Cleaning up a venerable and battle-worn IBM Model M keyboard

I scored an IBM Model M keyboard recently. Usually when you find 30 year old keyboards, they’re pretty dirty. Here’s how I clean an IBM Model M keyboard.

I’m notoriously picky about keyboards. My weapon of choice is an IBM Model M, also known as the battleship or by its model number 1391401, which went out of fashion sometime in the mid-1990s. You either love them or hate them, and I love them.

People keep trying to tell me that I won’t be able to use them with new computers, but USB adapters from Belkin and Adesso cure that. I’ve used Belkin adapters and can vouch for them, but the Adesso adapters are cheaper and some Amazon reviewers say they work better.

I’m moonlighting writing a contract proposal, and one of the terms of my agreement is that I can use whatever keyboard I want. So I brought in a spare Model M. But it was filthy, so I spent some time this weekend cleaning it up. Now the prince of keyboards is ready to party like it’s 1989.

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I wanna blow bubbles!

My oldest son’s obsession is blowing bubbles. If he’s awake, it’s what he wants to do. If he doesn’t want to do something, offering to let him blow bubbles if he does that something often works.

The trouble is that an 8 ounce bottle lasts him about an hour and costs between 75 cents and a dollar. That can make for an expensive 3-day weekend, unless you make it yourself.I’ve seen a number of recipes. The recipe I tried may not be the best, but it’s better than any of the commercial formulations we’ve tried.

I took 1/4 cup of Costco dish detergent (it was what I had), 1/2 cup of water, and a tablespoon of sugar, which I stirred and poured into his used bubble bottle.

Most recipes suggest Dawn or Joy. For these purposes, I’m sure concentration matters a lot more than brand. Some recipes call for glycerin or corn syrup instead of sugar. Corn syrup and glycerin aren’t things I have any other reason to keep around, so I used sugar.

The concoction left enough room in his 8-ounce bottle to make it easier to use.

Google says a gallon of Dawn costs $15 at warehouse stores. That would make 64 refills, cutting the cost to about 25 cents a pop. I don’t remember what the Costco brand costs, but it’s probably less than that.

How to clean up your computer before you sell it

I went to a huge garage sale this morning. I walked home with a 7-year-old Dell 15" LCD monitor. What I paid for it wouldn’t buy lunch for my wife and me. When I got it home and saw how well it worked, I felt guilty.

So if you’re thinking of selling some computer equipment, take my tips (as someone who attends literally thousands of garage sales every year) for getting decent money for it.The main reason I got this monitor for so little is because it looked like it sat in a dusty garage or attic for several years. It was filthy. I’ve seen identical monitors sell for 50 bucks as recently as June. Identical except for the dirt, that is.

I cleaned the monitor up using nothing more than an old dish towel and some all-surface biodegradable cleaner I buy at Costco. But dish detergent would work in a pinch. Dampen the towel, wring it out, add a bit of cleaner, and clean all the surfaces except for the screen. You’ll get more money if it looks like the unit was taken care of. You want it to look like you just bought its replacement yesterday.

You’ll also get more if you can demonstrate it works. Run an extension cable or two if necessary, and hook the stuff up so shoppers can see it in action. Many shoppers assume bargain-priced computer equipment at garage sales doesn’t work. In my experience, about half of it does. So I pay accordingly.

Finally, price realistically. These are the same people who get up at 4am the day after Thanksgiving to wait in line until Office Depot opens. I know because I do that too, and I see the same people I see every Saturday. So you’re competing with Black Friday’s prices, with used equipment.

That said, a working computer that runs Windows XP decently (and has a legal copy of XP on it) should fetch $75-$100, depending on its speed. A 1 GHz PC will run closer to $75, while a 2 GHz PC will fetch $100. And at that price, it should sell fairly quickly.

If a computer is decent but doesn’t work, it won’t sell for much. I’ve paid $10 for computers that need hard drives before, and I’ve passed on $10 computers that need hard drives. Sometimes I regret not buying that Pentium 4 that worked except for the hard drive, but my back hurt that day and I didn’t feel like lugging it home.

CRT monitors are hard to give away these days, but if you can demonstrate it works and it looks presentable, a 17-inch monitor is worth $10-$20. Your best bet for getting rid of one of those, though, is to bundle it with a working computer that runs Windows XP.

A working 15-inch LCD monitor should sell for $50 without any trouble.

Keyboards and mice are giveaways. I literally wish I had a dollar for every time someone’s tried to give me a keyboard. Anyone who wants one already has too many. The lone exception to this rule is an optical mouse. But a new, mid-range Microsoft optical mouse sells for $20-$25 on sale, so don’t expect to get more than $5-$10 for one. I paid $2 for one this year, and it didn’t work. I was willing to take a chance at that price, but no higher.

Garage sale adventures: The treadmill

Earlier this year my wife asked me to look for a treadmill. So I started keeping an eye out. A month or two ago I spotted one at an estate sale, but everything was wrong about that deal.

Today, I pulled the trigger.Unlike the last one, this one wasn’t a hulking beast of a machine, and it looked like it would come apart fairly willingly. At $45, the price was in the neighborhood of what we were willing to pay, and the owner was willing to let us test it out. I called my wife to ask her to come look at it.

She liked it. Then she tried it out and still liked it. I whipped out a couple of twenties and a five, and the previous owner’s husband and I set about disassembling it enough to fit in the back seat of a Honda Civic.

They had mentioned to another patron a willingness to come down to $35. I didn’t try to talk them down. Why? I knew I’d need his help getting it apart and getting it into the Civic. If I nickel and dimed them, he probably wouldn’t be nearly as willing to help me out.

It wasn’t a good fit. After some manhandling, we raised up the machine, rolled down the window, put a towel over the window, and I drove home with about three inches of treadmill sticking out the rear window.

I reassembled it right after lunch. I wanted to get it back together while the memory of disassembling it was still fresh, since some parts of it weren’t quite obvious, at least not to me.

Once I had it all together I cleaned it up. Sometimes a little dish detergent and an old rag is all it takes, but this one had some black marks that required Purple Power. The Purple Power did a nice job for me for the most part.

But there were a few black marks (probably from shoes) that the Purple Power didn’t do so well on. For those, I pulled out another trick. I rubbed metal polish on them. The polish actually removes a bit of the surface of the plastic, so it can affect the texture or sheen, but the slight difference in texture or sheen will almost definitely look better than the black marks would. I’ve used this trick numerous times to restore old plastic train cars, computer cases, and video game cases.

There are some scratches on the painted surface that would require some touch-up paint if I wanted it to look new, but at least I got it clean. A sunny day, a willingness to either take it apart or drag it outside, and a can of Krylon primer and gloss white paint is all it would take to get the metal parts looking new again. It might be a while before we get that sunny day.

Now we have a machine that should last several years and that I know how to take apart if and when the motor dies. If that happens, a new set of brushes should be all it will take to get it going again. It may be time consuming but the parts will cost less than $5. A new one would probably cost $200 or $250, so I think we got a pretty good deal. And while it doesn’t look completely new, I think it certainly looks presentable now.

How to assemble a plastic model kit

Several months ago I bought a plastic model kit for the first time in probably 20 years. This past week I started to put it together.

I’m doing things differently this time.

Wash the parts

Plastic models have mold release on them, which makes it harder for paint and glue to adhere to the parts, making for a weaker model. The first step to building a proud model is washing the parts with dish detergent. Then avoid handling them with your bare hands as much as possible afterward.

Use better glue

The guys at the local hobby shop argue about the best glue to use, but they agree that the Testors stuff that comes in the tube isn’t it. It’s better to use either a plastic welder like Tenax-7R, or one of the many super glues on the market. Tenax welds the plastic together and actually makes one piece from it. The downside is its nasty fumes (wear a ventilator to save your lungs and your liver–really) and its permanence. Super glues work about as fast but make a chemical bond. The upside to super glue is that if you make a mistake, you can put the mistake in the freezer overnight, and then you’ll be able to pry it back apart and glue it again.

The downside to super glue is that it happily glues skin, so get a debonder from your hobby shop to bail you out if you glue your hand to your model or if you glue a couple of body parts together accidentally–putting your hand in the freezer overnight doesn’t work very well.

Both glues result in a stronger bond than the old tube glues we used to use.

Trim the flash

There’s always extra crud on the edges of your plastic pieces, due to the molding process. Trim that away with a hobby knife. Usually just slowly running the blade across the edge is all it takes.

Putty

When you glue your pieces together, there are always gaps in them. You can get plastic putties that chemically bond with the plastic and those are the best to use, but even a household putty like Durham’s Water Putty is better than gaps. Ideally you want the putty to be a different color than the plastic so you can see your work better.

Use primer

You should always paint your model, even the parts that are molded in the correct color, for reasons I’ll get to. But before you paint, you should prime the model. Use a good-quality primer like Krylon or Rustoleum Painter’s Touch. They are less expensive than hobby primers and they work extremely well.

Primer does several things. Paint sticks much better to primer than to plastic itself, so if you use primer, you can use thinner coats of paint, and you can also use paints like acrylics that normally won’t stick well to plastic. Second, primer can fill in minor flaws in the plastic, and make flaws that need to be puttied more visible. Third, primer makes the detail much more visible, which helps you paint better.

Spray on a very thin coat. It doesn’t have to cover completely.

Paint

Models should be painted for two reasons. The real thing is painted, so your model will look more realistic if it’s painted. Bare plastic looks more like a cheap toy. Second, decals don’t adhere well at all to bare plastic, because they are designed to adhere to paint.

The best paints to use is also a matter of religious debate. I like to use acrylics for the parts I have to brush paint, because acrylics have no fumes and clean up with water. They’re cheap and easy to work with. I can get craft acrylic paints for 60 cents a bottle if I shop around, and the bottles are big enough that they last forever. They’re cheaper than Testors enamels normally sold for models, and I don’t think they dry out in the bottle as quickly.

For the ultimate acrylic, visit a hobby shop that caters to wargamers and pick up some Vallejo paints. They’re thinner than the craft acrylics, so they’re less likely to obscure detail when detail counts. They also tend to be self-leveling, helping to conceal your brush strokes.

I prefer to spray rather than brush whenever I can, because then I don’t cover up as much detail, and I don’t get brush strokes. I can spray a light coat followed by a second light coat and get nice, even coverage. You can get sprays intended for plastic models at a hobby shop, but if you can find a suitable color from Krylon or another hardware store brand, you can use it.

An airbrush is nice, if you can afford its cost and can afford to invest the time required to learn how to use it and keep it clean.

So, should you paint before or after assembling the model? I find it easier to paint what I can before, and scrape the paint off the surfaces that need to be glued.

What if you really mess up the paint? There are ways to safely remove paint from plastic so you can start over.

Masking

When you need to paint an assembled model and you need to keep the paint away from parts of it, use masking tape. Don’t use the cheap beige stuff. Get some good blue or yellow painter’s tape, which is less likely to lift the paint that’s under it.

To keep paint from bleeding under the tape, you can either brush along the edge of the tape with the color that the tape is covering, or brush with some clear acrylic medium (look for it in the artist’s paint section of stores like Michael’s and Hobby Lobby) or, believe it or not, Future Floor Polish. This seals the edge, and if any of it bleeds under, it won’t be visible.

Decals

Dad and I could never get decals to stick right. What we didn’t know was that decals are nothing more than a clear lacquer sprayed on paper with something printed on it. They are supposed to bond permanently with paint underneath them.

So the first secret of applying decals is just to paint the surface beneath them. Decals stick better to glossy paint than flat, so if you don’t paint with glossy paint, apply a bit of acrylic gloss medium or Future Floor Polish (which is actually a clear gloss acrylic, not a wax), let that dry, and then apply the decal to that.

I have some additional waterslide decal tips and tricks if you’re interested in them.

Clearcoat

When you’re done, spray a clearcoat over the whole paint job. This gives a consistent and more realistic finish. A gloss coat is fine if you want your model to look factory new. But for a more typical real-world look, use a clearcoat with a dull finish. Testors Dullcote is the standard.

Before you experiment with Krylon or another hardware store clearcoat, take some scrap plastic, paint it with the same paints you used to paint the model, and then spray the clearcoat over it. Not all clearcoats are compatible with all paints. I once tried Dutch Boy clearcoat on a plastic model and it caused the paint to bubble, ruining it.

Following these tips won’t make award-winning models, but it will make your models look a lot nicer.

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