Keyboard Builders' Digest
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Issue 119 / Week 14 / 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 119

100K monthly visitors, new shops, meetups, Glove80 in the mailbox, developments, etc.

Hey y'all,

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Welcome back for another edition of Keyboard Builders' Digest (this time Issue #119), 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, subscribe to the newsletter (free) and donate some bucks to keep this otherwise free and ad-free project alive.

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This issue may be shorter than usual, but I wanted a quick release before the Easter recess – in many countries this is a much bigger deal than in the US, with holidays on Friday and/or Monday. And I also wanted to get back to the Friday emails so last-minute meetup additions (usually on Saturdays) can be brought to you in time.

Glove80 in the mailbox

I got the Glove80, sent me by MoErgo's Stephen for free (thanks!), and I'm working on a veeery long, thorough review.

I love this keyboard's look and all the small details from the spring-loaded screws to the clicky toggle power switches, but – despite the fact people with larger hands give overwhelmingly positive feedback – it seems it's not for my rather long fingers. Or maybe my pinkies are too short for the length of my other fingers.

Pic:

Anyway, this is my first encounter with ZMK, and I made a banal mistake when recreating my logical layout. (Mistaken mod taps for mod functions, but fortunately figured it out before embarrassing myself with asking a question on Discord, so luckily nobody realized I'm an idiot. Don't tell this anyone!)

The point is, I need a bit more time to turn the Glove80 into my work setup, plus to get used to the physical layout and finish the review – hopefully in the coming days. And I also may ask Mrs KbdNews (with much smaller hands) to test it as well.

100K visitors/month

The number of unique monthly visitors has topped 100K for the first time.

I'm not entirely sure what happened, but from mid-March there has been an apparent increase in daily visitor numbers.

Pic:

Previously, I was very close to 100K users in December, and if I wouldn't have gone on holiday in the last days of the year than I could have hit the mark.

However, that involved the MK Advent Calendar campaign which was quite stressful to organize, edit and roll out daily, often in the last minute, so I wouldn't have considered that near-100K an organic and sustainable number – at least at the time.

As expected, stats precipitated in January and especially February when, due to health and family reasons, the weekly newsletter turned into a fortnightly one.

But for the past two weeks it was obvious that the 100K achievement is inevitable. The growth is organic this time, there was no seasonal boost like the calendar in December.

Well, given I don't display ads on kbd.news, this is largely symbolic, it has no practical effect, but I wanted to commemorate this milestone.

Vendor database

New shops and updates to the database of keyboard vendors:

  • UniKeys (Shanghai) added. Use the KBDNEWS discount code for 7% off. (Thanks Dashan!)
  • Some boutique shops added: Aiglatson Studio (Thailand), Jacky Lab (China), MVKB (Belgium), SagakLabs (South Korea). I'm not sure these will stay in the database, I just wanted to clear my browser tabs without loosing these urls. :)
  • MKultra is shutting down?! News like this break my heart. Erik is a long-time supporter of the blog and he was on my list of potential Advent Calendar contributors last year but it seemed he was not in the mood, mentioning difficulties.
  • qweebs.com is down, archived (thanks Pavel!).

Meetup database

Lot's of new entries to the 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

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.

Developments

New developments:

  • With the newly introduced cache system I successfully messed up most JS scripts, e.g. the filtering functions of the vendor database (thanks for reporting this Keebs#0001!) or the map on the meetup page.
  • Taking a closer look at the vendor database code there were other issues as well: e.g. the ortho filter didn't work. I mean it's never worked due to a typo. :) It's fixed now, but I realized I haven't really used this tag when classifying shops so that's something I'll hopefully be able to do soon.
  • Something happened to the vendor pages in dark mode.

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That's all for today. Thanks for checking by. As always: Keep learning and building!

Cheers, Tamás


Projects

Dilemma v2

Dilemma v2 by Fmcraft is officially released: 3x5+3, trackpad, RGB, encoders, and more.

After teasing it in last week's magnetic tenting post, Quentin Lebastard aka Fmcraft of Bastard Keyboards posted an announcement to officially release the Dilemma v2.

I'm proud to announce the official release of the Dilemma, v2. A lot of you know this board as a compact 3x5 keyboard with a trackpad. Perfect for travelling while still having an input device at the tip of your finger. After 6 months of hard work, the v2 is out, and brings a lot of new features. Get ready, because it's going to be a ride – Quentin.

Hardware

Just like the previous revision, the v2 uses the RP2040 chip. All components are pre-assembled on the board (save for the per key RGB), which makes for an extremely fast build experience. The Dilemma is compatible with both choc and MX switches.

Pic: T/B: Charybdis Nano, Dilemma, Dilemma v2

T/B: Charybdis Nano, Dilemma, Dilemma v2

  • Split 3x5+3 layout (additional third thumb key on each side)
  • MX and Choc compatible
  • on-board RP2040 controller
  • more memory – now 16MB, which is the maximum supported by the RP2040
  • optional rotary encoders on each side (on the thumb cluster)
  • underglow RGB (pre-assembled)
  • new acrylic cases to make that underglow shine
  • optional per-key RGB (using sk6812 mini-e leds that need to be soldered in)
  • new silkscreen
  • footprints for OLED and LCD screens
  • metal plates for magnets

Pic: Dilemma v2 underglow

Dilemma v2 underglow

On the metal plates – you might have seen the post on reddit or the recent article on kbd.news, but the Dilemma v2 is compatible with Bastard Keyboards' ecosystem of magnetic tents. Those allow to modify the tenting angle, and take the keyboards out in a snap if you're going to travel.

Firmware

The BKB community has been hard at work and the V2 comes with a feature-full firmware. While the final firmware is not released yet, we already have a working version.

  • based on miryoku
  • default encoder behavior
  • VIA support out-of-the-box
 

Where to get it

Design files and Gerbers available on GitHub, kits at bastardkb.com.

Like the BK tradition demands, all files are open-sourced (here). The Dilemma v2 is open-hardware, and would not have been possible without the help from all of you!

The repo contains all Kicad source files, DXF files for laser-cutting, STL files for 3d printing the cases. In the release section, there are gerber/POS/BOM files ready to order at JLCPCB.

Pic: Low-pro Dilemma v2 with Choc switches

Low-pro Dilemma v2 with Choc switches

There are also kits available at bastardkb.com, first batch ships end of April.

More technical details

On top of all this, there's a lot of new developments under the hood. Here's a list for those interested.

  • additional ESD protection chip to prevent shorts
  • I/O pads for modding
  • revamped SWD pinout to follow the standards
  • bigger ribbon cable hole for easier installation
  • switched up FPC footprint – no need to bend and twist the cable anymore !
  • RGB breakout if you want even more

Resources


Soufflé V3 Sweep

Jesus Climent introduced his Soufflé V3 Sweep with updated physical layout.

Soufflé v3 is a 58-60-key column-staggered split keyboard with encoder, OLED, palm key and nice!nano support. It is an evolution of the Soufflé V2 keyboard, with a more aggressive arrangement of the pinky columns.

According to creator Jesus Climent aka jcliment, this keyboard was originally based on the Sofle, also inspired by the Lily58, and taking ideas from the Kyria and the Ferris Sweep.

Key changes

Compared to the Soufflé V2:

  • Pinky columns lowered by ~5mm (~10mm compared to V1)
  • Middle finger column raised by ~3mm
  • Reset button moved to an internal position & the lower plate has a hole, making it accessible from the bottom of the keyboard.
  • Added battery connection points, and a power switch, for use with nice!nano.

Resources


Stront

Stront is a feature-packed 38-key split by zzeneg – with LCD and trackpad.

The Stront – name derived from strontium in Polish, not from the Dutch meaning – is an open-source split keyboard by Evgenii Vilkov aka zzeneg.

Really happy to present my latest keyboard. It has a layout heavily adapted for my fingers, but I hope they are not so unique. Also my first time using Cirque trackpad and LCD display with a help of quantum painter and lvgl, it was very fun to work with them! – zzeneg.

Evgenii is a prolific creator with designs like the Smol, PicaChoc, or recently v2.1 of the Pica40.

His latest model, the Stront, is a low-pro split keyboard with 38 keys, only compatible with Choc v1 for now, featuring Waveshare RP2040 Zero MCUs, an LCD on one side and Cirque trackpad on the other.

Pic:

Specs

  • 38 keys, low-profile Choc v1 switches
  • Waveshare RP2040 Zero
  • USB-C or TRRS interconnection between the halves
  • LCD display (1.69" 240x280 by default)
  • Cirque trackpad (40mm by default)
  • 2-key pinky columns
  • splay on ring/pinky columns
  • rotary and roller encoder
  • 3D printed cases

The LCD displays standard info like modifiers and layers, but also additional information which is delivered by a PC host application using raw HID communication. Currently supported data is time, system volume, input layout and media info.

The back plate has Horizon style cutouts for the lowest possible profile:

Pic:

Resources


Chonky Kong

Another open-source ortho keyboard by weteor with offset bottom row: Chonky Kong.

The Chonky Kong by weteor is a 51-60 key orthogonal keyboard with versatile and offset bottom row – similar to his DigDug, Froggr, Brk Out, etc., but with a numpad in the center.

It's called the Chonky Kong. Essentially expanding the Kong with a center numpad and rearranging the macrocolumn. Wanted something for the desktop with easy reachable numpad for CAD work – weteor.

Features

  • 15x4 ortho layout
  • MX or Choc, hotswap
  • onboard RP2040
  • QMK with Vial support
  • offset bottom row with lots of options
  • case

The two part case is 3d printed resin, in the top photo spray-painted in nautilus blue, pebble white and a few coats of matte varnish.

Resources

As always with weteor's projects, the Chonky Kong is open source. CAD data, PCBA production and case files can be found in the repo at:


Umbra

A unibody ergonomic keyboard with self-encasing PCB: Umbra by skarrmann.

Umbra is a 24-key monoblock angled keyboard by Steve Karrmann.

Like the author's split Janus, Umbra uses multiple copies of the same PCB as both the logical PCB and the bottom plate. However, this design is intended for unibody keyboards.

Specs

  • 24 keys, unibody layout
  • low-profile Choc switches, soldered (not hotswap)
  • Pi Pico (or RP2040-Plus)
  • direct pins, no diodes
  • self-encasing PCB

Here is a short video showing the board from all angles:

Umbra - full keyboard view

Self-encasing PCB

The keyswitches are rotated 180 degrees on opposite sides of the board, so cutouts for the through-hole solder pads align. This allows the PCB to work as a bottom plate, keeping the bottom of the board flush with a thin profile.

Pic:

While we've seen similar approaches – bottom plates with cutouts to protect switch pins and components while ensuring the lowest possible profile –, in contrast to the separate PCB of the Horizon, chocV/slabV or lately the ChonkV, the Umbra uses the very same PCB for this task.

As someone who doesn't have a 3D printer and always has leftover custom PCBs given the minimum order quantity of 5, this self-encasing PCB design is a resource-saving technique – skarrmann.

Pic:

Steve thinks there is more potential for this self-encasing PCB design concept for unibody keyboards. Keyboards with larger key counts that require diodes could use this design too, as long as the diodes are SMD top-mounted, or have cutouts for the diodes on the opposite half of the board.

Resources

The Umbra keyboard is open source. The project readme has more details about how the self-encasing PCB design works:


Cheapino

A cheap to build split: Cheapino by infinetelurker.

Thomas Haukland aka tompi/infinetelurker shared his Cheapino, a relatively cheap split with only one controller (and Japanese duplex matrix).

This is the result of really enjoying building keyboards but not wanting to spend that much money on it. The PCB is reversible, connected using rj45, and utilizes a Japanese duplex matrix, so only one MCU is needed – Thomas.

In fact, it only uses 7 of the rj45 wires to support 18 switches and an encoder on the right side.

I can take out/plugin the rj45 without worrying about shorting something :)

As commenters have pointed out, the design could be improved by using 5-pin switches, and there are even cheaper alternatives if price is a concern. E.g. boards under the magical 100x100mm threshold (Cheapis), but even handwiring combined with cardboard plates – but nice try anyway. :)

And thanks for the kbd.news reference!

Resources


MY75

MY75 is an open-source hot-swappable 75% keyboard in a milled aluminum case. Shared by Skribbles4420.

Scribbles4420 aka Skycode22 shared the files of his My75, a hotswap 75% keyboard in a hefty milled case.

This is a project I started a couple months ago to create a regular standard keyboard and then design and create a case for it. I’m very happy with how the aluminum case came out – Skribbles4420.

Specs

  • 75% layout
  • MX, hotswap
  • Elite-C controller
  • QMK

Resources


Kong

Weteor's Kong, following his naming convention, is a 48-key orthogonal keyboard with offset bottom row.

I missed this model at the time of its publication and learned about it only from the Chonky Kong post.

So the files of Kong, another ortholinear board with a twist, were shared by weteor about two months ago.

It perfectly fits the author's Orthocade family, a line of ortho boards with the hallmark offset bottom row, and each of the models named after a retro game.

If you'd like a numpad in the center, check out the Chonky Kong, which is an updated/extended version of the Kong.

Specs

  • 44-48 keys
  • seperate PCBs/cases for Choc v1 and MX switches
  • hotswap sockets
  • on-board RP2040
  • QMK with Vial support

Resources


Tips & Tricks

inQAZtro case

A case with pen holder for the QAZ keyboard: inQAZtro by errr000r.

Krisenplan aka errr000r shared a 3D-printed case for the QAZ – with a pen holder.

inQAZtro case with QAZ-PCB (integrated version) and KAT Napoleonic – errr000r.

This is a remix from the inQEZtro, which is also a remix from the QEZ by elmo – a seamless, gasketmounted QAZ-like 40% keyboard.

The name is derived by the Italian word “inchiostro” which means ink.

There are four different top layouts: normal, HHKB, HHKB 2u and WKL. And there are three different bottoms: inQAZtro with rubber buffer, without rubber buffer and clean.

As of the author's note: only the integrated version will fit.

Resources


Totem with trackpad mod

A case for the Totem with trackpad – shared by wing_kong_exch.

Fellow redditor wing_kong_exch shared a modded Totem case with an integrated Cirque trackpad.

GEISTs Totem, a classy split with XIAO RP2040 controllers, my favorite entry to and also the final winner of Seeed's 2022 keyboard competition, needs probably no further introduction.

Resources


That was Issue #119. Thanks for stopping by.

This issue was made possible by the donations of:
splitkb.com, MoErgo Glove80, u/chad3814, Aiksplace, @keebio, MKUltra, Upgrade Keyboards, @kaleid1990, Sean Grady, Cyboard, Jacob Mikesell, KEEBD, cdc, ghsear.ch, u/motfalcon, Bob Cotton, kiyejoco, Richard Sutherland, littlemer-the-second, FFKeebs, @therick0996, Christian Lo, Joel Simpson, Lev Popov, Jason Hazel, Christian Mladenov, Spencer Blackwood, Daniel Nikolov, u/eighty58five, Yuan Liu, Skyler Thuss, Caleb Rand, Mats Faugli, Schnoor Typography, Davidjohn Gerena, Fabian Suceveanu, Hating TheFruit, anonymous, James McCleese, Benjamin Bell, Matthias Goffette, Matthew Peverill, Dávid Kovács

Your support is crucial to help this project to survive.

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