Issue 116 / Week 11 / 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
Newsletters merged, new shops & meetups, small developments, etc.
It seems this was an unusually prolific week for you and all the contributors so I had to get back with a new issue after one week.
Welcome back for another edition of Keyboard Builders' Digest (this time Issue #116), a weekly/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, subscribe to the newsletter (free) and donate some bucks to keep this otherwise free and ad-free project alive.
OK, the migration to buttondown should be done now. Today's newsletter will be sent out to all 2,671 subscribers via this cool and friendly service I've been testing and comparing to MailChimp for almost a year now.
Justin, the guy behind buttondown, was kind enough to offer me a huge discount, so I ended up paying a fraction of what I had to pay at MailChimp. I moved all the "old" MailChimp subscribers to the new place, paid the whole annual fee upfront, so I can hopefully forget about fees and looking for alternatives for a year, or until I reach 5,000 subscribers.
If you answered my recent poll indicating you'd contribute to the newsletter fee I just paid, this is a good time to send me a few bucks. Thanks in advance! (As always, I'm grateful for any sum, but sending 1 USD makes not much sense because the PayPal fee is 35% in this case. With $2 it's still more than 20%.)
New shops and updates to the database of keyboard vendors:
- Skeleton Keyboard (Tokyo) added.
New entries to the meetup database:
- Madison Mech Meetup, WI, US // Apr 1 (Thanks Vianney!)
- DMOC #2, Chicago // March 19
- KeebKaigi 2023, Matsumoto, Japan // May 10
- ClackyCon aftermovie added.
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.
In the mailbox
And Keebmonkey has a new split ergo in the making, they asked me if I'd like to test it. (Sure.)
- No new donors this week.
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.
- I've extended the cache system I wrote for the trending posts page for some other slower pages. E.g. the shops or the home page.
- A small update to the meetup database for events with multiple videos.
That's all for today. Thanks for checking by.
The split Bloq 36 by Kunsteak features thumb clusters on a lower plane.
With the Bloq, Kunsteak wanted to create a minimal looking keyboard (the MCU had to be below the keys and the PCB would not protrude beyond the keycaps) that had a lowered thumb cluster on a separate PCB after getting some inspiration from ak66666's stacked Thumbs Up! keyboards.
The thumb cluster is awful on a flat surface but when tented to 45 deg it's absolutely perfect – Kunsteak.
This open-source split keyboard is both Choc and MX compatible.
- 36 keys (5x3+3 halves)
- Choc/MX compatible
- Two-part PCB
- Puck/tenting support
- Wireless (only!)
- ZMK firmware
jammerkiai's KaRP2040 is an RP2040-Zero based unibody split keyboard.
The KaRP2040 is a basic no-frills 34-key, wired unibody split keyboard by Jon Mereria aka jammerkiai – sporting an RP2040-Zero module running KMK.
I spent some time traveling with the wireless split keyboard I built a few months ago. While I enjoyed using it, there were some situations where I thought having a wired unibody keyboard made more sense – jammerkiai.
- Waveshare RP2040-Zero controller
- 34 low-profile Kailh Choc switches
- SMD diodes (SOD-123 1N4148)
- CircuitPython, KMK
- https://github.com/makgyber/karp2040 with Gerber files
Smudge is a custom 3D-printed keyboard design by Sandalmoth – handwired with curved keywell.
Sandalmoth shared this cute parametric and handwired split with keywell and about my favorite pinky stagger ;) – dubbed Smudge.
Well, I wanted to have both a design tailored to my hands, as well as a sleek looking case and the only option seemed to be to do it myself – Sandalmoth.
The designer started of with testing a bunch of key positions using a parametric scad design, modeled the final case in Blender, and used the scad to cut out the key positions in exactly the right spots.
- QT Py RP2040 controllers
- GX12 3or 4 pin aviator connectors
Sporewoh's babbit36 is an ultraportable wireless ortholinear keyboard.
Chris Lo aka sporewoh is back with babbit36, a wireless ortho sporting a XIAO nrf52 controller.
I heard there was a demand for wireless ortholinear boards, and made the babbit36! It’s inspired by the Technikable, Zaphod Lite, and Corne-ish Zen! It’s also DIY friendly, since it uses a Seeeduino XIAO nrf52 board as the MCU! – sporewoh.
Some thoughts about the name:
All of my project names are the dumbest portmanteaus that I can wrack up during the weekend. I find humour in some of them, almost like an inside joke to myself. The name babbit was particularly rushed, since it's a portmanteau of "ban" and "rabbit", which is pretty nonsensical. I wish I had a better backstory haha.
- 36 keys, ortholinear layout
- low profile, CFX keycaps, CFX spacing (17x17mm as opposed to the typical 18x17mm Choc-spacing, so e.g it's not MBK-compatible!)
- wireless, ZMK firmware
- Seeeduino XIAO MCU
- Commodity parts, only non standard part is the shift register
- Relatively affordable
- Case only requires one CNC/3D Printed part and one FR4 backplate
If you are new to the scene, especially open-source ortholinear keyboards, sporewoh is one of the most prolific contributors with boards like the modular mongus48, the mekko5X cyberdeck, the Beyblock20 system, etc.
For Chris's earlier ortho designs check out his 2022 advent calendar post: Year of the Ortho.
Evgenii Vilkov's Smol is a split prototype with a cool sandwich case.
Evgenii Vilkov aka zzeneg published his Smol, a small and cheap low profile split keyboard with 36 keys using RP2040 Zero microcontrollers.
Initially I made this prototype just to test new things and ideas for my next keyboard but I think it looks pretty good in the end so I added it as a separate keyboard – zzeneg.
As a prototype, the Smol was supposed to be super cheap so it has reversible PCB (under 100x100mm) and uses the cheapest controller with the RP2040 MCU Evgenii could get: Waveshare Zero.
It supports choc switches with hotswap and choc spacing, per-key RGB, EC11 or EVQWGD001 encoders.
- 36 keys
- low profile Choc switches, hotswap, Choc spacing
- per-key RGB matrix
- Waveshare RP2040 Zero controller
- QMK firmware
- TRRS connection between the halves
- Panasonic EVQWGD001 roller encoder (left side only) or EC11 rotary encoder (both sides)
As of writing this, the ECC11 encoder can be used on the left half only because the author forgot to make that footprint reversible.
According to Evgenii, you can use USB-C instead of TRRS connection, but it's not recommended (too low for many cables).
The 3D printed case is also made from cheap resin and is hand painted – the top part with spray and the bottom with airbrush (as another experiment):
Felix Kuehling's Mantis v0.2, sporting HEX keycaps, has now PCBs on two levels to imitate tenting.
The second prototype is working. It stacks a second PCB for the index finger and most thumb keys to approximate a key well and provide slight tenting – luckybipedal.
According to the author, the 8mm headers (used to stack the two PCBs) work but feel a little too high.
It actually makes my middle fingers feel short. I think I'll build another version using low-profile sockets and 5mm or 3mm M2 stand-offs before settling on a case design for the next version.
- 1x Pro-Micro or compatible controller
- 40 keys
- low-pro Kailh Choc switches with hotswap sockets
- FKcaps/s-ol's HEX caps
- reset switch (optional)
- More info with Ergogen and Kicad files on the Mantis GitHub page.
An open-source 65% keyboard with integrated trackball: dynamis by bbrfkr.
In a reply to my recent poll I was asked to feature layouts on the more classic end of the spectrum more often. Fortunately, bbrafkr took his dynamis to the recent Tokyo meetup, and it seems this 65% keyboard with an integrated trackball has been picked up by the community after the event despite being published months ago.
- 65%-ish layout
- upgradable from sandwich to gasket mounted case.
- integrated 34mm trackball
- rich layout options (split backspace, split left and right shift, split space and ISO enter support)
- QMK, VIA, remap
A Choc-spaced Corne with XIAO controllers: Abomination v1.2 by OrangeCrusader.
OrangeCrusader aka JonMuller posted his Choc-spaced Corne which, according to the silk screen, goes by the name Abomination.
This particular version of foostan's original Corne sports XIAO BLE devboards and nice!views.
This is a choc spaced corne board with XIAO BLE controllers and nice!view displays. I’m using joycon batteries to power it because I like their capacity (around 500 mAh) and they use a slim connector – Jon.
The controllers are directly mounted to the board for a slimmer profile, plus the PCB has holes for access to the pads on the bottom for the battery. The additional NFC pads were used as GPIO for the last column (removed for personal preference).
- 36 keys (5x3+3 layout)
- hotswap (only)
- reversible PCB
- XIAO footprint
- power switches
- nice!view displays
Klesh Wong's PSKeeb2 is a portable split keyboard with tenting, rotary encoder and trackpoint.
The PSKeeb2 is a small and stackable split, which makes it easier to carry around. Designed and shared by Klesh Wong.
- 36 keys columnar layout (3x5+3)
- <10cm PCB (9.2 x 9.2 cm) – cheap to order from PCB manufacturers
- Diodeless design – easy to build
- Stackable, portable
- Trackpoint support
A tiny Choc-spaced macropad with encoder – Narfpad by ADreamOfStorms.
Fellow redditor Sebastian Stumpf aka ADreamOfStorms shared a small macropad with encoder and 3D-printed case: Narfpad.
So I've made a small macropad. I'm still new to PCB and 3d design and there is probably a lot that can be improved. […] The case took me quite a while to get right since I have never done anything with 3d modelling before and I took the deep dive FreeCAD – ADreamOfStorms.
- 3x3 low-pro switches with Choc spacing and hotswap sockets
- Rotary encoder
- Controller: Seeeduino XIAO footprint (RP2040), mounted on sockets
- 3D-printed case
GrO3veman designed an arcade fight pad dubbed Stress.
Marco "Bob" aka GroooveBob/GrO3veman shared his fightpad sporting a Waveshare RP2040-Zero: the Stress.
According to the designer, the pocket arcade fight pad is a compact and portable gaming controller that is designed for fighting game enthusiasts. It is powered by the GP2040 software from Open Stick Community, which provides seamless compatibility with various gaming platforms and ensures smooth and responsive gameplay.
[the] hatched infill helps with the heat when you solder GND pins … with a standard plane you lose a lot of heat while soldering – GrO3veman.
LostPistachio shared his online Dactyl generator – with fast previews and STL export.
LostPistachio's in-browser Dactyl Generator has near-live preview, STL export options, and more.
As I've been working on building my first dactyl board I wanted an easier way to mess around with all the knobs and parameters one can change. I found a lot of cool tools for working with SCAD models in the browser, so this website is the result of a distracting side project to see how far I can take the idea of making it as easy as possible to generate a keyboard you like – LostPistachio.
The site uses OpenSCAD for renders but JSCAD for previews. The latter is quite fast, but the speed comes with a cost of leaving random holes in the previews.
- The Clojure scripts are based on the code of ibnuda's generator (now hosted at dactyl.mbugert.de).
- The configuration data is saved within the URL, so you can bookmark any design you like and come back to it.
- The STL export runs a version of OpenSCAD compiled for the browser, so it will fix most of the holes and wacky geometry you see in the preview.
Tips & Tricks
URSA is a new keycap profile designed for Topre keyboards – a collab between 23_Andreas and FKcaps.
FKcaps' Simon has announced URSA, a new keycap profile for Topre keyboards designed by 23_Andreas.
It’s been a long time coming but Topre keyboard users are finally getting what they deserve: nice keycaps! – fk-caps.
This sculpted, spherical profile is double-shot PBT injection molded with Topre stems.
You heard that right, no need to mod switches, or mount weird adapters that may ruin your keyboard experience, URSA keycaps are injected with Topre-compatible stems.
This historic project is still in pre-IC phase, but it will be the first community keycap profile made specifically for Topre keyboards. You can subscribe here to receive updates.
Despite these caps are still being developed, Topre pundit Cipulot points out that Andreas is a passionate and dedicated member of this scene, and Simon has a proven track record of delivering unique projects (e.g. HEX keycaps).
Other than that, as Simon indicated in his 2022 advent calendar piece, Keycaps, design and free kittens, past group buys were stressful so they won't run GBs anymore. This means the URSA will be sold as in-stock item, they won't take your money until the product has reached its final form and is ready to ship the next day.
Two uniform keycap profiles with a retro square base: Doys by Deadline.Studio and BLOCKs by HIBI.
The Doys by Deadline.Studio are uniform keycaps with spherical tops and a square base, similar to those distinctive caps you can see on some vintage Siemens/Tandberg keyboard models, at ESA, and on two of my recently purchased Reuters trading keyboards:
Don't ask me why I'm collecting these, but there's something soothing about seeing another board in the family photo of my Reuters trading terminals.#KEEB_PD #vintage #Reuters #keyboard pic.twitter.com/jar5U2PQHb— kbd.news (@KbdNews) February 26, 2023
HIBI has a similar one, with less options, which is probably harder to come by: the BLOCKS.
What I can tell you after disassembling the Reuters mentioned above, the square base makes removing the caps a real challenge. Some keycap pullers may not work at all, but you have to be very careful in general even if you have the proper tools. E.g. I received the Reuters with two stems already broken off, however, those vintage stems looked much weaker compared to MX ones.
Other than that, it's always good to see a new-old profile on the market. While probably not the best idea for typing and to populate a whole keyboard, you can design stylish macropads and interfaces with them.
But if I haven't scared you off, feel free to build something more serious, like this ortho cyberdeck dubbed blockparty:
A typing rhythm game by charitea12: Typing Tempo.
Fellow community member charitea12 announced Typing Tempo, a nice rhythm game. It's still in the making but already playable.
I've always loved the different sounds of mechanical keyboards, so I was inspired to make a little typing rhythm game that turned those clicks and clacks into catchy rhythms! – charitea12
Video demo of the features:
As Ryan reports, v1.0.0 of the game was released on April 21. Players can now try out a free demo of the game, or purchase the full version, which includes over 30 songs and 100+ levels.
Try out an early version of Typing Tempo on itch.io, and get the full version on Steam when it releases next month!
The game is officially being distributed at the locations below:
An about 10 cm wide 40% keyboard by juskim: tinyKeys with Gerbers.
Juskim shared a video as well as some design files of his project creating a tiny keyboard with an on-board Atmega32u4 MCU and self-printed caps.
The tinyKeys keyboard has a footprint of just 102.5*32.5 cm (and its height is 14.7cm/0.58").
Check out Justin's video which guides you through the design and manufacturing process:
Designed by ItsBluu, the Aloidia v1 is a wireless solar split keyboard with lots of hotswap components.
Vincent Nguyen aka ItsBluu introduced his feature-packed Aloidia – split, wireless, solar, and hotswap everything. :)
I am proud to present my new design: Aloidia v1. This is a project I have been working on on and off for the past year, and also my first mechanical keyboard design. It's a fairly complex keyboard, with more than 150 parts (not counting the switches) and 7 unique PCBs – ItsBluu.
- Split, hotswap, staggered multi-layout PCB compatible with MX switches.
- Extended 65%-ish layout with extra button on the left.
- Designed around the nRF52840 MCU, ZMK compatible.
- Fully wireless. No wire between the halves and to the computer. Either Bluetooth or dongle.
- Can switch between 5 different devices wirelessly.
- Solar trickle charging for extremely long battery life.
- Hotswap horizontal encoders and 5-way navigation switches near the thumbs.
- Optional encoders in the corners.
- Memory displays for ultra low-power user graphical interface. Hard to see from the angle in the video, but they display battery state of charge and connection status.
- Fuel gauge for precise battery state of charge measurement
- Over-current, over-voltage, reverse voltage and ESD protection.
- For the battery: over/under voltage protection and temperature monitoring
- 2 USB-C connectors per half allow the user to have one cable to the computer and one cable between the halves for charging.
- Parts of the PCB can be broken off without losing any functionality for a 60% layout.
- Fully 3d printed case, with embedded tenting.
- The halves and palm rests snap together magnetically.
- No visible screws from the top.
- Solar panels are flush against the top of the case.
CHOMPI is a cute looper with mechanical keys – as inspiration.
Sure, this is a different kind of keyboard, but some of you may like it anyway.
CHOMPI is a sampler and looper from the two-person team of Tobias and Chelsea.
As electronic music enthusiasts, they try to make the world of sound design more accessible to a larger audience. More than 10 years into the hobby, their passion has evolved into a unique musical instrument platform.
CHOMPI is built around the Daisy platform which, as of my understanding, is a set of controller boards and an Arduino-like ecosystem made specifically for audio projects.
That was Issue #116. Thanks for stopping by.
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