Author Topic: The Divine Tragedy of Keycap Production  (Read 5400 times)

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Offline 3K

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The Divine Tragedy of Keycap Production
« on: Sun, 19 July 2015, 10:56:00 »
Over the last days I read tutorials and advices about keycap making, written by other GH users (mostly Binge  :thumb:), and general molding etc. and tried it out myself.

I used mostly stuff I already had laying arround at home - some shaping clay and lead.

The outcome was rather... modest...  :-X

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...and got worse when trying to add stems for switch mounting.

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[mold wasn't dry enough/ lead not hot enough]

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(mold leaked and broke when extracting the object


The next thing I'll do is getting something to create better negatives.

Thread will be updated - I might have lost this round, but this fight ain't over :D

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Offline sethk_

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Re: The Divine Tragedy of Keycap Production
« Reply #1 on: Sun, 19 July 2015, 14:15:41 »
This is pretty neat, I haven't seen pictures of someone molding with metal yet. Did you use clay for the molds? If you did, did you fire it in a kiln it just wait for it to air dry?

Offline 3K

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Re: The Divine Tragedy of Keycap Production
« Reply #2 on: Sun, 19 July 2015, 14:46:15 »
This is pretty neat, I haven't seen pictures of someone molding with metal yet. Did you use clay for the molds? If you did, did you fire it in a kiln it just wait for it to air dry?

This is why I chose to use metal! It's something (relatively) new. Also it is easier to handle in my opinion.

Yes, I used clay for the molds. Nothing too fancy, air drying (it doesn't require heat to dry, but this also makes it brittle under certain conditions). I bought it to practice molding, but it works for simple casts too.

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Offline HoffmanMyster

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Re: The Divine Tragedy of Keycap Production
« Reply #3 on: Sun, 19 July 2015, 14:51:05 »
Cool!  :)  I don't know much about this to offer any advice, but I do know that nubbinator has cast with metal before.  He also experimented with adding plastic stems to the metal caps.


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Offline nubbinator

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Re: The Divine Tragedy of Keycap Production
« Reply #4 on: Sun, 19 July 2015, 15:03:34 »
This is pretty neat, I haven't seen pictures of someone molding with metal yet. Did you use clay for the molds? If you did, did you fire it in a kiln it just wait for it to air dry?

Scarface has, GirlDC has, I've played around with it with zinc, I'm sure there's another one or two that have done it or tried.

OPs molds look unusable for metal casting caps, at least ones that will have a metal stem.  The casting I did was sand casting which doesn't have the fidelity to make stems.  If you want metal stems by casting, you have to do investment/lost wax casting.  That requires more expensive tools, a lot of knowledge, and a lot of trial and error as you work with the spin caster or vacuum caster.
« Last Edit: Sun, 19 July 2015, 15:08:40 by nubbinator »

Offline 3K

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Re: The Divine Tragedy of Keycap Production
« Reply #5 on: Tue, 21 July 2015, 13:19:32 »
OPs molds look unusable for metal casting caps, at least ones that will have a metal stem.  The casting I did was sand casting which doesn't have the fidelity to make stems.  If you want metal stems by casting, you have to do investment/lost wax casting.  That requires more expensive tools, a lot of knowledge, and a lot of trial and error as you work with the spin caster or vacuum caster.

After reading your post I built more molds for stems only, and appearantly you are absolutely right. I am not sure if it doesn't work because of the molds architecture or the lead, that just won't do what I want.

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I'll switch to silicone now for molding. If the lead still resists I'll try solder with flux.
« Last Edit: Tue, 21 July 2015, 13:21:24 by 3K »

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Offline BlueNalgene

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Re: The Divine Tragedy of Keycap Production
« Reply #6 on: Tue, 21 July 2015, 13:35:50 »
I mean this in the best way possible:  I love watching your failures.  I encourage you to keep failing until you fail to fail.  Thanks for posting pics of your less than perfect attempts, they have value for determining faults in future attempts by others.

Have you tried heating the mold while pouring?  Metal cools rapidly due to the high thermal conductivity, and when the just-boiling lead hits the relatively cooler walls of the clay mold, it will harden there instead of continuing to flow.

The clay mold needs some work too.  If you want to keep doing metals, you might pick up some Plaster of Paris and trying a wax loss mold.

Offline 3K

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Re: The Divine Tragedy of Keycap Production
« Reply #7 on: Wed, 22 July 2015, 11:44:29 »
I mean this in the best way possible:  I love watching your failures.  I encourage you to keep failing until you fail to fail.  Thanks for posting pics of your less than perfect attempts, they have value for determining faults in future attempts by others.

Thank you for your support. Usually I wouldn't post results until they look like I something I'd call a keycap, but with posting this thread I passed the point of no return... I have to do this now.

Have you tried heating the mold while pouring?  Metal cools rapidly due to the high thermal conductivity, and when the just-boiling lead hits the relatively cooler walls of the clay mold, it will harden there instead of continuing to flow.

The clay mold needs some work too.  If you want to keep doing metals, you might pick up some Plaster of Paris and trying a wax loss mold.

I actually tried heating it before (mainly because I wanted it to dry faster) but that didn't help.
Today I heated the lead some more, until it became visibly hot. (the color)

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Same result.

Also I want to get rid of the clay asap - almost every figure I did is now missing limbs, eyes, eyebrows or teeth.

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Offline nubbinator

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Re: The Divine Tragedy of Keycap Production
« Reply #8 on: Wed, 22 July 2015, 14:21:16 »
If you want fine details, you really do need to do vacuum casting or spin casting.  The metal cools too quickly.  Additionally, any moisture in your mold at all will cause problems and can even cause a small vapor explosion from rapid evaporation in a confined area.

Offline VoteForDavid

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Re: The Divine Tragedy of Keycap Production
« Reply #9 on: Wed, 22 July 2015, 20:52:55 »
so am I the only person who thinks *lead* may not be the optimal choice?  Sure it's easy to work with, but aside from being toxic it may just be heavy enough to actuate a key switch all by itself.
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Offline rowdy

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Re: The Divine Tragedy of Keycap Production
« Reply #10 on: Wed, 22 July 2015, 21:37:10 »
so am I the only person who thinks *lead* may not be the optimal choice?  Sure it's easy to work with, but aside from being toxic it may just be heavy enough to actuate a key switch all by itself.

Wouldn't be that much heavier than the steel Bro Bots!
"Because keyboards are accessories to PC makers, they focus on minimizing the manufacturing costs. But thatís incorrect. Itís in HHKBís slogan, but when Americaís cowboys were in the middle of a trip and their horse died, they would leave the horse there. But even if they were in the middle of a desert, they would take their saddle with them. The horse was a consumable good, but the saddle was an interface that their bodies had gotten used to. In the same vein, PCs are consumable goods, while keyboards are important interfaces." - Eiiti Wada

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Offline VoteForDavid

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Re: The Divine Tragedy of Keycap Production
« Reply #11 on: Thu, 23 July 2015, 20:13:10 »
Almost 2x as heavy.  Maybe heavy enough to actuate MX reds, I dunno how much material goes into each switch.
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Offline Ramage

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Re: The Divine Tragedy of Keycap Production
« Reply #12 on: Thu, 23 July 2015, 20:55:30 »
Definitely a good effort. Has anyone tried casting plastic with an aluminum mold by hand?

Offline 3K

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Re: The Divine Tragedy of Keycap Production
« Reply #13 on: Sat, 25 July 2015, 11:09:56 »
If you want fine details, you really do need to do vacuum casting or spin casting.  The metal cools too quickly.  Additionally, any moisture in your mold at all will cause problems and can even cause a small vapor explosion from rapid evaporation in a confined area.

I had this happening a couple of times... I try to avoid vacuum/spin casting - sounds like a hell of work.

so am I the only person who thinks *lead* may not be the optimal choice?  Sure it's easy to work with, but aside from being toxic it may just be heavy enough to actuate a key switch all by itself.
Almost 2x as heavy.  Maybe heavy enough to actuate MX reds, I dunno how much material goes into each switch.

The only reason why I chose lead is that I had much lead laying arround, and I could start casting without preparations/ buying other stuff.
It may be heavy, but not too heavy. (picture shows keycap shaped pieces of lead on MX reds - means actual caps with stems weigh even less)

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« Last Edit: Sat, 25 July 2015, 11:11:43 by 3K »

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Offline 3K

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Re: The Divine Tragedy of Keycap Production
« Reply #14 on: Mon, 17 August 2015, 10:43:46 »
Inspired by yet another user going into cap production I started a new try myself.

Today I tried to take an existing cap and add a leadcoating, kind of like nubbinator did.
Because I was too lazy to collect sand I decided to use old bread as mold, god knows why. The outcome was, well...

... Toast!
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Ugly, bad smelling toast...
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At least I've been productive today - I found the melting point of PBT. Yaay.
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I guess this guy won't see another switch in his life...
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At least the remaining parts got a nice shade of brown!
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I guess I should stop trying to be the flakiest of the special snowflakes and just switch to resins - what do you guys think?

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Offline 3K

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Re: The Divine Tragedy of Keycap Production
« Reply #15 on: Mon, 07 September 2015, 16:41:48 »
Let me present...

Chapter II - Polymer Clay

Not my first try sculpting, but my best try so far, I think.



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Offline do_Og@n

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Re: The Divine Tragedy of Keycap Production
« Reply #16 on: Mon, 07 September 2015, 18:22:11 »
Let me present...

Chapter II - Polymer Clay

Not my first try sculpting, but my best try so far, I think.

Show Image



Is that a camel with shades? No matter what it is that looks awesome.

Side note...adding to many limbs (ears, shades, antlers, etc) will give the mold more pockets for air to travel into. Keep this in mind when sculpting.

Best of luck!

Offline BlueNalgene

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Re: The Divine Tragedy of Keycap Production
« Reply #17 on: Mon, 07 September 2015, 19:28:05 »
Let me present...

Chapter II - Polymer Clay

Not my first try sculpting, but my best try so far, I think.

Show Image


Sprue everything! One of my little projects became an ant without antennae because of that mistake.

Offline 3K

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Re: The Divine Tragedy of Keycap Production
« Reply #18 on: Tue, 08 September 2015, 01:20:21 »
Let me present...

Chapter II - Polymer Clay

Not my first try sculpting, but my best try so far, I think.

Show Image



Is that a camel with shades? No matter what it is that looks awesome.

Side note...adding to many limbs (ears, shades, antlers, etc) will give the mold more pockets for air to travel into. Keep this in mind when sculpting.

Best of luck!

It's supposed to be giraffe with shades, but I just noticed camels look cuter!  Also thank you!

Let me present...

Chapter II - Polymer Clay

Not my first try sculpting, but my best try so far, I think.

Show Image


Sprue everything! One of my little projects became an ant without antennae because of that mistake.

Yes, I'll remember this. I plan to start out with blanks first either way. Just wanted to try if there is any hope left for me making acceptable models.

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Offline 3K

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Re: The Divine Tragedy of Keycap Production
« Reply #19 on: Thu, 25 February 2016, 10:44:01 »
Quote from: geekhack.org
Show Image


Thank you for your input, I know I'm slow.


However! I started working with silicone molds. Great success. Not.



The first tries all ended up being not completely hard. To fix this I applied more hardener. Well, I thought I did, but I confused the bottles and took less hardener with every try. And ruined my Lego. ;_;

When I noticed my mistake the molds got better.



AND THEN. I got a really good mold! (for my means) I used Boopers tutorial, and switched from Lego to cardboard and clay.



The only problem was, that I missed applying something to help release them. So instead making a two part mold, I had a solid block of silicone, with a cap hidden inside...



But after cutting both halfs apart, it didn't look two bad. Now I just finished mixing some chemicals and filling them into my mold... We'll see tomorrow how terrible the experiment went.

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Offline bcredbottle

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Re: The Divine Tragedy of Keycap Production
« Reply #20 on: Thu, 25 February 2016, 10:48:40 »
Quote from: geekhack.org
Show Image


Thank you for your input, I know I'm slow.


However! I started working with silicone molds. Great success. Not.

Show Image


The first tries all ended up being not completely hard. To fix this I applied more hardener. Well, I thought I did, but I confused the bottles and took less hardener with every try. And ruined my Lego. ;_;

When I noticed my mistake the molds got better.

Show Image


AND THEN. I got a really good mold! (for my means) I used Boopers tutorial, and switched from Lego to cardboard and clay.

Show Image


The only problem was, that I missed applying something to help release them. So instead making a two part mold, I had a solid block of silicone, with a cap hidden inside...

Show Image


But after cutting both halfs apart, it didn't look two bad. Now I just finished mixing some chemicals and filling them into my mold... We'll see tomorrow how terrible the experiment went.

Do you have any vents in your mold? Usually you put them in by gluing sticks to the underside of your cap (kinda) but if you forgot then you can add them by boring through the mold with a 16ga or 14ga syringe tip. I've actually found it to be easier and cleaner than the stick method.

I also don't see a gate. If you don't have that, you'll definitely want to use a 14ga and then cut a little bowl at the top where you would pour in.

Offline bcredbottle

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Re: The Divine Tragedy of Keycap Production
« Reply #21 on: Thu, 25 February 2016, 10:53:54 »
Sorry btw, didn't know if you were asking for advice or not.

Offline 3K

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Re: The Divine Tragedy of Keycap Production
« Reply #22 on: Thu, 25 February 2016, 11:23:03 »
Quote from: geekhack.org
Show Image


Thank you for your input, I know I'm slow.


However! I started working with silicone molds. Great success. Not.

Show Image


The first tries all ended up being not completely hard. To fix this I applied more hardener. Well, I thought I did, but I confused the bottles and took less hardener with every try. And ruined my Lego. ;_;

When I noticed my mistake the molds got better.

Show Image


AND THEN. I got a really good mold! (for my means) I used Boopers tutorial, and switched from Lego to cardboard and clay.

Show Image


The only problem was, that I missed applying something to help release them. So instead making a two part mold, I had a solid block of silicone, with a cap hidden inside...

Show Image


But after cutting both halfs apart, it didn't look two bad. Now I just finished mixing some chemicals and filling them into my mold... We'll see tomorrow how terrible the experiment went.

Do you have any vents in your mold? Usually you put them in by gluing sticks to the underside of your cap (kinda) but if you forgot then you can add them by boring through the mold with a 16ga or 14ga syringe tip. I've actually found it to be easier and cleaner than the stick method.

I also don't see a gate. If you don't have that, you'll definitely want to use a 14ga and then cut a little bowl at the top where you would pour in.

Well, I post for general entertainment, but I'm always open for advice! THe syringe tip is a good idea, bookmarked that thing. Also you're right, I will need a gate. I just wanted to try out the resin, so I filled it in and sandwhiched the mold arround it.

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Offline 3K

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Re: The Divine Tragedy of Keycap Production
« Reply #23 on: Mon, 29 February 2016, 09:40:37 »
Aaand here's my first blank:



I'm really happy that it looks like a keycap... Can't mount it on a switch, since the stem is too short.

Already working on the next try, now with different stems.


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Offline spxger

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Re: The Divine Tragedy of Keycap Production
« Reply #24 on: Sat, 10 September 2016, 21:29:22 »
Wow!!!

(Sorry for my english, I speak spanish)
It's awesome. You have any result of the last picture? I have a model M, and need make a Spacebar (I have one), and looking for information for make the spacebar with resin.

Thanks! and Really nice work!

Offline 3K

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Re: The Divine Tragedy of Keycap Production
« Reply #25 on: Fri, 23 September 2016, 01:06:57 »
Wow!!!

(Sorry for my english, I speak spanish)
It's awesome. You have any result of the last picture? I have a model M, and need make a Spacebar (I have one), and looking for information for make the spacebar with resin.

Thanks! and Really nice work!

Unfortunately the mold from the last picture ended up sticking together and it was unusable...  to be honest i would advise to look at the successful keycap creators for reference. For example this should be helpful : https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=23722.0 !

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