Miscellaneous Ramblings

The Compressed Air Keyboard Repair

Charles Moore - 2008.07.24 -Tip Jar

My favorite keyboard (probably ofall time - the only ones that come close are the 'boards in my WallStreet and Pismo G3 PowerBooks and myPowerBook 1400) is the Kensington SlimType(currently US$35.95 at Amazon.com),which I love dearly.

It's definitely the most comfortable and non-fatiguing freestandingcomputer keyboard I've ever used - but it gave me a scare recently whenthe F and W keys stopped responding properly. A keystroke wouldregister only when the key was pressed more firmly than usual, and thesubtle over-center click of the SlimType's scissors keyswitch mechanismwas missing, with the malfunctioning keys feeling "numb" and offeringhigher than normal resistance.

Kensington SlimType for Mac

My initial approach was to attempt taking the keyboard apart to seeif I could identify what was ailing it, but after removing all of thescrews I could find on its bottom panel (many) and prying open theplastic clips around the case periphery, the keyboard still stubbornlyrefused to separate. I was reluctant to apply more pressure, as theplastic already seemed stressed by my efforts to the point ofnear-damage.

Time for plan B, if I could come up with one.

Scissor-switch technologyUpon reflection, I figured that the most likely reason for thekey malfunction was debris fouling the scissors keyswitch mechanism -which partially opening the case had seemed to verify visually. Thereseemed to be a fair bit of dust and crud in there. The marquee featureof the SlimType 'board is its excellent, laptop keyboard type scissorskeyswitch action - very short, low-effort travel and smooth butpositive feedback. Because of the short travel, it wouldn't take muchforeign matter in the wrong place to affect the key function.

This particular 'board has had about three years of intensiveproduction use (indeed, the letters on some of the most frequentlyactuated keys, like the e, are beginning to wear off from use),and I had never previously made any serious attempt to clean below thekeys, which, as I had now discovered, was not that easy to do byconventional, take-apart means.

Since I couldn't get the keyboard to come apart, at least withoutapprehended serious risk of breaking something, I decided to try givingit a shot of compressed air to hopefully dislodge whatever was messingup the key action.

Kensington SlimType for Mac

I started up my old Campbell-Hausfeld air compressor in the garage,which is usually used for automotive related tasks like inflating tiresand powering an air-chisel, but a blower nozzle and a 100 PSI blast ofair proved the charm for my keyboard, causing a cloud of dust anddebris to emerge from the aperture below the keycaps. Whatever had beencausing trouble literally got blown away, and the keyboard was workingperfectly again and has continued to do so.

For folks (presumably many reading this column) without convenientaccess to an air compressor, one of those little aerosol cans ofcompressed air used for cleaning photo equipment might do the trick. LEM


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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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