Experimental Keyboard: Variable Force Cherry MX Blue

mtl

02 May 2011, 03:45

As an experiment I modded my Deck 82-key keyboard to use variable-force Cherry MX blue key switches. What I mean by variable is the key switches use different springs of varying strengths depending on which finger is used to press the key while touch-typing. In the process I installed ocean/aqua green LEDs (505 nm). The next two posts describe the mod in two sections:
  1. Switch mod (remainder of this post)
  2. LED mod (continued in next post)
Switch mod:
==================

Variable force:
-----------------------------

To make this keyboard, I removed springs from MX brown, black, and clear switches. Combined with MX blue switch stems, I made the following key switches, in order of increasing stiffness:
1. Blue stem + brown spring (equivalent to MX blue switch)
2. Blue stem + black spring (equivalent to MX green switch)
3. Blue stem + clear spring (shown below in yellow)

The keys were to be laid out according to the following picture:
variable-force.png
variable-force.png (176.6 KiB) Viewed 7524 times
The layout is such that keys pressed with the index finger are yellow, middle finger are green, and last two fingers are blue.

Switch creation:
-----------------------------

In the process of assembling the key switches, I lubed the springs and stems using a PTFE dry lubricant. Here are the springs after their bath:
spring-lube.png
spring-lube.png (521.69 KiB) Viewed 7524 times
To lube the stems, I held the clicky slider (white part) away from the stem base (blue part) using one of those component grabber things (not sure what they're called, looks like a syringe):
stem-lube-1.png
stem-lube-1.png (407.1 KiB) Viewed 7524 times
Then I brushed on lubricant and let them dry. You can see the lube dries with a chalky color:
stem-lube-2.png
stem-lube-2.png (851.97 KiB) Viewed 7524 times
After the parts were prepared, I assembled the key switches and sorted them into bins, so as to not get them confused:
switch-bins.png
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Installation:
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To install the switches, first the existing switches were removed from the PC board:
clean-pcb.png
clean-pcb.png (355.32 KiB) Viewed 7524 times
Next, I set up some switches for a practice typing test before soldering them on. This was important because I originally started with clear springs for the middle-finger keys and black springs for the ring finger keys, but then realized they were too stiff and switched them to the final layout shown above.
switch-test-1.png
switch-test-1.png (342.24 KiB) Viewed 7524 times
switch-test-2.png
switch-test-2.png (269.41 KiB) Viewed 7524 times
Finally, here is how the keyboard looked with all the switches installed:
mx-blues.png
mx-blues.png (554.82 KiB) Viewed 7524 times
Impressions:
------------------------

I've spent a week with this keyboard so far. At first, the keyboard felt great but the clear spring keys were a little hard to press. Part of the reason is obviously the springs have higher resistance, but I think another part is because my fingers have adjusted to not bottoming out on my other keyboard, which uses lighter MX black springs. After a week, I am adjusting well to the keyboard and don't notice the variable weighting much at all. I think the whole point of variable force is that you don't notice it, whereas on a uniform-force keyboard it may seem like the outer keys are too stiff or inner keys too weak.

Ideally I would prefer a spring with strength between browns and blacks, which would allow black springs for the index fingers, hypothetical in-between springs for the middle finger, and brown springs for the two smallest fingers. For me, I think that would be a more comfortable overall keyboard stiffness.

I tried a few different springs for the space bar. I settled on the weakest (brown) spring partly because the Deck space bar key cap has a weird angle on it and can be uncomfortable to press when using stronger springs.

I think the lubricant has helped eliminate any rough/frictiony/scratchy feel that Cherry keyboards sometimes have. I'm not sure how much it helped since I never used MX blues before this mod, so have nothing to compare it to. When I first completed this mod, the blue stems required some breaking-in, as they wouldn't give a good discernible click at first. I think applying less lubricant would help with this problem, but it goes away fairly quickly so it's not that big of a concern.

The idea for a variable-force MX board occurred to me after modding my Filco to use modified Cherry MX ("ergo") clear switches for the main typing area, and MX brown switches for the outer-most keys. When I switch back to the Filco, I find the ergo clears smoother and more enjoyable to type on than this variable blue keyboard. However I do notice the additional force required for pinky and ring fingers, and miss the click of the blue stems. Overall I like the ergo clears best, but the variable force blues are nice for a change. :D
Last edited by mtl on 03 May 2011, 05:00, edited 1 time in total.

mtl

02 May 2011, 03:46

LED mod:
==================

This is a continuation of the above post because of max 10 attachments limit.

Color:
----------------------

Since I had to remove all the key switches, I figured I might as well install new LEDs while I'm at it. I ordered 100 ocean green (sometimes called aqua) LEDs off eBay for US$4.50. These bulbs emit light around 500-505 nm. Unfortunately, this color is hard to reproduce on a computer screen. I'm not sure if my camera can even capture it, so the following pictures will probably be a bit off regardless.

Here's a picture of the ocean green LEDs (letters) and "true" green (about 525 nm) LEDs (numbers, tab, and caps-lock). The true green seems to come out well, but the ocean green in the image is bluer than the keys actually look.
mixed-leds-3.png
mixed-leds-3.png (425.67 KiB) Viewed 7520 times
Installation:
------------------------

Initially, I only wanted to mod the letters to use ocean green, but the new LEDs made the true green ones look dirty in comparison. So I put ocean greens on almost all they keys. Currently I have a blue LED on the enter key. For escape and caps-lock, I used slow-change RGB LEDs. These bulbs cycle through the following colors: red, green, blue, yellow, magenta, cyan, white.
ocean-leds.png
ocean-leds.png (321.53 KiB) Viewed 7520 times
Here are a couple pictures with key caps on:
ocean-caps-1.png
ocean-caps-1.png (407.57 KiB) Viewed 7520 times
ocean-caps-2.png
ocean-caps-2.png (488.79 KiB) Viewed 7520 times
And this is how the final keyboard looks:
final.png
final.png (321.86 KiB) Viewed 7520 times
Impressions:
------------------------

The ocean green color is really cool. It looks kind of like a radioactive green. The LEDs are brighter than the stock bulbs, but Deck keyboards have adjustable brightness so it can be dialed down. The ocean green light on the caps lock key seems to outshine the slow-change RGB, so the only colors that are really discernible on the caps-lock indicator are red and blue. I may end up swapping that LED for something else. The slow-change RGB escape key is nice, and not distracting.


Overall, building this keyboard has been a fun experiment. I enjoy typing on it and really like the new LED color. The Deck 82-key keyboard has some basic problems, including poor layout choices, no elevated back feet, and non-sloping key tops (except for the stupid space bar). However, it offers a great foundation for mods and I'm happy how this one turned out.

In closing, I'd like to thank keyboardlover for selling me the blue stems at a great price!

User avatar
webwit
Wild Duck

02 May 2011, 03:55

Great mod, thanks for the show!

User avatar
MartZink

02 May 2011, 12:02

Cool idea :)
Very nice, good job!

ripster

02 May 2011, 15:52

Nice MOD!!

Wait, I think I said that already but my post got deleted.

mtl

03 May 2011, 02:53

Thanks! I just uploaded a video of the RGB LEDs changing. It was a bit too big to attach to deskthority.

User avatar
The Solutor

03 May 2011, 03:57

Nice.

I saw that rainbow led for sale but never tried it in action.

User avatar
sixty
Gasbag Guru

04 May 2011, 15:09

Very cool! Does Deck still sell those clear cases? I would be interested in grabbing one, if anyone in the states is willing to help. Their European distributor of course does not carry it.

ripster

04 May 2011, 16:18

BTW I'm curious why you lubed the springs. A dry lube probably won't silence the ping and I don't think springs require lubing for mechanical reasons.

User avatar
webwit
Wild Duck

04 May 2011, 16:28

Good question. The elasticity of the spring won't be affected, and the spring only goes up and down without touching any other components and causing possible friction.

mtl

05 May 2011, 00:55

Tradition? Sorry I have no compelling answer for that.

User avatar
webwit
Wild Duck

05 May 2011, 01:07

It.. it provides an anti-static layer which prevents dust and dirt on the spring.

ripster

05 May 2011, 01:54

At least they got a nice bath.

User avatar
keyboardlover

05 May 2011, 02:20

At least my avatar is better that Webwit's.

ripster

05 May 2011, 02:22

You're starting to remind me of Welly. He used to change his avatar and sig like that too.

User avatar
keyboardlover

05 May 2011, 02:31

That's funny, I was just thinking that Webwit was reminding me of Welly.

User avatar
webwit
Wild Duck

05 May 2011, 03:06

Welly was the same in some respects. Go in hard with attacks on the person, then at some point turn 180 degrees and turn into a victim. I think I preferred his walls of text over the vapid air coming back in this event.

ripster

05 May 2011, 03:08

I'm like Switzerland.

This really is a nice mod.

User avatar
keyboardlover

05 May 2011, 03:14

I don't attack people.. I'm too nice for that. Americans tend to be nice people.

User avatar
Crazy9000

05 May 2011, 06:34

sixty wrote:Very cool! Does Deck still sell those clear cases? I would be interested in grabbing one, if anyone in the states is willing to help. Their European distributor of course does not carry it.
Yep, quite cheap also. $15

http://www.deckkeyboards.com/index.php?cPath=22

User avatar
Half-Saint

05 May 2011, 12:05

Yes but they don't ship internationally. At least they wouldn't for me. Had to ask another forum member to proxy for me. In the end I paid about 25€ for one case.

arcyonline

21 Jun 2011, 23:15

I like the lights green on the keyboard

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