geekhack Projects > Making Stuff Together!

DIY handwired TKL with a faint hint of "Retro"

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Some more progress yesterday and this morning.  Sorted out my issue with the keymap in KMK, and so far, so good.  No shorts or odd behavior.  In using the keyboard, I think I may have made a mistake in not trusting ISO and having the 1.25shift on the outside where my pinky wants to go, and in turn having whatever other 1u key my American heart desires on the inside.  No matter, I've decided to lean in on the BBC Micro resemblance and make a few layout tweaks.  For now at least, I'm going with a split shift, with a 1u keycap labeled "Lock."  On the Acorn machines, this was a shift lock that made caps lock cower in fear, but for me it's just a useful way to correct a small oversight.  I also moved the modifiers around a bit and decided to try out a big delete key under the backspace (for the most logical reasons of all:  it was there and it matched!).  This led to replacing the 1u delete with a button to launch the calculator, because I'm a weirdo.  I also moved the Esc key down to the num row and relegated the tilde to the Fn layer, which also got a few media controls; yay for programmable firmware!  Finally, that allowed me to make another mostly aesthetic nod to the Acorns and shift the red F keys left and promote the Pause/Break key out of the Fn purgatory, mostly because those old machines had a BREAK key in that spot, but it does have the small advantage of keeping the function keys where they would be on a more normal compressed layout.

Then, oh yeah, I figured out my keycaps.  They appear to be VSA, a DSA derivative that Vortex used for a while and still offers one set on its site.  These were clones, old stock, whatever, under $20 on AE, and while the "VSA" is still clearly visible under some of the larger keycaps, the molds look like they've seen better days.  Some of the legends are happy little reminders of how much money I saved.  :D

This board is winding down.  It has been another learning experience, though I'm generally pleased with how it's turned out, particularly with the min.  The wooden "twig" case is finished.  As I worked with that board, it began to look more and more like it was red oak, not white, and any doubts were removed when I added the finish (Danish oil).  Still, nothing says 1980s (in America) like red oak, so we're all good.  The case sides moderate the sound just a bit, but on my desktop, it still has a bit of a rumbly sound on bottoming out, though you mostly hear those big ol' clickbars.  For this board's current incarnation, we're just down to fit and finish/Qol improvements:

* Remove most of the keycaps and polish/brush/whatever the exposed parts of the switchplate.  Not worth it to unwire the whole thing and get between the switches, but there's room for improvement.
* 3D print some rectangular grommets or blockers for the opening on the back.  I intentionally left that gap bigger than I needed to, work with the slightly fragile wiring setup in there, but it looks unfinished, so I definitely want to do this.
* Eventually lube the stabs, at least for the spacebar.
* Maybe a bit of tweaking and filling on the oak to ease some seams.
* Maybe get some keyboard or laptop feet to pull us up from a fixed 0-degree typing angle.
* Maybe reinforce the MCU a bit, or at least get a magnetic cable.  The handwiring itself is fine for me as a load-bearing structure because I made it, so I know about how much tension it can handle when plugging and unplugging, and I know how to fix it if something breaks, but it's certainly not ideal. While the RP2040-Zero has no mounting holes, I might be able to figure out something, maybe a 3D-printed caddy or just a couple of blocks glued to the plates.
* More ambitiously, maybe add some LEDs or do new case sides.
For boards 2 and 3, if and when I get around to them, I can take some lessons from this one:

* "Finish" the aluminum before adding switches. Straight from the shop has a certain look, and this was a "prototype" (LOL... we shall see if that eventually changes to "a one off"), but while a mirror shine doesn't seem practical or even desirable, some sanding and a clearcoat will make a lot of sense.  This would also be the time to drill any holes for LEDs.
* Use a slightly different MCU.  Just something with mounting holes and a few more castellated GPIO pins.  I may also finally dip my toes into QMK/VIA as the RP2040 build has matured.
* Consider different hardware (in the "hardware store" sense).  Standoffs are what I had, so standoffs are what I used, but some hexheads or even binding posts might look a little nicer.
* Rethink my approach to the case sides.  I called the current one a "twig" case because each side is an unjoined piece of 3/8" square stock, but they're not perfectly aligned with each other, and working with them was very fiddly. I ignored some key woodworking wisdom: "bigger is easier" and "sneak up on the cut."  If I stay with solid wood, I'll likely make an oversized frame joined using one woodworking technique or another, and then cut it down to size once it's a completed assembly.  I may also consider an "ebonized" set of sides, which is to say I set my cheap laser engraver to some thin plywood.  3D printing the "twigs" would also improve precision.
* Maybe use hotswap sockets?  This is my fourth handwire (fifth if you count the 12-key macropad I made for my daughter).  On the first, I actually soldered all the wires to kalih hotswap sockets.  With all the delicate stuff going on, you'd have to be careful when changing switches and still do some disassembly, but let's call it a "warm-swap" keyboard.
Big thanks to the GH community, who were helping me before I even registered for the site, what with the handwiring guides, KLE, and the plate generator.  I know this is not the world's most amazing project, either in conception or execution, but I'm really pleased with it and happy to be here.  :-)

Pics of board 1 with its sapce fillers and power LED in place, and of Board 2 more or less complete.

Board 2 has some differences:

* Factory lubed brown switches from Novelkeys mystery buy, TTC Gold Brown Pro I believe, and Blue Samurai clones from Amazon in "CSA" profile.
* 3D printed sides at 3 degree incline with a cutout for the USB-C (side mounted, sorry.  Daughter boards may be on the menu for future buiilds).
* Open front and back, but standoffs holding springs in place to keep the flexing down a little. Let's call them "hope they're not buckling" springs, LOLOLOLOL.  #dadjokelife
* "Full size" RP2040 board with enough GPIO pins that I could do a less insane matrix.  Still running KMK and if it would work in BIOS or to wake from sleep, I think it'd be about perfect.
* A solder job that would have been my best yet by my still modest standards, except that my dumb ass soldered every single diode in series, so now there are little curlicues around the row pins where I took up the slack to do the rework.  No pictures of this.
* hacked at the aluminum around my left shift so I could slide the switches to move the 1.25u key to the outside like a normal weirdo.
* went at the plate with a little brasso and steel wool before assembling. Interested in how it holds up.
* Software needs a little work.  No Fn layer set up yet, and the MCU has a simple green LED that I need to hijack for CapsLock or something, assuming it's bright enough to leak out from the back.

Rest of the pics.

Wow, that matrix is WILD, efficient for sure, but really wild.
Wasn't it a bit of nightmare to map in the firmware ?

Nice job anyway


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