, I've had my original i$ pcb for many years.. need to get around to building my FSSK

Re: IBM FSSK Build Log

Posted: 11 Mar 2021, 13:17
by E TwentyNine
Muirium wrote:
11 Mar 2021, 10:21
Image

I did the latter a long time ago. Haven't ever gotten around to the destructive part where you need to drill your way in for those extra keys within the original spacebar.
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I like having the gaps around the cursor keys, I tend to rest my hand there. The full numpad just rearranged doesn't work for me.

https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=52 ... msg1160353

Re: IBM FSSK Build Log

Posted: 11 Mar 2021, 13:40
by Muirium
The white on black keys are all pretty boss.

I see that spacebar! How does it feel? And how stabilised is it? Looks like there's a lot of play over on the left. A spot I habitually tease with a thumb when I'm thinking…

Re: IBM FSSK Build Log

Posted: 11 Mar 2021, 16:38
by E TwentyNine
I might have had it mounted outside of the stabilizer tab on that side for the photo or had to bend the wire a bit more after. Those were the first pics after the build. It's solid now, basically M like (which may not be everyone's taste, but an F spacebar is too heavy for my tastes).

I've rearranged the board several times since that pic, moved the tilde key to the fn block on the left, put the Esc next to 1, removed all the F keys on the right, and have F1-F9 (and the ~) on the left, with a +10 layer but I never define anything above F9 anyway.

Re: IBM FSSK Build Log

Posted: 11 Mar 2021, 17:15
by Muirium
Image

I like the stab clips!

Re: IBM FSSK Build Log

Posted: 12 Mar 2021, 20:50
by pyrelink
Muirium wrote:
10 Mar 2021, 23:56
And is it reliable? I heard something about these actually being quite flaky in extended real world use. Which is a shame.

Personally, I go complete monkey-balls when keyboards get glitchy on me. Zero tolerance! They either work or they don't.
Completely rock solid, I am beyond shocked. I started with the original XWhatsit firmware and got it dialed in to the point that once in a blue moon I might have a key not immediately register but it was very rare. I have now switched to the QMK beta firmware, and it is beyond perfect. I have used it every day for work and it has become my "true endgame". If there is ever a second group buy for PCBs I am planning on converting my second SSK. A regular Model M disgusts me now :lol:

I think the firmware has a lot to do with it but for the same reliability reasons you mention, my 4704 F107 has mostly become a cherished paperweight. The key feel is way less consistent than my FSSK and keys repeat or sometimes don't register etc. I wouldn't say that my FSSK feels exactly like my other stock Model F's but if its a barometer, I absolutely cannot stand typing on a Model M, and I adore the FSSK.

The floss mod was very necessary to stop the ping and similarly to the rest of it, floss has held up just fine and left me with no issues.

Out of all the keyboards I have built and used for an extended period of time, this build turned out by far the best. For all the waiting on Lot_Lizard and the Model MF, if that never happens I am now more than satisfied. We definitely need another group buy for PCBs.

Re: IBM FSSK Build Log

Posted: 12 Mar 2021, 21:04
by Muirium
Awe! Some! :D

Re: IBM FSSK Build Log

Posted: 12 Mar 2021, 21:16
by pyrelink
Oh if I did have one criticism - the issue I had with the 'J' key and the screw needing to be removed. The J key works fine, however you do notice the slight difference in key feel when heavily using J for vim. I might investigate fixing that at some point, but that's an issue down to my screw up.