A while back, I read Keyboards are not a detail! and filed it away. I had always been curious about some peoples’ fascination with IBM Model M’s, and the tactile feedback provided by the buckling spring mechanism seemed like a plausible reason.
All of a sudden, in 2014, I wanted to get a mechanical keyboard. There were the usual options:
I decided on getting a Unicomp, though. It’s pretty cheap compared to a lot of the other options, and I was curious about how good a buckling spring keyboard actually is.
It was a great year and a half. The keyboard was truly a pleasure to type on. I don’t typically “bottom out” very hard when typing, so the Unicomp was great.
And then I put it in a bag. That’s basically all it took to render the keyboard inoperable. About half the keys just stopped working. I filed a support ticket with Unicomp and they basically said, “Yeah - it’s an issue we know about. It’ll cost $X if you send it to use for repair.”
And that was how I learned about the “bolt mod”.
The thing to understand about the IBM Model M and the Unicomp Keyboards is that the keyboard forms a sandwich. On the bottom is a steel plate, in the middle in a membrane and on the top is a plastic sheet that contains the barrels for the keys. The top and bottom layer are secured to each other with pretty delicate plastic rivets. If these rivets break, as they are wont to do, they keyboard becomes inoperable.
The “bolt mod” is to completely take apart the keyboard, cut the heads off the remaining rivets with and chisel, drill out the stems of the rivets and replace each with a bolt and nut. Apparently this is what it takes to make a reliable buckling spring keyboard.
I was not impressed. I certainly wasn’t about to give any more money to Unicomp.
I tried to use my Kinesis Advantage, but after a month of trying, it just wasn’t sticking. I’m back to an ancient Microsoft Natural keyboard I’ve got that’s so old it’s got a PS2 port on it. The feeling is awful. I have to pound on the keys to type and there’s no feedback except the key physically stopping. But at least it works.
This is all a long, rambling way of saying: The hype is true, bucking spring keyboards are awesome. And I wouldn’t recommend you get one. At least not from Unicomp.