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How I built a keyboard by hand (jacklew.is)
424 points by rhinoceraptor on Oct 10, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 149 comments

Have to give a shoutout to keyboard.io - https://shop.keyboard.io. Backing this project and watching the process and creation of this keyboard has been very rewarding. They are creating band new keycaps, not just modifying the inlays - but the full custom shapes as well. Watching the process of getting mass fabrication setup in China has been especially interesting as well.

One quality example blog post: http://blog.keyboard.io/post/148699005129/day-420-hinges-and...

Wow, $330 for a keyboard. I love the passion and the thought they put into it, and I expect that for the small quantities they expect to produce that is the right price to sell it at, but at the same time it seems to cross into the unsustainable price point.

I pre-ordered two of the things.

I use keyboards all day, every day. I currently have three $200+ "ergo" keyboards (two for PCs, another one for a Mac). They serve me well as nearly frictionless devices that turn my keystrokes into money. In the past I have paid more for keyboards that sucked. I have built my own keyboards. I will stick with a good keyboard brand for a decade, no problem.

The current state of keyboards is pretty bad. Microsoft lost me as a customer about ten years ago because they started going cheap on keys (which is a shame, because the original Ergo keyboard they did in the early 90s was nearly perfect, and I have several cow-orkers who are still using those, those and similar ones). The market is full of "gamer" keyboards with various clickity-keys and little differentiation. Their layouts are uniformly terrible.

I don't know if the keyboardio keyboard will be any good. It may be an ergo disaster that I am unable to type on. But I'm pretty sure I want to buy the next keyboard that keyboardio does, assuming they can survive as a company and keep making new designs.

I think there is an untapped market for keyboards that don't suck. It may not be a massive market, but it's definitely nonzero. The ergo market currently doesn't have very many players, and none that really understand tech workers.

I've briefly tried a prototype of keyboard.io and if you like the concept I think you're going to be pleased. But it's of course also personal and you won't really find out until you used it for awhile.

I've tried it as well, during one of the team's visits to the Seattle area. It was nice, but I'm pretty sure it will take getting used to.

I was struck by how motivated the two founders are. They're keyboard geeks of the first water; it was fun to hear them speak.

People pay thousands of dollars for a virtual weapon in online games. That a week later, is deemed worthless by the next expansion release. I think you're vastly underestimating what people will pay for, if you think $330 is in the realm of "too much" for a hand made keyboard.

I love typing and keyboards. I own quite a few of them (use them for some time and then give them a place in my office). The most expensive I have gone is 260 euros. The stretch to 330 usd (which will be like 300 eur or so) is something I would consider. So yeah.. People surely would buy it :-)

WTF? Is this really true about the thousands of dollars for virtual weapons? I know little about the modern gaming world so I would love a little bit more context.

Have a look at my response below.

No it's not.

Skins yes, weapons no.

There's no actual advantage to the player, it's just to have some rare thing for bragging rights.

It's conspicuous consumption in video game form.

Yes, it's completely true. Why would I lie about something so stupid? Echoing Fury at the start of Diablo 3 went for $14,000. Everyone, including myself was playing/gaming the shit out of the auction house at the time, make tons of real money. Manticore bows were going for hundreds, to thousands all the time.

The d2jsp marketplace for Diablo 2 items has been around for what FIFTEEN YEARS? Selling all kinds of virtual weapons for crazy money. https://www.d2jsp.org




Thank you. This is eye-opening. I wonder what the typical customer profile is for these purchasers. I got into programming so I could make games, then avoided that line of work because I tended to become addicted.

Drug dealer? Can't think of many people who can make $100K/mo and have time to play video games all day.

Someone spending $14,000 on a virtual item is making $100k+ a month. Lots of disposable income.

I believe he's referring to Star Citizen, where some ships cost 100s if not 1000s.

I need to be clearer, it isn't "too much" for a keyboard, the question I have is if it is sustainable. Or put another way will the keyboard.io folks ever get the chance to make a 'model 2.0' ?

This is my reasoning on that. As a bespoke item it carries a premium price for folks who value its design points.

A short anecdote; I have a pair of Roger Sound Labs studio monitor speakers that I love, probably paid twice what similar high end studio speakers cost but the folks at RSL were passionate about speakers and made the kinds of quality choices I would make when building speakers myself. That quality is evident in that here it is 30 years later and the speakers still sound great and still as they did when I bought them. Sadly, RSL no longer exists.

I think about that and similar vendors where I have gone out of my way to pay a premium to get a product that isn't working so hard for profit margin that it has compromised the durability or quality of the product. Those vendors are fragile.

If they make a really high quality product with the best components and engineering margins to insure decades of service, you only buy one unit and your done. Others will buy the same unit, but once the market is saturated you are stuck, you aren't selling any more, you still have bills and staff to pay. You need to either move on to a different thing, or shrink dramatically in size to be the maintenance organization.

A Bosch engineer was talking to me about predicting whether or not a particular spare part would be available 100 years from now. For things like machine tools, there are lots of them that have been in service for 100+ years. However, if you collect old computers, you know just how hard it can be to find parts to repair an S-100 machine like an Altair or IMSAI, or Apple II or PET parts. Forget finding a new set of DTL transistors for a PDP-1. Even the Alto project that kens and company are working on, that machine is 20 years old and you can't buy new disc packs for it or r/w heads for the drive. (both considered 'consumable' parts by the Alto)

So at the end of the day, can a company like keyboard.io survive by "only" charging $330 for a keyboard that they have nominally already sold to 2,000 backers. What is the total addressable market for that keyboard? 5,000? 10,000? And it serves a market (desktop computers) which is in steep double digit declines.

Even with big budgets such niche products find themselves lost (I've got a Microsoft 'commander' here you can play with :-))

My thinking then on this artisanal keyboard is whether or not they made the right choice by going to China. It seems like something you will sell a few thousand of, tops, and if you can make/keep all of the tooling in house you can control your supply chain fully.

Anyway, while I can't go that high for a keyboard, I know folks who will. I won't be surprised to find out they are already backers of this project. But from a long term "these guys will be impacting the way we think about keyboards for the next 30 years" I don't think they have set themselves up for even a shot at that. For that, it would have to sell for $1,000 each. That would give them the extra runway to develop additional fabrication capabilities in house and push the envelope on all sides.

I think you underestimate the market for high end keyboards. Kinesis has been doing this for a while for example and they don't seem to have a problem sustaining themselves or coming up with new versions. I bought a Kinesis Advantage 10 years ago for $350. They recently announced the Kinesis Advantage 2 for a similar price point. http://www.kinesis-ergo.com/shop/advantage2/

I'm sure it's not a huge market but it's enough to sustain a company that wants to focus on making premium accessories. I don't think keyboards are going anywhere anytime soon. Sure, the consumer market is shrinking but the average computer user was never going to spend $300 for a keyboard. People spend that when they do serious amounts of typing all day, and there doesn't seem to be a decrease in the number of people that need to type for a living.

You could make the same argument for high end audio equipment, cars, etc. Obviously there is some type of market, or they wouldn't be selling them.

>Forget finding a new set of DTL transistors for a PDP-1

Is this true? I would've thought we have millions of equivalent devices available

The Ergodox EZ is the closest competitor that I can think of and it is $295. $250-350 is what I would expect a pre-assembled two piece (split) mechanical keyboard to cost.

There are 3 keyboards in this space (split with mechanical switches) now: the Ergodox EZ ($295) (which I'm typing this on right now), the Keyboardio ($329) and the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard ($220). The Keyboardio and UHK are still under development; I preordered the UHK about a year ago and its delay has been OK (a few months, it seems). I also ordered the Ergodox EZ at the same time, that one wasn't delayed and shipped last December. Each of them has a slightly different focus/gimmick - Ergodox is more DIY and customizable, UHK has a bunch of add-on modules like trackpad and thumbcluster that can be clicked in, the Keyboardio is more 'artisanal' with the wood and all.

I didn't (pre)order the Keyboardio because it uses non-standard key caps - I don't think they'll be in business very long after they ship because I don't think their pricepoint is sustainable vis a vis the size of the market. At least on the others you can easily swap out most parts. The UHK is sourced locally (i.e., EU) as well, which I think gives them an advantage in the long run. Then again, even if such a keyboard lasts for say 5 years - I'll have gotten my money out of it several times over, considering it's the main 'tool' I have in my hands each and every day.

It looked at the original schedule for the UHK and some of the recent updates. It looks like they are a little more than a few months late? I wish them all the best but I don't think they are going to be around long enough to deliver on the "add ons," let alone the long run.

I thought the UHK had a nonstandard keycaps or two?

Original plan was Sept AFAIK, now they're aiming for December delivery for the keyboard, April for add ons. I'm not sure if they'll make December, but even if it were to become February, that'd make < 6 months of delay - not that bad IMO. I did order some of the add on modules; we'll see if they get around to ever delivering those. I thought it was madness to take them on in the first place. I don't have any real reason yet to expect the keyboard itself to not be delivered. The update I got this morning makes it look like they're plugging along as the same pace of the last year or so.

I bought a kinesis for a similar price point and I adore that keyboard two years later. In fact, I'm probably going to buy the second in the series

Same here, and adoration aside, I've gone from, "Goddamn it, I think I need surgery," to, "I have no pain at all" in a few years. Stretches, and a new keyboard.

Well worth it for me.

Yeah. I really want a split ergonomic keyboard with mechanical switches and thumb clusters, but there's absolutely no way I can spend $300 on a keyboard. Like you, I understand why they are doing it (combination of small production run and no compromises), and agree that in some sense it's "worth" the asking price. But I've been following this project since the beginning, and I'm completely priced-out.

That's really cool. Was looking at the Atreus[0] and Ergodox Ez[1] before, but this one looks even better.

[0]http://atreus.technomancy.us/ [1]https://ergodox-ez.com/


I hope they succeed. The addons look like an awesome idea.

Oh my, that is amazing. I feel like such a scrub with my salvaged from scrapped mechanical keyboard with wires sticking out everywhere. Though they could do something better with the palm rests.

Also what USB chip do they use?

My only immediate weirdness with that layout is the shift key being on the bottom, far to the right with your left thumb. That would take some serious getting used to.

This is a very impressive effort! And I can't help but think it recalls an old heroic trope wherein the development of the true hero involves wandering off to forge one's own sword, (a theme which was more recently picked up on in Star Wars). I hope it encourages others not to necessarily settle with the blister pack handed to them.

Star wars works as pure fantasy. You could replace the Death Star for example with a floating castle without issue.

PS: You can see the direct connection by playing The Hidden Fortress before watching Star Wars.

This is a fairly common sort of occurrence in the mechanical keyboard hobby community. The geekhack forums are filled with useful info and links to kits for this sort of thing.

Yep - great to see someone follow through on it as well, I've got a pack of 110 Gateron Browns in the drawer wondering when they'll see the light of day. My 3 manufactured mechs and full-time job will probably mean they stay there as well unfortunately.

Welp, might as well hop on the bandwagon, and share mine as well. https://imgur.com/a/SP4Ng

I used a pre-made PCB, so not quite as hand made as the OP's, but it's something I'm still quite proud of.

That looks neat! Do you have a link for the PCB?

Great, thank you!

Thanks for the mention! For anyone interested, all the source and models for the Dactyl keyboard are available here: https://github.com/adereth/dactyl-keyboard

There's also a talk I gave a Clojure/conj about it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uk3A41U0iO4

Thanks for your work! I love the dactyl (my main board is an Ergodox). If/when I finally get a 3D printer, I will definitely build a Dactyl.

How have I not seen this before?!

I have been looking for a split design of something like the Kinesis Advantage for years.

Thank you for posting this!

That video was very very inspiring, don't thank me, I still owe you at least 27 front page mentions :D

Cool to see a keyboard without a big spacebar. I've thought that that would be a good way to put multiple additional modifier keys on your thumbs, for things like controlling the arrow keys from the homerow without overloading the standard modifiers.

I even purchased the [Japanese version of my daily keyboard][1] to try this out. Haven't planned the functions or made the switch yet though.

[1]: http://i.imgur.com/9LaxboJ.jpg

We do have very similar tastes :-) I have the exact same one, only with a trackpad and PS2 connectors, because it was so cheap it made sense to reuse my old PS2/USB converters. Thinkpad keyboards are a rare and expansive luxury these days.

The fast tab switch keys next to the arrow is something I need in every keyboard or laptop, to the point I won't buy if there is just the inverted T without any key I can remap to fast-tab switch.

I love this keyboard, what I find disconcerting however is the Japanese writing. I would like to replace all my caps by brand new english caps.

A reminder for people considering it: the trackpoint on these is an old version with a lower resolution/sensitivity. If you have multiple displays there's a high chance you won't like it. Even on a sufficiently high res display, it can be somewhat disappointing.

If you want the newest trackpoint you'll need to get the new chiclet usb one[0]. There's a jap version too.

[0] yea, with the inferior (for many) layout unfortunately ;c

As a former Thinkpad travel keyboard user I would like to suggest you check out the Ergodox keyboard or -- my favorite and current daily driver -- the Diverge (http://unikeyboard.io/product/diverge/).

You might like the Filco Minila, I chose it after way to much time spent looking for my ideal daily driver. Liked it so much I bought a second one for home.


The Japanese keyboard layout is great for that! I am using Control on the Muhenkan and Henkan buttons left and right of the space bar and Alt on Alt and Katakana/Hiragana/Romaji buttons next to them. I also have Caps lock mapped to Control if pushed and Esc when released without another key (xcape) - works great!

"made the switch"

I think that most people go with waterjet or laser cutting their keyboard plates. The SwillKB Keyboard Plate and Case build really helps with the design: http://builder.swillkb.com/

To get OP out of hand filing all those corners I started researching the current year price of a 14mm sq punch (greenlee style) and then gave up and tried 9/16in instead, prices have gone up a bit since my dad was making vacuum tube projects with greenlee punches...

Its probably cheaper to watercut than to buy and use a punch (and hope for perfect alignment)

The problem with lasers is heat distortion that is a huge amount of cutting and the odds of it not turning into a pretzel are not so good.

A weldment with CNC carved rows and columns welded together hopefully into a square array is not ridiculous. In fact its probably the cheapest option. And you could use a nice aluminum and then anodize it some crazy cool color. If not aluminum and tig welding, maybe a somewhat less ambitious steel and silver "solder" (brazing, really) would be more realistic.

i was thinking 'water jet' too, but i think your welding process is potentially just as nice with a lower bar of entry (assuming you have a tig sitting next to you). you'd have to find a really friendly water jet shop to set up such a small run. if you had a mill, even a little one, you could take aluminum flat and cut channels so that the flats interlock. at that point you could just put down some tacks or even use fasteners.

if we want to lower it further, i think your brazing suggestion is good to. brass is easier to braze with a small hand held propane torch than steel i think. also more local hardware stores carry products like stay-brite and appropriate fluxes for copper alloys.

is there way to use half thickness so the top tab grabs on two edges and the bottom guys on two others?

It's possible to get waterjet cutting in low quantities with small setup charges. We have a good number of people ordering custom keyboard plates and cases from us at Big Blue Saw.

This is neat, and I don't want to diminish that, but when I saw the headline "...from scratch", I wasn't expecting that the starting components would include "a full set of keys".

I'm reminded of an old Disney cartoon (maybe WWII era ?) where goofy invents artificial rubber. The catch is that it requires rubber tires as an input.

You want them to be carving out molds and pouring in plastic for keycaps, then stamping our brass springs to insert into keyboard bodies they 3D printed?

I guess the point I'm making is that 'scratch' is a pretty subjective line. I felt that the article qualified. When someone makes a cake from scratch I am ok if they use pre-milled flour and store bought eggs. I would be a bit annoyed if they started with a mix and called it "scratch."

I agree with your perspective here and also think this qualifies as "from scratch." Would it still be "from scratch" if they bought all the components they used in this write-up as one kit?

A really good question. There used to be a company called Frostline you could buy a down jacket kit from, you did all the sewing and stuffing of down but the pieces were pre-cut and all materials were supplied.

I think in the 'things' space there is the notion of 'kit built' versus 'scratch built'.

It gets even a bit murkier when you think about wood working. Over the years I've built a number of things where the "plans" were in a magazine or an article and bought all of the wood, cut it to size, and assembled it "from scratch." but I didn't actually design it.

What I like about the keyboard article is that he designs the enclosure, provides his own wiring, and keyboard scanning software/firmware. So for me that qualifies as "scratch."

I don't think of this article as a 'from scratch', given that there's recognisable prefab parts in it, but at the same time, that doesn't diminish its worth.

Perhaps put another way: prefab keys can only be keys; cakemix can only become cake; sheet aluminium could become anything; milled flour could become anything. 'From scratch' is making something from generic materials, to me.

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe."

- Carl Sagan

You don't have to invent it, you just need to make your own :)

> I'm reminded of an old Disney cartoon (maybe WWII era ?) where goofy invents artificial rubber. The catch is that it requires rubber tires as an input.

Probably WW2 era, because that's how the Nazi German synthetic rubber ("Buna") worked: It needed small quantities of natural rubber to produce (a lot more) synthetic rubber, with predictable results once the trade routes for that were blockaded.

> Probably WW2 era

I know. That's why I typed "WWII" (II = 2)

Yes it was agreeing, just upgrading your 'maybe' to a 'probably' with concrete example of background.

No confusion on the II/2.

I think they were just confirming since you seemed uncertain

Creating custom keycaps is a project on its own, and could easily take as much time and effort as the keyboard itself!

Some resources on making your own custom keys from resin:


If you're looking for a story of someone attempting to completely build something from scratch, try thomas thwaites "the toaster project" - http://www.thomasthwaites.com/the-toaster-project/

There are many projects where people have built their own keyboards.

Do you know of any where the people built their own switches?

I've seen a fair number of folks in the mechanical keyboard community (admittedly rather small already) that customize their switches. For example, a common mod for mechanical switches is to replace the springs in the switch housing, which affects how much force is required to depress the switch. Others replace the stem, which is the colored part of the switch, changing its feel (tactile vs linear, smooth vs course).

Given that, would you consider someone building their own switch as someone who's created a custom switch from these components? e.g. I've read of folks putting Zealios stems in Gateron housings with 80g+ springs to create their ideal switch type.

Yeah, have seen a lot of people mod their switches, but not seen someone create them from scratch - think customising them and blending components steps it up a notch, but isn't any more "from scratch" (although, in my opinion, getting the switches bought in is as "from scratch" as is logical).

As far as I know, most keyboard manufacturers don't manufacture their own switches, yet it's fairly uncontroversial to describe them as "keyboard manufacturers."

I've built small keypads with aluminium foil and sheets of plastic; extremely silent but not very tactile.

I was interested in how key events are generated and how the driver in the computer was made (if not the generic driver). But that was handled by a premade mini computer and OSS software.

You know it's not going to be totally "from scratch." It's just the idea of how much did he build.

I mean if you wanted to be super hardcore, you could 3D print your own switches, your own key caps (or carve them out of wood), but what happens when you get to the controller? We don't have 3d printers for PCBs yet .. well none that are affordable for home use .. or that don't release tons of deadly toxins. :-P

Ironically, the PCB would probably take less effort than doing all of the switches and key caps yourself.

A simple matrix keyboard (downside: will misdetect certain keyboard combinations) requires a quite small set of io pins (if you insist on fully individual switches it'll complicate matters a bit, but not that much) that you could make a controller for with any number of simple old parts that are big enough that etching your own PCB for them at home is fairly straightforward.

For that matter good old 8-bit era parts like 8526/6526 CIA's (IO) and a 6510/8510 CPU are big enough and resilient enough (and still easy to get hold of) that you can build a controller on a breadboard, or even mount them on cardboard you punch holes in (... yes, been there, done that), and you can drive a serial port off them (in fact, the Amiga 500 and Amiga 2000 keyboards at the very least used a SOC version of the 6502 with onboard PROM and RAM for their keyboard controller)

Of course, going the "next step down" and building it all from transistors starts getting a bit more hairy.

For that "next step down" dig up Don Lancaster's "TV Typewriter Cookbook" for the 1976 version of this (and to understand "shift" and "control" at a more visceral level :-)

Making the keys is probably one of least interesting parts.

Oh I don't know, forging the drill parts to extract the oil, fractionating, making the polymer, carving a blank to make moulds from, producing the alginate to make the master moulds, ... seems pretty interesting.

How do you learn where to assay for oil in the first place?

I still think building the transistors needed from scratch would be more interesting. You could argue that burying dinosaurs to make the oil is pretty cool.

The phrase "from scratch" can't possibly have clear definition ("If you wish to make apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe"). However, in this case I agree with you.

If you used a keyboard to make a keyboard, that is definitely not "from scratch".

> If you wish to make apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe. - Carl Sagan

I see a lot of builds similar to this on /r/MechanicalKeyboards, but which use pre-made cases or other kits. This is more "from scratch" than many, due to hand-cutting the case.

Every time I see one I get the itch to try it myself. The guide he links to makes it seem tedious, but relatively straightforward.

Wow, drilling and filing all of those holes by hand makes me glad I've discovered laser cutters. That's dedication!

Neat project. I'll stick with my Unicomp for now, though. As much fun as it would be to build this, and to say that I'm typing on a keyboard I built, even the MX switches don't feel quite as satisfying as the click of a Model M, and I'm not making buckling-spring switches myself: sure, it might not be too hard, but even if it isn't, you have to make a ton, and then you have to make the keycaps.

Queue keyboard hackers arguing over whether buckling-spring is really better than MX.

I've run into quality issues with Unicomp recently (my last one only lasted 18 months). I'm now using a keyboard with Cherry Greens (CODE 104 key), and it's pretty darn close, but not the same (plus a bit quieter, which my wife likes).

Regardless of which is better, feeling familiar is nice. Those of my age who grew up using Apples are likely to prefer the Matias switches; I grew up with an IBM keyboard, and the Cherry Green is the closest I can find that isn't made by Unicomp.

Hey, I grew up with dome switches. I've tried the MXes, and they just don't feel right to me.

Jesus H. Christ what a lot of negativity from a neat project. And the same quote from Carl Sagan is a nice asshat touch from people that probably don't make anything at all ever.

Great work op, don't let these pedantic asshats keep you down.

I mean, sure, this is pretty neat, but par for the course with the excellent projects posted every day at sites like deskthority.net and geekhack.org. I'm surprised this one made the front page. It's neat but not the first of its kind.

There are folks on these sites who are re-creating IBM capacitive buckling spring keyboards "from scratch": new molds for all the components. Also, keyboard.io is a keyboard project complete from scratch (except for the switches) from some friends.

Kudos to the OP for building a keyboard! It's great fun and very instructive. Head to the forums I linked above if you'd like to see more.

This is probably the only project which goes about building a backplate from household tools, rather than having it milled.

First keyboard built by hand for me was a ZX Spectrum 16k keyboard replacement made of door bell buttons. It was back in 1986 if I remember well. Result was a matrix of about 1m/50cm. We've actually broke the keyboard of our teacher computer because we were a full classroom playing Jetpack on it. All class has participated - of course with teacher's help. hehe...

Did it have those obnoxious rubber keys like the original? :)

shameless plug:

If you're looking for more keyboard build logs, I wrote one about my custom keyboard. http://thume.ca/2014/09/08/creating-a-keyboard-1-hardware/

Interesting read!

I made my own keyboard in college for the simple reason that I couldn't afford to buy one. You couldn't get one at Goodwill for $1.99 in those days :-)

I salvaged the keys from some IBM device. Drilled a bunch of holes in a fiberglass board, mounted the keys in the holes, connected them in an XY grid with diodes, and used a 6800 processor to poll the grid to see which key was pressed, and send the corresponding ASCII value to a serial port.

It was a simple design, and worked well. Later, I connected a 6845 video controller chip, some code, and a display, and voila! a VT52 clone.

Sadly, the thing got lost in one of my many moves.

Thanks for posting this, looks like it was a fun build.

What's the split keyboard you previously had, shown in the background of the first photo?

Looks like an Ergodox (Infinity?) with full hand case.

Definitely an Infinity Ergodox, the full hand has the I:C logo on it.

So he built part of a keyboard. The best application I see of this, other than a startup for retail or Wall St keyboards, is for secure input. A secure keyboard has to (a) be immune to code injection, (b) no leak anything over power supply, (c) be TEMPEST shielded, and (d) optionally encrypted input directly to input subsystem in CPU if anything else on I/O bus is untrusted.

For this, the keys can usually be second-hand but everything else is custom. Mainly the MCU, power filter, material around it, etc. One might similarly do a wireless keyboard that encrypted its transmissions.


I currently own a number of ergonomic keyboards. Kinesis Freestyle 2 at office, Microsoft Sculpt Ergo at home and I've discovered my ideal keyboard would be a mix of the two.

Would love any ideas on how a custom keyboard could reasonably (time wise) be designed to combine the best aspects of both keyboards:

- separated halves of the Freestyle2,

- wireless bluetooth for both halves instead of the wire the Freestyle2 requires,

- curve like the Microsoft Sculpt Ergo keyboard.

- Ok with either full keys or scissor keys.

Separated halves is the easiest of your requirements. That is a pretty well solved problem in the keyboard community (see ergodox, etc.).

Having the halves communicate wirelessly is a bigger challenge, but still potentially solvable. The easiest solution would be to have each half register as a separate board. Then because it is wireless you have the issues of batteries and charging and stuff.

The curve might also be tough, especially when combined with the wireless part. The easiest solution would be to have a plate cut, heat it up to soften it slightly and then bend it into the curve that you want. There would probably be a lot of trial and error involved in that though, and it may be faster (though a lot more expensive) to design the final 3D version of it in a cad program and have it milled as one big block.

Standard cherry-style keys will be much easier to source than scissor keys.

This geekhack thread might give you some ideas: https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=70221.0

Awesome, thanks!

Some inspiration:

- As a prototype... I'm wondering if the MS Ergo Sculpt keyboard could be cut in half and rewired.

- Maybe two keyboards with two sets of wireless dongles could communicate via the same 2.4 ghz wireless dongle from "their half".

- Maybe even 1 battery each.

That's a great link, thanks I'll see what might be possible.

The wireless requirement will probably be the most annoying, as you'll have to deal with batteries, charging, figuring out how to get the two halves to communicate with each other and/or register as separate devices, etc. But it's certainly possible.

Believe it or not, there are folks out there creating their own curved keyboards. See the following for an example.


True.. Maybe I can just buy two keyboards and cut them in half, one speaking with it's own USB dongle as a prototype..

That's a great link, checking it out now, thanks for sharing.

I'd be interested to see how comfortable the grid layout is.

The only keyboard I used like that was the Sharp MZ80K. It was unfun, but that used square and flat keycaps too.

My main keyboard is an Ergodox, so non-staggered keyboards are what I'm used to. Plus, the grid layout made it a lot easier to build.

I've enjoyed my time with the typematrix, grid layout works for me

How about a porcelain or plaster board that fits your hands precisely. They did that in the soyuz, but not for hands, and for other reasons too.

I have thought of making ceramic electronic components. A keyboard would be a great start.

If done carefully some of the wiring could be painted on as an oxide and then reduced to the metal in the firing.

It was obvious from the title and its posting on hacker news that this would be some kind of slick 3-D printer article. I was, very happily, wrong. Bravo for a much more interesting take on this project.

That's cool. I supported an IBM/PC clone keyboard firmware developer in the 1990s. Having an open source USB based firmware has really changed the game as it was a nightmare to clone the IBM XT/AT keyboard controller with all it's quirks.

I've built a similar keyboard, called atomic keyboard, I love it, even if it was pretty pricey.

Does anyone recognize the metallic split keyboard in the background? I have been looking for a high quality wired keyboard with separate left and right panels and hoping I don't need to build one (plenty of other things to build!)

It's an Ergodox Infinity with full hand mod, it's a kit keyboard sold through Massdrop. You get the PCBs, switches and caps and assemble them. I would look at the Ergodox EZ if you want a pre-made one.

Along with the Ergodoxm, you might like the Diverge keyboard. I've been using one every day for a couple of months now and love it.

I think it's an ErgoDox.

That looks like a mini USB extension cable not a micro. Neat project though

Looks like a preonic. Nice work. :) I couldn't type on a ortholinear keyboard at all... Switched back to a happy hacking :)

Saw this on /r/mk. You did a very nice job on the keyboard. How is it typing on an Ortholinear-like keyboard?

i wonder why people still use teensy boards, when similar chinese boards can be bought for a couple dollars each instead of $20.

Cheaper shipping / faster arrival for quantity = 1? QA/binning done by manufacturer instead of you?

What is rollover going to be like on a project like this?

Exist a whole of crazy sub-culture about this:




I'm almost build one, because I need a replacement for my MS ergonomic Keyboard:


In short, MS hate me. He refuse to build a mechanical keyboard and also build the most nice Ergo (to me) but each iteration is far less durable. My actual one have several keys fade-out, and the palm rest is kaput. The original one, was rock-solid:


(I have see it at around US 300!)

So, I'm in the weird spot of:

- I like this keyb too much

- I can buy a more durable, but PS-2 antique, version

- I can buy a more up-to-date but cord-less (hate to recharge stuff!) and I'm confident it will break faster

- I can buy from the mech community, but do you remember? This community is CRAZY, and the options get weird and weirder!

- I can buy a commercial gaming keyboard and make my life easy. But I wanna ergo.

- I can build it myself, but do it curved is challenging, and I need to buy a custom keyset, so I need to convince like 20-30 people to do it so it not cost a eye.

Yep, this is nuts. I'm already > 1 year holding off this project, waiting for a reasonable compromise

(Not get wrong: I can settle for less. Is not that I can't, is that I wish a nicer option!) ---

The options in this space (Ergo+ Mech+ NOT CRAZY) are very limited. VERY.

You can get stuff like


or even more popular


But that keyb is a example of how crazy people are. Note that is not only a weird layout, have less keys than a normal keyboard.

I could buy it instantly if a least is a "normal" tenkey-less.

Right know, is SUPER-HOT to make the keyboard with the less possible amount of keys, where 60% is like the most popular, like this


This mean a lot of material to DIY is biased torwards 60%.

Get the antique and replace the electronics. Seems like the most reasonable middle way. I'm happy to help you if you need assistance with that.

Very cool, but to anyone considering this endeavor, I gently suggest buying a Poker2 instead.

YES! I built one using a pre-fab face plate and it was super tedious. While I certainly enjoy using it everyday, looking back I'd probably just buy one. At the time though I couldn't find one that met my needs (mainly the bluetooth).

Recap of my build:



I wouldn't, notice the different key arrangement.

I was referring to building a keyboard in general, not the ortholineal layout.

Rather, a typematrix (2020 or 2030)

Nope. Once you go mech, you never go back to those squishy switches.

While I'm a happy mech user, the scissor switches on the Typematrix 2030 are actually quite nice. If my 60% died tomorrow I would have no issue going back to it.

Oh these emacs users

Great job!

To anyone nitpicking, unless the headline has been changed since submission, the author actually says they built it "by hand", rather than "from scratch".

I changed it after the initial feedback.

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch...

Spoiler: Did not build from scratch, used keycaps and keyboard switches.

This complaint makes me uncomfortable on behalf of the project creator. He didn't set out to create switches from scratch, he wanted to create a keyboard. You didn't care that he used a prebuilt microcontroller or USB cable.

Switching from keycaps to some substitute wouldn't be technically harder to pull off, it would just reduce usability. Same for switches -- the input/output of these switches is created with keyboards in mind, other switch choices including a homemade version would be possible, but he didn't set out to create 100 switches, he wanted to make a keyboard.

The original title was "by hand" which is much better because the main thing that distinguishes this from hundreds of other build logs is that the switch plate was not cut with a laser or waterjet, but with hand tools.

He built a keyboard without the keys or switches. That would be the most useless keyboard ever made until... he obtained pre-made keys and switches from a keyboard vendor. The gripe stands despite this being cool. A more honest description would be he made part of a keyboard or maybe the frame of one.

All the switches do is close a connection between two wires. He could have used bent paperclips and taped cardboard on top of each one for the keys. Would you be happy then?

That would be a fully-custom keyboard. So yes.

I think everyone knows in order to claim you built anything, you've really got to start with just hydrogen. And even then, you didn't build the protons from scratch...

You're right, I just changed it :)

Don't forget the microcontroller!

Looks like the author had fun, though.

He didn't create the universe first.

It's not mentioned in the article, but I bet he didn't even cast the aluminum or fab the microcontroller either.

This. Is. Bullocks!

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