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Full Size Freak Show (IKBC hardwire conversion)

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Close to a decade ago I started paying attention to coordinating things in my office aesthetically, oriented around American black walnut and anodized silver aluminum. The latter because that was the color all the nicer Apple stuff was made in. My first mechanical keyboard was an IKBC MF108m, all glorious 7lbs and 108 keys of it. I felt pretty good about just having done some research and jumping straight to endgame...


Then one day I learned that shift and tab went backward the way tab takes you forward in spreadsheets. The more time I spent working in spreadsheets, the more I wanted to use this shortcut all the time. The official way to do it is two handed with two pinkies, which isn't great if your right hand is on the numpad. For whatever reason, there weren't reliable ways to achieve this at the OS or software level, and at the same time, I'd come to loathe the Caps Lock key rather than just be annoyed at it. This was the jumping off point into the rabbit hole for me. Currently, I use two Drop Shift keyboards, one at home and one at one of my workplaces. As things are getting back to normal and everyone at another office is vaccinated, I've wanted to leave my second Shift at the remote client office and breathe new life into my MF108. The build quality was great, but the 2 on the numpad stopped working, and trying to fix it only made things worse.  No one out there makes what I'm after, and I have spent a shameful amount of time looking, I've resigned myself to the inevitable. I'm going to have to learn how to hardwire it.

I'm hoping that what follows is helpful to the next person like me too OCD to accept that even without a limiting budget, the overdominance in the market of numpad neutered mechs just means you are lucky to get even just the utility you're after, aesthetics be damned. Likely if this is helpful, it won't be through the standard tutorial fare, but rather likely a horror freak show of bad calls that exist between the lines of those tutorials, in the hopes of validating the experiences of others like me who just aren't worn down enough to silence that optimism that thinks one can replicate those tutorials like a simple burger recipe. The following image exemplifies what I mean, as today I began work in earnest. I won't share more than one photo, as much to spare the sensibilities of those non novices as just plain laziness on my part while doing it.

The IKBC MF108's pcb has several quirks that are themselves the answer to many questions a window shopper or user of the board will naturally ask. Why is this much nice aluminum cnc'ed frame under $175, despite pricing in overpriced cherry switches, customizable RGB backlighting, and some feature listed as "countdown?" What is countdown you ask? It's somebody's pet project over at whoever made the PCB's company, that got folded into the non third party flashable firmware when they realized they needed a marketing gimmick to differentiate a board that is more expensive than its garbage plastic bodied counterparts. If you like deck flex or plastic for whatever reason, well, I'm glad somebody does I guess. Except you should also feel the same shame as those who put up with skinny jeans being a trend, causing those of us who live in Florida to never be able to find any pants that aren't awful for the weather here. Anyway, this "countdown" is a Disney-unicorn-rainbow-barf-in-slow-motion that gets triggered any time you forget that the upper nav cluster keys aren't what their legends say, but rather go-go-gadget-frustration-sequence. I'm guessing it's that garbage that eats up the memory that could otherwise have been used for remapping keys, or heaven forbid, useful macros... It is also the answer to the second imminent-upon-use question -- what does the MF in the model name stand for?

The MF108's frame is easily disassembled via a few screws, but as it is non hot swap, there are 108x2 solder points connecting the mx browns to the pcb and plate. Before picking a solder sucker, I made the mistake of watching wildcat's YouTube video about desoldering tools. Since the $25 one looks awful compared to the nice one, and the nice one is more than the parts I need to complete the project, and because my pcb is already screwed... I figured I would stay in my lane and redneck this ****. 108 switches are a lot to drill through, then pull out using pliers. It probably took two hours. But that's $125 hour if the alternative was buying a $249 desolder gun (clearly the $25 plunger thing was off the table, because were I capable of that, I wouldn't be trying to min max this keyboard that hard to begin with).

Nevertheless, the plate is liberated, the switches and stabs in hand, the diodes and microcontroller on their way. Went with a Teensy 4.1 to ensure enough pins. It's probably the wrong one and a future post will likely curse wildly when I get there. But that's the tears phase, today was only blood and sweat (be wary of the switch leaves while pulling key switches out with pliers, if you are crazy enough to not just go find a desolderer like a civilized person.

If the plate weren't thicker steel, but aluminum, it would probably be too risky to have bends that could turn to breaks. Here the edges fold over, which allows for a much greater rigidity in the plate to take the stress of armpit and leatherman.

Once the diodes come, stay tuned for putting them on in the wrong direction or some other not-yet-considered mistake otherwise making a mess of phase two, or feel free to place bets on what screws it up the most next and I can send you some of the broken or spare parts as a reward. I happen to have a pretty red craigslist-quality "gently used" pcb laying around somewhere.

PS - has anyone else ever gotten the capcha's on here correct the first time? I feel like they are someone's rather brilliant but awful idea of a gaslighting prank.

you are correct the teensy 4.1 is not compatible yet with QMK.
- the main "large" controller that's used for handwiring is the teensy ++2.0
- qmk supported controllers

diodes question....
- line/band around diode faces away from the switch leg.

as far as wire choices....
- the 24gauge solid core out of network cable works good, some also use enamel coated magnet wire
- really anything will work. don't go with too thick of a wire, and solid core (instead of stranded) is easier to work with/bend & stay where you want it. 22-30 gauge is ideal.

tools etc...
do you have a soldering iron & solder yet?
- any 30w+ generic soldering iron will do
- DO NOT GET LED FREE SOLDER (it is a lot harder to work with and needs a much higher temp to melt. you can thank me later)
- a "helping hand" will be useful, or even some "bluetack" will work to hold the wires.
- small pair of wire cutters
- small pair of needle nose pliers or nice size tweesers (not typical small ones)

- are you planning on trying to retain the per-key rgb? (won't be easy) and i'd suggest skipping it for your 1st handwire.
- underglow however is very simple.

- you will need to figure out how you want to mount the controller

i've helped a couple here on the forum with handwiring and firmware. we're here if you have any questions or get stumped.
Some good handwiring articles:

some links to firmware stuff....
Qmk docs      (if you're comfortable in code, setup the build environment, if not see kbfirmware below, or i can help)    (an on the fly remapping frontend for QMK, yes you can do a handwire board and have it compatible with VIA)  (a web based firmware builder, based on a slightly older version of QMK)

once you have all the parts and are ready, i can help you with a wiring diagram if you'd like.

welcome to the forum and best of luck on your project.

****, already bought the teensy 4.1. Oof.

No, don’t plan on any lighting, per key, rgb, or otherwise.

I have been using lead free solder actually, have built two bm43a’s with it so far. I dO have a soldering iron, which I am 99% sure I have in some way mistreated such that when I post a photo it will cause some readers that ptsd you’d get watching a gross scene in a Saw movie…. Watching folks on youtube, they seem to have some kind of brillo pad for constantly wiping their tip, one that didn’t come with my cheapo lowes model.

There’s a channel inside the frame I was hoping to use, but now will likely have to track down a teensy of the right model as you’ve indicated the one I bought won’t play ball.

I have some helping hands, but they were attached to a janky amazon magnifier so crappy that I’d just stopped using them. I have been soldering for model train stuff for about a year (not well mind you, just enough to realize how much working without them sucks). Wouldn’t mind hearing what you and others use and like in that department.

Re: coding, I feel like I can describe my level by saying that I found flashing the Drop shift’s firmware challenging despite their having theoretically made it easier, figured there was much future cursing destined at that point, so will take you up on that offer should that hurdle present as I suspect it will.

Thank you for your reply and advice!

if it's gross & has plastic & other bits stuck to it, you can scrape the tip or use a file to get the junk & oxidation off the tip. then when you use it next, re-tin the iron tip. also, make sure the tip is screwed in the whole way. not wobbly or loose. not sure what model you have but usually the tip just screws into the element.

yeah, that's common with soldering stations. i've always used just a wet paper towel or rag, works just as good.

helping hands...
yep. mine's a cheepie too, took the magnifying glass off years ago. it's nice for holding wires to tin or holding the controller still while you solder the wires to it. some bluetack will do the job too.

that's fine. we can get the firmware setup for your board with VIA support and you can remap & such from there.

To clarify, is VIA possible with the 4.1, or do I need to source a ++ 2.0?


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