• Basic ideas
- First prototype
What I want is:
- a compact, low-profile board
- with a non-resonating case
- dedicated arrow keys
- the ability to replace keycaps easily
- backlit, possibly RGB (secondary)
Explanation: I have been using a Pure Pro for one year and a half and I love it, especially because of its size and dedicated arrows, but it has a few shortcomings: it is nearly impossible to replace all keycaps, and the bottom row is unnecessarily cramped. Also, the board sits too high on the desk for me, and the steel plate + case assembly gives each stroke a metallic sound which I find to become tiring after a short while.
So I modded the Pure Pro to solve the last two problems but the layout/keycap issue remains. The spoiler below contains details of the modded Pure Pro from which stemmed the basis of the 65% board's design.
I settled on a 65% layout for the usual reasons: barely larger than a 60% board, dedicated arrows and almost-standard keycap sizes (safe for the 1.75 right shift, which is only a minor issue and a necessary compromise). The layout itself is fairly common for a 65%:
I loved the Pure Pro's Fn instead of CapsLock setting and 1u top row so I'll be keeping that — CapsLock will be on Fn+Shift, and I'll try the HHKB's Backspace location.
I have no need for more than two mods on the right side of the spacebar so I'll keep 1.25 mods with a gap instead of filling the space with three 1u mods. It would be nice to have a PCB that allows for some permutations (ISO left shift, 2u backspace, 2.75u right shift with offset up arrow) but this is not a primary goal.
The main idea is to keep the structure of the Pure Pro mod:
From top to bottom: switches are placed on the plate, the PCB is installed, then a bottom plate is bolted to the PCB and feet are attached to the bottom plate.
For the 65% board, I want to try something different from the common "layered" look, so the plate itself will serve as the casing, with walls extending down to shroud the sides and form a thin, slab-like body. Here are two rough mockups of the upper casing:
The casing will be made out of wood, because I am curious to see how it would feel. I will probably use maple, which is dense but easy enough to machine and to finish. Ideally, it would have to be CNC-cut, but we'll get back to that.
The "plate" section should be 4 mm thick to provide firmness and consistency. Additionally, the bottom plate may be aluminum or steel to add a bit more heft and stability. The "walls" will be 7 to 10 mm high. I'll spare you the ugly side mockups
At first I didn't want the case/plate to be wider than the keycaps (see Apollos' 60% Mini design for instance, or the Pure Pro in its current state) but I may like a slight overhang on each side and a front lip (as shown on the renders) so I will make a few different prototypes to try design variations. Prototypes will be made out of balsa, which is much easier to work with than any other kind of hardwood.
I still have to decide what I will do here. First, hand-wiring the keyboard is not an option, since I need a PCB to attach the bottom plate and the feet.
Since I will use thick, non-backlit keycaps (either ABS or PBT) there may be no point in implementing backlighting, so I could just make a PCB without LEDs but I kinda like the glow under the keycaps. I am not certain that backlight implementation in popular firmwares (TMK, easyAVR) is as polished as the rest of the code, but perhaps trying to come up with a different implementation would amount to reinventing the wheel.
On the other hand, I have been toying with RGB stuff for a while, and although it won't be as polished as existing commercial solutions it could be fun to work out something like that in a custom keyboard. It will be imperfect, but it will be fun to do as well. RGB backlight tightens design rules though (much more traces and footprints on the board), which probably means either no pcb-mounted stabs or limited alternative locations for switches.
There is the middle way: a PCB with wide holes in LED locations, and a secondary PCB supporting backlight only (which I could add later), like Ducky's Shine 5 PCB. Flexible, but twice the cost and a few mm more in thickness.
Hopefully I'll make my mind before I finish building the case At some point I was hoping that it would be possible to buy the Whitefox PCB alone, but that would have been to easy, wouldn't it?
Now on to building!