Issue 114 / Week 7 / 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.
- Tips & Tricks
Behind the Scenes of Issue 114
Update on the status of the newsletter, deinfluencing, new shops and discounts, in the mailbox, deskmat, etc.
Welcome back for another edition of Keyboard Builders' Digest (this time Issue #114), 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.
Lots of topics to talk about this time: newsletter, deinfluencing, new deskmat, new shops and discounts, 3-4 keyboards in the mailbox, etc.
TLDR: Most likely I'll suspend the newsletter from March until I find out the best and cheapest way to continue. In the meantime, feel free to use the RSS, subscribe on Twitter (@KbdNews). Or you can just check back to the blog every now and then. ;)
So in my recent newsletter #113 – which btw I successfully managed to mess up again (subject was "#112" for half of the recipients) – I shared a link pointing to a short questionnaire. Your comments on my handful of questions on the future of the email version of these issues, the weekly (these days fortnightly) wrap-ups in your inbox, helped me to better understand the purpose and viability of these emails. Below is a rought summary of the answers I've received.
Obviously, subscribers who actually read and value these emails were overrepresented in the replies, and so most of the answers were positive, supportive, and most of you – seemingly – would prefer an ongoing newsletter. Even better, a great proportion of the people who filled out the form would support this feature with a few bucks a month or year.
However, and that's the greater picture, I've received only 44 answers – which is telling.
I can see from the stats that about half of all the 2,600 subscribers open these emails or click a link in them. (Compared to industry averages, this is a damn good number!)
44 of 2,600 subscribers, or 1,300 subscribers who actually open these mails, is still a very-very low value. It means that most of you see the weekly email as a mere reminder and not something worth reading. On receiving and opening it you check out the blog but don't really read the newsletter – at least that's one explanation for the low number of replies to the poll. Is this function worth $500 a year? I really don't know.
Some of your suggestions:
- Patreon model, selling PDF issues, other forms of monetizing – I was there. Patreon and BMC. Left for a good reason. And I try to keep the newsletter free and open for everyone. I don't want to earn money with this, I just don't want to pay for something which I offer for free.
- Looking for discounts for non profits (at online services). I'm working on this and have found some promising alternatives.
- RSS – Many suggestions mentioned some form of RSS instead of the newsletter. I have those, so check out the site's footer if you're interested in something like that. (OK, here is the one with all the posts and this one is for the weekly issues.)
- Posting issues on r/mk, r/ergomk instead of email. – I really don't know. Can do it again, but that's not the same audience.
- Getting a sponsor. – Could definitely look for sponsors. It would introduce other issues though.
Thanks for everyone who filled out the form to help me, and thanks for your suggestions, but this poll hasn't convinced me to pay the yearly $500-600 fee (at this current stage and subscriber number) to be able to send out the emails which takes me extra time to put together. Nor to pay the $200-300 which the cheaper alternatives would cost (paid upfront.) So I will most likely suspend the newsletter from March.
What I'll do is:
- Suspend the newsletter.
- Keep looking for alternative services – cheaper and with more generous free plan thresholds.
- Maybe try to set up an own email sending solution or put together my own minimal email sending script – without the bells and whistles of all the fancy paid services.
- I definitely won't beg for support or a sponsorship, but feel free to contact me if you'd like to pay for the monthly fee of about $50 atm and see your name/brand in the upcoming newsletters.
Since I learned that even some of my real-life acquaintances keep stalking on me by reading these editorial posts (yes, I'm looking at you!), here is an update to my personal situation I mentioned in my recent write-ups:
After weeks spent in ICU, some 36 days in hospital, and 43 days altogether, my wife is at home with us again. This still doesn't mean I can get back to my earlier pace, but I'm working on it. Thanks for your patience.
We have to figure out how to proceed with our jobs, work, life, etc. You simply can't continue with your life just like before after such an experience.
I came across an article about influencers, overconsumption, deinfluencing, etc. As a result, I canceled my Shift Happens pledge on Kickstarter (and stopped short of joining Lu's TRIFL group buy). The price is one thing, but do I really need a gigantic book however impressive it is? Marcin Wichary's name is guarantee for a high-quality end result so support his project if you can't live without the book. But do I really need these two hefty volumes on my desk? I'd open the book a few times, then put it on a shelf and forget about it.
I'm writing this because, as ridiculous as this may sound (especially for my kids), I became some kind of influencer in this niche and every now and then I receive comments claiming I incite overconsumption and purchases. So let me clear things up: I'd like you to design and build your own keyboards instead of buying and hoarding stuff. That can be achieved for just a few bucks, really. Use all the resources on this blog consciously and responsibly. Don't hoard caps, switches, nor keyboards.
That said, let's see what I got in the mailbox this time...
Reuters, IBM POS, Ergohaven K:02
In contrast to contemporary GBs, I find collecting (and saving) vintage stuff still uplifting.
E.g. my Reuters collection is growing, and by the time you're reading this write-up I'll probably own another one (on the way). ;)
The new family member is the one with the Siemens style caps and the "Jet 707" sticker(?). I've no clue if that's a factory design. Anyone recognizes it? Btw, the board is mostly eviscerated, lacks the tiny display and also the connector sockets. Disassembly later.
I simply couldn't leave this IBM POS in the store either (mentioned in my previous write-up). Typing on it feels amazing despite being rubberdome – although it has individual domes so it may play in a whole different league compared to the cheap office keyboards. So the normal size keys (pretty much everything except the function row with smaller caps) feel like an awesome tactile switch. I'm not sure how it would perform against a Topre and I don't have much experience with vintage IBMs either (the only other IBM I have by accident is a model F), but I had to take this home. ;)
And finally, ergohaven's Evgeny was kind enough to send me a K:02, one of his flagship models. It arrived yesterday so I may write a longer review next week.
It's a cool prebuilt split with OLED displays, in a black 3D printed PLA case. Works out of the box which was a pleasant experience after all the DIY kits. :D No need to solder anything. Slightly too many keys for me, and I prefer much more aggressive staggering on the pinky, but I'll try to test the K:02 for a few days to get a decent impression.
New shops and updates to the database of keyboard vendors:
- Jason Hazel's new shop: Hazel's Garage, OH, US. The new home of keyboards/PCBs like his Dust, Crepe, Satpad, etc. – now with a 5% discount (code: KBDNEWS).
- The Kapco, Malaysia – use the KBDNEWS coupon code for 10% off.
- And I just realized that XVX/Womier implemented a 10% coupon code for you as well. I asked for this in December but haven't heard back from them. Looking for some info about the XVX Cube caps I checked out their site, and the discount works.
- CustomErgoBoards will officially stop accepting orders as of March 1st, 2023 (source)
- Minnesota Keyboard Meetup // Sept 2 (Thanks David!)
- The monthly Florida MechKeys Meetup, Orlando will be held on Feb 25th.
- There's a montly meetup in Berlin as well. // Feb 27 (Thanks Fabian!)
- And another recurring one in Jacksonville, Florida – already over by the time you're reading this: Tiny Little Tech Shop Meetup. // Feb 18.
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.
I'm working on a deskmat design for my personal use. This is a by-product of a keycap project which I may share later. Anyway, I'm not going to sell these but will share the files or the algorithms so you can personalize and get printed such mats if you'd like.
The main motif is generated by a script I wrote and I'm enjoying toying around with the config. Atm I'm in a state of a prolonged decision paralysis:
(Yes, I like boobs.)
- A new donor: Thanks Jens Woyke!
- And two new recurring supporters: Thanks Jason Hazel and Matthias Goffette!
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.
Unwanted music recommendation
Eiji's ortholinear Binary Star System didn't made it to this issue, I'm waiting for the files to be published. Still, I couldn't help but associate it with Loud Twin Stars performed by the incredible ladies of DOLL $ BOXX. It has been around for 10 year, jeez I'm old:
That's all for today. Thanks for checking by. Let's get back to implement my pretty weird layout on the K:02!
Chocofly v2.0 by vitvlkv with some neat features.
After his split Avalanche and the original Chocofly, Vitaly Volkov aka vitvlkv released the Chocofly v2.0.
Similarly to the v1 version, the revamped Chocofly is an ergonomic pseudosplit keyboard with 4x6 column staggered keys, thumb arch (60 keys total) and rotary encoder(s).
Main changes (compared to v1.1):
- More compact
- Choc spacing 18x17mm
- Break-off number row
- rotary encoder on the left or right. Or you may install two encoders if your controller supports this (like nice!nano), but in this case you will need two additional wires.
- Increased pinky column angle up to 4 degrees
- Dimensions: 317x133.4mm or 317x116.7mm
According to the author, the more compact v2 should fit very well with 14" laptops, which needs to be stressed this time since the main idea of the Chocofly is to be thin and suitable for "sonshi"-style usage (putting it on top the laptop keyboard). The keyboard itself perfectly fits into the Leopold 60% bag.
NINE by But She's a Girl is an updated Piano – with PCB and case files shared.
I would have completely missed But She's a Girl's minimalist 18-key NINE keyboard – based on Ben Vallack's Piano – if it wasn't Flubert Harnsworth's Reddit post.
Published in January, BSAG did a great job with the Nine to adapt an existing design to her hands and needs.
Not just heavily inspired by the Piano (see Ben's write-up for last year's MK Advent Calendar) but an updated recreation of the original PCB with some modifications:
- Angled and shifted thumb keys
- Controller moved to the inner top corner (to make it easier to plug the cable in and still use the keyboard while it is charging)
- Battery moved to the back of the PCB (to allow upgrading to a larger one)
- Updated shape for increased stability
- Adding nice!view displays
Ben’s original design used Ergogen to generate the PCB layout, but while I had some success moving the thumb keys using that method, I found it tricky to figure out how to incorporate the pads and wiring needed for the nice!view. In the end, I decided that if I was going to do this, I might as well learn from scratch how to build a keyboard from the schematics up using KiCad. So that’s what I did: I recreated the design from scratch, building in the alterations I wanted to make as I went – But She's a Girl.
The repo contains a nice case as well:
And according to BSAG, she's still daily driving and loving it.
This project is a good example of praiseworthy documentation:
Corne thumb trackball
An updated Corne PCB which integrates a thumb trackball – shared by idank.
Idan of holykeebs.com released a new variant of foostan's classic Corne – with a thumb trackball, replacing the outer thumb key.
Continuing my appreciation for trackballs, I modified the Corne PCB to take the Pimoroni trackball instead of the right most thumb key, while keeping the same footprint as the other Cornes – Idan.
The trackball can be installed either above or below the PCB. Above puts it closer to the keycaps' plane, below (as shown in the photo above) is more aesthetic when installed with a top plate.
- The PCB is on github,
- or you can buy it fully assembled at holykeebs (don't forget the KBDNEWS discount code for 5% off).
Lörtsy is a monoblock split Atreus-derivative by Cedutus.
Some boards shared by Cedutus tend to have a common and distinctive style, so after spotting the borderline explicit stickers on the Lörtsy, his Lihis from previous year came immediately to my mind.
Anyway, after the ortholinear Kebu and the split ortho Lihis, Lörtsy is a columnarly staggered monoblock split, seemingly following in the footsteps of Technomancy's now classic Atreus – only with an intimidating number of keys, including a number and function row.
This 75% beast of a board sports a Blackpill controller, and has two layout options: 2u or 1u thumb keys on either side.
I posted a build of this board a bit ago, but i finally got the 3D printed case from JLC pcb. It's great, bought it as a one piece, and it has no warping issues, and the print quality is great – Cedutus.
By the way, with his naming pattern the author continues to introduce various Finnish foods to us. Lörtsy is a half-moon shaped pastry with savory meat or sweet apple filling.
- 74-76 keys
- MX, hotswap
- Black pill controller( F401 or F411)
- Box Whites
- KAT cyberspace keycaps
- FR4 plate with stickers
SCI-CALC is a wireless mechanical calculator/macropad by techstacknerd.
Shaoxiongduan aka techstacknerd published his sci-calc project – a calculator and more:
The sci-calc (I know, really creative name) is a 4-in-1 device, packing a scientific calculator, a macropad/numpad, a handheld game console, and a development board all into one neat and sleek little device – shaoxiongduan.
- Powered by an ESP32 WROOM32 E
- Low-pro Kailh v1 choc switches
- Screen: 256x64 monochrome oled (display driver: SSD1322)
- Usb to serial chip: CH340C driver download
- Battery: any lipo battery under 1000mah would be fine
- SD card support (must be in FAT32 format)
Hyper170's Essence is an angled unibody split populated by a standard ANSI keycap set.
Hyper170 aka Hyper-works published a monoblock split keyboard designed with standard ANSI keycap sets in mind. The 64-key Essence features a rotary encoder and is powered by an Elite-C devboard.
1 year and lots of clueless fumbling later, I have designed my own keyboard from scratch! – Hyper170.
The Reviung-inspired ReviungDash47 by tumler comes with some extra keys.
Tumler's REVIUNGDASH47 is a 47-48 key column staggered unibody keyboard inspired by the Reviung41 (and the Ergodash) – hence the name.
Due to size constraints of my 2nd desk, I needed something smaller and opted for a single body. As the Reviung41 keyboards always stood out to me, I decided to go for it. However, with the layout I ended up finding comfortable on the Ergodash, I needed more keys (I also use CAD software at times so I have 1 hand on the mouse, so I wanted to have all the CTRL shortcuts easily accessible – that means having the CTRL key in the corner – tumler.
Differences compared to the REVIUNG41:
- 6 corner keys added
- Spacebar can be either a single switch or have 2x 1u switches (inspired by the Ergodash which allows choosing the thumb keys)
- The RGB led on the front was rerouted to be first (as the author would rather have one led and don't use the underglow – this allows to not have to solder all the other leds but they can be if needed)
Mantis with Hex caps
The Mantis prototype, shared by Felix Kuehling, is designed around the Hex caps.
Felix Kuehling aka fxkuehl/luckybipedal toyed with s-ol's HEX caps (manufactured by FKcaps). The result: an open-source PCB and monoblock 36-key keyboard called Mantis.
The hexagonal keycaps provide a natural 30° angle and unique stagger but also raise some important questions like where the heck is the home row :D and how to adapt existing logical layouts.
To address the confusion, Felix shared this color-coded diagram:
The left side illustrates the column angle and stagger with different colors for each finger. The right side shows the shape of a hypothetical numpad on a layer. (Layout: Modified Colemak-DH with minimal changes to accommodate fewer index-finger keys while preserving low same-finger bigrams.)
Transitioning from a 36 Cantor-remix, the main difficulty is, that the index fingers only have 5 keys, while the pinkies have 4 keys. This requires some changes in the keymap that take some relearning – luckybipedal.
Speaking of possible improvements, Felix points out that the thumb keys need more space between them, and the outer home-row keys are harder to reach than expected, "while the empty space in the top row seems more attractive".
Evalyn Emmerich released the next iteration of her folding btrfld – now with PCBs.
Evalyn Emmerich aka SolidHal shared the files of her Btrfld v2 (pronounced "butter-fold"). The originally handwired keyboard comes with a set of PCBs now.
Now with PCBs! No more awful hours of handwiring! – SolidusHal.
Featured in KBD#76, the Btrfld (v1) was the "foldable, portable sibling of the btrfly" – another handwired monoblock keyboard by the same author.
Despite the new PCBs, Evalyn still doesn't recommend the btrfld for a first build, especially because of the folding mechanism:
Getting the steel rods cut, ensuring the ribbon cables are the right length, and soldering the flipped smd diodes are some unique challenges that assembling something like a corne or dactyl variant doesn't have.
- 5 key dactyl-manuform-mini thumb cluster
- flat, tented qwerty keys
- 6 extra mappable keys
- bluetooth (optional)
- folds flat for portability
Ben Cooper's first split design: the corneoid askew-kbd with some splay.
Based on foostan's Corne/crkbd, Ben Cooper aka bncpr shared the files of his askew-kbd.
Four "thumb" keys, splay, reversible PCB, hot-swappable low-profile switches with Choc spacing.
This is my first split design. Inspired by crkbd. Angled columns, with the two pinky columns having the strongest angle – bncpr.
What makes this layout interesting is the unusual vertical offset of the innermost column:
It's staggered slightly higher than the index finger. I find that one of the least comfortable keys to press is the B key on qwerty (index goes inner and down) so I tried to minimize that travel. It's not a huge improvement over no stagger, but I guess it's better than having it lower – Ben.
ResourcesThe project can be found here:
Yask Bois by Sndr666 – yet another split keyboard.
Sander Boer aka Sndr666 shared Yask ("yet another split keyboard"), designed for his hands. The pinky splay and the thumb key positions are to his specs and "are spot on".
I designed it in kicad as a non-reversible board, i.e. left and right are connected with a breakaway tab in order for it to be printed in one go. It was the first time designing a split with a mcu I never used before, so I was in no hurry to make life harder. And to my surprise, it works as advertised! – Sndr666.
For another keyboard by Sander – MX with Blackpill – check out the Lil Chonky Bois project.
- 3x5+2 per half -> 34 keys
- low-pro but MX-spaced(?)
- XIAO footprint (RP2040 for this build)
Tips & Tricks
Another single-key PCB for keyboards: Nydas Amoeba by Andy Sawyer.
Working on his Nydas keyboard, Andy Sawyer aka Cool_Telephone published a per-key PCB à la Amoeba – this one is Choc-spaced, supports low-pro hotswap sockets and LED.
[…] while this was intended for a specific purpose, I wanted to give back and share the gerber & kicad – Cool_Telephone.
The PCB was designed from scratch but as the Nydas Amoeba name implies, it takes inspiration from the Amoeba King PCB. Andy's goal was to deliver a PCB that was as small as possible while accommodating per-key RGB, hotswap, and fit Choc switches.
When printed as a panel, you can snap it down to your required rows and columns, and simply bridge solder the individual PCBs together.
And if you don't want RGB, you can go without the capacitor and the LED. In this case you don't need to connect the VCC or Data In/Out pads.
ffkb low profile trackball case
Sadek Baroudi published the files of this ffkb low profile trackball case.
Sadek Baroudi shared the STL files of this gorgeous case for his ffkb.
As always, cases are available to all! – Sadek.
(Check out his article in the Advent Calendar as well: Keyboard Case Design!)
XVX Cube keycaps
XVX is planning on releasing their transparent Cube keycaps with detachable legends.
So it seems XVX is in the process of reinventing detachable legends: if the concept makes it to the manufacturing phase, caps of the XVX Cube keysets will come with a detachable double-shot top layer.
Hi guys, we're planning on releasing a new keycap set series named Cube, it's 4-sided transparent with a detachable and replaceable double-shot printed top layer, is it interesting? – xvxkeyboard.
We've seen similar approaches e.g. from Filco (patch caps), on the concept level (inflated keycaps), or in the realm of artisans involving magnets – I'm not sure about the availability of these products.
However, with XVX jumping on the detachable top bandwagon, there's a good chance the Cube sets make it to production and will be widely available.
What's the point of all this? While the Filco one seems to be uniform anyway, the XVX Cube caps would make any logical layout possible on a sculpted Cherry set.
At least if the tops are interchangeable across rows. Yep, they will be interchangeable:
This keyset is Cherry profile, but the detachable tops will be produced in a unified specification for easy replacement and will not be affected by the profile of the keycap – xvxkeyboard.
In addition, if the tops would be sold separately, you could have multiple sets with much less plastic wasted.
- Material: PBT (Top layer) + PC Plastic (4 sides)
- Profile: Cherry profile
- Printing Method: Double-Shot
- Compatible Switch: Switch with Cherry MX styled stem
- Total Keys: Around 128 keys
- Price: TBD
- Manufacturer: XVX Keyboard
The IC form isn't available anymore.
That was Issue #114. Thanks for stopping by.
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