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I Built A Keyboard! (Image Heavy)


tonybelding
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Now for something completely different…

 

I didn't plan in the beginning to build my own computer keyboard. I used a Unicomp for a couple of years, and it was OK. I mean, it was a creaky and clunky behemoth, but it got the job done. Then I discovered the whole "mechanical keyboard" hobby that's sprung up in the last few years, and… Yeah. It was like fountain pens and cameras all over again, but on an accelerated track. Soon I had placed a pre-order for a WhiteFox, placed a pre-order for a new IBM Model F replica (both of which I'm still waiting on!), bought a new Matias Mini Tactile Pro, bought a vintage IBM XT keyboard off eBay, and bought a Carpe JD45 mini-keyboard.

 

And after all that I realized that nobody was making what I really wanted, and I was going to have to build it myself. Here is the result:

 

http://zobeid.zapto.org/image/keeb/Zo64-07.jpg

 

The first thing some of you might wonder is, "Where's the rest of it?" This is what we call a 60% keyboard layout, although this one actually has 64 keys. It's done away with the number pad, the F-keys and the navigation keys, but all of those functions are still accessible using the two blue Fn keys. I am particularly proud of how these navigation keys work:

 

http://zobeid.zapto.org/image/keeb/Zo64-08.jpg

 

For anyone not fully familiar with those symbols, ESDF are my arrow keys, Q and A are PgUp and PgDn, W and R are Home and End. Now all I have to do is mash down with my left thumb on that blue key, then I have my entire nav cluster under my fingertips without shifting my hand position away from the home-row typing position. I can do all my navigating with my left hand, and it doesn't matter if my right hand is in the typing position or not. After a brief period of adjustment, this can actually be more convenient than dedicated arrow keys!

I chose media keys that I thought were easy to remember: P for pause/play, M for Mute, and the adjacent keys for Prev, Next, VolUp, VolDn. The left space bar is, of course, Backspace, and with Fn it becomes Delete (or Forward Delete as we Mac loonies say). The star or "any" key in the upper-right is currently working as another Backspace, but I'll probably change that eventually. It could be programmed for anything.

This board has full RGB underglow, and each switch has a white LED backlight. I don't usually use them, but the one under Caps Lock at least works as an indicator light. (That's why there's a big gap in the legend between "Caps" and "Lock", which in retrospect wasn't necessary. I'll change that next time.)

 

http://zobeid.zapto.org/image/keeb/Zo64-11.jpg

 

That aluminum case is extra thick and heavy, and it feels as solid as a brick. (I guess you might say it's Thick As A Brick!) The completed keyboard weighs over two and a half pounds, and it has an optional steel weight that can attach to the base and bring it to just shy of three pounds. I really don't think the steel weight is necessary.

 

http://zobeid.zapto.org/image/keeb/Zo64-03.jpg

 

Getting all the parts together for this project was quite an exercise. The PCB and mounting plate, the short space bars, and the case all came from different vendors in China. The switches, stabilizers and keycaps all came from US sources. It's all off-the-shelf components, except for the custom printed keycaps.

 

Those switches are new Kailh BOX Whites with dust and water resistance and a great double-click sound. They feel fantastic to type on. I do think they're a bit light for my hands, so I'll go for stiffer springs next time, and I'm probably going to build a version using tactile (quiet) switches. I know I'm going to build at least one more of these, since I need one for each of my Mac Pros.

 

If anybody wants to know more details about planning the layout, creating the custom keycap set, programming it, the assembly process, anything… Just ask!

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Great keyboard! I'm more of a 101-key person, but do appreciate the multi-plane aspect of the smaller keyboards. I have a keyboard.io coming any.day.now.

 

Please tell us more about the custom keycaps.

 

Best Regards, greg

Don't feel bad. I'm old; I'm meh about most things.

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Great keyboard! I'm more of a 101-key person, but do appreciate the multi-plane aspect of the smaller keyboards. I have a keyboard.io coming any.day.now.

 

Please tell us more about the custom keycaps.

 

I looked at the Keyboardio early on, and it's very impressive. I wanted one, but then I realized I'd have to basically relearn typing on it. I'm already hitting 90 WPM and don't have any RSI or other pains pushing me toward an ergonomic design, so I couldn't see how I'd gain anything worth the retraining effort.

 

There are only a couple of companies that will print up a set of keycaps to order, and the most prominent is WASD <http://www.wasdkeyboards.com>. They have a tool online that lets you select the color of every key, and they have a bunch of different options for the legends. But if the options in their configurator aren't enough, you can do what I did; you can create your own legends using Inkscape. They have a template you can download that makes it easy. It includes instructions (including some Inkscape basics), key outlines, positioning grids, and layers with all the same options from their website. That makes it easy to combine their elements with your own.

 

After the legends are printed they add a protective layer of ultraviolet-cured resin which is reputedly very tough. However, the dye isn't "soaked" into the plastic like dye sublimation printing, so it's possible that the legends could eventually chip or wear off. Also, the ABS plastic of the keycaps is pretty thin. There are keyboard snobs who will fret over that, because they think every keyboard should be built like an IBM XT for years and years of heavy commercial use. These keycaps aren't heavy duty in that way, but they are good quality and will be Just Fine for my needs.

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I’m another in the 101 key camp for now as I just nabbed 2 Das Keyboards on super deals over the last few months for two of my Macs. But in future years, after I make up my mind is I’m more of a blue or brown key fan, I might slide down this slope. (Unless Dragonspeak finally pulls their head out of their wherever to support Mac users)

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That looks great. Thanks for the explanation of how it all works, in particular the arrow keys; as someone who's getting more used to vim, keeping the right hand on the home row makes sense.

 

I love the symbols on the Escape key.

 

I'm happy with my Matias Quiet Pro (the small bluetooth one for my Mac), although I wish the base was more solid than the creaky plastic and cheap on/off button it currently has. The aluminium base on yours looks super strong.

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Looks really awesome! I've thought about getting a mechanical keyboard whenever I get a desktop computer, but that will be many, many moons from now.

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  • 2 months later...

Just realized I haven't updated this thread. Since the keyboard has both white LED backlighting and RGB underglow, I took a notion that I'd like to show it off. I ordered an acrylic case to show off the underglow, and that worked OK. Then I decided to get a set of translucent keycaps that the backlight LEDs could shine through. When I got them on, I immediately saw something that hadn't been apparent before: six of the LEDs were not lighting up!

 

I had spare LEDs left over, but those LEDs were soldered to the board underneath the key switches. To fix each one I'd have to de-solder and remove the switch first, then the LED. And not to go into gory detail, but it turns out that my soldering skills are adequate, but my de-soldering skills are not, and I ruined the PCB.

 

Bummer.

 

Obviously I was going to rebuild it, though, so I placed my orders for a replacement PCB, new LEDs, new stabilizers, and new switches. This time I applied some lessons learned. I bought genuine Cherry stabilizers (instead of generics), and I got Kailh BOX Pale Blue switches. The BOX White switches I used before were good, but they were a bit light for me. The Pale Blue ones have a stiffer spring. I also decided, as an experiment, to remove the click bar from the modifier keys: shift, control, alt, command, Fn. With the click removed, those switches behave as linear switches. This time I lubricated the stabilizers, and I secured them to the PCB with hot glue so they won't come loose or rattle around. They feel much better than before! And, oh yeah, I did test the LEDs both before and after soldering them!

 

Here's the LED light show:

 

http://zobeid.zapto.org/image/keeb/Zo64-16.jpg

 

That was… interesting, but I wasn't done yet. I got one of the new 5° aluminum cases from KBDfans.

 

http://zobeid.zapto.org/image/keeb/Zo64-18.jpg

Edited by tonybelding
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nice. I assume they cost a pretty penny. I have a few in my Amazon shopping cart, waiting for sub $30.

 

Why ESDF instead of WASD, the common directional movement?

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nice. I assume they cost a pretty penny. I have a few in my Amazon shopping cart, waiting for sub $30. Why ESDF instead of WASD, the common directional movement?

 

ESDF puts the arrow keys right at my fingertips without having to shift my hand position at all. I think that WASD became popular for games because a lot of them use the shift key to "run", and they can have their pinky finger resting on it.

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After the legends are printed they add a protective layer of ultraviolet-cured resin which is reputedly very tough. However, the dye isn't "soaked" into the plastic like dye sublimation printing, so it's possible that the legends could eventually chip or wear off.

What? You didn't go for 2-shot molded keycaps, like my TRS-80 Mod I came with?

 

And what about building an Etaoin Shrdlu keyboard? Complete with the feather-touch of a real Linotype?

 

320px-ClavierLinotype_20041006-163300.jp

Edited by hbquikcomjamesl

--

James H. H. Lampert

Professional Dilettante

 

Posted Image was once a bottle of ink

Inky, Dinky, Thinky, Inky,

Blacky minky, Bottle of ink! -- Edward Lear

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What? You didn't go for 2-shot molded keycaps, like my TRS-80 Mod I came with?

 

You'll see those on my next build. ;)

 

As for that other thing, I don't think I want it.

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Wow that is one very nice keyboard. What switches did you decide to opt for? I am also a mechanical keyboard nerd. I personally have a zeal 60 rgb with 62g zealios in it. So expensive, but so worth it at the same time.

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Wow that is one very nice keyboard. What switches did you decide to opt for? I am also a mechanical keyboard nerd. I personally have a zeal 60 rgb with 62g zealios in it. So expensive, but so worth it at the same time.

 

I've heard a lot about Zealios, but I like clicky switches. I love the Kailh BOX Pale Blue switches that I have in this keyboard now.

 

I just got a bag of the new Kailh BOX Navy, or "Thick Click", switches which I think will be even better. I have almost all the parts I need to build a TKL keyboard, but I just need wait (impatiently) for a couple of extra bits.

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I've heard a lot about Zealios, but I like clicky switches. I love the Kailh BOX Pale Blue switches that I have in this keyboard now.

 

I just got a bag of the new Kailh BOX Navy, or "Thick Click", switches which I think will be even better. I have almost all the parts I need to build a TKL keyboard, but I just need wait (impatiently) for a couple of extra bits.

Make sure to post that keyboard too! I would love to see it all built

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That's fantastic - thank you for sharing!

 

I tried my friend's mechanical keyboard last year and it's definitely got me interested. Just waiting to upgrade my keyboard after I finish with my PC's internal upgrades.

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Useless keyboards. Where are the Umlauts? :rolleyes:

 

They are in some other castle. :P

 

It's surprisingly hard to find a mechanical keyboard to replace Logitech G11...

You do not have a right to post. You do not have a right to a lawyer. Do you understands these rights you do not have?

 

Kaweco Supra (titanium B), Al-Sport (steel BB).

Parker: Sonnet (dimonite); Frontier GT; 51 (gray); Vacumatic (amber).

Pelikan: m600 (BB); Rotring ArtPen (1,9mm); Rotring Rive; Cult Pens Mini (the original silver version), Waterman Carene (ultramarine F)

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I agree on the trouble finding a keyboard. It's like the evolution of keyboards is going backwards.

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