Keyboard Builders' Digest
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Issue 146 / Week 48 / 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 #146

Giveaway and advent calendar update, quick news, in the mailbox, meetups, new vendors and discount codes!

Hey y'all,

A lot of stuff is going on at kbd.news these days, I hope I don't miss or mess up anything, at least not too badly.

Slightly belated, only 100 issues behind, but I didn't have to think twice about KBD#146's listening: Forty Six (& 2) by Tool, performed by some cool kids. Or rather Meytal Cohen since 90% of mk enthusiasts are adult males.

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Welcome back for another weekly recap and behind-the-scenes write-up.

If you are new to kbd.news, 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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Posts I thought are worth sharing:

Pic: Mantis v0.3

Mantis v0.3

Pic: Geekboards, Berlin

Geekboards, Berlin

Pic: WS Jade switches – with metal inserts

WS Jade switches – with metal inserts

  • When lost in the sea of switches, Milktooth's Kevin comes to the rescue and helps us to capture the zeitgeist and identify November's most popular switches for mechanical keyboards. (Again, last day to fill out the November switch poll and win.)
  • Richard Goulter shared two orthos: CH552-48 & CH552-44 – both using the cheap CH552 MCU.

Pic: Zireael

Zireael

Pic: Le Capybara

Le Capybara

  • Zireael is a low-pro wireless split, shared by Mposible – based on the Dao.
  • Sporkus' Le Capybara is a capacitive sensing keyboard in Le Chiffre layout.
  • A keyboard design framework with adjustable columns on a rail system: Seismos by Danny Vo.

Pic: Seismos

Seismos

Pic: Cyberdeck

Cyberdeck

Pic: Nydas36

Nydas36

Pic: Planck unibody split

Planck unibody split

Pic: A-TE-B1

A-TE-B1

Giveaway update

The anniversary giveaway is over. I mean, my part. Kind of. I have to sort out a couple of remaining items, but this should be a piece of cake. Maybe finding new winners instead of a few unresponsive guys (check out your freakin' spam folder NOW!).

However, I may simply keep these prizes for later use. There are some new offers which may end up in small monthly giveaways anyway.

Pic: PK Sora linears

PK Sora linears

Paramountkeeb offered 70x PK Sora linear switches, Strumace and MechKeys also contacted me, etc.

I'll have to put together a dedicated page for these giveaways and prizes for you and me to be able to keep track of everything.

Donations

  • Yay, thanks for your donation Karine!
  • And Ashkeebs (one of your favorite shops based on my numbers) is on board now as well!
  • As always, many thanks to everyone who helped this project thus far, especially to regular supporters. Without you, this project wouldn't have survived for 3 years.

For all the donation options check out the donation page!

In the mailbox

Nothing in the mailbox this week, but MechKeys kindly offered me a free keyboard of my choice. (Thanks!) I can't decide so I thought I'd ask you: which keyboard would you like me to review and then give it away to a lucky reader? Meaning: which one would you like to win?

Help me to choose!, and comment your choice here:

On another note, I'm playing the postman these days. Trying to reunite my collection for a year-end photoshoot, I'm transporting the 15-20 keyboards stored in my office to my attic… I don't really use a car most of the days, my daily commute is a 10 minute walk, and driving would take actually longer. So I'm taking the boards home in small batches. This is how the Wednesday shipment looked like:

Pic:

Meetup database

Upcoming:

New addition:

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.

Vendors & Discounts

New shops, discount codes and updates to the database of keyboard vendors this week:

  • BeaverKeys (Canada) added, and Peter offered you a 5% discount (KBDNEWS).
  • cocotkeebs is Aki27's new US-based Cocot shop!
  • New KPrepublic discount. $5 off of selected items, $15 min order, one use per customer. (I just discovered I had this for some time but never announced it…)

More than 120 shops offer you various discounts with the semi-standardized KBDNEWS coupon code. At this point you can simply develop the habit to enter it at any online shop at the checkout phase. It should work in one out of four stores. ;)

Developments

Yeah, I assign advent calendar articles to a special issue, so they don't show up in issue 146 here. I'm aware of this and will try to come up with a fix.

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Still with me?

A man once told me time heals all wounds. So I stabbed him. Now we wait.

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

Until next time,
Tamás


Projects

CH552-48 & CH552-44

Richard Goulter shared two orthos: CH552-48 & CH552-44 – both using the cheap CH552 MCU.

Richard Goulter aka rgoulter/richardgoulter shared two of his ortholinear keyboards built around the cheap CH552 MCU: the CH552-48 with on-board controller, and the CH552-44 with a daughterboard and handwiring in mind.

A very simple 48-key PCB which uses the CH552 MCU. […] The CH552 is cheaper than the RP2040, although is less powerful – richardgoulter.

CH552-44 specs:

  • 44 keys, ortholinear (4x12-4)
  • MX
  • hand solderable
  • WeAct Studio's CH552 devboard
  • BM40/JJ40-compatible (same mounting holes)

Pic: CH552-44

CH552-44

CH552-48 specs:

  • 48 keys, ortholinear (4x12)
  • MX
  • on-board CH552
  • BM40/JJ40-compatible (same mounting holes)

Pic: CH552-48

CH552-48

The keyboards use semickolon's fak firmware, which uses the sophisticated and modern Nickel configuration language to declare keyboard and keymap definitions.

Since the CH552, although cheaper than the RP2040, is much less powerful. you're probably not going to get Vial on a CH552 keyboard. In practice, fak seems well suited for small-keyboard enthusiasts.

A couple of examples of keymaps declared using Nickel are available here and here

The BOM & CPL files are included in the release; which means if using PCBA (e.g. from JLCPCB), the only soldering required would be the keyswitches.

Resources:

Kicad source files, gerbers, firmware, files for lasercutting plates etc. available here:


Zireael

Zireael is a low-pro wireless split, shared by Mposible – based on the Dao.

Published by Mposible, Zireael is an ergonomic wireless split keyboard with Kailh Choc switches and MINEW MS88SF2 BLE modules.

The keyboard, teased back in September, is based on the Dao Chok BLE. The locations of components on the board have been changed, space for the battery has been added, and the thumb cluster has also been changed.

Beside the Dao, inspiration for the keyboard was taken from Darryl's Corne-ish Zen and foostan's Cornelius.

Features

  • 42 keys (6x3+3)
  • hotswap Choc, Choc spacing (18mm x 17mm)
  • top mount
  • MINEW MS88SF2 BLE modules
  • ZMK firmware

Pic:

Resources


Le Capybara

Sporkus' Le Capybara is a capacitive sensing (aka Topre) keyboard in Le Chiffre layout.

The build in the top photo was posted by ArisPilton, and the board is Sporkus' Le Capybara, a capacitive sensing (aka EC/Topre) keyboard in Le Chiffre layout.

Specs

  • 44-47 keys
  • capacitive/Topre switches
  • on-board controller
  • OLED, rotary encoder and LED strip support

While there are 30 mounting holes to assemble the PCB-switch-plate sandwich, 15-20 sets should be more than enough:

Pic:

Resources


Review

Top switches of November, 2023

Milktooth's Kevin helps us to capture the zeitgeist and identify November's most popular switches for mechanical keyboards.

In this series, Kevin gives us an insight into your favorite switches based on his try-at-home switch service at Milktooth.

Thanks to the unique business model (after testing a sample of keyswitches you can buy what you like the most) it is possible to reduce or eliminate impulse buying and separate hype from conscious switch choice based on real experiences of customers.

The list below, a summary of November's numbers, is compiled based on these educated purchases. (For the October switch list check out this post.)

Best selling switches

1Gateron Baby Kangaroostactile-
2Everglide Aqua Kingslinear-
3Gateron Quinntactile-
4Wuque Studio WS Morandilinear1
5Gazzew U4Tstactile1
6TTC Silent Bluish Whitetactile1
7Wuque Studio WS Jadelinearnew
8Gateron Milky Yellow Prolinear2
9Gazzew U4tactilenew
10KTT Kang Whitelinear1

Brief analysis

In recent months, we've seen a surge in the demand for silent switches. These switches are designed to minimize the sound produced during typing, making them ideal for office settings or any environment where reducing noise is a priority. The mechanics of these switches (typically) involve dampening materials that absorb the sound typically produced by the actuation and bottoming out of keys. However, there are also options like the WS Silent Linears, which use cutouts instead of your standard dampening pads. They feel more rigid but sound a little bit louder.

Pic: Cutout for silencing

Cutout for silencing

This trend suggests that as more people transition back to in-office work, there's an increased awareness and consideration for the noise generated by mechanical keyboards. It's a shift that emphasizes the importance of a quieter typing experience in professional settings.

Here’s my round up on my top 5 silent switches of 2023:

Switches to pay attention to

Amidst the variety of switches available, one newcomer stands out this month: the WS Jades. Despite being a recent entry into the market, they have rapidly climbed the ranks to become one of the top 10 best-selling switches in November.

Pic:

Unique Features of WS Jades:

  • Metallic Inserts: The WS Jades boast an innovative design featuring metallic inserts in both the stem and the bottom of the housing. This design choice is not just for aesthetics; it contributes to a unique sound profile.
  • Sound Signature: The metallic components in the WS Jades result in a distinct, metallic, and crisp sound signature. This sets them apart from the more common clicky or thocky sounds of other switches.
  • Smooth Typing Experience: Beyond their sound, the WS Jades are noted for their super creamy feel, a quality highly sought after by enthusiasts and typists alike.

Pic:

Video of them here if you want to learn more as well as hear a sound test:

Amusing customer interaction

If any readers are familiar with this language, let me know if I made any grammatical mistakes.

Pic:

Resources

  • Obviously, you can check out and buy these switches, along with many more models, at Milktooth.

Switch purchase poll

In addition to Kevin's numbers I also reached out to all the newsletter subscribers for your experiences, asking about your latest switch purchases in November.

Many thanks to all of you who took the time and answered some quick questions. I leave the poll live for another couple of days. I managed to arrange some neat prizes for three lucky respondents – we have an aluminum keycap set offered by Keygem, 70x PK Sora linear switches from paramountkeeb, and one of those cool P10 switch pullers by Kemove. Raffle later, keep an eye on your input box and spam folder.


Tips & Tricks

Seismos

A keyboard design framework with adjustable columns on a rail system: Seismos by Danny Vo.

Inspired by nezumee's Zebra, Danny Vo's (aka TheFrictionConstant) Seismos is a keyboard layout design framework. Switch between ortholinear for macro keypads and columnar stagger for typing on the go!

The author teased this project back in mid-October:

Hello everyone, I'm currently in the process of making a keyboard with column adjustable keys similar to how the Zebra did it initially. It takes advantage of the small wire sizes of JST SH connectors and allows for an adaptive ergonomic keyboard – Danny.

At that time, the PCBs were already verified by JLCPCB but he was still waiting for them to arrive. There were some case modifications made because it doesn't quite fit, there was a missing rotary encoder, etc. But the time has finally come and the repo with all the necessary files to try this system is up and running now.

This ended up taking a bit long; I was held up with tests and using the pick and place machine for the first time. I have finally built the Seismos keyboard with some nice pictures taken of it – Danny.

Since this design utilizes daughter boards, you can even choose to move the columns around with a different rail system from the example one provided:

Pic:

It allows for an interchangeable configuration between 4 and 5 row keys per column. With both halves of the keyboard, you can have a maximum of 68 keys (+2 encoder switches).

Pic:

Although the keyboard build with the first PCB worked, the RGB part of it doesn't, so it isn't lit up. The issue has been fixed (there was a mistake with the RGB footprint).

Resources


Quick news


A handwired macropad by Bastian Reuther.


A tutorial by Gleb: DIY homing keycaps made with a paper clip and soldering iron.



That was Issue #146. Thanks for stopping by.

This issue was made possible by the donations of:
splitkb.com, MoErgo Glove80, ZSA Technology Labs, u/chad3814, Aiksplace, @keebio, Upgrade Keyboards, Cyboard, Ashkeebs, Sean Grady, Jacob Mikesell, @kaleid1990, Jason Hazel, KEEBD, kiyejoco, cdc, littlemer-the-second, ghsear.ch, u/motfalcon, Christian Lo, Bob Cotton, FFKeebs, Richard Sutherland, @therick0996, Joel Simpson, Lev Popov, Christian Mladenov, Mechboards, Daniel Nikolov, u/eighty58five, Caleb Rand, Schnoor Typography, Skyler Thuss, Spencer Blackwood, Yuan Liu, TurtleKeebs, Mats Faugli, James McCleese, Benjamin Bell, Ben M, Matthias Goffette, Spencer Dabell, zzeneg, Hating TheFruit, Davidjohn Gerena, Anatolii Smolianinov, anonymous, Penk Chen, Clacky, Vitali Haravy, Karine L.

Your support is crucial to help this project to survive.

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