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Microsoft Sculpt Wired Conversion Mod (chadaustin.me)
84 points by yuribro 11 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 70 comments

Great work. Something I'd definitely want would I still be using the Sculpt.

Like others have mentioned here, the Sculpt suffers from other issues apart from being wireless:

My biggest issue is the small, poorly constructed F-keys. Switching to regular sized keys on the Microsoft Surface Ergonomic shows how bad they actually are.

Anyway, is there a way we could get Microsoft to build a Sculpt v2 which fixes the shortcomings of the original one?! I still think it's one of the best ergonomic keyboards, even with issues it has.

Yeah the function keys getting stuck is poor form, but once you notice it a few times it's easy to prevent.

I'm still using it, and the mod I dream about is inserting my kensington trackball into the gap in the middle .. it's the perfect position for it!

Agreed, we sorely need a Sculpt mk II. It is one of my favorite keyboards too, I had big plans to incorporate a trackball into the empty space in the middle [1] (somehow make the split spacebar act as mouse buttons). But the terrible Esc & F-keys has put me off so far.

[1] https://i.imgur.com/ld4cgVc.jpg

Indeed, the Sculpt is my favorite keyboard so far. Despite being a mac-only user, I have several for them (work, home...). The biggest complaint I have is the small function button/escape row. If that was full sized, the keyboard would be close to perfect. A nice addition would be Bluetooth support, so you don't need the dongle for the keyboard any more.

They have another firmware bug that has been going on for years and years and was never fixed.

If you type quickly, it can lose the case of the characters in combination with the shift key.

Hold down the left shift and type CSMSDC. One of them will be lowercase (from memory it's the S). If it doesn't happen for you, either it's not a Sculpt, or you don't type fast enough. Once you can do it it'll happen every time.

I use dvorak as my primary layout and hadn't observed any ghosting, but I can reproduce your CSMSDC case!

Interestingly, I tried it on my modded keyboard and it works properly. :) QMK must correctly handle the lack of NKRO diodes on the matrix.

It’s not a firmware issue, it’s n-key rollover with poor matrix choice. There’s no fixing it short of replacing the controller with one that can handle more keys.

Would you recommend upgrading from the Sculpt to the Surface Ergonomic? I'm also not a fan of the poor F keys, and want to scrap the dongle as well. Any reason not to pull the trigger on the Surface Ergonomic keyboard?

The main reason I decided against the Surface Ergonomic and got another Sculpt is the fixed numpad on the Surface - I used my old Apple wired keyboard for a little bit while my old Sculpt was broken and realised that I actually find having the Magic Trackpad next to the Sculpt with no numpad very ergonomic, and having to move my right hand further to reach the trackpad is a bit annoying. Maybe a non issue for you.

I find I'm significantly slower with a trackpad so I'm still using a mouse, but one thing I have been considering is grabbing a trackpad and putting it to the left of the keyboard (as a right-hander) and using it for general scrolling and pointing, then using a mouse on the right for when more accurate mousing is required.

That'd mostly solve the mouse being too far away issue if I were to use the Microsoft Surface Ergo. Do you have any issues with the trackpad that you haven't had with a mouse in the past?

My other option would be just to give up and get an apple keyboard. When you were using it, did you miss the keyboard being split - any RSI or comfort issues?

>My other option would be just to give up and get an apple keyboard. When you were using it, did you miss the keyboard being split - any RSI or comfort issues?

Yep, I started using an ergonomic keyboard because I was having RSI issues with a regular layout so try to avoid using one for any great length of time these days!

I have a bit of a sour experience with this keyboard. I love it, I really do.

But when I accidentally wrecked the receiver, here's what I found:

* MS doesn't offer replacement receivers

* Each keyboard is paired to its specific receiver so you can't even buy an off-the-shelf replacement

* MS make it extremely hard to reach a person to speak to

* Their website practically doesn't have support for this keyboard

My Sculpt is now a useless piece of plastic.

Yep have had the same thing happen with one that someone left in the office after they left the company - no one could find the receiver and so it was useless. Seems like a bit of a wasteful design, you’d think they’d switch to Bluetooth.

Bluetooth, at least on Logitech devices that support both their proprietary connection and BT, seems to have far more latency in many situations. The difference is Logitech's proprietary setup with Unifying receivers allows multiple compatible devices to be paired or unpaired to any Unifying receiver, including multiple receivers and (on some newer mice/keyboards) simultaneously connected receivers.

Ahh OK, makes sense! Thanks

>My Sculpt is now a useless piece of plastic.

Have you considered making it wired?

It is a pretty nice keyboard. The layout is pretty good aside from the small clicky F keys and physical Fn switch (don’t use them much so not too worried), and I like how the key travel feels like Macbook keys. Also totally cured the RSI I was starting to feel years ago.

Mine broke recently (a key cap fell off and I thought I could just shove it back on which ended up breaking some plastic bit) and I looked into alternatives but there isn’t much competition for split layout unless you spend a lot more on one of the custom build ones (extra expensive in the U.K. as they all ship from the US). I needed one right away so I just bought another, it’ll be my third in about 7 years.

The USB interference thing does suck, I have mine on a separate USB 2 hub plugged into my USB 3 hub some distance apart and it works fine like that. One other thing to be aware of is that if you lose or break the little USB dongle the keyboard becomes useless as they are paired in the factory (unless you do this mod I guess, heh!)

Wireless is the worst thing about my Sculpt. The crummy Fn row (coupled with the Fn-to-proprietary switch) is the second worst thing. I'd love to see a mk2 which fixes those issues.

If a wired one were to exist, it would be pretty snazzy if it had a built-in USB hub like the Das Keyboard so you could stick 2FA dongles in it. Or if someone made a mousing accessory to snap in to the central gap; maybe a wiggle stick or itty-bitty touchpad.

I fully agree. I would pay 200-300 for a wired Sculpt with proper Fn keys. I hate the wireless aspect, but still haven't found an overall better keyboard.

I had and liked the Sculpt, but also prefer a wired keyboard. I bought their new ergonomic keyboard, and I am pretty happy with it. It has a split. And even though the keys probably not Cherry or Topre-quality, they are quite ok.


I only wish they'd make a version without the numpad. I don't use it and it moves my trackball (too) far away.

Ye, I don't understand why they added back the numpad to their newer keyboards, it makes no sense from an ergonomic point of view. The lack of an attached numpad was the reason I bought the Sculpt in the first place. I had pains in my right shoulder from using too wide keyboards. I also like the split space bar on my current Sculpt keyboard, it makes the key easier to press down.

Agreed, the num pad was another reason I ended up with another Sculpt - ergonomically it feels much nicer without and I never need it

> Given tantalum is a rare earth metal, it might be nice to replace it with a ceramic and maybe a 4 Ω resistor in series. I’d love any input here.

USB allows for 10uF of capacitance, and you don't seem to have an LDO on your board, so you don't need a minimum amount of ESR to maintain stability. I don't think there's any reason you can't just replace the tantalum with a ceramic?

> https://chadaustin.me/images/sculpt/pcbway-top.jpeg

This is shockingly bad. I was thinking of using PCBWay to assemble a run of a dozen or so PCBs, because JLCPCB is limited on solder mask color and part selection, but this has pretty firmly turned me away from that.

> This is shockingly bad.

What is so bad about it? I suppose they ordered prototype quality.

Look at the first long trace in the top left sector. It is detached from the board. That is a rather serious manufacturing defect.

Yes, that's bad indeed.

However, I've ordered from PCBWAY quite a lot recently, and I've never experienced anything like this, even on prototyping-quality boards. Also, the solder mask is much thicker (pcbs don't look semi-transparent like this one), and look more professional (I didn't order any assembled boards so I can't say anything about their soldering job). How long ago did the author order these pcbs?

The defect could also be the result of the author trying to fit the pcb into the keyboard.

Anyway, rest assured, on current PCBWAY boards traces are covered under a thick layer of solder mask and it is extremely difficult to remove them from the board (I just tried with a sharp metal tip on an old board).

Yeah, I was disappointed by the lifted trace. It was only on the assembled one. The others all look fine to my untrained eyes.

Because I had low confidence in my circuit, I ordered the cheapest possible assembly. I assume hand-assembled or a mix, given one of each part.

I’m hoping to attempt hand assembly myself soon. Picked up a hot air station and a new set of parts from Digi-Key. :)

If you're using stencils (and as long as your boards are relatively small, there's almost no reason not to with how cheap they are from jlcpcb/oshstencils), I highly recommend buying a jar of Loctite GC-10: it's the best solder paste I've ever used, and it lasts forever. I have a jar that expired 2 years ago and is still great.

Also, the T-962 reflow oven is pretty good for its price, with a bit of modding (flashing open source firmware (https://github.com/UnifiedEngineering/T-962-improvements), removing masking tape that melts and stinks, and adding a thermocouple for cold junction compensation).

Did you try SAC-305 solder pastes from different brands?

I'm quite happy with my current SAC-305 solder paste from ChipQuik, but curious if I could find an ever better one.

Checking my fridge drawer: I've used leaded mechanic paste, and SAC-305 mechanic, SRA, and MG chemicals (plus chipquik low temperature bismuth paste, but it was terrible: I had parts literally falling off the board).

They're all significantly worse for stenciling than GC-10. If you're manually applying paste with a syringe, you might be better off with other paste, because it's significantly thicker than the usual pastes I've tried, but I usually just hand solder instead of waiting an hour for refrigerated paste to be better.

When this tub of GC-10 actually has any symptoms of being expired, I'm definitely going to buy another (or maybe GC-18, which seems to be the new shiny version? I don't see any ebay listings for cheap almost-expired GC-18, sadly.)

The thing that confuses me is that this obviously happened as part of PCB production (there's solder mask under where the trace should be). However, the assembly looks like it was done by hand: tons of solder on D1, and R5 is facing the wrong way. How could you possibly not notice that??

Awesome article!

A tip: the images are way too heavy for the 600w you gave them. They range from 2 to 7MB. You can probably get them down to like 50KB each!

Haha, you’re right. I was so annoyed by other people’s project photos being low-res so I couldn’t zoom that I vowed to upload the highest-resolution photos I could get away with. I’ll find a Jekyll plugin for thumbnails!

Plugging this here if anyone is annoyed at the miscrosoft sculpt not being recognised on macos:


Have been using a Sculpt keyboard since around 2015. One thing that seems to alleviate the problems of missed keys and the keyboard going to sleep (at least on Windows): in the Device Manager, look for the connection dongle (it should be connected via the USB Root Hub) and edit its Power Management settings to disable "Allow the computer to turn off this device to save power."

I haven't had any issues with the laptop going to sleep when it's told with this setting enabled, and afaik battery life is unaffected (still haven't changed batteries in the keyboard after 3 years).

Regardless, I'll still be checking out this mod. I didn't even know this keyboard had LEDs in it.

Suggestions for Microsoft product developers if they ever read this or care:

1. Fn keys have got to be like the rest of the keys. Like other users here, I get F5 (which I use to run code in Visual Studio) stuck probably greater than 50% of the time.

2. Separate Fn key, or separate media keys. The switch is stupid, and I never use the non-Fn functions.

3. Take the calculator key off the main keyboard; it's a duplicate of the key on the numpad, where it is actually useful.

4. I'm ok with the backspace key on the numpad, but the top 3 keys should be regular keys, not microswitches.

5. Better power management and wake-from-sleep. This thing should never be dropping keystrokes. Ever. I'd trade battery life for this feature.

6. Make wired optional! Almost everything has a charger these days...why am I given alkaline batteries for this? This also potentially opens up the gamer market, given the latency reduction shown in this article.

Fn keys are disaster. They are second grade plastics, small and extremely bad. The Fn switch is something that deserves letting the designer go.

Coupling of dongle with keyboard and mouse is another design issue that deserves changing the entire team - if dongle goes out (and I have 2 that did) you can basically throw away working mouse and keyboard. WTF man ?! Its enough that your laptop goes hot for a month or so to make dongle unusable by melting its electronics.

I have 3 sculpt keyboards and never had one go to sleep on different Windows 10 systems over 2 years ?

One other thing that goes to my nerve is how hand pads look unclean after only month or two of usage, I am basically ashamed when people look at it. Its not possible to keep it clean.

Otherwise, awesome keyboard :)

I'd actually like a mod the other way round: There are a bunch of great mechanical keyboards (such WASD V3, daskeyboard prime or many other amazing custom builds) but they are all wired. I don't know why they don't make proper mechanical wireless keyboards (they are bulky enough that a battery should easily find space). But a wireless conversion mod would be the next best thing.

Due to my (unchangeable) desk situation, wired keyboards aren't really a possibility, so this is a real gap in the market for me and I was quite surprised, given the extreme multitude of keyboard models in the world, that I wasn't able to find one (or even have one custom built within a reasonable price range) that ticked all the boxes.

Unfortunately, my electronics talent is by far not good enough to attempt something like the linked article (but in reverse, as it were).

I posted this [1] a few days ago [2], but there are a few custom, wireless, mechanical, ergonomic keyboards.

e.g. Redox-W which falba.tech (Poland) will provide assembled if you need that [3]. It's not cheap though.

For a DIY method, start at [4] or [5].

[1] https://aposymbiont.github.io/split-keyboards/

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26179311

[3] https://falba.tech/19644-2/

[4] https://www.reddit.com/r/ErgoMechKeyboards/comments/ht0pb6/c...

[5] https://github.com/joric/nrfmicro/wiki/Alternatives

Hey, thanks for the list. I'm actually into "non-ergonomic" (traditional) full-size mechanical keyboards, and even there, I haven't really found one that does fully customizable work (keys, colors, switches - no manufacturer logos) and is wireless. Do you have a recommendation for this, too? If so, I'd be grateful!

Give it a shot! I bet you could figure something out, maybe starting with this guide. https://teaandtechtime.com/custom-60-percent-bluetooth-keybo...

Most mechanical keyboards fans prefer to use PS/2 connectors instead of USB because of latency, it's unlikely they will accept wireless any time soon.

This is true for me, but I don't think it is true for the majority of mechanical keyboard fans. I do however wish it was easier to output PS/2 with custom firmware like QMK used in this post. I've even hoarded some PS/2 cables for when that day finally comes.

> It was like the keyboard would go to sleep if a key wasn’t pressed for a few seconds, and the first keypress after a wake would be delayed or, worse, dropped.

I have a Sculpt keyboard as well, and the way to fix this is just to move the wireless USB stick that's in your computer closer to your keyboard. I have mine at about a 40cm distance. If I place it over 100cm away I start getting sporadic connectivity issues, which result in delayed or dropped input. It also gets worse if you have a lot of things in the way between your USB stick and keyboard/mouse (duh). For example, if you place the stick at the back of your PC, and below your desk, the signal has a harder time going through the chassis and desk to reach your keyboard/mouse.

> I have a Sculpt keyboard as well, and the way to fix this is just to move the wireless USB stick that's in your computer closer to your keyboard.

The article author actually tried that already: "I’d gone as far as mounting the wireless transceiver directly under my keyboard, on the underside of my desk, and keys were still dropped." - which presumably means the receiver was an inch or two from the keyboard.

This is exactly the reason I'm a wireless hater: every single problem produces the same symptoms. Keyboard battery getting low but hasn't quite failed yet? Dropped keypresses. Keyboard receiver too far from the keyboard? Dropped keypresses. Keyboard receiver getting conducted interference over the USB power rail? Dropped keypresses. Keyboard receiver too close to wifi antenna? Dropped keypresses. Keyboard receiver getting interference from the neighbours' wifi? Dropped keypresses. RF reflective surfaces nearby create nulls? Dropped keypresses.

For me I get the best result when the receiver is on a USB extension hanging down from the table behind the monitor. Currently it's about 30cm from the floor. Every single on-desk position caused interference and delays.

(This is from a Macbook with USB 3 hub, so that might be the actual culprit.)

I can chip in here - I've tried using the sculpt with the receiver plugged into a USB hub on a MacBook and it was completely unusable - every other keystroke was dropped. It works fine when plugged directly into the MacBook though, even with a USB A -> C converter. Worth giving it a shot, as it's the best keyboard I've used to date, though I'm currently eyeing up the successor (Microsoft surface ergonomic keyboard) even with the unnecessary numpad - it looks to be of a higher build quality, and the bluetooth freeing up a port is a bonus.

> I'm currently eyeing up the successor (Microsoft surface ergonomic keyboard) even with the unnecessary numpad - it looks to be of a higher build quality, and the bluetooth freeing up a port is a bonus.

Anecdotal word of warning -- this was the worst keyboard I've used, and I promptly switched back to Sculpt. My issues: less ergonomic, worse keys with worse typing experience, fixed numpad, major connection issues with dropped and stuck keys (this was obviously the breaking point), and Bluetooth didn't work during Linux bootup (LUKS password input).

Thanks for the warning, doesn't sound too promising! May go back to drawing board on this one.

> less ergonomic ... fixed numpad I was aware of these and was willing to reach further for the mouse in exchange for aesthetics, build quality, and one less dongle on a 2-port (!) MacBook Air.

> major connection issues with dropped and stuck keys ... Bluetooth didn't work during Linux bootup Are these two related? I've had dodgy experiences with Bluetooth on Linux in the past, but no issues on Mac.

> worse keys with worse typing Can you expand on this a bit? From what I've heard and from the look of it, it looks to be an improved typing experience, especially coming from the awful F-keys of the sculpt.

> Are these two related? I've had dodgy experiences with Bluetooth on Linux in the past, but no issues on Mac.

Both may be Linux only, but not related. If I understood correctly, the bootup issue was because bluetooth drivers are loaded only after LUKS unlock. Missed/stuck key connection issues could have been Linux specific.

> Can you expand on this a bit? From what I've heard and from the look of it, it looks to be an improved typing experience, especially coming from the awful F-keys of the sculpt.

I don't have the keyboard any more and it was a couple of years ago, so I frankly don't remember that well. I didn't like the sharp key corners vs. rounded keys on Sculpt. Could be that otherwise the typing experience was similar and my memory is just colored by the connection issues which obviously destroyed the typing experience, I'd check what other sources say about this.

Thanks for the info, I'll probably continue to deliberate and delay choosing a keyboard for about 3-5 years until my sculpt gives up the ghost and forces my hand. What are you using now, out of curiosity?

Still the Sculpt. And new ones are still sold, so it won't force your hand yet :)

I would next try some wired model, using wireless has only downsides in my setup. I've been checking some split mechanical models like the Kinesis Freestyle but not sure if I can go back to the long key travel of the mechanical models.

Someone in this comment section posted a link to a list of more esoteric keyboards, I'll have to go through that list at some point.

Agreed on the key travel, I know most keyboard enthusiasts refuse to use anything other than mechanical, but I've been through that and come out the other side preferring chiclet - it's just more gentle on the fingers, and imo more aesthetically pleasing.

For what it's worth, I've been through the DIY ergo board phase as well - I made a Corne (or Helidox as it was known then). It was a fun project, but the build quality just wasn't there which ruined it for me. The sculpt is still the closest I've got to my ideal board - good build quality (minus the F keys), relatively good ergonomics, and wireless. I was hoping the Microsoft surface ergonomic would solve the F key and dongle issue, but may have to rethink my plan.

I use my Sculpt with Windows, but I've tried using it on a Mac Mini m1, and it was horrible due to the lack of drivers. Maybe that plays a part in terms of the wonkiness as well.

I did not need any driver, macOS has a pretty descent support for keyboard.

Did you try switching your keyboard preference from Apple to PC Layout in keyboard preferences?

I did not try on M1, but this keyboard works pretty well with a MacBookPro early 2015 (and it was for a French Azerty Sculpt keyboard, not even the regular US Qwerty!).

Pro tip: on a Mac laptop, add a key shortcut to switch between the 2 layouts, so that you can quickly switch from one to the other layout.

Also add the keyboard icon / input source in the menu bar, for quick visual check : it shows the actual keyboard layout.

It doesn't need a driver for me. Although I do use Karabiner-Elements to swap Alt and Windows key.

Just a tip, you can do this without any third-party tools by going to Settings -> Keyboard -> "Modifier Keys..." and swapping around the modifier keys on a per-keyboard basis. I ended up uninstalling Karabiner after finding this - one less thing to worry about for a new install.

Also keep in mind whatever frequency they use doesn't go through cats very well. Took me a while to realise that the keyboard and mouse are playing up only if a cat is sleeping on the desk just behind them.

I wonder if this problem could've been solved easier with a USB extension cable and simply taping the receiver to the keyboard!

I even saw a power-plug > AA battery adapter on YouTube yesterday they could use if they really wanted to make it fully wired.

Awesome post! I'm confused about the schematics of the keyboard and I wonder if anybody here might point me in the right direction: The HWB pin is pulled permanently low, so the MCU runs the default USB DFU bootloader on startup/reset. Then the application firmware can be programmed using dfu-programmer.

But what happens after programming, when you unplug the keyboard and plug it back in? Since HWB is still pulled low, doesn't the MCU go back into the DFU bootloader instead of running the application? How does the keyboard run the actual application firmware rather than the bootloader?

Good eyes! That’s a handy feature of this MCU: power-on boots start the application, not the bootloader. External resets switch to the bootloader if HWB is pulled low.

Is the latency really improved? I've been using wireless keyboard for a very long time now and can't say it's anything I've really noticed or lacked.

I loved the keyboard, except longevity (of pieces I personally got) was really really bad.

As for the mouse that comes with it, I went through 3 of them (left button started to randomly not click, about once every 3 clicks which drove me crazy) and then just gave up.

Keyboard itself could be said that I damanged as I tried to remove key to clean crumb that got inside and I could never get it back.

I suggest an Evoluent[0] mouse if you’ve never tried one. I use the Vertical Mouse 4 wired edition.

[0] https://evoluent.com/

Plenty of hacking, thorough documentation, nice style, thanks for sharing!

Improving on latency, even a bit, is surprisingly noticeable and enjoyable.

Since updating to the latest feature pack of win 10 my M$ comfort curve usb keyboard started going to sleep after a few moments of non use, then dropping keys when you started typing again. I had to go deep into the device settings to disable auto sleep for it. its like windows 10 drivers for ms hardware just suck.

Great work! I have two Sculpt's that I use daily, and have also wanted to do something like this for a while. I've never had issues with the wireless signals, but would like QMK firmware so I could remap buttons. I haven't really found a way to do this in Linux, with keyboard layers and whatnot.

I want this. I'd buy it in an instance if it were available as a kit. I also use the MS Sculpt keyboard, but I miss the QMK firmware of my DZ60 mechanical keyboard.

Honestly I wish all their wireless keyboards had a wired option. It's just far more convenient, especially when switching between a work and personal desktop.

I wish all keyboards had a built-in USB port for a mouse.

I just would do this for a long time, but never started. So I'm super excited to see this :-)

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