DIY Apple Keyboard Repairs

In this post I will show you how I fixed the keyboard mechanism on an Apple Keyboard with a toothpick and a metal twisty tie. I was pretty surprised when I MacGyver’d together this make-shift solution and it actually worked! But before we dive into the nitty gritty I must give you some context.

Scissor vs. Butterfly

The infamous Butterfly Keyboard Mechanism was introduced by Apple in 2015 in the New 12″ MacBook. Apple claimed many benefits of the new mechanism such as increased comfort and responsiveness as well as being thinner with a lower profile. But once it got into the hands of users the complaints started rolling in, mainly centring around keys getting stuck while typing.

This replaced the Traditional Scissor Mechanism which you will find in older Apple Keyboards. In this tutorial I will be dealing with the Scissor Mechanism and two older models of Apple Keyboards.

ScissorVsButterfly

Scissor Mechanism vs. Butterfly Mechanism. Image Courtesy of Apple Inc.

The Two Keyboards

The two keyboards that I will be dealing with in this discussions are as follows:

Apple Wired Keyboard with Numeric Keypad (Model: A1243)

WiredKeyboard

Apple Wireless Keyboard (Model: A1314)

WirelessKeyboard

If you wish to learn more about Apple Keyboards I suggest you take a look through this Wikipedia Article which gives you a very solid outline.

The Story

I recently purchased a 2nd Hand iMac during the eBay 20% Off Tech Sale and managed to snatch up quite a good deal. I was upgrading my Mid-2009 24″ iMac that had been retrofitted with an SSD for a Late-2013 27″ iMac that came with a Wireless Keyboard and Magic Mouse as well and providing specs that trumped my current setup. It wasn’t the newest and fastest setup but it was a significant step up for a reasonable price.

The 2nd Hand iMac came used from a facility that rents out Macs to University’s and then upgrades them for newer models down the line. Part of my process when I purchase any 2nd Hand Item is to give it a through once over when I get it. This iMac was in very good condition, it just needed a solid clean to remove some stains and make it feel new again. So I went over it with a combo of Isopropyl Alcohol, Shellite and Mineral Turps depending on the toughness of cleaning required. When I was doing a pass on the Wireless Keyboard I must have been a bit too rough and I broke the F10 Key, which provides the Mute On/Off Function, an important key in my opinion. I wanted it fixed but knew nothing about repairing a keyboard key so I dived in, got my hands dirty and learned a few things. This is what I discovered.

Lessons Learnt

The best way to remove a key from an Apple Keyboard is with a Plastic Spudger. You can use an expensive one similar to the iFixit Model or you can find numerous cheaper alternatives on eBay. The Plastic Spudger is good because it’s made from a material that won’t cause damage to the aluminium frame of the keyboard or the actual keys themselves. You can always use a thin jewellers screwdriver but the material, often steel, can dint the aluminium frame and damage the keys.

You basically wedge the Plastic Spudger underneath the key and lift it up. The deeper you get under the key the more leverage you will have the easier it will be to pop off.

Each key is made up of three seperate elements:

  • Keyboard Button

KeyboardButton

  • Scissor Mechanism

KeyboardScissor

  • Keyboard Key

KeyboardKey

The goal when removing a Keyboard Key from the Keyboard is to detach only the Keyboard Key with the Plastic Spudger and leave the Scissor Mechanism fixed in place to the metal lock offs on the Keyboard Button.

Once you have removed a key, these image will let you know if you have done it the Good Way or the Bad Way:

Keyboard Key

KeyboardKeyGoodBad

It’s bad when the Scissor Mechanism comes out stuck into the Keyboard Key.

Keyboard Button

KeyboardButtonGoodBad

It’s good when the Scissor Mechanism stays latched into the metal parts of the Keyboard Button.

Once you have successfully or unsuccessfully removed a Keyboard Key you will be able to examine how the actual keys function and understand how each of the elements interconnect with one another. Hopefully these images help to convey a certain level of understanding before you go pulling apart your own keyboard.

To fit the Keyboard Key back onto the Keyboard you first need to make sure the Scissor Mechanism is fitted in the Keyboard Button. If you removed the key in a good way then this is already fully sorted, if you unfortunately removed the key in a bad way, don’t stress as it’s easily fixed. You can remove the Scissor Mechanism from the Keyboard Key and fit it back into the Keyboard Button.

KeyboardButtonMetalScrewdriver

I found that it was best to use a small flathead jewellers screwdriver to lift the right metal flap on the Keyboard Button up (Green Circle – Above), then you can easily fit the Scissor Mechanism back into place. Use the same jewellers screwdriver to flick the winged notches into their respective metal holes (Blue Circles – Above). Then use the jewellers screwdriver to apply downward pressure to the same metal flap on the right that you lifted earlier, this will ensure it locks back into place. Then all you need to do is line the Keyboard Key back up and apply pressure down as if you were pressing a button. You’ll hear two clicks and this means that the key has been locked into place.

Tools and Materials

All I used for the repair of the Keyboard Mechanism was simple items that you could find around the home. They are both listed and depicted below:

Tools:

  • Needle Nose Pliers
  • Wire Cutting Pliers
  • Thick Pliers
  • Red Pin from QBond Set
  • Bench Vice

Materials:

  • Toothpick
  • Metal Twisty Tie
  • Super Glue

TheTools

Just to give you an idea of how small the Keyboard Mechanism is and how finicky it is to undergo such a repair, please see the image below of the part sitting next to my finger:

FingerWithMechanism

DIY Repair

I have a broken F10 Mute Key on my new Wireless Keyboard and a fully functional Wired Keyboard. Upon inspecting the broken F10 Key I discovered that the problem was a damaged Scissor Mechanism. I tired re-assembling it but it would just flick up on a weird angle and detach from the keyboard. No good.

I decided that I’d be using my newer Wireless Keyboard as my main keyboard when I setup my new 27″ iMac, the older Wired Keyboard would be put into storage as a spare. The Wired Keyboard has a bunch of smaller profile keys that matched my broken F10 Key located up the top that don’t get used, this is the F13 Key through to the F19 Key. I removed the F14 Key on my Wired Keyboard and transplanted the Scissor Mechanism from there to my Wireless Keyboard. I then put the F10 Keyboard Key back into place and the Wireless Keyboard was as good as new.

Now the Wired Keyboard was missing an F14 Button which I don’t use anyway, not a big deal but my mild OCD says otherwise. There has to be a way to fix it. You can purchase replacement Scissor Mechanisms from eBay and I’ve read of a few stories online where you could take it into an Apple Store and they’d most likely replace it for you for free, but I wanted results now. I thought the best way to achieve that was to repair my broken Scissor Mechanism from my Wireless Keyboard and fit it to my Wired Keyboard.

This is how a Good Scissor Mechanism should look, it consists of two parts:

ScissorMechanism

The ‘See-Saw’ and the ‘Winged Frame’, two parts that make up the Scissor Mechanism.

My Scissor Mechanism was broken in the two parts outlined below:

ScissorMechanismBroken

The first repair was to the See-Saw Part of the Scissor Mechanism. One of the notches which acts as a pivot point when it is placed in the Winged Frame was broken. It’s quite a small part but I was positive I could fix at least this part. What I ended up doing was using the Red Pin to poke a hole through the See-Saw where it was broken. Penetrating the plastic by hand wasn’t easy but it wasn’t overly tough. Eventually the pin went all the way through and I had a very tiny hole. I used a toothpick and forced it into the hole. The toothpick tapers in size as you get further from the tip, this meant that it wedged into place nicely. I used my Wire Cutting Pliers to trim any overlap that fell into the See-Saw inner circle which is where the button would sit, I also trimmed my new wooden notch to match the size of it’s counterpart. During this notch trimming process I clipped off a bit of thickness from the toothpick so that it would easily fit into the hole on the Winged Frame.

RepairedScissorMechanism

The second repair was to the Winged Frame Part of the Scissor Mechanism. One of the corner notches had snapped right off and could no longer clip into place on the Keyboard Button. It was snapped in a way that a simple toothpick wouldn’t do the trick as it still wouldn’t line up horizontally. I also had the problem of where do I put a hole to act as a mounting point. I ended up putting the Winged Frame into a Standard Bench Vice and using the Red Pin to poke a hole in the plastic vertically. This took a great deal of force but it worked and I managed to do it without damaging the rest of Winged Frame, having it mounted in a vice played a big part in that. Next I had to find something that I could bend to achieve the stretch and notch solution that was required, it also needed to be thin enough to fit in the little pin hole that I just made. It took a little bit of thinking but I decided metal would be the best material to use. A paperclip was too thick, a thin gauge nail was too thick and then genius struck. I’ll use a Metal Twisty Tie, you get them with almost every new cable that you buy or even sometimes with loaves of bread. I used my Wire Cutting Pliers to strip the┬áMetal Twisty Tie of it’s plastic wrapper, I then put a tiny bit of super glue on the tip and threaded it into my pin sized hole being careful not to go too deep so that it overlaps the inside. I then trimmed the length of the metal and used a combo of my Needle Nose Pliers and Thick Pliers to clasp the metal within the Winged Frame and bend it into shape. I was done, I had successfully repaired a broken Scissor Mechanism with miscellaneous bits and pieces I had laying around the house.

I fitted it back into the Keyboard Button on the Wired Keyboard with no worries at all. I placed the F14 Key back on top, clicked it in and I was 100% good to go. The button works, it feels and looks normal. Repair Successful!

RepairedScissorMechanism02

I’m pretty happy with myself as now I have a fully working Wireless Keyboard and a fully working Wired Keyboard. Though the Wired Keyboard does have a DIY Fix to one of the keys, the key still works, it also looks and feels normal, plus it’s a key that never gets used so it’ll never have any negative impact. It’s a total win on the DIY Front.

There was a bunch of literature online about cleaning your keyboard under the keys but not a lot on what to actually do if you need to undergo a finicky repair like this. While I initially thought a replacement part would be required, I certainly proved myself wrong. I hope this guide helps someone out there who wants to do a cheeky little fix to their broken keyboard keys all while embracing their inner guerrilla repairman!

Please Note: All Photos for this Blog Post were taken on an iPhone 7, the quality is reasonable but I have since purchased a Macro Lens Kit for my DLSR so I’ll be able to provide sharper, higher res images for you in the future. Thanks!

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