Keyboard Builders' Digest
5% off! Keyboards and accessories from Apos.

Issue 105 / Week 48 / 2022

This is a hand-picked selection of last week's content from a keyboard enthusiast's perspective. Posts that may teach you something, make you think and contribute to the common knowledge of the DIY builder community.

View mode: compact | normal | full

Contents

Editorial

Behind the Scenes of Issue 105

Giveaway follow-up, advent calendar, Keebsmas, new vendors, discounts, meetups, etc.

Hey y'all,

Welcome back for another edition of Keyboard Builders' Digest (this time Issue #105), a weekly roundup of this DIY keyboard focused newsletter and blog from Tamas Dovenyi – that's me. If you are new to this, you can read how this started out and what this is all about nowadays. If you like what you see, you can subscribe to the newsletter (free) and donate some bucks to keep this otherwise free and ad-free project alive.

---

PSA

  • Check your inbox and spam folder frequently this weekend!
  • I'm still quite overwhelmed. Thanks for all the feedback and sorry if I don't react to your emails. These days I only reply if it has a purpose/function.
  • That said, I'm VERY grateful that so many people have sent me content this week: links, heads-ups. That really helps. Thanks!

Giveaway

I'm at about 70-80% of processing the giveaway, so some of you can still win. I had to temporarily remove the full list of prizes, leaving only the unclaimed items – because it confused some winners when choosing their preference. The more pricey ones are gone, and some winners got back to me with a thanks and that they can't find or wouldn't like anything from the remaining goodies.

That said, instead of contacting winners one by one to ask for their preferences, lets make it the other way around for the rest of the prize pool.

I'll spam the last 20-30 winners at once on a first come first serve basis. So don't forget to check your inbox and spam folder frequently the next few days!

Advent Calendar

By now you've probably heard of this advent calendar, so instead of the inspiration or origin lets talk about some difficulties I experienced at start.

First of all, I managed to publish eight posts by accident right on the first day… :D They were hidden, not visible on the front page, but could be accessed in the archive for about an hour.

Secondly, I should have thought of this but there's apparently a huge difference if you target such an advent calendar for a specific country/region or for an international audience visiting from various time zones. :D

Thinking out loud:

Publishing the Dec 1 article by Ben Vallack at 0:00 CET (my time zone, GMT+1) meant:

  • East Asian readers could see it at 7-9AM (their local time) which is perfect to include it in their mourning routine. ;)
  • Most European readers had to stay up until midnight but that's OK for night owls, myself included. Otherwise they saw it next morning. No problem with that.
  • But people of the Americas saw these posts "one day earlier" since at Dec 01 0:00 CET there was Nov 30, 3-8PM in the US. :D

That's not really a problem, most people could probably figure out what's going on with the dates indicated. Well, not a problem until you'd like to properly announce these posts e.g. on r/mk or Twitter. Because by the time I wake up in the morning in Europe, two third of my readers have already seen the actual write-up.

So from day 2 I publish the posts at 9:00 CET. How does it look like in some extreme places (at least relative to Europe)?

  • Japan (+8): a nice afternoon/evening read.
  • Europe: morning read.
  • West Coast (-9): midnight, but it's the same date at last! ;)

So that's the new release time.

This way I can announce new posts in the morning (my local time) on Twitter for Japanese readers who are overrepresented there. And in the afternoon (my local time) on r/mk where most people at this time come from North America I guess. Amen.

Keebsmas

Keebsmas is an annual charity fundraising event for the mechanical keyboard community originally started in 2020 by keebnewb, jnlybean, and Davis of 3DKeebs.

For 12 days leading up to December 25th, a featured streamer will be hosting giveaway prizes, and on Christmas Day, there'll be a special 12 hour stream to wrap it all up.

To date we have raised over $21,000 for charity thanks to our generous donors and participants from the keyboard community! We hope to continue this tradition this year by raising money for DIY Girls.

I'll post more details about this in the run-up to Dec 13. Or you can check for updates here: Keebsmas.com

Pic:

(Thanks to Susan of Mintlodica for the heads-up! And Ele too!)

Vendor database

  • After last week's feature of the LEGO compatible 65% Adam, KBDcraft offered you a 5% discount (code: KBDNEWS). Since this is an affiliate code too, I can see how many items are sold. It's crazy.
  • Custom KBD offered you a 5% discount (code: KBDNEWS). (This is the Australian Custom KBD, not Custom Keyboard Co. in the US.) Related post: Sea-Picro.

Meetup database

As always, this meetup database is both a calendar and an archive so feel free to send me upcoming events or even ones from the recent past to make this collection as comprehensive as possible.

Donations

No new donors this week. Thanks to all the supporters who set up a recurring donation.

If you can afford to help, here is the donation form.

Stats

I haven't updated the about page with the November stats yet.

Anyway, my CDN registered more than 80,000 unique visitors in 30 days which is a new record.

Small developments

  • Updates to the giveaway page
  • Meetup database: the ClackyCon page made me aware that urls in the venue field are not turned into links automatically. Fixed.
  • And I've worked a LOT on the advent calendar "engine". I hope this will be much easier next year with all the coding already done.
  • E.g. I made a script to handle the previous/next post box since the order of articles may change and it has to keep track of already published posts (with link) and still hidden ones (plain text).
  • On a similar note, I had to make a proper preview feature for contributors.

---

That's all for today. Thanks for reading.

Feel free to comment in this issue's r/mk thread, and as always: keep learning and building.

Cheers, Tamás


Advent Calendar

Falling Down The Rabbit Hole

Ben Vallack shares his free-fall into the custom keyboard rabbit hole where things keep getting weirder and weirder.

Introduction

I’m a software developer (co-owner of SetSeed CMS) and workflow nerd and I’m slightly obsessed with optimising keyboards. I also have a YouTube channel that looks at day to day workflow hacks and I’ve covered this keyboard journey extensively over the last few years.

---

What a few years I've had. I started a YouTube channel a few years ago and stumbled into making videos on keyboards as I've always been fascinated by the way we interact with computers.

Initially, with each step on my journey, I felt like I had discovered the end game. Eventually I cottoned on and realised this was absolute nonsense. I now realise there is no end game. Simply, a very deep rabbit hole where things get weirder and more bizarre the further you go down.

What follows is a short recap over my keyboard journey with links to videos, config files and other useful bits and bobs scattered throughout.

Planck EZ

Let's start with the Planck EZ. I remember the feeling I had when I first tried this. It felt so amazing to have something so radically different to the Apple Magic Keyboard that I was used to. I felt like I'd become part of a new world of elite computer users who could just look back in disbelief at the rest of the world with their vast keyboards and contorted modifier combinations.

I couldn't wait to do a video on it and because it was a fairly niche product it really helped my channel get some traction. In fact I was so excited I did 5 videos, one as an introduction to mechanical keyboards, one looking at ortholiner vs staggered, then 40% vs 60% and then a full review followed by a video looking at how well the Planck EZ worked with an iPad.

This wasn't actually my first mechanical keyboard - before that I had been using the Anne Pro 2 but it wasn't long before I was drawn to ortholinear. The Anne Pro 2 was a gateway. It's actually interesting how large the community of users is who use these qwerty staggered 60% boards. They seem to be more interested in the keycaps and themed desk mats than the real utility in the boards. If only they knew how much fun there is to be had when you take it further!

Moonlander

After the Planck EZ came the Moonlander; ZSA sent me the Moonlander in exchange for some videos which again further helped my channel get some momentum.

In some sense the Moonlander was a bit of a curveball to my main goals which was to have a portable keyboard that let me use desktop grade productivity even with an iPad. The Planck EZ was actually working pretty well with that idea in mind.

When we introduced the larger size and inherently less portable nature of the split with the larger Moonlander I was back to thinking in terms of the Moonlander for desktop and the Planck for on-the-go with the iPad.

This in itself isn't a bad idea but I was forced to confront the idea of redundancy in the keyboard. If I was to use the same layout on both keyboards I'd be leaving plenty of keys unused on the Moonlander.

The great thing about the Moonlander and Planck is they are great to do YouTube videos on because their RGB backlighting effects look stunning on camera.

The 36 key experiments

As I started removing keys with the initial intention of creating a common layout on both boards I started to see the appeal in a 36 key layout. The idea being that all keys would be within one key's movement from home positions, including the thumbs. I mapped this layout to both boards and did videos looking at how it worked in either case. Essentially a 5x3 grid with three thumb keys each side.

There were a range of tricks and approaches I tried as I refined the approach to create a fast and comfortable 36 key layout. I experimented with a fully one-shot based layer system that meant I could use the layers without holding down keys. I thought if I could roll through to a layer it would result in less fatigue than holding down layer switches.

I also experimented with home row mods at this stage but failed to come up with a configuration that avoided conflicts between normal typing rolls and triggering a layer switch. Something that I still don't think is possible on the Shift key to this day. I have managed to make them work with layers and the other mods but Shift is still on a dedicated thumb key.

ZSA introduced tap dance keys around this time too which allowed for some interesting things to be done. I really embraced this by making the hold function of each alpha key to the CMD version of that key. I really enjoyed this layout and it gave me a taste for the idea of minimising finger movement itself as being a goal with ergonomics.

The dedicated 36 key boards

My enthusiasm for the 36 key layout led me to search for dedicated boards that used this arrangement. I of course found the ill fated Gergoplex and then the 5 column Corne.

The Gergoplex was created by someone who seemed to have some health issues that has lead to delays in orders and subsequently the website being switched off as well but it was a stunning keyboard in terms of aesthetics and layout.

My experience with the Corne was a 5 column MX switched version with full RGB backlight and under-glow in a 3D printed case. A great build and again great to make a video on with the RGB effects.

But it was the Gergoplex that really opened my eyes to the delights of low profile switches and that shaped the future direction I'd be falling down the rabbit hole.

The layout experiments

At some point in all this I decided to see if I could improve on the Qwerty typing experience. Until this point I'd just felt the idea of trying to relearn the letter positions was just going to be too hard and time consuming.

But my desire to keep improving the efficiency and comfort of my typing led me to jump in.

I first tried the Workman layout and actually got pretty fast with it. At first it felt great and I could really see the benefit over Qwerty. However as I got faster I started to feel that some of the bigrams and rolls were feeling very awkward – around the left ring finger. My hand would feel strange and unpleasant as it tried to fire the keys.

So I looked into this and realised there was a characteristic of the Workman layout that had been downplayed by the creator that I think was contributing to what I was experiencing. This was essentially the SFU or same finger utilisation. This is where the same finger is used to fire consecutive keys and it's a very horrible feeling. It kind of feels like taking a step with only one leg – you can see how much easier it is alternating between legs.

I went in search of a layout that had an improved SFU score and found Colemak DH. This sounded great and its increased focus on rolling was something that appealed to me after experiencing the effect of poor SFU.

It immediately felt like a good move and I think having changed from Qwerty to Workman helped with this transition too.

Funnily enough though having experienced how much better Workman was than Qwerty and then how much better Colemak was than Workman, it got me wondering how much further it was possible to optimize the layout. It turns out like all areas of this crazy journey there are sub-communities who take these areas to extremes and there are many many other layouts out there all scoring differently in different areas.

Someone commented on a video suggesting I should try the ISRT layout which claimed to offer advantages over Colemak DH. I thought I'd try it for an hour and see how it felt to decide if it was worth learning. It immediately felt better again. So I jumped in and learned ISRT. And again the process of learning it felt easier than before which was a relief. It's worth clarifying that I don't wish to downplay how hard it is to learn a new layout – it is extremely hard and not something to undertake lightly, but at least I can say it does get easier the more you do it!

Getting ruthless with key removal

As I started to enjoy the effects of using super-efficient layouts I started to experiment with removing more keys. The goal being to further reduce overall finger movement and fatigue. I started with the Ferris sweep which was a 34 key layout having gone to two thumb keys per side.

I became obsessed with tweaking things and rapidly ended up testing 24 then 18 then 16 key layouts.

Of course at some stage on this journey I had to move some of the alpha keys to a second layer. This was a bit daunting and I questioned if I was taking things too far. But I gave it a go and I immediately felt the advantage of covering less distance with my fingers even if it meant more key presses overall.

Realising I was going to settle on something much less than 34 and having dabbled a bit in customising the Ferris Sweep design with KiCad I started exploring the process of designing my own board from scratch.

At my lowest point I went to 16 keys and realised that I could use two more keys on the thumbs to great effect. So I added them back and settled on the 18 key layout – but these keys weren't the same ones I had on the 18 key layout I'd used prior to the 16. Instead, I felt that the most useful roles for these two new secondary thumb keys would be a repeat key and a way of directly going into my second alpha layer but as capitals. This would eliminate a lot of the additional keypresses resulting from using two alpha key layers.

Discovering Ergogen

As I was iterating smaller layouts so frequently I was thrilled to find Ergogen, a tool to create scaffolding for KiCad for keyboard PCB designs. This wonderful tool makes it very easy to iterate over designs of keyboards with minimal time spent in the more fiddly and less iterable KiCad stage.

Essentially Ergogen allowed me to easily define key positions and then quickly tweak that and have an almost complete KiCad file ready to send to a PCB fabricator. This whole workflow made the process of experimenting with these kinds of keyboards extremely simple.

Moving to wireless

The community of Ergogen users tended to use nice!nano controllers with ZMK instead of the Elite-C with QMK controllers that I'd been using up to now, and this meant split keyboards could be totally wireless, with no connection between the halves or to the host.

This also means that some of the pins on the controller were no longer being used for the TRRS split connection. This is interesting as it means you can have a 36 key keyboard without using diodes to create a matrix. With a non-wireless board the limit was 34 keys. So the holy grail one-distance-from-home (1DFH) layout could now be achieved with super simple PCB design and much simpler soldering requirements.

Incidentally there was some discussion in the Ergogen discord about a better name for that 36 key layout (5x3+3) and the user S'mores suggested "Ergolocus" as a name for this layout which I thought was very cool! "Ergolocus+" could be used to represent 6x3+3 if you wanted the additional pinkie column.

Of course by this time I'd long moved on from such large layouts but I do enjoy the discussion around that size layout. I think it would be a resting point for a lot of people on this journey as it makes so much sense.

While we're in the topic of wireless builds it's also worth mentioning the branch of ZMK that can run in a dongle mode. This is where a third nice!nano is used with a USB connection to the host and then both halves of the board are treated as peripherals to the dongle. This is amazing in a desktop environment is it eliminates bluetooth connectivity issues as well as putting both haves of the keyboard into a low power mode. Consequently they last months at a time on the tiny 301228 batteries. This is how I use my permanently set up split board on my treadmill.

Looking forward

I've been using my 18 key layout for a while now and I don't think there are any major issues with it. The only thing I'm starting to realise is having a split keyboard is actually quite a hassle when it comes to being portable. I'm currently designing a unibody version of the same layout which should make it much easier to use with my iPad as a portable board that still shares exactly the same layout that I use on my desktop, which of course was the whole reason I started on this journey in the first place.

I'd encourage anyone who is interested in optimising their keyboard experience to follow a similar path – it has been a brilliant journey and jumping into the various enthusiast communities along the way has always been an enjoyable experience.

Resources

This article was written on my 18 key “Piano 2” keyboard. The PCB uses the amazing ‘after dark’ black core board with transparent solder mask and gold finish on the copper layer. The layout is based on ISRT by NotGate, modified to divide over two alpha layers.

Ben Vallack (37)

@BenVallack
LocationWiltshire, England
OccupationCo-Founder at SetSeed. YouTube Creator.
NicheTiny layouts, minimising finger movement
Fav. switchChocs
Fav. keycap profileMBK
Other hobbiesJKD, Taekwondo, Circus-fit, Cars
Linkshttps://www.youtube.com/benvallack, https://www.setseed.com

The Handwiring Guy

Joe Scotto, the self-proclaimed “Handwiring Guy” sums up his last few months designing and building handwired keyboards.

My name is Joe Scotto but most of you probably know me by my creative and unique username @joe_scotto. I’m the self-proclaimed “handwiring guy” and over the last few months, I have been completely consumed with designing and handwiring keyboards. I figured for this special issue of KBD, I would talk about how I got into the world of handwiring, the challenges I often face, and some of the other things I do in the keeb world.

So let’s get into it…

How it Started

My earliest experience with handwiring was only a few months ago when building a Corne split keyboard. I wanted to do something different and designed a case to convert the board to an ergonomic monoblock and reposition some of the sixth-column keys into the middle. I prepared the case and plate without knowing anything about keyboard matrixes and just started messing around. My only knowledge going in was that the keys needed to connect to the diodes in a certain way. About an hour later, the keys were working. It was surprising just how simple “hijacking” the matrix was, and soon after, the AssassinCorne was born.

Pic:

My journey into full handwiring started only a few days after the AssassinCorne and a PCB manufacturer reached out to me with a sponsorship. I turned them down due to PCBs being outside of my comfort zone but in doing so, and the way my brain works, I got curious. While researching keyboard PCB design I started coming across handwired builds and quickly found out that it isn’t all that complicated. Basically, when a key is pressed, the x and y coordinate is sent to the controller. If you’re interested in a deeper dive, I have a full tutorial video on my YouTube channel that goes over everything you would need to know about building handwired keyboards.

I wanted to take a moment to give a big thanks to Matt3o and his “Anatomy of a keyboard” article. I highly recommend reading it as it goes into detail on key spacing and overall tolerances to follow. Until finding that article, I was designing my own cases but the plates were just modified from open-source files. It gave me a much better understanding of what a key unit is and gave me the ability to design my own plate and case for my first handwired board.

My Handwiring Journey

On September 19, 2022, I built the Scotto40. It was a simple 3x10 ortholinear board with a somewhat weird bottom row. I originally wanted to use a 2u spacebar but had to scratch that idea due to tolerance issues which we’ll talk about more later. The Scotto40 was my entry drug that to my surprise just worked without any debugging. After that, my descent into madness began and I was pumping out a few boards a week.

Pic:

My next board was a bit more ambitious than the Scotto40. I wanted something more ergonomic and to incorporate an OLED display. After messing around for a while, I designed the Scotto36. It has about 15 degrees of angle on each half and incorporates a 128x32 OLED. After building the board I wasn’t a big fan of the blank space in the middle above the OLED so I took a switch stem, cut it, and glued it in place to give me a place to display my artisans.

Pic:

After the Scotto36, I wanted to build something a bit weird and use stabilizers. That’s when I designed the ScottoSlant which was a 0.25u staggered keyboard with a total of 37 keys including a 2u spacebar. This was my first board that used a stabilizer and took many hours of prototypes to get it working without jamming. It was partially inspired by the Pain27 but a lot more usable.

Pic:

I now had a lot more confidence with stabilizers and wanted to do something with that newfound knowledge. My next board was the ScottoCMD and it had the typical 3x10 layout as my other boards but used a 6.25u spacebar. Because of that long spacebar, I didn’t want to map my tab and enter keys to the bottom row as usual so I decided to move them for ease of access. I decided to put tab and enter right above the 128x64 OLED. The layers are in the normal spot to the right of the spacebar, which although a bit of a reach, works fine. I’m also able to display a bunch of my artisans on the macro row which is neat.

Pic:

The ScottoCMD put me into an OLED phase where I wanted to do something very different. That’s when I created the ScottoGame which yet again was a simple 3x10 ortholinear board but this time I added macros for gaming on the left side, a 2.75u action button, and a raised 128x64 OLED that was angled 60 degrees. My OLED phase quickly ended with this board because I realized that although cool, they’re not really that useful. All my OLED boards basically use the same variation of Bongo Cat and the current toggled layer. This board however is a great example of why I love and think 3D printing handwired boards is so great. You can really build anything your mind can think of with very few limitations. As a side note with this board, I do wish I put the spacebar directly in the middle. I find when using this board for it’s intended purpose, gaming, my thumb tends to fall right there.

Pic:

Now at this point in my journey, I kept looking at this old 1980s Apple M0116 keyboard I had laying in my basement. The board use Alps SKCM orange switches that I originally was going to use on my Corne Nano but decided to go with Alpacas instead as the keycaps from the Apple keyboard wouldn’t really work. What I ended up doing is designing a board called the ScottoAlp that was compatible with both MX and Alp switches. The only problem with this was that I wanted to use the spacebar from the Apple keyboard but getting the weird stabilizer from it working wasn’t something I wanted to mess around with. I ended up just using an MX switch with a 3u spacebar and the problem was solved. Luckily one of my keycap sets had a 3u cap that almost perfectly matched the original Alps keycaps, you have to look really close to see it’s not actually from the same board.

Alps orange switches have to be some of the best tactiles I have ever used. It’s just such a shame they aren’t produced anymore and sourcing them can get very expensive. Luckily the board I ripped mine out of was a $5 thrift store find from a few years back. My rough estimate based on prices I found online is that the 34 Alps of the ScottoAlp would cost $100 for just the switches. Not to mention the fact that Alps keycaps are almost non-existent.

Pic:

The ScottoAlp taught me something important about tiny keyboards and it’s that they aren’t that comfortable. Now, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love my small keebs but I really wanted my “endgame” board. My only real requirements for this were that it needed to be a monoblock, have 36 keys, and be ergonomic. I messed around for a few hours and eventually came up with the ScottoFly, named that way because it looks like wings. I wasn’t a big fan of what would be a blank space in the middle so I incorporated it into the design with a cutout that doubles as a handle. This is the most comfortable board I have ever made and uses 20 degrees of tilt on each half. It also happens to be the board I am typing this on right now.

Pic:

I’m sure by the time this article gets posted I would have made more but as of writing, the ScottoInvader is my most recent board. This was really just something I wanted to make because it would be unique. I think it looks like a Space Invader, hence the name. It also surprisingly isn’t all that uncomfortable to type on. This board was a bit annoying to build though as I had to bend the wires quite a bit to accommodate the 0.25u column stagger.

Pic:

Building and 3D Printing

I feel like this wouldn’t be complete without some info on how I build these boards. As previously mentioned I do have an entire video on YouTube that goes very in-depth on how everything is done exactly but here is that process simplified. These examples will be shown with the ScottoAlp.

First, the matrix is wired up by connecting half of the pins to a wire defining the rows and then connecting the remaining pins to a diode which in turn connects to another wire to define each column. The diodes are used to give the board N-Key rollover and just allow current to only flow in one direction. Take note of the red sections, I use raw copper wire to give the board strength but because of this, there is the possibility of shorts. In order to prevent this, I wrap the intersecting points with heat shrink tubing. I think this way of wiring is much cleaner and sturdier than other methods.

Pic:

After the matrix is defined, each row and column can simply be routed to pins on the controller that get defined within QMK. All that happens when a key is pressed is that it completes the circuit and the controller can pinpoint the x and y coordinate. After this, the board is basically complete. All I have to do next is test it, hot glue the controller into the 3D-printed case, and screw everything together. Sometimes I have to debug shorts but most of the time the system I made just works without any issues.

Pic:

As for the 3D-printed plates and cases, I do something a bit special there too. Normally a 3D print will use something called “infill” which basically saves material by printing most of the interior hollow. Obviously, a hollow print would make a keyboard that sounds hollow so what I do to get around this is print my cases and plates completely solid. The only downsides to this are that it uses a lot of material and takes about 28 hours to print, but I think this is a fine tradeoff. By printing my cases this way I’m able to make them sound a lot better than other 3D-printed boards and they end up being a lot heavier which in turn makes them feel a lot more premium.

Tiny Keyboards Explained

One of the most common things I’m asked is how I use these tiny keyboards. In order for a board to be useful to me, it should have at least 36 keys. Since my boards typically are a 3x10 layout, this means I don’t have shift, tab, enter, backspace, or punctuation in the normal spot. I get around this with some very useful QMK features such as hold-tap where my space bar acts as space on tap or command on hold. I also have my right thumb cluster to act as tab or enter on tap and toggle my code or number layer on hold. Shift is simply mapped to on hold of Z or question mark. Backspace would have been where semicolon is but since I’m a Colemak user, I was able to map that to a more traditional space on the top right. Most of my punctuation is moved to my “code” layer along with arrows and media keys. Numbers and symbols are just on another layer with a focus on home row.

I try to use basically the same exact layout on all my boards so that when I switch between them, I don’t have to remap any muscle memory. I also try to keep as much as possible on home row in order to limit finger movement as much as possible. I’ve been using the same number and code layer for over 2 years now and to this day still think it’s superior to any other layout although many would argue it isn’t.

Pic:

The Project

When I made my first handwired board, I figured it would be cool to release all of them for free so anyone could download, print, and build them. There are however a few rules I try to follow. The main one is that all the boards I design should fit on a standard 220x220mm print bed. By limiting the project to this sized 3D printer I can ensure that the largest amount of people can actually make them. Most importantly however is that the project should be boards that I would personally be able to use.

There of course have been a few exceptions to these rules such as the board I built for my mom, the ScottoStarter. This board does fit on a standard 220mm build plate but, it has way too many keys for me. I like my boards to keep as much on home row as possible and pretty much exclusively use 36 key layouts. This board has an extra row for those keys that I would normally have to remap. It also uses a 3u spacebar with a custom stabilizer wire, which was not very fun getting right in regards to tolerances.

Pic:

I also sometimes design boards and then give up on them leading to a whole “abandoned” branch on the project repo for these. If I’m not feeling the board, I don’t try to force it. This has been happening more and more lately as I run out of ideas. To solve this, I plan on making larger boards but we’ll talk more about that in the next section.

Challenges and Issues

The biggest challenge I face is that I’m quickly running out of ideas for new boards. I want to start making boards that are bigger than the standard 220x220mm build plate, but there are a few issues with that. I could just design larger boards for larger printers but then that would not be true to the rules I set for the project. Another possibility is splitting the board into multiple parts and gluing them together but that leaves you with an ugly seam. I believe the solution is to break them up but I will need to get creative with the seam and instead of having it as a negative, incorporate it into the design of the board. There also is the question of strength with the seam, which is obviously a large weak point.

By far the most annoying thing I’ve faced has to be stabilizers, they give me such a headache almost every time I design a board with them. Since my boards are handwired, I need to use plate-mounted stabilizers but those require a 1.5mm plate. I print mine at 3mm to improve the overall feel and sound. The way I’ve gotten around this is strategic cutouts to mix the 3mm plate with the 1.5mm portions required for the stabilizer. However, those cutouts don’t solve the tolerance issues with stabilizers. Normally tolerances aren’t an issue with things like cases and switch cutouts but when it comes to stabilizers a tiny difference means it will constantly bind. This leads to a lot of back and forth trying to redesign the plate with tolerances in mind or adding a ton of screws around the stabilizer to help hold it in place properly. The best solution I’ve found to this issue so far is to use heavy switches for stabilized keys and normally, that solves the issue.

Pic:

Other Ventures

Handwiring is my largest project but I also do a few other things with keebs. Mainly, I make artisan keycaps and have been for a few years now. All the artisans shown are my own.

I guess this is the section for my shameless sales pitch but I sell keycaps, cases, kits, and full keyboards over on scottokeebs.com. Not only do these fund myself, life ain’t cheap, but a lot of the money ends up getting put back into the project so I can give the files away for free.

Pic:

Bye for Now

I hope you enjoyed this and I have to give a massive shout-out to Tamas for his work on KBD and for inviting me to take part in this special issue.

If you’re interested in learning more, you can find me on YouTube as just “Joe Scotto”. I do videos on builds, QMK, 3D printing, and lots of other stuff related to handwired keyboards. I’m also on Reddit, Instagram, and Twitter as “@joe_scotto”.

I wrote this with standard Colemak on my favorite handwired board I designed, the ScottoFly. The specific one I’m using has Gateron Milky Yellows that were lubed with Krytox 205G0. It’s printed in matte black PLA on a heavily upgraded Ender-3 and uses some super cheap DSA keycaps, which happens to be my favorite profile.

Joe Scotto (23)

joe_scotto
LocationSyracuse, NY
Description3D Printed Handwired Keyboard Builder
OccupationMaker of Things.
Joined2019
NicheHandwired Keyboards
Fav. switchJWK Lil’ Tyke Linears
Fav. keycap profileDSA
Other hobbiesDrones, Videography, Photography
Linkshttps://youtube.com/joe_scotto, https://instagram.com/joe_scotto, https://twitter.com/joe_scotto

Projects

TeeShirt

This angled monoblock keyboard by dj_edit dubbed TeeShirt comes in three different sizes.

Ming-Gih Lam's TeeShirt is a stylish unibody split – open-source and available in different sizes/cases.

Back again with another weird project of mine. TeeShirt is an ergonomic monoblock keyboard with a one-size-fits-some PCB design that supports 3 different sized builds: S, M, and L – dj_edit.

Variants

  • Size S: caseless barebones keyboard build
  • Size M: custom slim acrylic case build
  • Size L: standard 60% case (GH60 compatible) build

Pic:

Features

  • Supports 1.5u and 1.25u thumb keys to reduce gap between keycaps
  • Spacebars can be 2u or 1.5u for stab-less builds
  • Center key can be swapped out for a rotary encoder
  • Supports 128x32 OLED display
  • Utilizes hot-swap sockets
  • Uses Pro Micro MCU footprint: Elite-C, Nice!Nano, etc.

My main motivation for this was to create an ergonomic layout that can fit inside a 60% case; perfect for those of us who are looking for a more premium look and feel. I've seen some other kits that do this, but I wasn't able to find anything open source, so that's why I came up with the TeeShirt. I also wanted to simplify the PCB assembly by using an Elite-C, which means I had to relocate the USB-C to the upper left while making it low-profile enough to still fit into the case. So I did an unconventional thing and made use of the data lines on the MCU, which works like a charm! An Elite-Pi should work as well, which is why the rev2 repo version of the PCB has a cutout for you to access the D+/D- pads on the back of the MCU – dj_edit.

Pic: TeeShirt in a white granite Mason60 Zen series case by Brazen Studio

TeeShirt in a white granite Mason60 Zen series case by Brazen Studio

But not everyone wants a large 60% case, which is why I also designed 2 other builds. The medium build uses a custom stacked acrylic case which is much more compact. And the small build just uses standoffs with a bottom plate and switch plate – dj_edit.

Resources


Swweeep

The swweeep is an open source, wireless only split keyboard with nice!view support. Committed by sadekbaroudi.

The swweeep was created after the sweeeeep as a wireless alternative. Given the nice!nano has two less GPIO pins than the Elite-C, Sadek had to remove the data pin (and therefore TRRS). So this is wireless only.

So, to keep the silliness going, this has an extra W for the wireless only, and 3 Es for the 3 extra required pins on the nice!nano – Sadek Baroudi.

Given it's a wireless only build, it made sense to add nice!view support, since it consumes much less power than the typical OLED. That meant that it would consume one too many GPIO pins. In the spirit of low power consumption, removing per key RGB was a natural decision, leaving it with just enough GPIOs for this board.

Resources


simplyKeeb S60

The S60 is a member of the simplyKeeb family designed by Geaz84. Split, 60 keys, open source.

Gerrit Gazic aka Geaz84 shared the simplyKeeb S60, a fairly large ortholinear split keyboard with number row.

This is the second member of the author's simplyKeeb family, which includes an earlier, fully 3D printed model as well.

After using my old build quite a while, it became obvious that I really like it! But the printed keyboard had a few flaws (for example the hotswap sockets won't take many switch swaps, before they wear off) – Geaz84.

The S60 is the PCB variant supporting MX switches. It uses on-board SMD components, including an RP2040 for the master and an IO Expander for the secondary half.

Resources


SS4H-EK Video Editing Keypad

An open-source, wooden video editing keypad by Sokolsok: the SS4H-EK.

Sebastian aka Sokolsok made a wooden macropad with encoder and display.

I made a wooden case for it. But I realize that not everyone has a CNC at home. That’s why you can 3D print it instead – Sokolsok.

As I can see, you have to subscribe to get a link to the source files.


Lego65

Lego65 – an open-source 65% LEGO keyboard project by DarkoVader.

New week, new LEGO keyboard project. After the very affordable 60% KBDcraft Adam kits, this time an open-source 65% keyboard: Lego65 by DarkoVader.

While the github repo of the project is available with some info, it lacks some important sections, e.g. the complete LEGO assembly part.

The 3.2mm rule

As Darko points out, a LEGO stud is exactly 3.2mm high, which leads us to the "3.2mm rule":

Your plate combined with gaskets needs to be 3.2mm thick. Nothing else matters here more than that - if you mess this up, the keyboard will not work properly – Darko.

  • If your plate + gasket combination is less than 3.2mm the LEGO will not grip it tight, and this will result in plate bouncing inside the keyboard.
  • If your plate + gaskets is more than 3.2mm thick, the LEGO will not close all the way, or it will constantly pop open at the top.

Darko suggests using a 1.2mm thick plate, and then you can add 1mm gaskets to the bottom and to the top of plate, which means your plate-sandwich would be exactly 3.2mm thick.

Resources


Lets Split case

Lets unite? A 3D printed monoblock case for the Lets Split by altapowderdog.

Carter Hund aka altapowderdog designed and shared a case for the Lets Split PCBs.

Integrating a "thumb numpad" this device became a nice unibody split keyboard with some tenting (3-4°) and angle between the halves (5°).

I designed this for the Lets Split Rev 2. It is cyberpunk-inspired. It has a thumb macro pad – altapowderdog.

Build video here:

Resources


Thumbs Up! V2

Sasha Karmanov shared his distinctive Thumbs Up! V2 keyboard with a raised thumb cluster.

The ThumbsUpUnsplitV2 is a multilevel 44-key monoblock keyboard by Sasha Karmanov aka ak66666.

Sasha has been experimenting with this multilevel approach for some time. See his Fish Ladder, raised PCB-based thumb cluster or Unsplit Thumbs Up.

This latest V2 model puts the fourth row one level up.

Pic:

The raised thumb cluster brings thumbs closer to palm, to their natural neutral position. Their movements are reduced and well within their "free play" range, i.e. the thumb action doesn't cause the rest of the palm to rotate. I came up with the design after a series of experiments over the last three years, starting with the flat ones like ergodox and Let's split and through many Dactyl-Manuforms. This one is something in between. For now that's the best option (before the split version, of course) – ak66666.

While this approach may be not everyone's cup of tea, the way the PCB pieces are stacked and connected is worth a closer look:

Pic:

To escalate things further, Sasha plans to integrate a touchpad:

Waiting for the nice!nano to arrive, so it will become wireless. Also need Cirque touchpad, it will go to the top layer from the bottom.

Resources


Community

On the Japanese MK calendars

Some thoughts about the tradition of MK advent calendars in the Japanese DIY keyboard community. As the 0th day post of the first KBD.NEWS Advent Calendar.

This article is part of the KBD.NEWS Advent Calendar 2022. The next post will be Falling Down The Rabbit Hole by Ben Vallack.

[Behind-the-Scenes-of-Issue-104-1761.html|In my recent editorials]] I teased a new seasonal series starting off tomorrow: the KBD.NEWS Advent Calendar (2022). (Update: [2023) This is the first time I've been organizing such an event, however, the format is nothing new.

It's a popular custom in Japan, and I've been a big fan of these events since I was introduced to them by my followers on Twitter.

I was curious how and when this tradition of the Japanese mechanical keyboard community started so I did a little research.

I tried to reach out to some of the organizers without much success – well, as you will see, being an organizer is not that big deal, it involves merely the setting up of the calendar on one of the dedicated sites for these kind of scheduled posts.

I haven't received much feedback so most of the info below is the result of some googling, and @hasumikin pointed me to an interview with three devs of Qiita and Adventar, the online services making these calendars possible and easy to set up for even uninitiated folks.

So fellow Japanese freaks, feel free to correct me and extend this post with your thoughts.

What the heck is a MK advent calendar?!

Traditionally, it's a series of longer format posts written by revered members of the community, who write tutorials, introduce their projects in details, or simply sum up their whole year in the hobby. Well, any hobby or field of life. This is not restricted to mechanical keyboards.

You simply enter the title and url of your post, and it's revealed on the day it's scheduled for.

(And if I have to explain what an advent calendar in general is, it's a calendar that is used to count the days until Christmas.)

Actual MK calendars of 2022

You can find this year's related Adventar calendars here and here.

And there's one on Qiita full of empty slots, if you'd like to contribute: here.

These posts will be revealed one by one daily, starting tomorrow! However, since many write-ups present valuable content, some of them becoming reference materials for years, it's worth to check out previous calendars as well.

But before that, lets take a quick look at how this phenomenon took off in Japan.

How this phenomenon took off

According to the research of Jun Owada, who was briefly involved in the development of Adventar, the roots of the modern day custom can be traced back to 2000 and to the 2000 Pearl Advent Calendar. The first Japanese one was in 2008.

However, just like many things in life, the format took off when the basic infrastructure was born which allowed for less tech-savvy people to contribute. In Japan, these services are Qiita and Adventar.

Pic:

Launched in 2011, the Qiita Advent Calendar is available for a limited time from December 1st to 25th every year. It's a seasonal feature of Qiita – a Japanese company and "study management platform".

Another service called Adventar started around the same time, in 2012. As of my understanding, this one is preferred by the local MK scene.

Pic:

In contrast to many earlier initiatives, these two were dedicated services.

I'm sure there are many similar web services all over the world, but the awareness may be lower, and I'm not sure we can talk about a calendar culture similar to that in Japan.

Regardless, these services only offer the easy-to-use environment, the real deal is the actual content and how various communities can fill this empty shell with quality posts.

2017-2021

Lets list some calendars of the past. Actually, all the calendars I could find with my limited means of doing searches in Japanese. ;)

2021

In 2021, there were at least five calendars I know of: Yoichiro Tanaka (@yoichiro) organized some (here, here, here), with KEEB_PD having another one, just like hasumikin.

(When all the 24 slots of a calendar are filled up, the organizer can start the next one.)

2020

There were two calendars by youon_ep (here and here).

2019

youon_ep had two calendars in 2019 as well: here & here.

2018

In 2018, youon_ep started three calendars: here, here and here;

2017

In 2017, takedahachio had a calendar, which is the earliest MK calendar I know of: https://adventar.org/calendars/2114

Feel free to point me to some others I missed. And also to check out some of the posts which, given they were written by some of the all-stars of the scene, are often awesome.

(Of course there are many related calendars about typing, hacking, and about gadgets where you can stumble upon keyboards.)

Starting tomorrow!

Finally, here is the first KBD.NEWS Advent Calendar:

https://kbd.news/advent-calendar-2022

Stay tuned, and feel free to check back regularly in the next couple of days.


Tips & Tricks

Sea-Picro

Josh Johnson released the Sea-Picro, a Pro Micro alternative with RP2040 and some neat features.

The Sea-Picro is a RP2040 based development board in the classic Pro Micro form factor. It's designed to be a drop in replacement for keyboards wanting an upgrade from ATmega32u4 based Pro Micros. (Thanks for the tip bgkendall!)

It comes in two variants: EXT and RST.

  • EXT – featuring an Elite-C pinout, with dedicated 5V RGB LED pin, but without a reset button.
  • RST – featuring a Pro Micro pinout, with onboard RGB LED and reset button.

Features

  • Compatible with most Pro Micro based keyboards
  • RP2040 microcontroller, with dual M0+ processors at up to 133MHz
  • Mid-mount USB-C connector, which is low profile and can't be ripped off easily
  • IO pinout identical to the Sparkfun RP2040 Pro Micro (RST) or Elite-C (EXT), adding an additional 5 IO for larger keyboards
  • Single button reset
  • ROM bootloader which prevents board from being bricked
  • EXT version has a 5V level shifter and extra pin to drive strings of WS2812 LEDs.
  • RST version has a WS2812 LED for use with CircuitPython or as a status indicator on the RST version.
  • Onboard power LED.

One Button Reset

To makes life easier for keyboards that install the microcontroller upside down, or have limited access to the reset buttons, the Sea-Micro implements a one button reset with the associated circuitry:

One of the tricky things with the RP2040 is that unlike the pro micro, to update the firmware you need to use two buttons in sequence to put it into the bootloader – Josh.

To get around this, the Sea-Picro's circuit will reset the board when tapped for less than 500ms, but will jump into the bootloader when held for more than 1 second.

Availability

The Sea-Picro can be purchased from:

Sea-Micro

FYI, Josh released another controller earlier: the Sea-Micro is a Pro Micro alternative with USB C connector.

Resources


MBK Convex on the way

MBK Convex and MBK POM keycaps are on the way to vendors.

Ouch. Stephen sent me this photo of a Mini-van Choc board almost two weeks ago. I forgot to post it somehow even though I asked for a larger image. I blame it on the giveaway and the advent calendar. :D

The plate in the photo is open-sourced but that isn't the point.

The main thing is: the board features MBK Convex and MCC keycaps (it would work equally well with MBK replacing MCC) which, after the announcement earlier this year, are now on their way to your favorite shops.

MBK Convex and MBK POM keycaps are now on the way to vendors – Stephen Cheng.

Anyway, I still can't see these caps listed by my go-to stores so this is hopefully still news. Maybe not. :D

(This board was designed to use the Chocovan case, but you can make a super small and slim keyboard if you also make a new case.)


Inspiration

Pittheus

Ikeji's Pittheus is a foldable monoblock keyboard with a clever hinge mechanism.

Our good old friend Ikeji, who had more than a heavy hand in the Google JP stick keyboard, came back to me (thanks!) with his Pittheus, a cool 3D foldable ortho keyboard with Atreus angles.

I've been eyeing with this exciting project since early October but the project page was published only recently.

We've seen foldable keyboards before, but usually they were intended to fold on a different plane: to adjust the angle between the halves. So I deem this design a unique foldable mechanism which results in an angled monoblock keyboard. Very cool.

Features

  • The layout is based on the common 4x6 arrangement with 2 extra keys added at the hinges.
  • 16mm spacing to achieve a more compact device.
  • Both the left and right halves are tilted by 20° which was inspired by a similar angle of the Atreus.
  • The name Pittheus is derived from Atreus, and it's a reference to Greek mythology as well (Pittheus).
  • The USB cable is fixed to the keyboard, and can be wrapped around the whole thing in its closed state.

While the Pittheus already looks awesome, the author is going to make a low profile version:

I think it’s too thick. I think I should use low profile switches instead of the Cherry MX style ones – Ikeji.

Unfortunately, the files are not open source, better said Ikeji has no particular plans with the design yet. He told me he may share the files in the future.

Resources


Armachat TOUCH

Not a classic keyboard, not a classic cyberdeck: Armachat TOUCH by bobricius.

The Armachat TOUCH "doomsday communicator" is just a bare PCB, not a real product and not open source either.

I still thought it may be worth a post since I find it inspiring: an ortho touch keyboard and a display recessed into the PCB (check out the video below).

Only bare PCB of prototype, more as collectable like usable. In to your collection or for developers. There are some bugs which I fix in next year batch (etc, fix keyboard backlight, change pinout and PCB trace antenna) – Bobricius.

Resources


That was Issue #105. Thanks for stopping by.

This issue was made possible by the donations of:
splitkb.com, MoErgo Glove80, PCBWay, Aiksplace, u/chad3814, @keebio, @kaleid1990, MKUltra, Sean Grady, Cyboard, cdc, ghsear.ch, u/motfalcon, KEEBD, kiyejoco, Bob Cotton, FFKeebs, Richard Sutherland, @therick0996, Jacob Mikesell, Joel Simpson, Keebstuff, Lev Popov, Christian Mladenov, littlemer-the-second, Spencer Blackwood, Christian Lo, Yuan Liu, Upgrade Keyboards, Daniel Nikolov, u/eighty58five, Davidjohn Gerena, Caleb Rand, Skyler Thuss, Fabian Suceveanu, anonymous, Arto Olli, Hating TheFruit

Your support is crucial to help this project to survive.

Discussion over at r/mk!
×
top