Author Topic: Following in the steps of E3Eves - My own HOTSWAP ALPS build  (Read 1957 times)

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Offline Feeling_Gloomy

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Following in the steps of E3Eves - My own HOTSWAP ALPS build
« on: Tue, 06 July 2021, 20:27:09 »
HOWDY

This is a project that I have completed with a lot of help over the last two months.  This is a hotswappable-ALPS build, meaning, you can pull out/put in switches without soldering.

Note: This is based on a build by u/E3Eves.  He was willing to correspond with me over dm's and guide me through the process of building my own.  Here is his thread: https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=77497.0

My build has some differences though, and I ran into some additional challenges when trying to complete it.

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Goal:

This board is a prototype to test the feasibility of and design the parameters for a mass-produced hotswappable-alps build.  I hope that others can replicate and improve this process, and perhaps a circuit board can be produced that makes the hotswap mod easier.  I will explain that towards the end.

Alright here we go.  Formatting is going to suck until I figure it out.


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The materials

PCB: Duck Eagle/Viper V1?

* This PCB was sourced from an existing build.  Someone sent me it, and it didn't work.  I had to desolder the whole thing with lead-free solder.  This was a pain, and caused me to muck up many pads.  This, along with the already suspicious design of this PCB, it was not in good shape to start.  The micro-usb port was also wiggly, so that will also have to be fixed.
* This is the same kind of PCB E3Eves used, meaning it has the same layout limitations.  The alps holes are not 1:1 with the cherry holes, and the only supported layouts were those with a (sort of) 101W layout (1.5-1-1.5-7-1.5-1-1.5 bottom row) with two potential positions for the caps lock, and a split backspace key.  As to not disrupt traces and make more work for myself, I worked with the existing ALPS layout.  This will come in handy during the drilling step in a bit.
* So supposedly this PCB is the V2??? It even says so on the back.  However, 02D only works when I flash it with the V1 map, and I can't flash QMK because it only supports the V2 version.  I suspect this PCB is an imposter, but I could just be an idiot.

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PLATE: Kprepublic's Stainless-Steel 60% ALPS PCB

* This plate arrived BENT and I had to muscle it back in.  It is a good plate though, and fits the switches well (but it doesn't fit them so tight that I can't remove them for hotswapping).
* The bottom of the board supports multiple layouts.  This will create wobble as the hotswap sockets aren't THAT tight.  If someone replicates this mod, I would highly recommend finding a plate with individual switch holes.




CASE: Duck Raven

* This thing is amazing.  It has Duck's clean design, without the shine through on the back.  It is basically a Tofu with a steep typing angle.  PERFECT!

STABS: Durock V2 smokey.

* Pretty standard.  Both the plate and the keycaps I want to buy are MX compatible.
* I put some dielectric grease on the wire.  I don't really care too much about rattle.  It's whatever, you can do what you want.
* Matias stabs are a nightmare.  I tried a different plate with these, and it didn't work.  They didn't fit in the keys with the mx adapters for some reason, and the right shift wire didn't fit in the clips.  This is a known design flaw that I found out after I tried it.  L

Keycaps:

* The alphas are pulled from a magnavox videowriter.  Although they are heavily shined, they are nice and thick.  ABS doubleshot is cool.
* The mods are ALPS DCS INFINITI.  Boy are these thin.  Some of the thinnest ABS doubleshot caps I have ever seen.  The feel is nice on the top though.  Could be a bit rougher.
* Enter and space are from the XDA blank alps set from amazon.  These are nice, but maybe a bit thin.  The texture is also pretty slippery.  I definitely like the ABS from the videowriter more.

Switches: SKCM/SKCL ALPS

* After trying many different MX switches (around 40!) I decided I liked the feel of ALPS more.
* This isn't even my full collection.  The only missing switches I am currently looking for are neon green, SKCL amber, SKCL grey, and SKCL striped amber.  If anyone knows where to get individual switches of these so I can complete my collection, LET ME KNOW!!!

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* This was the layout I ended up going with.  The right control is undamped cream, the right OS is damped cream, and the escape is white damped.
* I can give you my opinion and recommendations on the ALPS variants if you ask, to the best of my ability.

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Sockets: 8134-HC-12P2 Holtites

* https://www.digikey.com/en/products/detail/8134-HC-12P2/8134-HC-12P2-ND/2188089
* These are perfect fit.  However the lips sit above the PCB, and the sockets have slits in them.  This is going to be an issue when the solder comes in...

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Making this damn board hotswappable

So, the pads on this board are too small to fit the sockets normally.  To normally install mx hotswap sockets, you just press them into the pads and add a little solder.  There are two alps pcb's I know of that have wide enough pads for such a process.  These are the filco replacement PCB from LFKeyboards, and the KingSaver PCB.  If you don't have one of these two, you need to break out the drill.

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This drill to be precise.  You can get it for less than 30 bucks on amazon.

So the pads need to be drilled out to a VERY specific diameter.  This has to friction fit the sockets, yet not be too big.  Although the sockets are rated for a 2.08 mm hole, this was measured on a stiffer material.  This PCB is much softer, and a smaller hole is required.  A 1.81 mm drillbit was used (a low tolerance 1.85 bit from amazon measured with a digital caliper).  The ideal range is 1.75 mm - 1.81 mm, but going as large as 1.83 can start to mess things up.

Given that the pad is being drilled out, there should be still some pad remaining after the drill runs through.  The drilling takes place entirely within the pad, and shouldn't interrupt any electrical connections (at least not on this PCB).  The exception to this is the caps lock, which I will get to.

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After friction fitting the sockets, a tiny bit of solder has to be applied to the outside of it to make it stable.  The real challenge is here: not getting solder in the socket.  The solder is very hard to extract, and there are slits in the side.  Even a small amount can mess up the switch fit, so buy extras if you are going to do this!

Epoxy can be used to further hold switches in place, but beware! Certain kinds of epoxy apparently melt under a soldering iron.

Here are some oddities:

One of the pads I screwed up when desoldering became an issue later.  When the socket was seated, the electrical connection had to be restored by wrapping around a little wire with solder:

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Another one required an electrical bridge:

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And the caps lock key was wack.  This is due to the multiple supported alps layouts in such a tight space.  Knowing what needs to be bridged to what, this modification can be made:

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If the hole from the drill ends up being too wide to friction-fit the socket, tape, a switch, and epoxy can be used to position the socket so it can later be soldered.  Again, this is kind of a make-shift solution, as the epoxy will quickly melt.  There has to be a substance that holds up under high temperatures but can still leave the sockets in place.

REMOVE THE SWITCH BEFORE SOLDERING please.  If any amount of solder gets in the socket with a switch in, it will be stuck forever.

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After everything is fit in place, you can stick switches in the sockets, plug it in, and test it.

After that, install stabs, plate, and then start popping in the switches!

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Just a little bit of force and the ALPS fit right in! They will float above the PCB a bit though, but this stainless steel plate keeps them perfectly stable.  Be careful to not snap off the wings! All it takes it a little wiggling and each switch will pop right out.  This does create a bit of wobble on the bottom row where the switches aren't touching metal on all sides.  I'll think of a solution some day.

One final issue: Due to the way the switches sit slightly higher up in this build, you need keys will long enough stabilizer "plus shaped holes" to fit into the stabilizers.  The switches are high, so when you put the cap on, the stabilizer mounts are way down low and hard to get in.  I hope that makes some sense.  My DCS infiniti's don't work too well, but my XDA caps work rather fine.  I'm trying to think of a solution for this too so I can use the DCS caps without wobble.


Final thoughts:

As a conclusion: this process is an absolute pain in the ass and it takes a very long time.  It is well worth it in my opinion, as I like hotswap boards, and there are a large variety of ALPS switches to play with.

If you think a hotswap alps board sounds exciting, than we should design a PCB that makes this process easier.  The PCB would have larger pads to fit the holtite sockets.

There might be a size of millmax sockets that would work.  Maybe these wouldn't fill with solder as easily, but someone is going to need to experiment to find the right size socket and the right size hole.  Again, it has to be pretty exact.

Thank You's!
* I would like to thank [insert name here if he permits later], an electrical engineer that designs circuit boards! He was able to provide the tools, skills, and knowledge to properly complete this mod.  I learned a lot about how a circuit board is wired just from this.
* I would like to thank E3Eves for responding to my reddit dm's and supplying the information to get this project started
* I have to thank the KeebMeUp community, run by Andj00.  Not only does his website sell all the ALPS materials you need, the discord has super nice people that will answer all of your keyboard related questions (including the owner himself!) Although the community specializes in vintage boards, it does everything keyboard.
* My switch collection was hard to complete.  Certain users, blazinggecko, mcmaxmcmc, toniwonkanobi, Irisery, and Michael-i_i-Huang provided me with switches.  There is a seller on ebay, orihalcon, that sells lots of individual ALPS
* Thanks to the absolute chad who sold me the magnavox videowriter, where I got the brown switches and ABS caps (ebay dazeofdisc).  Without many details, I bought it, and the switches turned out to be NEARLY PERFECT.  Maybe 10/10 on our collective arbitrary rating scale.
* Thanks to gepriester for supplying the case and PCB
* Thanks to rpiguy9907 for the DCS caps

And thank YOU so much for reading.  If you have any questions, my discord is Feeling_Gloomy#7669 (and this thread is here lol).  If you want to talk to me, please just send a dm and not a friend request.  I would be down to answer any questions regarding this process or potential work on a new PCB.  Or you could ask E3Eves, the resident expert on hotswap ALPS.


« Last Edit: Tue, 13 July 2021, 13:27:12 by Feeling_Gloomy »

Offline Leopard223

  • Posts: 176
Re: Following in the steps of E3Eves - My own HOTSWAP ALPS build
« Reply #1 on: Tue, 06 July 2021, 20:34:02 »
Looks fantastic, if you're after a plate you could make your own with various sellers on AliExpress, a 65% plate with quite a bit of sunk screw holes cost me around $30, I'd check with them for tolerances and corners sizes .

Offline Feeling_Gloomy

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  • Posts: 2
Re: Following in the steps of E3Eves - My own HOTSWAP ALPS build
« Reply #2 on: Tue, 06 July 2021, 20:54:02 »
Looks fantastic, if you're after a plate you could make your own with various sellers on AliExpress, a 65% plate with quite a bit of sunk screw holes cost me around $30, I'd check with them for tolerances and corners sizes .

Hey wait, that would be perfect! I would appreciate you sharing those details.

Offline Leopard223

  • Posts: 176
Re: Following in the steps of E3Eves - My own HOTSWAP ALPS build
« Reply #3 on: Wed, 07 July 2021, 19:32:53 »
Looks fantastic, if you're after a plate you could make your own with various sellers on AliExpress, a 65% plate with quite a bit of sunk screw holes cost me around $30, I'd check with them for tolerances and corners sizes .

Hey wait, that would be perfect! I would appreciate you sharing those details.
Forgot to mention they make plates from Carbon Fiber, I'm unsure if I can post a link to the product but the store name is GDCTECH, they might make plates from other materials so you should ask them.
IIRC there was another vendor that quoted me an anodized Alu plate or Brass one for $50 but I cant remember which one, but if you can figure out how to search in AE you could probably find vendors that make keyboard plates or any vendor that custom cut metal.