The Endgame Keyboard

Still not a keyboard

If at first you fail, then fail, fail, fail, fail again. Every step takes you closer to your goal. I still have no keyboards to show you, but I’m working pretty hard at it.

Outlining a circuit board

I decided to focus on just one thing, and I chose the PCB. I use KiCad to first make a schematic, and then to plot the actual board. It’s actually really fun, but I’m not very good at it.

The other night I realized I’d made a pretty big mistake. So in stead of ordering prototype boards I ended up unravelling the mess of connections I’d created. And today I’m starting all over again. Well, not really. I’ve gotten past square one (and thirteen), so the switch layout is fitted on the board. That’s something.

I’m not sure deciding on just this one thing is the best way of moving the project forward? I should at least solder the first board up, using just diodes and a small control unit. It’s just that I need to order parts and boards, and should probably expect a lead time of several weeks. So I’ll design first and solder the prototype up while I wait for delivery. Seems a little counter-intuitive, but there it is.

The webpage

This home page needs a little love too. You should be able to browse the posts a little easier. I need a contact form and so on. Hopefully you’ll just notice the improvements as they’re launched.

This is not a keyboard


In fact it’s an empty case with a switch plate, some great switches (Zealios 65g) and excellent keycaps (/dev/tty MT3, by Matt3o). Still missing stabilizers, though, and a short right shift. If anybody can find that shift (I know they were made) I’d be most grateful for it.

I need to start somewhere, and this is my first mock-up. I built it to have a physical object to try my ideas on. To get to test-drive one, eventually. For now, I’ve gotten to type on it (even though it doesn’t output anything, obviously), and tried the switch and keycap combination.

The Matias set-up

Only problem is, that set-up is actually a bit too nice. I don’t feel like soldering it up using diodes, cables and no skill to talk of. I shall put this plate, these switches and caps away until I have a working PCB.

Same case, different switches, different caps.

I also did a plate up with Matias silent reds, and some blank keycaps. Also very nice switches and caps, but a lot easier to get a hold of, so they’ll be the ones used in my first hand soldered prototype. Right now the build is going slightly faster than the blog, so I’ve already started soldering. Stay tuned for more on that.

The switch plates aren’t screwed down, so I can just lift them out and change them. A great way of trying things out. You can get a feel for what the board will eventually look like, and how it will feel, with switches and keycaps. I recommend making a mock-up of any build your doing. Preferably before you make any committing decisions. In this case before you solder things down.

Maybe you’d like to make changes? Mod your switches? Change them altogether? I learned that it’s a good thing to try your stabilizers out before you set anything in stone

What I’ve learned

  • You don’t need a lot of switch-plate mounting points, just create a ledge for the rim of the plate and a couple of mounting points. It will look pretty nice, not showing any screews.
  • Put mounting holes under keys that aren’t stabilized.
  • Aluminium bends, giving the switch plate a slight sag in the middle. 1.5 mm for MX style switches seem fine, but 1mm for Alps is a little too thin. Mounting points will help, so no problem.
  • MX style switches seem to have a better grip on the switch plate. Alps-style switches really want a PCB. If you’re hand-soldering, maybe hot-glue the keys on the bottom side to hold them in place?

This is not a case

This is not what I’m trying to do, but I’m glad I did it.

First prototype of a case. Any case.

My general idea is to make some really awesome cases. This isn’t one of those. It’s much to big, unbalanced and downright ugly. But it will make for a great prototype. There’s plenty of space inside to accommodate for electronics, batteries, alterations and mistakes. Above all it’s something to touch, feel and see.

And I’ve done my best! That’s some serious (s)crapwood, that is! Made to precision specs by hand. A slow and time tested process for master carpenters in their quiet, airy and light workshops. Think handsaws and box planes. I’m actually rather pleased. But anyway… This is nothing like the cases I’m designing and hope to bring into production eventually.

General idea

I’ve made more than one case in Fusion 360, but this one just uses some of the inner measurements of those designs. The rest is done by feel. The angle of the case is fixed, and the over sized frame is for holding electronics. It’s made from layers of 4 mm plywood.

I know the switches on a PCB (eventually) will need a case that’s 8 mm deep, but to fit my soldering, a micro controller board and a battery I made the inside 12 mm deep. With the bottom it’s 16 mm high before I even lay a frame around the keycaps. That adds 8 more millimetres to the design with a total of 24 mm!

That’s one third more than I hope to make the final version, but for now…

What have I learned

  • You can’t work with too small tolerances
  • Design has to be simple and straightforward
  • Wood shrinks and expands, allow for some play
  • This will take some time, more than I think

O, and by the way

This is not a workshop…