Author Topic: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process  (Read 17975 times)

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Offline kurplop

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The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« on: Thu, 08 January 2015, 00:58:15 »
This is the beginning of what is hopefully about a 2 month thread, detailing the completion of my latest project.
86679-0 86681-186683-2
I decided to test my patience and improving skill on a mill by taking a 10 lb. chunk of 6061 aluminum and making about 9.25 lb. of shavings leaving me with a sleek housing for a keyboard loosely based on the ErgoDox and once again integrating a Slimblade trackball. Repeating this fundamental combination attests to my overall satisfaction with having a large trackball set between a split keyboard.

My objective is to make a semi portable keyboard that shares the basic layout as my desktop setup. An earlier iteration aka 'The ErgoPlop', unfortunately had to be renamed the ErgoFlop. While there were many things that worked well on it, its execution seemed to fall between two stools; most notably, the 20+ degrees of tenting simply made it too tall to be portable and the smaller trackball just didn't feel right after being spoiled by a larger one.

Some of the design features include, using Cherry ML switches because of their smaller profile, of course the Slimblade, centered between the keyboard halves, repeating the use of modified arcade buttons for mouse functions and reducing the keyboard to 62 keys, actually 64 because the two arcade buttons above the trackball are keyboard commands.

The keyboard measures 7.5" high by 13.25" wide by 1.5" high to the highest keys (less trackball). The one piece aluminum chassis is covered beneath with a 3/8" walnut baseplate rabbeted into it. The ML switches are PCB mounted only, so I designed and home etched a flawed prototype PCB that can be partly seen through the thumb pockets. I made some mistakes in the design but drilled it out to confirm various dimensions and key location. I have since corrected the design (hopefully) and will be printing the new ones soon. I used the laser printer toner method to mask the copper I wanted to remain, then burned off the exposed copper with ferric chloride. I think the process worked pretty well but it is obviously not the quality of a professionally produced PCB.

Completed photo log here.   https://www.flickr.com/photos/kurplop/sets/72157651718823173
« Last Edit: Tue, 19 April 2016, 17:51:14 by kurplop »

Offline Findecanor

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #1 on: Thu, 08 January 2015, 01:36:38 »
I decided to test my patience and improving skill on a mill by taking a 10 lb. chunk of 6061 aluminum and making about 9.25 lb. of shavings leaving me with a sleek housing for a keyboard ...
Milled?  :eek: I thought that it was a piece of sheet metal that you had pressed.
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Offline hoggy

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #2 on: Thu, 08 January 2015, 02:37:55 »
Wow.
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Offline suicidal_orange

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #3 on: Thu, 08 January 2015, 02:44:32 »
That looks amazing but not sure I'd call it portable!
                               
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Offline JaccoW

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #4 on: Thu, 08 January 2015, 03:41:37 »
I decided to test my patience and improving skill on a mill by taking a 10 lb. chunk of 6061 aluminum and making about 9.25 lb. of shavings leaving me with a sleek housing for a keyboard ...
Milled?  :eek: I thought that it was a piece of sheet metal that you had pressed.
Same here. Looks great though!
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Offline Oobly

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #5 on: Thu, 08 January 2015, 04:11:33 »
Beautiful work, kurplop! Very nicely finished piece of aluminium and I like the overall design a lot. Would be at home on a spaceship console, too. Looks fantastic!

I'd certainly consider it portable if you take the ball out when moving it around. I find it a bit sad you lowered the angle, but if it needs to be like that for your requirements, then that's how it needs to be, as long as it's still comfortable to use. It's still a vast improvement ergonomically over non-tented, qwerty boards and even the 'Dox. :)

I'm considering using ML switches for my latest project, too. From what I've read they feel kinda similar to my favourite MX switches (ErgoClears) or perhaps somewhere between Browns and ErgoClears once they're lubed. Apparently SP can do doubleshot ABS ML keycaps, too :)
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Offline kurplop

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #6 on: Sun, 11 January 2015, 20:43:08 »
I think the revised trace drawings are just about done. I will check things over one more time. I'm sure I will discover a few more problems, then some laser copies to be transferred to the blank pcb's.
 * ergoploped out_auto_save_bak-ml design.pdf (531.73 kB - downloaded 137 times.)
I tried to figure out how Kicad works but gave up and decided to draw my own traces.

Offline jacobolus

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #7 on: Sun, 11 January 2015, 21:04:50 »
Looks totally awesome! Great work!

Offline vivalarevolución

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #8 on: Mon, 12 January 2015, 07:27:46 »
Nice.  Job.
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Offline kittykatmax

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #9 on: Tue, 27 January 2015, 15:03:39 »
As always, your work is just...WOW. :)
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Offline Larken

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #10 on: Thu, 29 January 2015, 07:12:20 »
will be following this with great interest, as usual :D
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Offline Joey Quinn

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #11 on: Thu, 29 January 2015, 18:28:38 »
Is there any chance of an mx version, I'd be down to buy one of these.
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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #12 on: Thu, 29 January 2015, 18:44:36 »

Awesome milling work, as a product it would not be that productive though. Too much material removed, but as a prototype is understandable.

The aluminum would serve as a plate too, instead of being just the frame of the keycaps, ala GON style.

Offline kurplop

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #13 on: Thu, 29 January 2015, 21:10:44 »
Thanks everybody for the encouraging words and for following this thread.

I hope to burn the pcb's tonight and drill them out tomorrow.

I haven't yet decided how I should finish the aluminum. This weekend I hope to experiment with different anodizing techniques. I'm torn between a clear anodization in either a glossy or brushed texture or dyeing it before sealing it. I made nine small aluminum samples that I hope to test different options on. To complicate the decision more, I have a choice of black or grey keycaps and also a black or burgundy trackball. I will gladly accept any opinions.

Is there any chance of an mx version, I'd be down to buy one of these.

I chose the ML switch because its small size is a real advantage for a portable keyboard. I hope to next make a desktop version that will likely have either Matias or Cherry MX switches. I was considering making moulds from the prototypes and casting resin shells if anyone was interested in making one.


Awesome milling work, as a product it would not be that productive though. Too much material removed, but as a prototype is understandable.


Yeah, it's almost sinful the amount of aluminum I turned into shavings. If it's any consolation they will be recycled. I was even toying with the idea of making a crucible and melting it down to try casting something with it, although I've heard that cast aluminum is usually not best made with a 6061 alloy.


The aluminum would serve as a plate too, instead of being just the frame of the keycaps, ala GON style.

I would have, but the ML switches aren't made to be mounted in a plate. I tried to make one out of wood a few months ago and even though the switches fit well in the pockets there is no mechanism in the switch to lock it into the plate. Short of glueing them in place, it would still require a pcb to make everything stay put.  If I make one with MX's I will certainly integrate a plate into the body.

Thanks for the comments.





Offline kurplop

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #14 on: Sat, 31 January 2015, 10:50:30 »
I etched the pcb's last night and fitted and trimmed them to fit where they belong, so I thought I'd take a few pictures.

The pcb's with the toner on before etching.
89233-0

I taped a piece of acetate with the cap location on the pcb to properly align the board for trimming.
89235-1

A few more shots in front of the plans. Yep, it's pretty much like it I planned. Just a few minor changes.
89237-2

I was able to sand out a prick punch mark between the 2 upper arcade buttons (see earlier pictures). What a relief! I also drilled out the holes for the 3 LED's that will indicate caps lock and layer locks. I have some time today to experiment with anodizing. Hopefully all will go well and I can anodize the case tomorrow; which means it will more likely be next weekend.
« Last Edit: Sat, 31 January 2015, 10:53:37 by kurplop »

Offline kurplop

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #15 on: Sat, 31 January 2015, 22:13:34 »
I managed to make a few sample colors and clean up the case a bit. I hope to anodize it tomorrow but am not sure yet if I'm going to dye it.

Here are some samples I made today along with my keycap color options. What do you think?
89353-0

I may not dye it if the natural aluminum looks good after anodizing. I'm concerned the several steps involved may change the look for the worse.
89355-1

Just a picture to show how small the alumaplop is. I apologize for not washing my hands before taking the picture. Not your typical geek hand I suppose. ;D
89357-2

Offline Lain1911

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #16 on: Sat, 31 January 2015, 22:15:49 »
Impressive hand.

Offline kurplop

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #17 on: Sun, 01 February 2015, 01:52:58 »
You should see the other one.

Offline jacobolus

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #18 on: Sun, 01 February 2015, 02:39:22 »
I really love those technical drawings in the background. :)

Offline Asininity

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #19 on: Sun, 01 February 2015, 23:42:07 »
This is absolutely brilliant. I love it!

Offline kurplop

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #20 on: Mon, 02 February 2015, 00:49:34 »
Well, it's been a productive weekend in keyboard land. I took the plunge and decided to dye the anodize black after my wife told me that the red color looked a bit too feminine.

Here it is taking the dip.
89478-089480-1

And here are the colors I decided on.
89482-289484-3

Next step is to drill out the holes in the pcb's and begin wiring up everything. :)

Offline hoggy

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #21 on: Tue, 03 February 2015, 23:14:56 »
Wow!  It looks amazing.  Looking forward to seeing the finished board.
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Offline kurplop

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #22 on: Sun, 15 February 2015, 09:30:09 »
I was off a couple of thousands on the placement of the hole in the shell for the usb receptacle to fit into, so I made a trim piece to hide the misalignment.
90828-0

I decided to use a detachable cable so I could swap them for different uses.
90830-1

I am using standard size USB plugs. In spite of the higher cycle life of the mini and micro plugs, I went with the standard size because my somewhat numb and clumsy fingers can handle them better. Also, I broke protocol by going  with A to A cable plugs.
90832-2

There's still a lot to do. It's been quite a learning experience.

Online metalliqaz

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #23 on: Sun, 15 February 2015, 09:36:09 »
That looks amazing
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Offline kurplop

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #24 on: Sun, 15 February 2015, 10:24:46 »
That looks amazing

Thanks. I'm very happy with how its looking; Of course I'm a bit partial.  I'm going for a neat, professional, not overdone look. As much as I liked the polished aluminum, I think it would have stood out too much. When I tape everything together to get a feel of how typing with it will be, I get pretty excited. I think it will be comfortable and fast with the shorter switch action.

When I began soldering up the switches I discovered I made a major blunder in my design. I placed the SMD pads on the top of the PCB in the way of the switches. I got confused by all of the reverse thinking necessary when making the reverse image transfers. I decided to hack it together with through hole diodes. The change required drilling a lot of holes, some accidentally cut through traces on the other side, trimming away copper in areas to avoid shorts and repairing all of the damage. Not a pretty sight. I also put the IO expander in backwards. I decided it best to get it together and working then make new boards hopefully benefitting from my mistakes.

90840-0

Also visible is the USB receptacle soldered to the PCB. I was wondering how I would attach it and it worked out well. It is in a good location and is rock solid.

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #25 on: Sun, 15 February 2015, 10:44:43 »
When I made my Qazpad I made so many mistakes in the design.  Parts wired backwards.  Traces to ground missing.  I had to ugly up the boards quite a bit to get it working.  It's a learning experience!
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Offline kurplop

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #26 on: Sun, 22 February 2015, 19:23:25 »
I spent most of the last 2 weeks redesigning the pcb's. Today I had time to print the design out; I bought a cheap laser printer this week which sure beats going to Staples to have copies made.

I printed the trace patterns on brochure paper. My wife's light table sure helped lining up the opposing sides.
91640-0

After transferring the toner to the pcb's with an iron, the pcb's took a warm bath to loosen up the paper. The back half of the paper came off pretty easily.
91642-1

The remaining paper had to be rubbed off. It took some care to remove all of the paper between the traces. I did leave some small paper residue over the toner because I was concerned the scrubbing might remove some of the toner.
91644-2

After etching the copper with ferric chloride I painted the tops of the pcb's where they will be seen between the keycaps. They are now taped together so I can drill out most of the holes in pairs.
91646-3

Goofing up on the earlier boards forced me to design much better trace paths. I had originally put the row traces on one side and the column traces on the other, thinking it would be less confusing and provide more room for things to fit. However, by taking advantage of the ML switch's bridging feature, it was actually easier to keep most of the traces on the underside.

These boards also turned out much better than the earlier ones. The traces are crisp, I only had to touch up a few spots with a Sharpie where the toner didn't adhere completely and I spent a lot of time cleaning up my drawings.   
« Last Edit: Sun, 22 February 2015, 19:27:01 by kurplop »

Offline Zekromtor

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #27 on: Mon, 23 February 2015, 01:35:38 »
That has to be the sleekest, most professional 3D ergo keyboard ever made. Incredible work.

Offline Oobly

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #28 on: Mon, 23 February 2015, 02:37:54 »
This project is fantastic! Loving the way the USB slot looks with the little bezel added, I'd say it's better than if it had been correctly aligned in the first place.

The PCB's are looking good, too. I've also had some success with laser printing on sections of baking sheets. They are impregnated with silicone so the ink comes off easily at the ironing step. You can also tell if you've ironed enough when the colour starts to change, and they can handle more heat than most paper types. I use tape to hold them to a sheet of standard paper for the printing since they're too thin to go through the printer properly on their own. There's also Press 'n Peel Blue transfer film designed for exactly this purpose (http://www.dipmicro.com/store/PNPB).

I'll be making some PCB's for my latest project also with ML switches in a similar manner. I like that you can use a single-sided PCB when using the ML switches that have the jumper inside :) I'm most worried about the drilling, though, since I'll have to use a handheld Dremel and the switches need the holes quite precise since there's no plate. Are you using 18mm spacing? IMHO it matters more on a standard layout and in fact 18mm spacing may be better on this type of board, but I found the standard ML spacing a bit cramped on my design (mostly standard QWERTY layout), so I'll be trying 18.5mm.

Great job, kurplop! Keep up the good work. I'd love to see a video when this is done :) I loved the polished aluminium look, but the darker colour does look more business-like and professional.

P.S.- I've found it's much easier to open ML switches when they're loose, so if you want to lube them it's best to do it before mounting them. Lubing makes a big difference to how they feel on off-axis hits.
Buying more keycaps,
it really hacks my wallet,
but I must have them.

Offline kurplop

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #29 on: Mon, 23 February 2015, 07:02:16 »
When I made my Qazpad I made so many mistakes in the design.  Parts wired backwards.  Traces to ground missing.  I had to ugly up the boards quite a bit to get it working.  It's a learning experience!

I just checked out your Qazpad. Now I know what my next project will be. Great collection, by the way.

That has to be the sleekest, most professional 3D ergo keyboard ever made. Incredible work.
Thanks. I'm glad you're still around. I haven't heard from you in a while.

Oobly–  Yes, I am keeping the standard ML spacing although I know it is a bit of a compromise.  My earlier experiments found a 0.65" vertical pitch and a 0.75" horizontal pitch to be the ideal spacing for me but the convenience of using the standard ML 0.70" spacing overruled it. It feels a bit tight compared to std. layouts but is still fine and I think I can adapt to it. I am considering the .75/.65 spacing later. It may be possible to trim the caps slightly to clear and the extra .05"  horizontal gap may not look bad. There is always casting custom caps too; the small ML footprint allows for many options.

Thanks for the baking sheet tip. Could you elaborate further on it?  I did buy a Brothers printer so the Press and Peel Blue Transfer method won't work since it specifically advises against The Brother because of the higher melt temperature of its toner.

I'm afraid to take apart the ML switches to lube because of the risk of damaging them. Yes I tried. I'm not that great with small motor functions. I did find that just externally lubing the stem ways did help greatly without all of the work.

I loved the polished aluminium look, but the darker colour does look more business-like and professional.
Ditto. :(

« Last Edit: Mon, 23 February 2015, 07:05:42 by kurplop »

Offline Moralless

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #30 on: Mon, 23 February 2015, 07:07:22 »
Just saw this, and amazing work so far kurplop :thumb:
Just wondering if you anodised it yourself with a homemade setup or did you have access to a place where you could go do it yourself?

Offline CPTBadAss

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #31 on: Mon, 23 February 2015, 07:07:47 »
This progress looks amazing kurplop! I'm going to ask you so many questions about etching PCBs when I'm ready to make my own :).
Please check out TactileZine.com!

Offline kurplop

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #32 on: Mon, 23 February 2015, 07:33:41 »
Just saw this, and amazing work so far kurplop :thumb:
Just wondering if you anodised it yourself with a homemade setup or did you have access to a place where you could go do it yourself?

I put together my own set up for anodizing. It cost about $400.00 for the power supply, misc. containers, and chemicals. If you plan on doing just one project you might consider other options because of the cost and leftover supplies, but it was surprisingly easy to do if you follow the instructions.

This progress looks amazing kurplop! I'm going to ask you so many questions about etching PCBs when I'm ready to make my own :).
I probably know more about how not to make PCB's, but am happy to offer what I can.


Offline CPTBadAss

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #33 on: Mon, 23 February 2015, 07:34:59 »
Wait a second...did I miss something?? You can tell me how to do PCBs AND anodize things??! I need to reread this thread!

Kurplop <3
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Offline Moralless

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #34 on: Mon, 23 February 2015, 07:45:08 »
Just saw this, and amazing work so far kurplop :thumb:
Just wondering if you anodised it yourself with a homemade setup or did you have access to a place where you could go do it yourself?

I put together my own set up for anodizing. It cost about $400.00 for the power supply, misc. containers, and chemicals. If you plan on doing just one project you might consider other options because of the cost and leftover supplies, but it was surprisingly easy to do if you follow the instructions.

This progress looks amazing kurplop! I'm going to ask you so many questions about etching PCBs when I'm ready to make my own :).
I probably know more about how not to make PCB's, but am happy to offer what I can.
That sounds amazing, did you just read about the process of anodising or is there a guide that you can refer me to where you got the info for a home made setup?

Offline Bucake

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #35 on: Mon, 23 February 2015, 08:04:40 »
wow..

beautiful and amazing :)
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Offline kurplop

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #36 on: Mon, 23 February 2015, 08:14:07 »
Try Caswell Plating for home anodizing. They are an online supplier who offers tutorials an instruction book and supplies for different plating methods.

Offline Zekromtor

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #37 on: Tue, 24 February 2015, 02:45:11 »
Thanks. I'm glad you're still around. I haven't heard from you in a while.

My sporadically obsessive nature has me focused on other things now, but I stop by to see if there are some cool ergos in development.
What did you do to the aluminum after you machined it? I don't see tool marks, so I'm guessing you did did something to prep it for anodizing? And tell me you at least have some motor controlled axis motion on that mill or a cordless drill to drive the cranks (that actually works really well) and that you didn't machine all that turning wheels by hand. You are nuts otherwise.
« Last Edit: Tue, 24 February 2015, 02:48:23 by Zekromtor »

Offline kurplop

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #38 on: Tue, 24 February 2015, 07:05:39 »
Thanks. I'm glad you're still around. I haven't heard from you in a while.

My sporadically obsessive nature has me focused on other things now, but I stop by to see if there are some cool ergos in development.
What did you do to the aluminum after you machined it? I don't see tool marks, so I'm guessing you did did something to prep it for anodizing? And tell me you at least have some motor controlled axis motion on that mill or a cordless drill to drive the cranks (that actually works really well) and that you didn't machine all that turning wheels by hand. You are nuts otherwise.

My sporadically obsessive nature has me focused on other things now

I think that describes about 75%of the GH membership; The rest of us are permanently obsessive.


My sporadically obsessive nature has me focused on other things now, but I stop by to see if there are some cool ergos in development.
That's great. I've heard that moving on while keeping some of what you've gained is growth, while leaving it all behind is just change.
What did you do to the aluminum after you machined it? I don't see tool marks, so I'm guessing you did did something to prep it for anodizing?

After milling the body as much as my mill and skill level were capable, I further shaped and smoothed out the surface with various sanders. I used pneumatic die grinders as well as different stationary sanders such as an oscillating spindle sander, belt sanders and disc sanders. I tried various final surface treatments before finally sandblasting it. The sandblasting seemed to provide the most consistent pre-anodizing surface prep and probably the most practical finished surface to resist fingerprints and hide imperfections
And tell me you at least have some motor controlled axis motion on that mill or a cordless drill to drive the cranks (that actually works really well) and that you didn't machine all that turning wheels by hand. You are nuts otherwise.

Before my 30 years in the construction field, I worked almost 15 years in a warehouse where you learn to enjoy repetition or go nuts. In my case I think I did both. I actually enjoy many aspects of repetitive work. The humming machinery sounds are like white noise allowing me to think clearly about things. I like the challenge of working as quick as practical while maintaining accuracy combined with the creative and artistic aspect that is enhanced when I'm involved in the physical process. That said, it would have been nice to have a machine automatically drill the almost 550 holes I drilled out last night. (See picture.)
91800-0
A close look at this picture shows that not all of the holes line up with the trace pads. I'm not sure if the printer didn't reproduce the scale exactly or if the transfer of the toner stretched the paper a bit. I'm sure that the holes are properly placed. When I set up the plates for drilling I became aware of this discrepancy and adjusted the positioning for minimum issues with the misplacement and it should be fine. The holes are still within the pads though not all centered. 
« Last Edit: Sat, 28 February 2015, 06:57:52 by kurplop »

Offline CPTBadAss

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #39 on: Tue, 24 February 2015, 07:08:55 »
kurplop, I'm really enjoying the photos. I have a very selfish request though. Would it be possible to see some videos of your work? Perhaps the mill or some other machinery in action?
Please check out TactileZine.com!

Offline kurplop

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #40 on: Tue, 24 February 2015, 07:34:35 »
I'll try, I'd like to but it's difficult, not to mention potentially dangerous, to be working with two hands and dealing with a camera at the same time. Not to mention the fact that the quality of my still shots prove that I'm not the Ansel Adams of the keyboard world

Offline CPTBadAss

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #41 on: Tue, 24 February 2015, 07:40:07 »
Don't do something dangerous just to try and get a video. I understand if you can't because it's not safe. I just love me some machining porn :).
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Offline kurplop

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #42 on: Tue, 24 February 2015, 20:14:06 »
One problem I had to resolve on this project was how to create a contoured thumb cluster without either splitting the pcb at the thumb transition or remaking all the keycaps. This is how I'm addressing the problem.

Because of the 3 dimensional aspect of my keyboard the thumb cluster has to bend slightly out of plane from the alpha cluster. I found that the PCB will bend slightly without any ill effects to change the plane about 9 degrees. It just needs to have some well placed supports.

The second issue has to do with easily accessing the upper thumb switches without accidentally hitting the lower ones.

As you can see, the stock ML caps are all the same profile
91869-0

Interestingly enough, if the stems are broken off a cap, it will fit nicely on one of its fellows, raising it to a good height in relation to the lower row.
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By rotating it 180 degrees, its profile is further improved. This placement feels really good making all 5 thumb keys very accessible.
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This comparison shows the contrasting profiles. The one cap is rough because I began sanding it to remove the legend impression.
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The next step is to adhere the two caps together, fill the transition flat with resin, and cast some new upper thumb caps. It should be much easier and quicker than machining some new ones.

Offline kurplop

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #43 on: Fri, 27 February 2015, 21:07:00 »
I glued up and filled the modified upper thumb cap and its imprint is currently being cast in to a silicone mold.

Here are 3 pictures showing how many bubbles can be extracted from the out-gassing of the silicone. The first picture shows its state just as the vacuum pressure begins to build.  The second shows it at 29 pounds of pressure just before I begin to release the pressure a bit to keep it from overflowing. It probably increases its volume by a factor of 6. The third picture shows it collapsing on itself. I then stirred the mix, repeated the process and held the pressure for about 10 minutes. Bubbles continued to form but I've found this amount of time to be adequate.
92247-092249-192251-2

This is a picture of my vacuum chamber. The vacuum pump cost about $100 and the 1/2" polycarbonate top and bottom were about $30. I had most of the fittings laying around the shop including the heavy wall 10" pvc pipe. I drilled and tapped a hole in the side of the pipe for the pump fittings. I hooked up a pressure release valve as well as a valve to the pump and a pressure gauge to verify the pressure level.
 92253-3
The vacuum chamber is not very polished looking, but I found the vacuum process necessary in order to get predictable results with the silicone molds. It can be frustrating, waiting overnight for the silicone to cure and then finding a small bubble in the worst possible place.
« Last Edit: Sat, 28 February 2015, 06:56:06 by kurplop »

Offline Zekromtor

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #44 on: Sat, 28 February 2015, 11:53:22 »
When are you going to start making your own switches? :)

Offline kurplop

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #45 on: Sat, 28 February 2015, 12:02:21 »
 
When are you going to start making your own switches? :)

Well, the secret's out now. ;D

Offline Zekromtor

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #46 on: Fri, 06 March 2015, 14:18:46 »
We demand to see the caps.

Offline Zekromtor

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #47 on: Mon, 16 March 2015, 19:21:54 »
New tactic.

We request politely to see the caps produced.

Offline ApocalypseMaow

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #48 on: Mon, 16 March 2015, 19:47:05 »
Not sure how I missed this, but good lord this is amazing!!!

Cant wait to see more!
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Offline kurplop

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Re: The Alumaplop, a compact keyboard/trackball combo in process
« Reply #49 on: Mon, 16 March 2015, 20:38:23 »
Sorry to not give a progress report in a while. Unfortunately there hasn't been much progress, mostly finding mistakes and trying to cover them up before any of my GH brethren discover my blunders. Oh well, I guess the jig is up.

Problem #1   Because the ML cap stems are so small, I'm having a hard time making the keycap stems strong enough to keep them from frequently breaking when I remove them from the switches. I've been using an old batch of resin and that may be part of the problem.

Problem #2  I had a slight misalignment between the alpha keys and the thumb clusters. They should be 0.02" lower. It doesn't seem like much but it is quite noticeable sitting in the aluminum body.

Problem #3  When I modified (improved?) the PCB's, I moved all of the upper switch pin traces to the backside of the PCB's instead of the other way around. As a result, the current PCB's are upside down. I have since fixed the design but am waiting on some more PCB stock to ruin etch.

None of these have dampened my spirit but my work has been pretty demanding recently and I haven't had as much time as I'd like to work on fixing things. The pitfalls have taught me a lot and it should eventually result in a better final product.

I appreciate all of your interest and look forward to sharing something good soon.  I will also include pictures of the mistakes; That's always the best part.

Zekromtor–  I actually found your demands to be the supreme complement. Thank you!