RS84 'Van Dyke Brown'

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Finally 60%

15 Nov 2015, 23:14

This project was my first time actually assembling a keyboard instead of taking apart Quickfire Rapids and other Tenkeyless boards, as was previously my pastime. I had wanted to build a Phantom for the longest time but was put off by price and availability of individual parts. Also I did not feel like soldering resistors, diodes and sourcing stabilizers so I postponed the Phantom project a hundred times :lol:
When this thing popped up when Ivan advertised his group buy, I did not know anything about the Chinese keyboard kits but was intrigued. I did not jump on the bandwagon at first since I considered it too expensive when he added the international shipping option later, but got it directly from China instead (thanks to guk for giving me the hint!). It was probably one of the last available and not much cheaper than Ivans group buy, but considering what I got I'm extremely happy I bought it and it is definitely the nicest keyboard I ever owned. 8-)

The reasons why I love this keyboard:

- Simple to build. Solder in switches, plate optional, and you're ready to go.
- Great compatibility. Even with the plate it supports a ton of bottom row options, stepped capslock, ISO enter, split backspace...
- Looks wonderful
- 'decent' quality case (yes it's machined aluminum but still nice). acrylic looks awesome backlit
- good controller that is very simple and fun to program. Fn layers, backlight control, everything
- cutouts on the plate that allow you to open the plate-mounted switch without soldering! Yess 8-)

This is the layout I went with, because I like going without Winkeys and showing off the beauty of a full dye-sub set (sans right shift but more on that later).
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First, nobody needs Capslock. But since I need a winkey I put it on caps. I got used to this since my first Model M.
Secondly, right Control. Never use it, but a menu key allows me to do even more without reaching for the mouse. Ctrl still on the function layer just in case.
Programming the function layer was a ton of fun. Media controls, mouse controls and clicks, very lovely and I only used one function layer. Fn1-5 is for controlling the backlights on the bottom since mine came without a remote.

I decided to go with Cherry MX Brown switches, pretty crazy considering I used to be the one who hated on Browns, but I changed. Love and hate are closely related and I have seen the light. I have been cleansed. I've come full circle, since turning from MX Brown over two years ago. Funny, no?
But, coming from linear switches (used them since 2011), it's logical to not understand Browns. When you have used only Reds and Blacks the slight tactile bump sticks out like a sore thumb.
Having used mostly Ergo-Clears in the past months, Browns are like polite Clears. They are light, they are subtle, but this subtle tactility is enough for precise typing, without bottoming out even. Something I have underestimated, but it can really grow on you. Like Topre, but affordable :lol:

Well, these aren't brand new Browns, though. They are well broken in switches, quite smooth, probably from 1993 as the G80 11802 that guk gave me for a good price - thanks again!
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In the process of desoldering the Browns. We'll need that 7u stabilizer, too!

Also, keycaps. I have noticed in the past how much the quality of the keycaps can transform the typing experience - for better or worse. In the past, I did not know how good thick Cherry PBT dye-subs feel. I had no access to them, it was OEM all the way. So new Browns, with OEM keycaps, I probably still wouldn't enjoy nowadays.
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Placing the switches on the plate and testing bottom row layout

Since this layout supports PCB and plate mount, I decided to do both - place the switches on the plate but also use PCB-mounted switches. That way, I can still remove the plate later if I feel like it. Initially I was hoping I wouldn't have to open all of the switches again since I was going to use them stock. Unfortunately, Cherry used the diode slot for jumpers in earlier designs, which of course have no room on the RS84 PCB. So I did have to open and close them all again in the end...
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Jumpers... Had to get rid of those stupid little buggers! Also, apologies for the picture quality, my phone camera really struggles indoors.

With the jumpers out of the way, I could finally work with these switches.
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The lovely RedScarf III PCB. IT has everything: A mini USB port, controller, LEDs, resistors, diodes...
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Testing the feels
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Testing the layout. Lasered PBT caps as the dye-subs were soaking in soapy water

Of course, I forgot to place the stabilizers between the plate and PCB first. So I had to open 'er up again.
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Stabilizers in place

I used the stabilizers from the G80 11802. I'm happy to report that they work perfectly. I clipped the legs and lubed them a bit, and they feel just as good as Costars now, while rattling a good bit less.

Finally the fun part. Just soldering all the switches in, no LEDs for now (but the RS84 has everything in place if you do want LEDs!)
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In electronics as in life: You need to have good connections.

Afterwards I put some caps on and tested the board for the first time. To my great joy, I hadn't broken anything and it worked out of the box. I had to program it though - since the RS84 is essentially a Red Scarf III cut off, the keys on the far right edge initially put out 7, 4 and 1 codes, so I had to reprogram the board to have the RS84 layout. This was a ton of fun, I used the Keyboard layout editor and imported the raw data on the TMK keymap generator which also allowed me to assign the functions specific to this board. Then I just had to reconnect the keyboard in flash mode (hold ESC while plugging in) and open the .eep file in notepad. Send this file to the "generic printer" which the RS84 identifies as and voila, you have your new keymap after replugging. So simple and fast, you can try all kinds of layouts.
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The next day, my dye-subs were dry and clean, so I this board got a change of caps. I decided to get a glamour shot of the switches, as I probably won't see them for a while.
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Look at the happy little switches, in brown. Van Dyke brown.

When comparing Gateron with Cherry Browns, I noticed that the latter are a tad darker. This dark brown color reminded me of the colors Television painter Bob Ross always referred to (there was a 9 day Bob Ross marathon on recently). Because I had a lot of fun building this, and Bob always seemed to have had a lot of fun working, I call my RS84 the 'Van Dyke brown' edition :mrgreen:
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Orange is the closest to brown you can get with the RGB lights. But it fits really well with the mouse and has a nice contrast with the white keycaps and aluminum frame.

Obligatory DT key is of course there. I use it a lot, since it's the FN key.
In other news, WTB a 1.75u shift in doubleshot or dye-sub.... :lol: yeah... forgot about that one (a center-stemmed 1.75u Capslock would work, too).
Other than that I finally have my 1.5u mods, with 7u space and even dye-sub stepped capslock on my dream board!

It is my favorite keyboard and I can see a lot of keyboards finally finding their way out of my closet and on the marketplace... I might lube some clear stems and try them with 60g springs. Other than that I can see no Cherry switch as nice as this. At the moment, it is an absolute dream while typing and gaming, which is important to me.

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Last edited by shreebles on 29 Dec 2015, 09:32, edited 5 times in total.

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Offtopicthority Instigator

15 Nov 2015, 23:26

Very nice shreebles, I need to get started on a project like this, mine would be Alps based of course. ;) Love the DT key.

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1896 Vintage Reds

15 Nov 2015, 23:47

Very nice indeed, looks great!

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