Ask MAKE: Thinkpad Keyboard Conversion

Ask MAKE: Thinkpad Keyboard Conversion

Ask MAKE is a monthly column where we answer your questions. Send your vexing conundrums on any aspect of making to If we don’t have the answer, we’ll scare up somebody who does.

Phil asks:

I love the feel of the keyboards on old Thinkpad laptops and would love to use one of those
keyboards with my new iPad. How difficult would it be to yank out a Thinkpad keyboard
from a deceased ThinkPad and connect it up to the iPad Camera Connection Kit USB port?
It seems do-able, but I’m more of software than hardware guy.

Hi Phil,
After researching this, it appears your results may vary depending on the model of Thinkpad keyboard you have. However, there are certainly examples of mods to Thinkpad keyboards that change the output to USB. One iteration I found is by Lars Ole Pontoppidan. His hacked Thinkpad keyboard is pictured above. Unfortunately, his documentation on the project is scant, so you may want to drop him a line and ask about his methods.

Another avenue you may pursue is the GeekHack Forum. This is a message board dedicated solely to the discussion of keyboards, and there are many users who have modded their own and may be able to help you.

Finally, if you want the feel of the Thinkpad keyboard without the fuss, Lenovo sells the Thinkpad USB Keyboard, which is extremely similar to the original laptop version.

I hope this helps, and good luck on your project!

If anyone has experience with modding Thinkpad keyboards or has more information, please post in the comments.

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6 thoughts on “Ask MAKE: Thinkpad Keyboard Conversion

  1. Martin Hebrank (@mhebrank) says:

    I have owned the separate USB thinkpad keyboards pretty much since the time they were released. I absolutely love it, as it fits my short stubby fingers very nicely and has the built in trackpoint so I don’t need to remove my hands from the keyboard to mouse. Also, It’s been several years and I still haven’t had to replace one. I highly highly recommend them.

  2. ant-tv says:

    I have old and cool device – IBM THINKPAD 701CS
    It has absolutely wonderful Butterfly Keyboard. But its RAM is dead :( So, it boots only to its BIOS (which is fantastic!)

    So, to restore this notebook there are 2 options:
    1) to buy a replacement MB on ebay – this is obvious and boring

    2) to remove IBM MB and somehow plece my Raspberry Pi SBC inside :) (maybe in HDD-container ^_^ )
    This choise is more interesting, but is has several drawbacks:
    a) I need to restore a battery
    b) need to replace an STN-monitor with something more pleasant to eyes :) and couple it with RasPi
    c) somehow use the main killer-feature of this notebook – its butterfly KB!

    Anyway, I think, the result worth all these pain ^_^

  3. jil says:

    I have the Thinkpad USB keyboard, but they should make this wireless.

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In addition to being an online editor for MAKE Magazine, Michael Colombo works in fabrication, electronics, sound design, music production and performance (Yes. All that.) In the past he has also been a childrens' educator and entertainer, and holds a Masters degree from NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program.

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