When I became interested in alternate keyboard layouts about 3 years ago and researched possible more ergonomic alternatives, I also stumbled upon geekhack and was immediately drawn to the idea of starting my learning process with a new keyboard, which of course had to have mechanical switches. A used cherry keyboard was easy to source here in Germany, and while I practiced learning Neo (an optimized layout, http://www.neo-layout.org
) I was lurking the forums and admired what other people put together in their free time.
Finally, when I had realized how much the custom layout - by now I had switched to AdNW (very well optimized, http://www.adnw.de
) - was making my day job as software developer more comfortable I decided to also get a better input device, and in lack of any interesting and affordable alternatives was soon tempted to build one myself (did I mention I'm a tinkerer? ) .
Based on ergonomic research and descriptions of mainly japanese keyboards on the internet and especially forums like these, I decided my custom board had to be based on non-staggered matrix-style columns, separated in two halves and equipped with a trackpoint. Also, several thumb-buttons for modifiers and space/backspace should be included - why waste two main fingers for just one key
The software part was the least of my worries, as notable members of GH had already utilized a Teensy for similar projects, and I ended up basing the first versions on some of their developments before rolling my own software. Hardware-wise, old cherry boards as switch-donors were readily available so my quest began...
So, without further ado, here are my progressions.
I started with two Numpads and Cherry ML switches. While I found them much better than their reputation around here had suggested, I longed for real MX keys. And the rather thick frame made using the thumbs a little awkward, but having thumbbuttons at all and especially a split keyboard was already a great improvement. Also, an analog joystick as mouse replacement did not work out for me, but by now I had bought some IBM trackpoints from old laptops I intended to use.
A second approach with sawn-off num-blocks from old some cherry keyboards with MX-blacks satisfied my tactile expectations much better, and it also turned out to be most comfortable if I tented the boards rather steeply around 45 degrees.
At this point, the announcement of the Truly Ergonomic had raised my interest - could having just an increased separation between both hands, paired with an angle and their column arrangement result in a equally comfortable typing? Also, carrying around the two parts connected by cable wasn't always as convenient, so I decided to design my own TE. Once again with MLs, it turned out to be quite nice - but I had taken measurements from a laptop keyboard and further shrinked the distance between the keys so I could build the casing in one part. Too small to type on for a longer time with the flat keycaps I had sintered, but a nice integrated trackpoint made it my daily driver for a few months.
If you wondered about the case: It is laser-sintered after a custom design I created in blender, and thanks to working for one of the major manufacturers of laser-sintering machines I was able to test several versions without producing too much garbage, and also could get in-house consulting on design specialities. But with readily available services like Shapeways this technology is a viable alternative for anyone to produce individual parts for custom projects within a reasonable budget and incredible timeframe.
To further leverage some advantages of this technology, curved or bowl-shaped frames were designed: The straight approach wasn't as comfortable as I thought, and when my smoothed design with datahand-like thumb crevice was done I wasn't able to get any small teensy controllers (damn PS3 hackers) - by now I have one again and I intend to finish that promising arrangement sometime, but as my latest design fits me so well I don't know when that will be...
So I went back to a more minimalistic approach once again, and finally also created the missing pieces like a foldable stand, integrated trackpoint and teensy housing. When a recent thread here promised dylon dyes to be a possible colouring option I finally put up all the finishing touches (no, the colours are still WIP, will probably settle for blue with orange accents - and don't get confused about the letters, they don't mean anything, just fit by their shape in the row used...)
Thanks to all the knowledgeable people around GH and deskthority that got me interested in mechanical keyboards in the first place and all the hackers and tinkerers that inspired me to incorporate so many features this is (and hopefully will remain for a while, too) my current setup that I have come to love. The layout is still AdNW, slightly modified for programming and also scrapping the number row, and I never regretted making that switch - it made maybe even more of a difference to getting an ergonomic setup than any hardware mod can probably get you. And the 3rd and 4th layers of Neo are any programmers dream come true, give it a try (their AHK drivers features querty as well)!
Well, enough bragging, just wanted to share these experiences with you, flame me with criticism for this long post or better yet with more ideas and inputs for future projects, thanks for reading this far - Let me know if you have any questions,