Author Topic: Disassembling an Apple Wireless  (Read 18956 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline hemflit

  • Thread Starter
  • Posts: 84
Disassembling an Apple Wireless
« on: Fri, 01 June 2012, 16:25:09 »
The internet would have you believe it's not possible to take the Apple Wireless keyboard apart and put it together again. I've found only two "teardown" guides, and they're not joking about that name - they either break the bottom board into pieces or melt/disfigure it with heat.

Well I've disassembled it in a non-destructive way, and I can tell you how you can do it too.

There aren't any pictures here, because in the early part of the process I wasn't really hopeful it would work, and once it started to look like it would, I got too impatient about pushing on to slow down and take pictures. Just like that time I got Neve Campbell to go out with me. I could take some fake "posed" pictures to illustrate what I did, but given the uselessness of the project I'm not convinced it's worth my trouble.

By uselessness, I mean there's nothing you can fix about the keyboard even when you open it. You could clean it a little bit, but if there's anything wrong with it, it's not going to be due to dirt. You could satisfy your curiosity about what it's like on the inside, but that would be much easier anyway if you just break the thing apart and don't worry about being able to reassemble it. (You are doing this with a broken keyboard, aren't you?)

I can sort of imagine a scenario where you have one keyboard that's had its membrane rot away, and another that's had a buffalo step onto it and twist it out of shape, so you'd move the membrane from the buffalo one to the rotten one, and end up with one good keyboard.


I've done this with the older version of the thing, the one that takes three batteries and has the plastic cover to the side of the back. The newer version, with two batteries, and the plastic cover in the middle of the back, may be a bit different.


From the bottom up, the keyboard is made of these layers:

1. ABS bottom plate.
2. An ocean, nay, a galaxy of horrible sticky glue. You would not believe, looking at the thing's external size, just how much glue can fit in there.
3. Thin steel plate.
4. The switch membrane / flexible PCB. I think you could call it a "printed circuit membrane". It's actually made of three sublayers, but nothing good would come from taking them apart.
5. Rubber domes installed on some thin, flexible, non-elastic plastic sheet.
6. Upper aluminium case.

Keycaps of course go through holes in layer 6, and the scissor mechanisms between keycaps and layer 5. The lower hinges of the scissors go through holes in layers 5 and 4, latch on behind shaped protrusions of the steel plate, and end up touching the glue layer.


1. Weaken the glue

The glue is your biggest obstacle. Not knowing entirely what to expect inside, I've actually done it without this step, but that took time and luck, so if I did it again, this is what I'd do first.

Some dude on the internet figured freezing the keybaord would make the glue brittle. It doesn't, don't bother, I tried that with pieces of the glue after opening, and it just makes it thicker.

Heating it up would definitely soften it, but you don't want to deform that ABS plate, so I doubt you can do much. Maybe using a hair drier (as opposed to a heat gun) would help a little bit.

What should work best is that miracle household chemical, isopropanol, a.k.a. isopropyl alcohol, a.k.a. acetone's little brother. You can buy it in pharmacies or hobby/paint shops; it doesn't dissolve most solid plastics, but it dissolves many glues and similar stuff; it's good for cleaning many kinds of electronics and tools in general, and it evaporates very cleanly.

You want to drown the keyboard in that stuff.

Is this going to mess up some internal parts? Having rubbed them all clean with the stuff and still working afterwards, I'm pretty sure it won't. But of course, I haven't actually drowned this keyboard in isopropanol, so what can I say. I'd do it.

It would be best to put the keyboard on the edge of some support, so its main part is horizontal. Then remove a few keycaps in different areas, and pour the alcohol in so it seeps through the visible holes in layers 3-5. Leave it so for maybe an hour or two (I'm not sure), checking occasionally that it's really flush, and pouring more if needed.


2. Open the backplate.

Being an owner of an Apple product, I assume you have a box full of thin, hard bits of plastic, like guitar picks, old credit cards, and specialty iPod-opening probes. Try to do this with one of those, but if the glue proves too strong, use a screwdriver (like I did in the end) and hope it doesn't mark the plastic visibly. The thinner and broader the screwdriver, the better.

You need to pry the backplate away from the aluminium in only one spot. The strength of the glue is not uniform, so if you're having trouble in one place, keep trying along the edges.

Once you've done this, slip one of those thin plastic tools into the crack, and make sure it stays there. This is your foot in the door, the hardest part is over.

Now you can stick in some rougher tools to separate the backplate from the steel plate. I've used three cutlery knives next to each other; the ideal tool would probably be a spackle knife (q.v.) - the idea is that it needs to be thin enough that pushing it under the backplate won't deform it enough to damage it, but it needs to be strong enough to cut through the glue and lever the backplate off.

Don't worry too much about damaging something on the inside at this time. As long as you're not going crazy stabby, or using some wicked fantasy knives, it's not likely you'll end up touching anything other than steel and glue.

Once you've cut through the glue in enough places and have something between the two plates, pry them apart slowly. If it's too hard, stick more knives/tools inside.


3. Clean away the glue.

You don't need to remove every last speck of it, but you won't be able to work with the steel plate if most of it is gummed up.

I've found a rough rag pretty good for scraping away the alcohol-soaked glue. You'll probably end up with the glue forever tangled into the rag, so plan for that. If the glue starts drying up, you can re-soak it by leaving the keyboard upside-down for a few minutes, with one of those kitchen paper towels (or I don't know, toilet paper, paper napkins, something) drenched in isopropanol, laid over the steel plate, and then with the backplate placed over it (to slow down evaporation).

When you're scrubbing away the glue, don't be an idiot and do it on a hard rough surface like concrete, because you'll end up scratching the shiny top side of your pretty little Apple gadget. (Ask me how I know this.) Put it on a wooden board or linoleum floor or something.


The remaining three steps can be done in any order. Essentially it will depend on how far you want to go with this and what seems easiest to you as the next thing to try.


4. Remove the keys.

I've found that, with access to the steel plate, it's very easy to detach the keycaps and scissor mechanisms together, at least for the normal-sized keys. One of the scissor hinges will have its middle part exposed from below. Use one of those plastic tools, or an appropriate screwdriver, to push it off so it slips off the steel protrusion that holds it. After this, the other hinge will easily come off, often with just a quick shake. You could pop off a bunch of those hinges at a time, then shake or pluck off all the keys. The keycaps and scissors stay together, which will also make it easier to put them back in later.

The smaller keys (arrows, function row) are also easy, you'll figure it out.

The bigger keys are harder, and I've managed to damage a couple of them trying the same approach, so for them I'd recommend that you take off the caps first, and then work out how to remove the scissors separately.


5. Unfasten the steel plate.

It has about a dozen screws you'll want to remove. They're small enough to inhale, so mind where you're keeping them.

Then it has a bunch of bolts. Actually I'm not sure bolt is the right word. Bits of metal welded through the steel plate and into the aluminum one. These are really tedious to get out.

I first drilled a few of them into oblivion with a tiny finger-powered drill, but this was really slow and tiring. Then the next day I took them to a proper drill press (that luckily could hold my tiny drill bits) and destroyed the rest of the bolts essentially the same way.

Of course, once you've done this, there are no more bolts there. So when you're reassembling the keyboard, you'll need something else to hold the two metal plates together. Epoxy is my idea, but you're welcome to come up with something else. If you're a perfectionist, you might just get more screws. Maybe it would even hold up without anything.


6. Detach the membrane from the logic board.

The logic board has a plastic covering on the back of the keyboard (because you can't bluetooth from inside a metal tube). Squeeze the sides of the covering a bit, wedge one of those guitar picks between it and the case, and work those little tabs free so they don't break.

Don't take out the logic board, it's finicky and unnecessary. If you need to wiggle the board a little when reversing this step, you can remove its screw, but that should be about it.

You'll see one tentacle of the membrane acting as a ribbon cable, bending around the back of the board, then going through a slit in the antenna board, and ending inside a small rectangular ZIF connector.

This connector has a lever that you need to pry up so you can free the "ribbon" and pull it out without damaging it. It's not difficult, but you do need to be gentle about it, and use something with a broad tip. These connectors are not made for casual plugging and unplugging, and it's easy to break them if you're rough, or if you try to push them open at only one point.

In my keyboard there was a pigtail connecting the antenna to the logic board, and it lay straight across the ZIF connector, which was inconvenient. If you have the same thing, still try to unlock the ZIF connector without unplugging the antenna. Those antenna connectors are real little primadonnas too, and you can only replug them a few times before they break.

Once unlocked, gently pull the ribbon out of its connector, in a parallel way if you know what I mean (left and right side equally). You might want to use the shaft of a thin screwdriver for this (or a toothpick).


That's it. You've got all layers separated now. And you can put it back together. Woot.


I know exactly what you're thinking now: Are the keyboard's guts interchangeable with those of a Mac laptop? That's what you were thinking, right?

Answer: Not really. I've tried with a MacBook Pro, and of course physically the keys fit the top mask, but the membrane connector is on a different side and has a different number of pins. With some electronics-fu you could probably figure out a way to make it work, but it's not going to be a drop-in replacement.

Offline SmallFry

  • ** Moderator Emeritus
  • Posts: 3887
  • Location: Wisconsin, USA
  • Leaving 6/15; returning 6/22 or so.
Disassembling an Apple Wireless
« Reply #1 on: Fri, 01 June 2012, 18:00:05 »
Pics! This actually sounds somewhat promising, unlike other guides I've read.

Offline 9-bit

  • Posts: 67
  • Looking for blank white keycaps
Re: Disassembling an Apple Wireless
« Reply #2 on: Fri, 20 July 2012, 21:43:47 »
You need to add some pics with that wall of text for illiterates like me xD

Offline Wildcard

  • * Esteemed Elder
  • Posts: 1046
  • Location: Fields of Columbia
  • When caffeine isn't enough
Re: Disassembling an Apple Wireless
« Reply #3 on: Mon, 23 July 2012, 00:32:55 »
I own about 6 apple wireless keyboards as I bought a lot on ebay with about a dozen "broken" boards. Some key's wouldn't register, wouldn't connect, etc.. After some careful examination I also found the same method to take out the controllers and found that some of the bad boards just needed new controllers or the zif connector and the ribbon reseated. I wasn't able to get the actual board apart under the keys, so kudos for finding a method to seperate these. Sounds messy ;)

Also, there have been several revisions of the Apple wireless keyboards. Mainly between those with 3AAA and 2AA. I have a box of parts, so I'll have to post a few photos as well sometime of the differences. BTW that silver power button is pretty awesome.

Offline touchtype

  • Posts: 21
Re: Disassembling an Apple Wireless
« Reply #4 on: Mon, 23 July 2012, 12:42:40 »
I tried taking one apart one time and it did not go well

Offline Brendan

  • Posts: 92
  • Location: Markham, Ontario, Canadeh
Re: Disassembling an Apple Wireless
« Reply #5 on: Thu, 26 July 2012, 21:57:31 »
The internet would have you believe it's not possible to take the Apple Wireless keyboard apart and put it together again. I've found only two "teardown" guides, and they're not joking about that name - they either break the bottom board into pieces or melt/disfigure it with heat.

Well I've disassembled it in a non-destructive way, and I can tell you how you can do it too.

There aren't any pictures here, because in the early part of the process I wasn't really hopeful it would work, and once it started to look like it would, I got too impatient about pushing on to slow down and take pictures. Just like that time I got Neve Campbell to go out with me. I could take some fake "posed" pictures to illustrate what I did, but given the uselessness of the project I'm not convinced it's worth my trouble.

By uselessness, I mean there's nothing you can fix about the keyboard even when you open it. You could clean it a little bit, but if there's anything wrong with it, it's not going to be due to dirt. You could satisfy your curiosity about what it's like on the inside, but that would be much easier anyway if you just break the thing apart and don't worry about being able to reassemble it. (You are doing this with a broken keyboard, aren't you?)

I can sort of imagine a scenario where you have one keyboard that's had its membrane rot away, and another that's had a buffalo step onto it and twist it out of shape, so you'd move the membrane from the buffalo one to the rotten one, and end up with one good keyboard.


I've done this with the older version of the thing, the one that takes three batteries and has the plastic cover to the side of the back. The newer version, with two batteries, and the plastic cover in the middle of the back, may be a bit different.


From the bottom up, the keyboard is made of these layers:

1. ABS bottom plate.
2. An ocean, nay, a galaxy of horrible sticky glue. You would not believe, looking at the thing's external size, just how much glue can fit in there.
3. Thin steel plate.
4. The switch membrane / flexible PCB. I think you could call it a "printed circuit membrane". It's actually made of three sublayers, but nothing good would come from taking them apart.
5. Rubber domes installed on some thin, flexible, non-elastic plastic sheet.
6. Upper aluminium case.

Keycaps of course go through holes in layer 6, and the scissor mechanisms between keycaps and layer 5. The lower hinges of the scissors go through holes in layers 5 and 4, latch on behind shaped protrusions of the steel plate, and end up touching the glue layer.


1. Weaken the glue

The glue is your biggest obstacle. Not knowing entirely what to expect inside, I've actually done it without this step, but that took time and luck, so if I did it again, this is what I'd do first.

Some dude on the internet figured freezing the keybaord would make the glue brittle. It doesn't, don't bother, I tried that with pieces of the glue after opening, and it just makes it thicker.

Heating it up would definitely soften it, but you don't want to deform that ABS plate, so I doubt you can do much. Maybe using a hair drier (as opposed to a heat gun) would help a little bit.

What should work best is that miracle household chemical, isopropanol, a.k.a. isopropyl alcohol, a.k.a. acetone's little brother. You can buy it in pharmacies or hobby/paint shops; it doesn't dissolve most solid plastics, but it dissolves many glues and similar stuff; it's good for cleaning many kinds of electronics and tools in general, and it evaporates very cleanly.

You want to drown the keyboard in that stuff.

Is this going to mess up some internal parts? Having rubbed them all clean with the stuff and still working afterwards, I'm pretty sure it won't. But of course, I haven't actually drowned this keyboard in isopropanol, so what can I say. I'd do it.

It would be best to put the keyboard on the edge of some support, so its main part is horizontal. Then remove a few keycaps in different areas, and pour the alcohol in so it seeps through the visible holes in layers 3-5. Leave it so for maybe an hour or two (I'm not sure), checking occasionally that it's really flush, and pouring more if needed.


2. Open the backplate.

Being an owner of an Apple product, I assume you have a box full of thin, hard bits of plastic, like guitar picks, old credit cards, and specialty iPod-opening probes. Try to do this with one of those, but if the glue proves too strong, use a screwdriver (like I did in the end) and hope it doesn't mark the plastic visibly. The thinner and broader the screwdriver, the better.

You need to pry the backplate away from the aluminium in only one spot. The strength of the glue is not uniform, so if you're having trouble in one place, keep trying along the edges.

Once you've done this, slip one of those thin plastic tools into the crack, and make sure it stays there. This is your foot in the door, the hardest part is over.

Now you can stick in some rougher tools to separate the backplate from the steel plate. I've used three cutlery knives next to each other; the ideal tool would probably be a spackle knife (q.v.) - the idea is that it needs to be thin enough that pushing it under the backplate won't deform it enough to damage it, but it needs to be strong enough to cut through the glue and lever the backplate off.

Don't worry too much about damaging something on the inside at this time. As long as you're not going crazy stabby, or using some wicked fantasy knives, it's not likely you'll end up touching anything other than steel and glue.

Once you've cut through the glue in enough places and have something between the two plates, pry them apart slowly. If it's too hard, stick more knives/tools inside.


3. Clean away the glue.

You don't need to remove every last speck of it, but you won't be able to work with the steel plate if most of it is gummed up.

I've found a rough rag pretty good for scraping away the alcohol-soaked glue. You'll probably end up with the glue forever tangled into the rag, so plan for that. If the glue starts drying up, you can re-soak it by leaving the keyboard upside-down for a few minutes, with one of those kitchen paper towels (or I don't know, toilet paper, paper napkins, something) drenched in isopropanol, laid over the steel plate, and then with the backplate placed over it (to slow down evaporation).

When you're scrubbing away the glue, don't be an idiot and do it on a hard rough surface like concrete, because you'll end up scratching the shiny top side of your pretty little Apple gadget. (Ask me how I know this.) Put it on a wooden board or linoleum floor or something.


The remaining three steps can be done in any order. Essentially it will depend on how far you want to go with this and what seems easiest to you as the next thing to try.


4. Remove the keys.

I've found that, with access to the steel plate, it's very easy to detach the keycaps and scissor mechanisms together, at least for the normal-sized keys. One of the scissor hinges will have its middle part exposed from below. Use one of those plastic tools, or an appropriate screwdriver, to push it off so it slips off the steel protrusion that holds it. After this, the other hinge will easily come off, often with just a quick shake. You could pop off a bunch of those hinges at a time, then shake or pluck off all the keys. The keycaps and scissors stay together, which will also make it easier to put them back in later.

The smaller keys (arrows, function row) are also easy, you'll figure it out.

The bigger keys are harder, and I've managed to damage a couple of them trying the same approach, so for them I'd recommend that you take off the caps first, and then work out how to remove the scissors separately.


5. Unfasten the steel plate.

It has about a dozen screws you'll want to remove. They're small enough to inhale, so mind where you're keeping them.

Then it has a bunch of bolts. Actually I'm not sure bolt is the right word. Bits of metal welded through the steel plate and into the aluminum one. These are really tedious to get out.

I first drilled a few of them into oblivion with a tiny finger-powered drill, but this was really slow and tiring. Then the next day I took them to a proper drill press (that luckily could hold my tiny drill bits) and destroyed the rest of the bolts essentially the same way.

Of course, once you've done this, there are no more bolts there. So when you're reassembling the keyboard, you'll need something else to hold the two metal plates together. Epoxy is my idea, but you're welcome to come up with something else. If you're a perfectionist, you might just get more screws. Maybe it would even hold up without anything.


6. Detach the membrane from the logic board.

The logic board has a plastic covering on the back of the keyboard (because you can't bluetooth from inside a metal tube). Squeeze the sides of the covering a bit, wedge one of those guitar picks between it and the case, and work those little tabs free so they don't break.

Don't take out the logic board, it's finicky and unnecessary. If you need to wiggle the board a little when reversing this step, you can remove its screw, but that should be about it.

You'll see one tentacle of the membrane acting as a ribbon cable, bending around the back of the board, then going through a slit in the antenna board, and ending inside a small rectangular ZIF connector.

This connector has a lever that you need to pry up so you can free the "ribbon" and pull it out without damaging it. It's not difficult, but you do need to be gentle about it, and use something with a broad tip. These connectors are not made for casual plugging and unplugging, and it's easy to break them if you're rough, or if you try to push them open at only one point.

In my keyboard there was a pigtail connecting the antenna to the logic board, and it lay straight across the ZIF connector, which was inconvenient. If you have the same thing, still try to unlock the ZIF connector without unplugging the antenna. Those antenna connectors are real little primadonnas too, and you can only replug them a few times before they break.

Once unlocked, gently pull the ribbon out of its connector, in a parallel way if you know what I mean (left and right side equally). You might want to use the shaft of a thin screwdriver for this (or a toothpick).


That's it. You've got all layers separated now. And you can put it back together. Woot.


I know exactly what you're thinking now: Are the keyboard's guts interchangeable with those of a Mac laptop? That's what you were thinking, right?

Answer: Not really. I've tried with a MacBook Pro, and of course physically the keys fit the top mask, but the membrane connector is on a different side and has a different number of pins. With some electronics-fu you could probably figure out a way to make it work, but it's not going to be a drop-in replacement.

I have tried replacing the white keys with the black unibody MBP keys. I bought 3 different sets but the stupid egay sellers wouldn't guarantee the revisions, because only one revision will fit correctly and line up with the membrane of the BT keyboard.

Offline Wildcard

  • * Esteemed Elder
  • Posts: 1046
  • Location: Fields of Columbia
  • When caffeine isn't enough
Re: Disassembling an Apple Wireless
« Reply #6 on: Fri, 27 July 2012, 00:02:41 »
I have tried replacing the white keys with the black unibody MBP keys. I bought 3 different sets but the stupid egay sellers wouldn't guarantee the revisions, because only one revision will fit correctly and line up with the membrane of the BT keyboard.

Interesting. I ended up just using some cheap silicon covers for my boards. I use clear tape to keep them on at the top and can flip them over if they get annoying.

Offline Zykos

  • Posts: 40
Re: Disassembling an Apple Wireless
« Reply #7 on: Sat, 28 July 2012, 18:05:29 »
Pictures please. It would help many people understand better.