Keyboard Builders' Digest
High-performance gaming gear from Marvo!

Issue 113 / Week 5 / 2023

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.

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Contents

Editorial

Behind the Scenes of Issue 113

Sending out the newsletter is no longer free. Quick news. Lots of new shops and discounts.

Hey y'all,

The future of the newsletter

From next month on I'll have to pay for the newsletter to be sent out. I'm polling newsletter subscribers this week. Check out today's email for the link to the google form. Just 3-5 quick questions. Thanks for your time!

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Welcome back for another edition of Keyboard Builders' Digest (this time Issue #113), a weekly temporarily fortnightly 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.

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Newsletter dilemma

So MailChimp has announced an update to their free plan – effective in three weeks. Just after Buttondown changed its business model as well.

I've been using these two services simultaneously to optimize costs – to stay below the pay threshold –, but from now on I would have to pay. For a newsletter which is free for you and extra work for me at the same time. ;)

Obviously, I don't want to charge you anything or turn this newsletter into a paid service, but I could make use of some extra donations to cover these expenses which will amount to about $500 this year.

If you are a shop runner and are interested in "sponsoring" the newsletter, paying the monthly fee of about $50 ($39 MC + $9 BD + PP fees) these days, what I can offer you is I'd indicate your contribution in each newsletter.

If you are a reader and would like to help, please DO NOT donate $1-2. A big share of these tiny sums goes to PayPal, e.g. I get less than half of a $1 donation.

So I'd need a generous sponsor, or about 5-10 people who could donate $5-10 a month (e.g. 5x$10 or 10x$5). So the support of 5-10 people would keep the newsletter alive for another 2,600 subscribers.

Thanks in advance!

Personal difficulties

As you've probably seen, the blog is still in low-power mode. I keep bookmarking cool projects, but I post only occasionally. My wife has been in hospital for a month now and I'm still juggling with work, kids, household, etc.

Quick news

  • Two years after the IC, Lu announced the GB of the TRIFL keycaps: https://shop.rutomoda.com/reddit (Related post.)
  • Shift Happens is happening (Kickstarter campaign). The history of keyboards – from early typewriters to modern mechanical marvels – told in two volumes. (Related post.)
  • I intentionally skipped 40s Day this year. It's too overwhelming to process all the posts on r/mk around this time. Let me know if I missed any important 40% board.

Microsoft ergonomic?!

As already told, my life is still a total chaos, and I missed a lot of cool vintage stuff which I would have otherwise bought. I'm not sure if this is something bad or good, but I simply don't have time for bidding and keeping an eye on local classified sites, my usual sources of old, yellowed, and sometimes even smelly abominations.

That said, I ordered a medical device for my wife, and because I'm on the way all day, instead of my home I ordered the device to a nearby pick-up point of the courier: a small computer shop I've never been to.

As it turned out, they sell almost exclusively used computers. A few years old, absolutely usable ones. I asked around if they have older stuff, and it seems I serendipitously stumbled into a new source of vintage keyboards. ;)

There wasn't much to see at the time I stopped by, but I was told they will call me if there's anything interesting. And I picked up a Microsoft Natural Ergonomic 4000 for next to nothing (and will check back for an interesting IBM POS keyboard.)

Pic:

Well, I'm not really interested in these behemoths, but I have one of the first beige Gen1 MS Naturals from 1994 so I thought the 4K will fit into the collection.

I'd never tried these "ergonomic" boards before designing my own so laying my hands on the 4K was a totally new experience. It takes up all the space on my desk, it's really awful to type on (gave up after a few minutes), mushy, and despite being split-ish and tented, the row staggering renders the layout absolutely unusable for me. (It's pretty insane how far the Backspace is compared to my thumb Backspace – I could barely find it.) Regardless, I'll have to keep an eye on all the models between this 4K and the Gen1 one now to complete the collection. ;)

Vendor database

New shops and updates to the database of keyboard vendors:

  • 3dkeycap (QC, Canada) offered you a 25%(!) discount (use the KBDNEWS coupon code). Once the opening promotion is done (end of Feb?), the discount will be dropped back to 10%.
  • WhatGeek, Hong Kong. 10% off.
  • GoblinTechkeys, Malaysia. 10% off.
  • CLS Tech, Perth, Australia – 5% discount for everything except full keyboards.
  • h40.io offered you a 5% discount as well (clicking this link adds the discount automatically).
  • Laneware Peripherals, Brisbane, Australia.
  • MechVault, Mechlovin.

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.

Donors

  • Yay, two new supporters: Thanks Emily Muse and Geobert Quach!
  • But two recurring donors have left the board, so – especially with MailChimp practically killing the free plan and charging a monthly fee for lists over 500+ subscribers – I could really make use of some more recurring donors.

As I write it in my year-end summary, maintaining this site takes a lot of energy and time. (According to the Reddit Recap stats that's 100 hours per month on Reddit only.) If you'd like and can afford to help, here is the donation form.

And many thanks to everyone who supported this project in any of its development stages.

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That's all for today. Thanks for checking by.

Cheers, Tamás


Projects

CCRX case

CCRX, a WK/WKL keyboard case open sourced by obitae.

The CCRX (Classic Corsa Redux V2) by obitae aka dark is a keyboard designed as a homage to the original custom keyboards, specifically the Korean OTD keyboards machined from metal; like those designed by Eungsam where the typing angle is defined by the keyboard case and not the keyboard feet.

Pictured is the CCRX, designed by me. I've made improvements and adjustments and open sourced the second version based on those changes. This is the first time I'm releasing the files of something I've designed to the community, I hope that everyone can get enjoyment out of it – obitae.

Pic:

Specs

  • 7 degree typing angle
  • Under 17mm adjusted front height without bumpons
  • Compatible with SJ5302 bumpons (8mm diameter made by 3M)
  • WK (Winkey) and WKL (Winkeyless) top case versions available
  • Bottom case with 'OTD 360c' homage styling
  • 'Through' Weight, which gives the illusion of being two separate weights
  • PCB compatibility: Anubis by Gondolindrim, WT80/graphite by WilbaTech
  • Plate compatibility: Jane V2 (top mount), Ecliptica plate.

Pic:

Resources


Splaynck

The Splaynck by kIt5uN3FP is a 40% unibody keyboard with symmetrical stagger.

Inspired by RominRonin's Katana60, kIt5uN3FP aka Maker-Gitsune published his handwired, 3D-printed 40% keyboard with symmetrical stagger: the Splaynck.

I couldn't find [a mechanical keyboard] that was exactly what I wanted, so I made it myself. I was inspired by the SICK-68 and the Katana60. It has gotten me through a semester (with coding) and ~10k words of prose amongst other things – kIt5uN3FP.

Specs

  • 40% (45 keys)
  • no stabilizers
  • Symmetrical, isometric stagger
  • handwired

If you are interested in these mirrored symmetrical layouts, you should check out my interview with RominRonin, Takeshi Nishio's Nora or the Infernum. But even Ottimo's Salisbury-1859.html.

Resources


Trackswitch Manuform

Rishikesh Vaishnav's Trackswitch Manuform introduces a mouse-level shift mechanism.

Rishikesh Vaishnav aka rish-987 has published his Trackswitch Manuform, introducing a clickable trackball which can activate the mouse layer.

According to the author, this keyboard is an attempt to make a best-of-both-worlds combination between the modular design of dereknheiley's Compactyl and the trackball-enabled design of noahprince22's tracktyl manuform.

While the left side of the keyboard features a thumb cluster with five keys, the right side incorporates a trackball mount with a mechanism (consisting of a switch mounted underneath the trackball) that allows the trackball itself to act as a "switch" that can be pressed down to both enable mouse movement and activate the mouse button layer.

This means that you don't have to press any buttons to enter the mouse layer before using the trackball – the action of pressing down the trackball (and thus activating the trackswitch) shifts into the mouse layer. I refer to this collective assembly as the "trackswitch" – Rish.

Both the trackswitch and trackball sensor have fully parameterized mounts with mounting mechanisms that allow their distance from the trackball to be micro-adjustable. The case mounts for the Arduino Micro and Pro Micro devboards are fully parameterized as well.

Pic:

Resources


40% Fulcrum

A new 40-key version of the Fulcrum – by ghostfaceschiller.

The Fulcrum by ghostfaceschiller aka dschil138, a wireless ergonomic keyboard featuring 5-way switch joysticks mounted horizontally, has two versions now:

I made a post last week about the original version, which has 20 keys. I realize most people don't really want just 20 keys, so I made a 40% version as well – ghostfaceschiller.

The angled platform for the joysticks has been also redesigned to be smaller/more discrete.

Resources

All files and some build instruction are available on Github.


Orthocade family

Weteor has published some new ortho keyboards with his hallmark offset spacebar forming the Orthocade family.

After the SPC EVDR, weteor added three more ortholinear keyboards to his Orthocade family:

I've continued playing with ortho layouts and just open sourced three new keyboards. I am calling it the 'Orthocade' family, cause it started with the Spc Evdr and grew from there, so they all got names from old video games – weteor.

Currently there are four boards in the line-up:

  • Spc Evdr, featured in KBD#104.
  • Brk Out, which evolved from the Spc Evdr to provide a bit more space for the hands and also have the possibility to stretch the spacebar area to a more standard 6u.
  • Froggr, which extends to 12u to have room for standard modifiers.
  • DigDug – 12u, derived from 3x5 layouts with macro and arrow keys added without loosing the symmetry of ortho boards.

All of these boards feature the same Resin with acrylic inlay case design where bottom and top are held together by magnets and the top case has a 3mm recessed area, where a laser cut acrylic sheet can be glued or stuck in place. Also works with 3mm laser cut metal, like seen on the Brk Out which has a stainless steel inlay:

Pic:

Resources


Brk Out

Weteor's Brk Out is a 38-key orthogonal keyboard with split alphas and offset space.

As part of his Orthocade family, weteor has open sourced the Brk Out, a 38-key orthogonal keyboard with split alphas and offset space.

Named after another classic video game, just like other boards of this series, the Brk Out evolved from the Spc Evdr to provide some more space for the hands and to stretch the spacebar area to a more standard 6u.

Specs

  • 38 MX switches
  • hotswap
  • Seeed Xiao controller (RP2040 or BLE) on an Orthocade MCU board
  • ZMK (Xiao BLE) or QMK w/vial (Xiao RP2040) support
  • Multiple bottom row arrangements supported
  • Resin with acrylic inlay case design

Resources


Froggr

Froggr is the next board in weteor's Orthocade family: a 12u ortholinear keyboard with 48 keys and offset bottom row.

Another model published as part of weteor's Orthocade family: the Froggr is an ortholinear keyboard with 43-48 keys and an offset bottom row.

Froggr, which extends to 12u to have room for standard modifiers. Build this for my wife, because she wanted to learn touch typing and I think 12u is a lot easier to get into than 10u – weteor.

Specs

  • 43-48 MX switches
  • hotswap
  • Seeed Xiao controller (RP2040 or BLE) on an Orthocade MCU board
  • ZMK (Xiao BLE) or QMK w/vial (Xiao RP2040) support
  • Multiple bottom row arrangements supported
  • Resin with acrylic inlay case design

Resources


DigDug

DigDug is weteor's latest model in the Orthocade family: with some exploded key groups.

The latest model published as part of weteor's Orthocade family is the DigDug – following the nomenclature based on classic video games. It is another ortholinear keyboard with even more offset clusters, and 43-45 keys.

Just going with the 12u and see where I can get with it. I am used to 3x5 layouts and just wanted to add some makro keys and arrow keys without loosing the symmetry of ortho boards. Just from the looks my absolute favourite. – weteor.

Specs

  • 43-45 MX switches
  • hotswap
  • Seeed Xiao controller (RP2040 or BLE) on an Orthocade MCU board
  • ZMK (Xiao BLE) or QMK w/vial (Xiao RP2040) support
  • Multiple bottom row arrangements supported
  • Resin with acrylic inlay case design

Resources


Amano

Amano is an Alice layout keyboard designed by h40, with case and wrist rest files published.

Heavily inspired by the original Alice design by yuktsi of TGR, the case, wrist rest and packaging (carrying case foam) design files for h40's Amano, an Alice layout keyboard, have been published.

The Amano project is open source and I believe the builder community you are maintaining would appreciate it – h40.

The top mount Alice-style case (with a weight) is compatible with the Mechlovin Adelais Rev. 4 Alice PCB.

h40 aka h.i offered you a 5% discount as well at h40.io – clicking this link adds the discount automatically.

Specs

  • Alice layout
  • Top mount
  • 7 degrees typing angle
  • Aluminum/polycarbonate tops, polycarbonate bottoms, brass or stainless steel weight
  • Effective keyboard height of 23.1mm

Sound test

Resources


Valkyrie folding keyboard

VFK-001 aka Valkyrie folding keyboard, a vertical Dactyl that can be folded up and taken with you. Shared by v0Che.

The Valkyrie or vfk-001, a detachable monoblock split by v0Che, uses a cool folding tenting mechanism:

Last year I used a heavily modified Skeleton from aaa_tu as the main keyboard. I really liked such a high dactyl arc (45deg) but I could not take it on the travel. Two months ago I decided to explore the topic of folding dactyls on quiet mx switches (kailh chocs give less height but don't have quiet switches) – v0Che.

According to the author, the design process was an exciting journey through the world of 3d modeling and a lot of prototypes – there were stability issues and the transformation mechanism was unreliable.

To fix the problem of the stability, v0Che designed a magnetic stabilizer that can be easily removed so the Valkyrie can be used as a separate split with a notebook between the halves.

Pic:

And the origin on the name (and colorway)?

The color scheme of the keyboard uses a design from the anime of my childhood – Macross and unit VF-1 Valkyrie.

Resources


Tips & Tricks

Rectangular ffkb case

A rectangular case for the ffkb shared by Sadek Baroudi.

More inspiration from GEIST. I took my ffkb chunky low profile case, added a rectangle around it (while keeping the original case exposed), and made this – Sadek Baroudi.

Resources


History

Livermore's Permutation Typograph

A pocket-sized chording typewriter with six keys by Benjamin Livermore – from the 1850s.

Marcin Wichary's upcoming book brought this gadget to my attention. I wanted to post about this machine back at the time when I featured Marcin's book, but waiting for permission to use the photos below plus unexpected turns of my life got in the way…

Pic: Benjamin Livermore's Device for hand-printing (source)

Benjamin Livermore's Device for hand-printing (source)

Designed by Benjamin Livermore in the 1830-1850s and patented in 1863, the Permutation Typograph, Pocket Writing Machine, or the Device for hand-printing as the inventor called it, was "arguably, the world's first mechanical mobile text entry device", a small device with only six keys ("finger-pieces").

Pic: (source)

Invented in the 1850s in Hartland, Vermont, this tool could be operated eyes-free, in one's jacket pocket, with one hand. An excerpt from the patent:

“Be it known that I, BENJAMIN LIVERMORE, of Hartland, in the county of Windsor and State of Vermont, have invented a new and Improved Hand-Printing Device or Mechanical Typographer; […] The object of this invention is to obtain a portable device which may be held in the hand and operated with the greatest facility for printing direct upon paper or other suitable material. To this end the invention consists in the employment or use of a combination-type--that is to say, a type composed of several sections, arranged and combined in such a manner that any one of the sections may be used seperately, and certain parts used combined, in order to form the different letters of the alphabet, as hereafter set forth.”

Pic:

So in contrast to typewriters typing out letters, Livermore came up with an alphabet based on six base parts, similarly to some LCD characters hundred years later, thus the six moving pieces and keys. According to William A. Buxton, this was one of the three approaches to entering text by striking keys (at least before the 20th century) – the other methods being the classic typewriter style and the "time-multiplexed one-button keyboard" aka telegraph/Morse). Here are Livermore's base elements:

Pic:

Since the base elements don't interfere, the keys move independently, there are 64 possible combinations (including the zero case, which I'm not sure is possible to type), so plenty of room for an alphabet and extra characters:

Pic: Livermore's alphabet A to Z

Livermore's alphabet A to Z

Most of these letters are straightforward and intuitive, only a handful of them stretches your imagination.

When I tried to find more info on this piece of history, I stumbled upon some really great resources, most notably the Battison Museum's website (Edwin Battison was a protégé of the English/Livermore family, read the whole story here.)

Pic: Benjamin Livermore with his sister, Emily, and her children – with the typograph in the middle (source)

Benjamin Livermore with his sister, Emily, and her children – with the typograph in the middle (source)

Livermore's approach inspired other inventions, alphabets and fonts, especially for the blind and visually impaired.

Finally, if you'd like to try "typing" on the typograph, there's a simulator on the shifthappens site.

Resources


That was Issue #113. Thanks for stopping by.

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

Your support is crucial to help this project to survive.

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