My Blue Label IBM Model M SSK

The Search

Back in 2014 I was pretty new to the world of mechanical keyboards. I was reintroduced to the king of all keyboards, the IBM Model M. I remember typing on them just over a decade ago since “computer rooms” when I was in college still had them. I was able to acquire a Model M via Unicomp but I wasn’t satisfied since there is still the SSK to be had. I got so worked up over the IBM Model M Space Saving Keyboard (SSK). So much so that I scour every online forums and every corner of eBay and Taobao to get a great deal on the SSK. The original Model M’s are pretty expensive costing around $50 to $200 (USD) depending on the condition and the SSK is so much more so. A decent one, as I remember back in 2014 costs a minimum of $150 depending on the condition. Most are from the US so shipping this bulky keyboard can be pretty expensive. The listings I found back then can set me back around $300 to $400.

I got a lucky break when I was lurking in the geekhack forums. An enthusiast from Perth, Australia was selling his haul of Model M keyboards. He was selling 8.5/10 condition SSKs at reasonable prices! By the time I got in touch with the seller all the SSKs are already reserved for geekhack members but he talked to one of them so he can give me one.

We agreed on the price, I got him my shipping address and the package was shipped in a few days. He told me I just needed to wait a couple of weeks. I knew better. I’ve been buying online or overseas for quite a while by this time and I know by experience that two weeks is the bare minimum.

The Wait

Baby Blue (yes, I named my keyboard) was shipped on the morning of March 5th 2014. I learned to be patient when waiting for packages from abroad. USPS mail takes two to four weeks to arrive. I’m hoping Australian packages would arrive sooner since they are pretty close.

By the fourth week I started asking the local post office to be on a lookout for a large package coming from Australia addressed to me. I’m beginning to feel anxious about it so I asked the seller what the package looks like to I can relay the information to the post office. He sent me this picture:

What she looked like when she shipped.

Whew! Seller is legit. Now I just have to keep my fingers crossed and hope the package arrive soon.

She finally arrived safe and sound on the 24th of April 2014. It only took nearly two months.

When she finally arrives.

I stashed what was then my daily driver, an HHKB Pro 2, and replaced it with Baby Blue. It’s quite a leap from the previous buttery smooth button presses of the HHKB to the loud and vulgar clicks of the Model M. Just a year ago before this, I was using a full sized Unicomp Model M. Typing on a relatively compact M is still quite an experience.

Because I regularly lurk in r/MechanicalKeyboards, every now and then I get taunted by the idea of bolt modding my precious SSK. And every time I dismiss that idea by telling myself that the keyboard lasted 22 years I don’t think a bolt mod would be necessary. I did notice that when I shake the keyboard something rattles inside. I’ve read enough about the model M to know that these are broken rivets. The plastic stuff that holds the keyboard’s assembly together. It is considered the weakest part of the M. I’ve decided to open her up to see who bad it is. Towards this goal I searched for a 6mm socket driver. If I ever find one I’ll open her up. If not I let her be.

For stuff like the 6mm socket driver I usually go to eBay. I purchased one on eBay. After a month of waiting it didn’t arrive so I asked for a refund. I started to think I’m not meant to open her up. One day while looking a round Ace Hardware I found it—a 6mm socket driver.

The 6mm socket driver I’ve been using to open Baby Blue.

This is a long and very depressing story of my first bolt modding attempt. Instead of repeating the story here I’ll just link the Reddit and Imgur post I made about it:

The instructions I followed for my first modding attempt put the washer and bolt under the metal plate. This results in a noticeable crack where the shell of the keyboard meets because there aren’t enough space for the washer and bolt in between the bottom shell and the metal plate. Being a little obsessive compulsive I asked about this in r/MechanicalKeyboards and I’m told of another method of bolt modding which uses M2×8 flat head Torx countersunk screws that goes under the metal plate. This fixes the issue of the bolt mod crack.

I went on ahead with the modification which just involves replacing the screws. When I put everything back and tested they keyboards some keys aren’t working again. Apparently the fix I did for the damaged conductive traces didn’t hold.

Around this time my interest in mechanical keyboards waned having acquired my end game keyboards. I just whipped out my trusty HHKB Pro 2 and used it as my daily driver and my SSK goes to storage.

It will take two years before I muster the resolve to fix my SSK. In the first bolt modding attempt I used a relatively cheap copper tape whose adhesive side isn’t even conductive. I just used a hackish method to make it work which unfortunately didn’t hold for long. A couple of years later I stumbled upon a 3M™ branded fabric tape with electrically conductive pressure-sensitive acrylic adhesive. I ordered the sheet and waited for it to arrive.

As soon as the conductive fabric sheet arrived. I went ahead and opened up the keyboard to fix the damaged conductive traces. Before I closed up the whole thing I tested the keyboard to see if the problem keys are working. They were. Unfortunately, when everything is said and done a number of keys are still not working. Disheartened, I shelved the keyboard again.

Months later an internet stranger contacted me about my SSK. He told me about his interest in buying my SSK. I told him about the current status of the keyboard and its modification and I told him that I’ll think about it. And think about it I did. I took these pictures with the intention of showing the buyer what the keyboard looked like. Having opened up the keyboard again and thinking about how much time, effort and money I spent on this keyboard, I’d rather keep it as it is or better yet—fix it.

I asked my SO to help me in this endeavor. In my previous attempt, I cut the 3M™ sheet into thin and straight pieces and just used the same method as previous attempt to shape the cut conductive sheet into the shape of the conductive traces. In this attempt I recruited the help of my SO to cut the sheets to the shape of the conductive traces. I tested and retested the conductivity of the conductive traces before putting everything back together. True to the spirit of most of my DIY attempts there were still a number of hiccups that my SO and I had fix before I finally got the keyboard to work 100% and to my satisfaction.

She’s performing perfectly now. In fact, I’ve been using her to type this blog post from the second heading.

Baby Blue sitting on my desk.

Never attempt and Model M bolt mod unless you have proper tools and enough experience with it or at least have enough patience and perseverance like I do. Am I happy I completed my mission? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes. Would you do it all over again? Hell no.

Oh, and here is a typing test.

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