I had a broken Apple Pro keyboard to deal with at work today, and so, in accordance with one of my favorite mottoes – when in doubt, take something apart – I took it apart. This turned out to be a bit harder than I expected, so I took pictures and thought I would post a how-to guide here.
A quick introduction: This is the keyboard that shipped with the G5 Mac Pros, and in terms of everything but color, is identical to the keyboard from G4-era Macs as well. I was doing this repair because the keyboard was full of food and gunge, relic of a past user, and there was no way that I could issue this to anyone else in the condition it was in. Unfortunately, it was also the only keyboard that I had with the handy little shortcut-reminder stickers that used to come in boxes of Final Cut Pro, and the user wanted those. It was clean it out or nothing. So, without further ado…
How to Take an Apple Pro Keyboard Apart
First, tools. This keyboard has four different types of screws: two different sizes of hex-heads, long and short, and two different sizes of Phillips-head, larger and smaller. I used the smallest Torx I could find, a T5, and my usual tiny Phillips. I would also strongly recommend a flathead, for reasons that I will explain. You may also want a butter knife, although I used my fingernails for more butter-knife-y things.
If you’re cleaning it out, you’re going to need paper towels and a toothbrush. I also found it faster to simply throw the keys in the sink with some dish detergent. A can of compressed air didn’t cut it in this case – or most involving food or drink, in my opinion – but it tends to be an industry favorite. The screws are also the usual Apple tiny ones, so whatever your usual not-losing-the-screws precautions, they apply.
This is the keyboard before I started to clean it, about half-disassembled. Yuck.
Opening it up
The two clear shells are held together by some screws and a series of snaps. First, unscrew the two screws on the bottom, one at either side, with the T5. Next, pop off the key caps of the semicolon, caps lock, and the number pad’s six. Under these three keys are three more tiny screws, Phillips ones. Watch out for these; they’re incredibly easy to pop the heads off of, and the ones in my keyboard were on abominably tight.
To remove the keys, insert the flat head screwdriver, nail file, or whatever other flat, flexible object you picked under the key cap. Using a neighboring key or the edge of the shell as a fulcrum, lever the key off. I learned the hard way that it would probably be smart to hold onto the key while you pop it off – I had to go looking for more than one, and thy snap off hard enough to give you a good poke in the eye.
There is also one more screw that you’ll have to remove – under the Apple Pro label on the bottom, right next to the cord. (This one is ridiculously hard to find – I got lucky and noticed it from a strange angle.) There are two ways I can think of to get at this screw. The easier one is to feel around until you know where the hole is, then simply poke a Phillips screwdriver through the label. A magnetic screwdriver can then pull the screw right out, or you can shake the keyboard until it falls out. Alternatively, you can peel the label off using a knife. I chose not to do so on this keyboard, but the label is one of the stiff plastic ones that Apple seems to favor, and I have found a butter knife to work well in the past.
Now that all the screws are out, next are the snaps. There are seven or so along the front, two on each side, and four in the back. Stick a thin, flat object into the crack in the corner and start gently wedging them apart. Once I got one, I was able to get my fingernails in and slide the rest apart.
The top clear cover will come off cleanly, leaving you a tray of keys in a shallow, clear plastic shell.
Accessing the keys
Next, you need to remove the little piece of clear plastic that prevents cord strain, which also serves to attach the plastic piece the keys clip to to the lower shell. There are two Phillips screws holding this in place; if you’re careful, you can shift the key support up and forward a little to reach them without disturbing anything.
You can now lift the keys out of the bottom shell. The keys are attached to a plastic sheet that holds the key caps. Under this is the actual membrane and the circuitry, with a thin piece of metal beneath for protection. All of this is attached to a small printed circuit board.
If you need to clean liquids out – fortunately, I didn’t – you will need to separate all these pieces. There are two screws on the PCB that need to come off, and then you can use something thin and flexible to get the plastic, the membrane, and the metal sheet apart. The photo to the right is taken from the bottom, so that you can see the PCB and one of the screws on it. The clear plastic bit secures the cable, and the metal just to its right is actually how it attaches to the keyboard.
I pulled all the keys off the plastic clips and threw them in the sink. (My coworkers thought this was hysterical, and quite strange.) The only exceptions to this were the long keys – the tab, caps lock, shift, space bar, enter, return, and control – as these have a metal pivot bracket underneath.
They’re still pretty easy to get off, but there is some sort of clearish lubricant on the metal bits. If you need to clean this off – hair and food will, quite evidently, get stuck in it – a little vaseline makes a fine replacement.
I then used water and paper towels to get all the gunge off the shells and the white piece under the keys. If you have one to spare, I’d recommend a toothbrush for this; it would have made my life a lot easier. Windex worked a wonder on the clear shells. While you’re cleaning it out, be careful not to dislodge or lose the clips that hold the bottom support bar in place. If you do, these little C-shaped pieces of plastic are fairly easy to reunite with the bar, but it’s worth a second or two to mention that they are actually separate from the bottom shell.
Putting it all back together
Basically, it all goes back together in the reverse of the way it came out. The one hard part to this is getting the screws on the strain-relief bit back in place. However, if you tip the keyboard slightly up and forward, you can get access to the screws again. I put the keys back on almost last, with just the shell left to go, so that I had access to all of them as long as possible.
For putting the keys back on, you might want to find another keyboard of the same vintage – I was looking at mine, one of the new Bluetooth ones, and it threw me for a loop until I realized that only one of them had an F16 key. Fortunately, the keys are easy to move. There are some interesting side notes, as well. The shift keys are two different sizes. The arrow keys are subtly curved and uniquely shaped; the up arrow is the only one of the four that is concave. It might be wise to mark the other three on the bottom somehow. Also, it is possible to distinguish the number pad keys from the top row numbers by the fact that the number pad is blank except for the numbers.
Those keys with metal pivots slide into place from one side before they snap down. Due to the size and the fact that they must be inserted from an angle, I would recommend putting them on first. (They make useful landmarks, too.)
Altogether, this took me about four and a half hours to figure out and do, although a lot of that was spent searching for screws, screwdrivers, and the H key, which flipped under my desk. It really impressed me with the solid design of these keyboards – I think it would have been much, much harder to do this with many of the ‘IBM-compatible’ keyboards I’ve worked with over the years. It was notably easy to take this all to pieces; even the keys popped off easily, with a noise very reminiscent of Legos.
Also, the little design details were very impressive. The curvature of the arrow keys, for instance, or the enter key on the number pad, were subtle differences that really distinguished the keyboard from much less classy looking rivals.