My Magicforce 68 rebuild

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13 Jan 2019, 22:51

I have a dinky Magicforce 68 keyboard, which I bought when it was first announced simply because I liked its keyboard layout (I still do). It also has a nice metal top plate. However, every other aspect of the keyboard turned out to be terrible: the keycaps are shite, some of the switches (I went with the Gateron Blue option) lost their clickiness, and finally the controller died, leaving the keyboard 100% dead.

At the moment I need a semi-decent keyboard to use at work, and I want to rebuild this MagicForce into something better as cheaply as possible. I'm going to reuse the existing case and the top plate, but pretty much everything else has to go.

For this project, I settled on the following components:

- MF68 PCB
- a cheap Pro Micro controller
- Kailh Pro Burgundy switches (mostly because I got a bag of these for free; they also seem to be pretty quiet which is important for an overcrowded office)
- QMK/TMK firmware customised for MF68 by

Not decided upon yet: keycaps (I'd like something PBT and inexpensive).

To be continued when all the components I need for the build arrive.

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13 Jan 2019, 23:56

You ANSI or ISO with this board? Because I have a nice full size white blank Ducky set of OEM profiled PBT caps, 1.25u mods, including PBT spacebar, if you’d find them useful. The only problem being they’re ISO. That’s kept them off my own boards for years. Here they are on a NovaTouch:


Must admit I had to search for images of a Magicforce 68 to know what layout it has! These would fit, with the caveat of ISO.

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14 Jan 2019, 09:03

Thanks for the offer, Mu, it’s really appreciated! Alas, my keyboard is ANSI.

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26 Jan 2019, 00:07

I now have all the components I need to rebuild the keyboard, but I just realised I don't have any desoldering tools (which I need to remove the old switches and PCB). So it will have to wait until my new desoldering pump arrives from the UK :-)

(I used to have a small desoldering gun but I had to give it up when I moved to Ireland.)

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13 Apr 2019, 22:48

I finally made it happen today.

The old stuff, disassembled. I used a cheap desoldering iron from CPC Farnell and it worked surprisingly well, it took me about 20 minutes to desolder all 68 switches.
cMF68_1.jpg (1.19 MiB) Viewed 1887 times
New stuff: MF68 PCB, Kailh Pro Burgundy switches, a Chinese Pro Micro (and pin headers), diodes, keycaps.
cMF68_2.jpg (1.16 MiB) Viewed 1887 times
The diodes are in (this was probably the most tedious part of the process).
cMF68_3.jpg (1.17 MiB) Viewed 1887 times
The microcontroller and the push-button are in.
cMF68_4.jpg (876.38 KiB) Viewed 1887 times
The new switches are in (I cleaned the plate before installing the switches).
cMF68_5.jpg (401.51 KiB) Viewed 1887 times
Almost done with the soldering. (Later I discovered that I forgot to solder a couple of switches... oh well.)
cMF68_6.jpg (603.79 KiB) Viewed 1887 times
Flashing the firmware. For some reason, cloning QMK from Github took more than 2 hours.
cMF68_7.jpg (703.8 KiB) Viewed 1887 times
Preparing for the final assembly (or so I thought). A piece of thin craft foam is there to reduce the amount of noise the keyboard makes. The pigtail is made from a cut-up microUSB cable. This particular cable turned out to be very annoying because all four wires inside the sheath were the same color :twisted:
cMF68_8.jpg (405.01 KiB) Viewed 1887 times
Final result:
cMF68_9.jpg (482.2 KiB) Viewed 1887 times
The whole process was much faster and quite a bit less painful than I anticipated. I am now thinking about building a split ergonomic keyboard before the end of the year...

The keycaps are KP Republic Irish (PBT, dye-subbed). They are actually quite nice despite their very low price (I got them for about 18 euros I think).

Pleasantly surprised with the switches as well, they're noticeably quieter than Cherry Red/Brown/Black. Very smooth. I've read that they're not the best in terms of lateral stability, but they have about the same amount of wobble as my Filco with Cherry MX Brown.

The only problem is that I don't know what to do with this keyboard, I wanted to use it in the office but in the meantime I tendered my resignation :-) I still have 2 weeks left, but it just isn't worth it to bring it into the office for just 2 weeks.

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17 Apr 2019, 01:26

Just three days in, the keyboard stopped working. I opened it up and discovered that the very stiff cable I used to make the pigtail... simply sheared the micro USB port off the Pro Micro. Now I understand why people complain about the goddamn port all the time. :evil: I managed to solder it back on with a heat gun and a pair of tweezers, and it even works (!), but I will need to get a softer cable to make a new pigtail.

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19 Apr 2019, 12:46

Good read, thanks for sharing. I'll always have a soft spot for the MF68. I keep one in my office to swap out with my weird keyboard in case someone needs to use my desk.

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20 Apr 2019, 12:53

Yes, it's a surprisingly decent little keyboard, I think the layout is the perfect compromise between size and utility. Typing this right now on my rebuilt MF68 and it feels and sounds excellent.

The only huge mistake I made is that I completely forgot to lube the stabilisers on Shift/Enter/Backspace before soldering the keyboard together. Now I have a keyboard with a quiet space bar (because I actually lubed its stabiliser) and horrible rattly Enter/Backspace keys :-)

Overall this project has been a great therapeutic experience, I think I'm now going to build a couple of Quefrency keyboards for myself and for my wife.

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25 Apr 2019, 16:30

One final note: I should have put a heavier switch (something like MX Black) under the space bar, right now I can trigger it just with the weight of my thumb and it's not always convenient.

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