Saturday, March 27, 2010

Chopping Off the Number Pad (Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000)

hack the keyboard! Well, I finally got fed up enough with the pain in my right shoulder to take the time and effort to cut off my keyboard’s number pad.  I’ve never understood why an “ergonomic” keyboard would dedicate so much physical real estate to a number pad, when that’s obviously where the mouse needs to be used.  Ideally, the number pad would be on the left side, or moveable and attached by a flexible cord.

By cutting off the number pad, you can bring the mouse closer in to your body and avoid the strain of holding your arm and hand out to the right side.  This will greatly reduce the amount of stress incurred over the course of a day in front of the computer.

The process of removing the number pad is quite simple, and rather than reinvent the wheel, I’ll point you to this webpage outlining the process.  The only real difference between the older keyboard on that page and the newer 4000 series is that there are a couple more screws to deal with on the top side of the keyboard, and the Microsoft Ergo 4000 keys “faceplate” of the keyboard is built to hold onto all the keys so they don’t fall out.  Because of the way the keys are incorporated into the top side of the keyboard, it’s actually an easier process.  As to the extra screws, there is one screw (like the coarse-threaded black ones on the back of the keyboard) under each palm pad, and then two small silver screws under the space bar (you just have to pop off the space bar to unscrew these very obvious silver screws).  Once you do that, it’s as easy as lifting the top off the bottom.

I have run into some issues with the right “ctrl” button being permanently active when wrapping the number pad membrane around the back of the board, so for now I’ve just placed a mouse pad over the membrane and it works fine.  Don’t forget to put tape over the exposed metal areas in between the three sheets of plastic.

CIMG1628I’m sure anyone with some soldering skillz could figure out how to actually solder wire to the circuit-board-like membrane that would allow you to keep using the number pad, separated from the keyboard with a cord.  Maybe some day I’ll get ambitious and give it a shot.

For now, the mouse is closer to the keyboard and my shoulder is thanking me.

22 comments:

JD said...

I've done this and now my keyboard doesn't work at all. :\ Any ideas on why? Can I fix it?

Anonymous said...

Sorry JD just go to a garage sale/goodwill/fleamarket and plunk down $3.00 for another

thiago.l.oliveira said...

i just finished this. my keyboard is now way more ergo friendly. awesome mod.

Mike Kime said...

Awesome! Thanks! I always wanted to try this and then I ran into your page and now I know its possible. I have to try this. I keep breaking my 4000's with water though. They break so much easier than the older ones. But I will still try this. The folding-under part is a bit odd but i may figure something out.

The Invisible said...

My 4000 with no number pad is still going strong. I agree that the "folding under" of the number pad membrane isn't the greatest, but it's quick and easy and seems to work; I think other solutions would require soldering. The only trouble I've noticed with the whole mod is that my right arrow key sometimes takes a little more effort than it should.

Katherine said...

I'm considering buying the MS 4000 keyboard and applying this mod to it, but would the palm lift still be usable with the keyboard afterwards?

The Invisible said...

Hi, Katherine. You would definitely need to mod the palm lift as well, as the lift extends out to the end of the number pad. I would suggest just cutting off the end of the lift (on the right side where the number pad is removed), and then creating something of the same height for the right hand side (to keep it from wobbling).

Ron Garza said...

If your plan was to show how smart you are, it worked. I think yours is a great idea. Have you considered contacting the manufacturer and having them produce a model with a mouse instead of a keypad?

The Invisible said...

Thanks, Ron. I've actually designed several keyboards that would be ergonomically superior to anything I've seen, but getting someone to listen has been like trying to talk to a rock.

Anonymous said...

This combined with the evoluent mouse has saved my body!

Nick said...

Thanks for this post. I have the same keyboard and a lot of pain in my right shoulder/trap area. I think bringing the mouse closer to the keyboard would help.

Unknown said...

My solution was to learn to use the mouse with my left hand instead of my right. I think this actually turned out better in the long run because now I use the touch pad with my right when I'm without the keyboard and use the mouse with my left and get less wear and tear on both. I can also switch back to mousing with the right hand to the right of the numpad for a bit if necessary. But sawing off the numpad would be more fun and make this strategy even better, especially since, after years using my left hand with the mouse, my right is still a little better at it. (On a related note, I cannot switch back back and forth between dvorak to qwerty...)

The Invisible said...

Kudos on being able to train yourself to mouse with the left! I wouldn't have the patience, and the precision I can accomplish with my right (and need) would take a long, long time methinks. My right arrow key on this board takes a little extra "oomph" now, so if you're undertaking this mod, pay close attention to the contacts there (it's not bad enough to justify buying and modding another board, but it is rather annoying).

Anonymous said...

I'm very interested in this, but the link didn't work for me.... is it just me? Thanks

The Invisible said...

Looks like that page has disappeared. I guess I should update this post with the actual how to. Meanwhile, here is a generic "how to" on wikihow.

Len Trigg said...

Looks like a fun mod, I'm going to give it a crack. BTW, you can still see an archived version of the "how to" page at the internet archive:

http://web.archive.org/web/20120427093322/http://tlb.org/keyboardchop.html

Anonymous said...

Here's my solution. as long as your mouse isn't heavy this works. and having a stiff mouse pad helps as well.

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/32960689/IMG_2077.JPG

The Invisible said...

Right on, Len. Thanks for the "archive of the internets" link. By the way, I'm still using my modded MS4000 five years later. As mentioned, the right arrow key is a bit difficult to press down (you really have to press it hard), but everything else is golden. FWIW, I've also started using a two tier system. My keyboard is on a drawer that slides out from under my monitor, and my track ball, shuttle pro2, and other control devices are on a table surface directly below the keyboard (instead of out to the side of the keyboard).

Len Trigg said...

BTW - I ordered one of the new microsoft sculpt ergonomic keyboards and after only a few days use I like it a lot -- in my opinion it would be perfect if the esc and F keys were the same size as the rest of the keys. I love how they replaced the Fn key with a switch (my 4000s all have the Fn key removed to prevent me accidentally pressing them).

Now I've freed up a 4000 from daily use it can undergo the keypad chop!

The Invisible said...

I may try that new Microsoft board if my 4000 konks out. While it's not proper "mechanical" keys (they are scissor keys), they've still got to be better than the soft keys of the 4000. I wish it was bluetooth so I could use it with my tablet. Also wishing it wasn't so glossy and that the side to side rake was a little more pronounced.

Len Trigg said...

Did two of my 4000s this weekend, they came out really well. Shoe Goo is a great glue for dealing to the wrist pads after shaping.

This photo shows them with the sculpt for a size comparison.

The Invisible said...

Nice! I do like the smaller footprint of the new ergo Microsoft, especially considering I rarely (if ever) use the extra buttons at the top of the 4000.