Building a custom keyboard from the ground up

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matt3o
-[°_°]-

21 May 2013, 19:28

Muirium wrote:I'm thinking about playing it safe and easy. Since Steely looks and sounds fantastic to me (and I dare say feels great too, if it's too stern I'd use O-rings), something similar is appealing. I'm definitely open to suggestions. My main distinction is wanting to go with blank caps all round, as I like the look and it lets me try whatever I want with the controller. Extra useful with a 60%.
well, a vanilla 60% is way easier to handle, especially if you go all blank. Only annoyance are the stabs. I think I'll work on a pure 60% too (even though I can't stand the absence of arrow cluster) so you will be able to grab the plate CAD file.

If you go steel maybe it's better to go with 3 3mm layers instead of 2 5mm. The cut on thick layers is less definite.

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Muirium
µ

21 May 2013, 19:40

What do you think in general of steel vs. aluminium for this? I've no informed preference besides the fact Steely strikes me as a fabulous little keyboard. Certainly, aluminium feels great in the hand. I've been using laptops and keyboards housed in the stuff for a decade.

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matt3o
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21 May 2013, 19:50

Muirium wrote:What do you think in general of steel vs. aluminium for this? I've no informed preference besides the fact Steely strikes me as a fabulous little keyboard. Certainly, aluminium feels great in the hand. I've been using laptops and keyboards housed in the stuff for a decade.
the look of steel and alu is very close, maybe steel is a little more polished. Being alu softer the laser cut is more definite on layers > 1.5mm

The main difference between the two is that alu bends and buffers each keystroke. Of course the sound will be different.

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Muirium
µ

21 May 2013, 19:59

If you're ever overstocked on custom creations, I think you'll find interest around here for buying the final product!

What's the smart move for caps at the moment? I have none. I like the look of DSA. And the devil on my shoulder would like to have a word about SA someday.

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matt3o
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21 May 2013, 20:25

if you are looking for blanks, get nice thick PBT, you can find them on ebay or contact imsto on geekhack. There's also a GB for DCS pbt caps that is going on right now, but you know it will take months before you can put your hands on them.

I should have blanks aplenty for DSA Retro (all brown though). I'm trying to contact an EU company to get a PBT DSA group buy, but it's not easy and it will take time.

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Muirium
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21 May 2013, 20:37

Brown, you say? Not bad. Certainly more my style than primary colours. What sizes: 1.25u, 1.5 and 6.25? 5u!? I can integrate them into my design. I much prefer to deal with materials in hand than wait uncertain lengths of time.

Spherical is definitely my strong preference. That makes your DSA pretty tasty if you've got the right selection of sizes for a sneaky 60%. I can always customise colours and go down the rabbit hole over replacement caps later on.

Of course, before I get too excited: I'm also starting from zero with switches.

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matt3o
-[°_°]-

21 May 2013, 21:25

Muirium wrote:Brown, you say? Not bad. Certainly more my style than primary colours. What sizes: 1.25u, 1.5 and 6.25? 5u!? I can integrate them into my design. I much prefer to deal with materials in hand than wait uncertain lengths of time.
I have all keys up to 2u (included) in blank form and 6/6.25/7 spacebars. For a standard 60% you also need 2.75 and 2.25. I don't have blanks for those (only with legends)

regarding the case, once I posted the various designs, if you like one of them I could build one for you if you want, or I could provide to you all the layers/materials so you could assemble it by yourself ;)

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Muirium
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22 May 2013, 00:12

I'll have you carving "Handmade in Italy" on it eventually!

As for the constraint of 1.0<u<2.0 blank caps, I just whipped up this layout:
60% Layout 4.png
60% Layout 4.png (96.52 KiB) Viewed 7990 times
The right hand side is the tricky part. Especially return. I'm used to a slim one flush to the right already, so it's not that bad for me. But that whole row really wants a 2.25u cap at the end, to maintain standard staggering. And I'm determined not to pull a Minila! 1+1.25 works, but sub-optimally.

The left side, meanwhile, is pretty much what I am using right now, in ISO.

By the way, is the whole 15x5u grid what makes a 60%? Or am I still needlessly thinking inside the box described by the Poker? I see the HHKB also fits within the same 15x5, just without filling every corner.

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matt3o
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22 May 2013, 00:22

Muirium wrote:By the way, is the whole 15x5u grid what makes a 60%? Or am I still needlessly thinking inside the box described by the Poker? I see the HHKB also fits within the same 15x5, just without filling every corner.
usually 60% are TKL without the additional right hand keys and function row. All keys are standard sized so you can easily find/replace keycaps. If you do not keep standard key sizes there's no reason to stick with that layout and you could really do whatever you want. If you look at the Steely there's no standard key around but still with default staggering with alpha.

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Muirium
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22 May 2013, 19:28

Fitting snugly into your 60% alu case is priority number one. (Riding your coattails is exactly what I want to do! Saves me from a lot of potential mistakes.)

As for switches, my favourites in Cherry MX are blues, whites and reds. (Haven't laid my hands on greens for a test yet.) I'm thinking maybe blues for the keys I coloured white in my diagrams, and reds for the modifiers. But there's currently some quality control issues with Cherry's clicky switches, so I've heard. As in new blues often fail to click.

And as for caps: got some deep dishes amongst those blank browns?

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matt3o
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22 May 2013, 20:00

Muirium wrote:But there's currently some quality control issues with Cherry's clicky switches, so I've heard. As in new blues often fail to click.
personally I never had an MX Blue keyboard with a faulty switch (and I have got quite a few of them :) ).
When I bought 100 blues from 7bit I got 1 faulty switch, so no big issue.

sincerely I wouldn't suggest to mix MX Red with MX Blue. They feel very different.
Muirium wrote:And as for caps: got some deep dishes amongst those blank browns?
nope, sorry. deep dishes vaporized under my nose in less than an hour.

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Muirium
µ

25 May 2013, 21:35

Okay, here's my latest thinking for a 6u space bar and all other keys 2u or less.
Custom 60% Layout 5.png
Custom 60% Layout 5.png (137.09 KiB) Viewed 7906 times
It's programmable of course, so I can fix the egregious stuff – like the arrow keys – at leisure. Return's a bit small, but I'd rather a medium size return key than a tiny right shift.

I'm thinking that two function keys let me dial up more layers if and when I want them. Up to four, logically speaking. But I doubt I'll want more than three. In this instance, either function key pressed = primary function layer; both simultaneously = secondary.

Oh, wait a minute: not on the one above. I had both function keys side by side for a while, but when they're back apart like that, the combos start to need your nose! Hmm…

Or there's going for something completely different.
60% Layout 6 Rectilinear.png
60% Layout 6 Rectilinear.png (97.65 KiB) Viewed 7906 times
I'm not seriously considering a rectilinear layout for my first custom keyboard. But it might be something to try in the future. I'll have to redesign the HHKB layer keys though, they're wrecked when neutralising the stagger.

Here's a question about stabilisers: what sizes of keys require them? The space bar, of course. But what's the threshold for other >1u keys? My latest layout has no keys over 1.75u. Almost everything is 1.0, 1.25 and 1.5u in fact. It'll be a dense looking keyboard!

Also: if I really do want to have proper arrow keys, what are the unit limits for a 60% + cursor key cluster board? I'd still prefer to leave off the function row.

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matt3o
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26 May 2013, 09:08

Muirium wrote:Here's a question about stabilisers: what sizes of keys require them? The space bar, of course. But what's the threshold for other >1u keys? My latest layout has no keys over 1.75u. Almost everything is 1.0, 1.25 and 1.5u in fact. It'll be a dense looking keyboard!
All keys over 1.75u (not included) need a stab.
Muirium wrote:Also: if I really do want to have proper arrow keys, what are the unit limits for a 60% + cursor key cluster board? I'd still prefer to leave off the function row.
Don't remember if that would be feasible with default staggering. I'll give it a shot and let you know.

PS: I'm finally on vacation for a week, case designs soon to come :)

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Muirium
µ

26 May 2013, 13:13

Anticipation!

What sort of stabs are you working with?

Image
or
Image

The ones on at the top aren't as bad as Truly Ergonomic makes out. They're actually the only ones I've encountered so far, and I got caps on and off without much ado.

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matt3o
-[°_°]-

26 May 2013, 15:20

I usually work with costar stabs (the fist picture). They are easy to find and they work as well as cherry's (from second picture).

Whitefox will probably use some weird alps stabs, depending on what the keyboard I'm gonna rape will have.

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matt3o
-[°_°]-

26 May 2013, 15:57

I did a quick test with the arrow cluster in a 60% realm. There are a couple of options, here below one of them.
60-arrows.png
60-arrows.png (25.37 KiB) Viewed 7809 times
I must say that I'm not a big fan of this layout. I actually use the right shift quite a bit for right hand punctuation, but it might worth a shot anyway.
Last edited by matt3o on 26 May 2013, 17:43, edited 1 time in total.

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Muirium
µ

26 May 2013, 16:21

How about something more like a mini-TKL? So there is a separate island of cursor keys to the right of the main 60% block (with another above them for the usual page up/down home/end etc. or otherwise!) but instead of going whole TKL: still no function row.

I'm just not sure what to call such a layout. I like the extras of a TKL but I don't like the way a 75% (like the Race or the Choc Mini) goes about expanding the 60%.

Just thinking out loud here. A straight 60% with arrows confined to the function layer is fine by me, too.

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matt3o
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26 May 2013, 17:47

Muirium wrote:How about something more like a mini-TKL? So there is a separate island of cursor keys to the right of the main 60% block (with another above them for the usual page up/down home/end etc. or otherwise!) but instead of going whole TKL: still no function row.
to me the purpose is to save horizontal space (to keep the mouse closer to the keyboard). The best option for me is the 65% brownfox shown few posts ago

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Muirium
µ

26 May 2013, 17:53

Fair enough. It's a decent layout. The single extra key's width (16u total instead of 15u) opens up a lot of possibilities. Drawing up my own designs, I have more patience for the compromises always taking place in that bottom right corner. It's the hard part.

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matt3o
-[°_°]-

28 May 2013, 13:07

Unfortunately I don't have all the tools needed to make a decent layout now, but the following is a quick test I've done for one of the many keyboard cases I'll build in the coming weeks.
case-test.png
case-test.png (66.22 KiB) Viewed 7758 times
It's mostly made out of acrylic. The good part about it is that the top is seamless (no visible screws). The top 4 layers can be glued together (with epoxy I guess), the same goes for the bottom 2.

A threaded insert is then glued inside a hole in the 4 top layers. The insert is used to fix the bottom layers with a screw.

The plate should be made out of aluminum to give better stability and I could end up spraying it black.

This will be probably the only 60% I'm going to build and it's black and orange to meet Round3-TKL-orange keycaps.

More details as soon as get back home.

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Paranoid

28 May 2013, 14:16

Awesome :) You'll be the king of custom boards!

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gotbadger

28 May 2013, 23:14

What size screws do you use and how much clearance to the edge to do you leave?

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matt3o
-[°_°]-

29 May 2013, 08:54

screws are 2M, inserts are 4mm external radius. Acrylic is rather fragile and cracks easily so the clearance to the edge should be adeguate. This means that the external frame will be pretty big. For that layout I need 3 orange and 2 black layers, I'll laser cut at least a couple spare layers in case one comes broken (it already happened).

I don't have a CAD software now but I'll post full schematics as soon as get back home.

TD22057

30 May 2013, 05:32

Hey Matteo,
Did you ever get a chance to look at my plate CAD file to double check the stabilizer hole sizes (page 1)? I have a bunch of brown switches in the mail so I'm getting close to having a plate fabricated and want to make sure everything is going to be ok.

Thanks,
TD

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matt3o
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30 May 2013, 08:10

I'll be back home from a short vacation tomorrow. I'll post the cad files in the weekend and I'll have a look at your plate too.

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Toast

30 May 2013, 19:54

Am curious, what will you use to glue the aluminum and acrylic layers together? Is the aluminum anodized or just bare?

The design looks super slick. Grats.

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matt3o
-[°_°]-

30 May 2013, 22:47

Toast wrote:Am curious, what will you use to glue the aluminum and acrylic layers together? Is the aluminum anodized or just bare?

The design looks super slick. Grats.
Epoxy glue. Alu is bare.

Thanks!

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matt3o
-[°_°]-

03 Jun 2013, 17:51

First draft for the brownfox.
brownfox-cad.png
brownfox-cad.png (7.4 KiB) Viewed 7551 times
It will be an open frame like my Steely but 100% aluminum instead of steel. Later I'll double check all measurements and post the final CAD file.

The top layer (ie the plate) and the bottom layer will be 1.5mm, then I have two 3mm layers with a hole for the USB port and one more 3mm frame.

The whitefox instead will be made of acrylic with an alu plate.

I'm toying with the idea of having a 100% acrylic case for the "lava" board above.

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Muirium
µ

03 Jun 2013, 19:37

Brownfox is my template: the open frame aluminium version of Steely's design.

I'm aiming to borrow the HHKB's function layer. So my right side shift has a function key nestled at the right side of it. I'm also going for function keys around the spacebar, if I can. A trick from the Japanese layout HHKB and Filco Minila. This will cause complexity with choice of caps down there, however.

This is my latest iteration:
Custom 60% 16u v.1.png
Custom 60% 16u v.1.png (167.87 KiB) Viewed 7537 times
So many function keys! But that's the advantage of a custom controller: they can become whatever I want. The same is true for the handful of spare keys at the far right. (Volume controls? Macros?) This layout has a total of 70 keys, counting both space bars. They are intended to be functionally identical, but I'm definitely still thinking out loud about the whole of row 1.

Matteo's making 15u and 16 unit wide plates, so I'm playing with designs for both sizes. I've looked into integrating arrow keys on the primary layer, but I'm undecided. Final decisions depend on what caps he has spare for me!

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matt3o
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03 Jun 2013, 20:00

I'd say that if you are not planning on having an arrow cluster you probably should go for a 15u layout. I'll post it tomorrow.

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