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Summary:

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, […]

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.

Before 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.

cord strain prevention

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.

Cleaning

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.

metal key support

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.)

Final Impressions

keyless 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.

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  1. Next time consider using the dishwasher. Place the keyboard on the Glasses rack (top) facing downward. I’ve found just cycling it with water and a good jetdry agent works best. I should mention that I’ve done this with PC keyboards, I’ve not tried it with a Mac keyboard.

  2. Watch out for dishwasher keyboard washing … it works for some people, but is usually regarded as an urban myth. Lots of damage can be done and, even if it appears to work, you may have shortened the life.

    There are keyboard specifically made for use in waterproof environments that you can wash in a dishwasher (in fact they recommend it)

  3. Stephanie Guertin Tuesday, July 31, 2007

    Having taken it apart, I would be very leery of throwing this keyboard in the dishwasher. There is a very real possibility that you could get water and heat in places that it is not meant to go.

  4. Four and a half hours to save a $29 keyboard? Unless you’re making minimum wage, doing this at work probably isn’t terribly cost effective for those writing the paychecks.

    However, I can understand the urge to tinker :-) I’ve probably disassembled my various Macs multiple times without really concrete reasons other than experimentation.

  5. NightWriter927 Tuesday, July 31, 2007

    Too bad you didn’t think to do a websearch on this process… you would have saved yourself a lot of time. There are several websites describing this process in detail, including a plethora of step-by-step photos.

    Here is one among several:

    http://www.technology.niagarac.on.ca/staff/bgracey/prokeyboardrepair.html

  6. The reason I mentioned just placing one in the dishwasher was to save time and additional damage by taking the keyboard apart. Unless you just like taking things apart and or have time to take them apart, juts go buy another one. There are exceptions of course, but for a standard keyboard its not worth the effort, plus a new one will be clean.

  7. Josh Pigford Tuesday, July 31, 2007

    @NightWriter: Ah, the ole “somebody already wrote something on this topic so you shouldn’t ever write about it again” mindset. Just because someone has already written about a topic doesn’t mean other people don’t have different perspectives or thoughts on something. Lighten up my friend.

  8. NightWriter927 Tuesday, July 31, 2007

    Hey Josh, I said nothing about the article not being warranted or helpful. The author said it took over 4 hours to do the keyboard cleaning. May have saved some time by checking for existing websites’ instructions, which is all I was saying.

    Not sure why you read otherwise, that’s not at all what I wrote.

  9. I have to say, that I could not agree with you in 100% regarding o.us poetry, but it’s just my opinion, which could be wrong :)

  10. @Adam Nelson: That’s a big problem with corporate America; too much waste. And I’m not talking about wasted time and money, but of wasted natural resources. I’m not a tree-hugging hippy, but jeez, any time someone can take the time to clean or repair something instead of throwing it into the trash is time well spent. Everything is way too disposable these days; printers, cell phones, etc.

  11. @Steve: Quite true. I do appreciate products that are built to last, and to be maintained to extend their life. My 1960 Gillette adjustable shaving razor is 47 years old (21 more than me), and still works like a champion. Compare that with today’s Gillette products which are purposely planned to wear quickly and replaced, and it’s just disgusting.

    Although, if I were an employer, and found an employee of mine spending four and a half hours working on a relatively cheap keyboard, I don’t think I’d be particularly happy. Almost all electronics are disposable these days, but this is also how you can buy a sub $200 laser printer that’s faster than a $2,500 one from 10 years.

  12. I go with BuzWeaver and others and say USE THE DISHWASHER. Those who fear it need to get over their fear and TRY IT. For the last seven years, I’ve been using the cafeteria dishwasher to clean many, many dysfunctional keyboards that were headed for the dumpster. Recovery rate is two out of three. And all are still in service years later. The dishwasher I use is a commercial institutional one that uses 195 F water for 1.5 minutes with never a problem. This dishwasher has an automatic soap dispenser over which I have no control. So whatever horrible soap it uses gets used here too with no problems. I’ve even run “dead” motherboards and other items getting the occasional one restored to life. They were headed for the dumpster, so why not run it through the dishwasher. It works well for me and the cafeteria staff are glad (and amused) to help. Be sure to fully disassemble the keyboard as much as possible. Bye the waye, the dishwasher is great for cleaning case parts too. Bill

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  14. The keyboard is laborious but relatively straightforward. The Pro mouse and the other hand remains a mystery to me at least and they are much more prone to fatalities than the keyboards. Do you know how to recondition a Pro Mouse?

  15. I have attempted to fix the Apple Pro Mouse before now and unfortunately I have to say it is not worth the effort… They are in part glued/welded together – it can be done, and there are how-tos available, but unlike a keyboard the results are generally unsightly and unreliable – in this particular case just go buy a new mouse, be it an Apple one or a $5 usb one from the Kwik-E-Mart. I personally like to fix anything fixable rather than replacing it but in this case I should say don’t bother

  16. Unless people like to tinker or have the time to tinker we find ourselves moving away from ‘fixing’ things to simply having parts replaced. You can see this across the board with products, appliances and cars. We either replace a part or buy something new.

  17. An alternative to the dishwasher trick is a can of WD40. Lay the KB flat, hose it down well (use the little plastic straw so that the spray gets under the keys)then stand it on end on some newspaper to drain. I set things so that the keys are just downward, and the draining is all toward the number pad “Enter” key. When it stops draining, use a hair dryer to finish the drying. This is good for coffee or coke spills, since the WD40 is a water dispersant.

    1. I just try your method.. I think i just ruined the keyboard

  18. Stephanie Guertin Monday, August 20, 2007

    To everyone who noted how much of my employer’s time I took to do this: as I noted, this was the only keyboard that we had with the Final Cut shortcuts on it. I may have spent more than the 29$ the keyboard is worth – but less than the $100+ it costs to get a keyboard with those shortcuts these days.
    (Plus, I just like taking things apart and fixing them. :) )

  19. Thanks for the article; i’m hoping I can save my coffee soaked and semi-functional keyboard.

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  21. I am really glad to find how-to’s like this. I just cleaned one of these keyboards out yesterday. The problem I had was with those 5 “security” screws that some think are Torx (T5). I am convinced that mine are hex, but cannot figure out what size. My best guess right now 1.25mm. The other tutorial says they are .050″, but I have one of those and it is too big! I have been thinking it was some weird special tool you had to buy from Apple, but now I am thinking that maybe my particular keyboard was made with defective screws! Or Maybe my .050″ hex key was machined wrong (because it is Craftsman made in China stuff).

  22. Thanks dude,…

  23. Peter Frishauf Thursday, January 1, 2009

    Excellent tutorial. Now all we need is similar instructions for the newer Mac chiclet keyboard.

  24. Nice, very handy – my keyboard still works fine tho I have given some flakey ‘boards a bath in the past: mixed results, As to the throwaway mindset these days; is disgusts me at times – since I was a kid the “no user serviceable parts inside” label was a joke or a challenge to me… I still have a few things around that Ive kept working – some still useful – some just too obsolete ;-)

  25. Thanks for the good tutorial. Not sure if it was worth your 4.5 hours of time but it was a good experiment none the less. Try cleaning the keys on an apple laptop, they are not as “solid” but I guess that’s expected with a laptop.

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