Having seen some truly amazing steampunk keyboard mods over the years by the likes of Jake von Slatt and Datamancer (rest his soul), I wanted to try my hand at one myself. But I didn’t have access to a machine shop, and I didn’t want to spend the GDP of Canada on tools and materials. The more fashion-oriented, “gluing gears onto stuff” side of the steampunk movement (which, I suppose, is where the “punk” comes from) doesn’t appeal to me. I wanted to make a functional alternate history period piece, and I wanted it to be somewhat unique. So, since all the industrial revolution-y metallic stuff had been done before, I decided to go for a somewhat less euro-centric approach.
Behold! The East India Company Manual Input Console, equally at home in a Polynesian bungalow or Mirror Universe Lord Dalhousie’s office.
East India Co. Manual Input Console
Rattan is a cottage industry in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and diverse other southeast Asian locales and has been used in furniture for centuries. At the height of the Victorian era, wicker and rattan gained popularity across the world due to the success of the Dutch and British East India Companies.
As it turns out, rattan is super easy to work with, even without any special tools. When I stumbled across The Caning Shop not five miles from my apartment, its proprietor, Jim Widess, was kind enough to show me some basic techniques for shaping rattan (with water and a blowtorch) and joining pieces together with binder cane.
This project took way longer than I’d have liked, mostly because I designed as I went along and kept adding stuff. In the end, I’d also learned about leatherworking, DIY copper plating (for the rims of the keys), etching designs into copper sheets with ferric chloride (for the name plate at the top right of the keyboard), 3D printing (for part of the spacebar), and patience. Mostly patience.
Here are some pics of the construction project.
(Yes, I’m aware of the controversy surrounding re-purposing endangered IBM Model M keyboards and antique typewriters. No, I don’t feel guilty; seeing as neither the typewriters nor the keyboard were getting much use, I consider this responsible upcycling.)