Author Topic: The Basis Split - boardwalk-esq ortho split with encoder knobs  (Read 2620 times)

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Offline snagy

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I'm typing this post on the first prototype version of my new custom keyboard, the Basis Split. It's a split ortho keyboard with three rotary encoders and Boardwalk-like usage of ergo modifier keys.  It's about equal to a 65% keyboard.  (This is a rip from a post I made on Reddit, because i figured this was a better way to talk about the evolution of the design in the future)



This prototype case is a POM sandwich with silicone layers on top and bottom of the POM plate to provide complete isolation.



It's built with a custom PCB running QMK. The PCB has mill max 7305 hot swap sockets for all the key switches as well as the encoders, so the encoders can be swapped out as easily as a switch. I'm currently running ALPS EC11 w/ detants for coding (switching through tabs in my editor, quickly moving through find next/prev), but can switch to detant-free for 3D and photo editing tasks.



I started off running Halo Clears, but have recently switched to 67g Zilents to appease my family's request for quieter keys.  I tried to switch to gat black ink silents, but they kept popping out of the POM plate and flying off the board.  Zilents and Halos snap in fine.

How I designed and built the Basis:

A little bit about me: I'm a software engineer at a Major Tech Company. I have a history of working with prototypes and hardware, but I've never actually built anything or done EE since college (which was a long time ago).

I got into mechanical keyboards last year when I started a new job and decided to splurge on a nice keyboard. My first board was a Durgod TKL, but I pretty rapidly started experimenting with different boards and getting into ortho layouts. I got a Preonic, but missed having my 'programming' keys on the top layer (stuff like brackets and math operators I use constantly). To remedy that, I got an XD75 but never got super comfortable with the bank of 1u keys. I also got a nyquist and enjoyed the ergonomics of a split keyboard.

After a while, I started to look into designing my own layout.

My design goals:

  • Ortho
  • Split (or not!)
  • Looks beautiful
  • Has fast access to programmer keys without needing too much divergence from how I type on my laptop (no layers for core keys)
  • Has a layout that isn't too divergent from a typical laptop keyboard (no thumb clusters, etc)
  • Symmetrical layout when my hands are on the home row
  • Has multiple key sizes for peripheral keys for better usability affordances
  • Uses relatively standard keysets for availability (the Basis can be filled with an ergo keyset)
  • Configurable continuous input. This became the encoders, which I initially wanted for fiddling with photos and 3d editing, but found they're also super useful in code editors

Experiments

Once I got going, I started with a bunch of experiments in KLE (http://www.keyboard-layout-editor.com/) to prototype renders with Blender that started with https://github.com/snagy/Keyboard-Layout-Editor-for-Blender (some checkpoints of that process https://imgur.com/gallery/W8Jxgnp and https://imgur.com/gallery/lhz9Ylk and https://imgur.com/gallery/Y6OMASW) until i had something I felt compelled to make.

Process

Once I decided to make it, I learned kiCAD and the followed the ai03's PCB design guide https://wiki.ai03.me/books/pcb-design/chapter/pcb-designer-guide . I also went through a ton of components from digikey/mouser while experimenting with parts. This was one of the shipments when I wanted to learn more about different encoders and knobs that are commonly available: https://twitter.com/visageofscott/status/1253533213248458752/photo/1

In the meantime, I used https://github.com/FrancisUsher/KeebGen and Fusion 360 to turn my KLE file into some usable plates and got them cut at Pokono. I wanted to experiment with a sandwich gasket design, so I made a case with multiple POM layers of different thicknesses, and my plate is entirely sandwiched between a pair of .5mm silicone layers that isolate it from the screws and surrounding case.





Eventually I got my PCB to a state I wanted and used JCLPCB to print and assemble my PCBs. The assembly didn't include USB ports or a couple of other components, so I also needed to learn how to solder to put attach those. I am still not very good at soldering: https://twitter.com/visageofscott/status/1265442852084936704/photo/1

Unfortunately I messed up my initial PCB design and put the wrong capacitors on my USB crystal. Fortunately those components were fairly isolated so I was able to get replacement caps and desolder the bad ones and replace them.

Once I got the PCBs actually working and connected, I configured QMK to match my design and flashed that with relatively little drama.



What's next

I'm currently building a CNC non-sandwich case in Fusion 360 for a smoother, seamless look. The first version of this will be mono (not a split) but using the same PCB which is modular and can be broken apart for a split or used as a mono board. Designing and manufacturing the case is a whole load of new stuff to learn.

I've already got the next rev of the PCB designed, with ESD protection and USB-C ports, and some cleaned up placement of some components to hopefully lead to a more reliable design. I'll order these after i finalize the case design, to make sure I don't have any weird gotchas from the case.

I'm also going to enable VIA support and poke at QMKs encoder support to make it more robust and configurable.

The future

I don't currently know where I'll take this project.

I'm delightfully happy with the result; it's exactly what I wanted, and it's my favorite keyboard I've ever used. I can't wait to make a 'nicer' version for myself with a fancy case and heavy weight.

I will almost certainly open source the PCB and sandwich case designs. I will probably sell a few one-off builds from the prototype runs (most will be gifts to friends and co-workers). I might decide to run a group buy or possibly just manufacture a few and sell them myself. If I decided to actually do a GB or sell them I'll do an IC to see what people actually want (split or mono, hotswap or not, etc).

I would also love to make some custom knob molds that match keycap profiles better, so in a dream world people could make knobs alongside new keysets.

Re: The Basis Split - boardwalk-esq ortho split with encoder knobs
« Reply #1 on: Mon, 08 June 2020, 02:32:49 »
Saw your post on reddit, nice project. Really interested in seeing where it goes.

Good luck! :thumb:

Offline jamster

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Re: The Basis Split - boardwalk-esq ortho split with encoder knobs
« Reply #2 on: Mon, 08 June 2020, 02:45:58 »
Hey, that's a really great looking split board and

> quickly moving through find next/prev

you've really come up with good uses for the rotary encoders, sure beats "volume control" which most boards with these seem to do (screw OS volume control anyway :) )

We've got the same soldering mat! You're a better man than me if you can remember where all the symbols are without labelled caps.

Offline snagy

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Re: The Basis Split - boardwalk-esq ortho split with encoder knobs
« Reply #3 on: Mon, 08 June 2020, 03:06:47 »
> quickly moving through find next/prev

you've really come up with good uses for the rotary encoders, sure beats "volume control" which most boards with these seem to do (screw OS volume control anyway :) )

Tonight I switched my 'scroll' knob with cursor up/down, and it's SICK.  Whipping through code smooth and quick.

Offline suicidal_orange

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Re: The Basis Split - boardwalk-esq ortho split with encoder knobs
« Reply #4 on: Mon, 08 June 2020, 03:47:16 »
Very nice, I would have questioned what to do with three rotary encoders but sounds like you've found uses for them which is great.

Loooking forward to the smoother version :thumb:
120/100g linear Zealio R1  
GMK Hyperfuse
'Split everything' perfection  
MX Clear
SA Hack'd by Geeks     
EasyAVR mod
MX Brown 30g, HHKBish
Vortex OEM PBT
for See how the other half lives challenge!

Offline snagy

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Re: The Basis Split - boardwalk-esq ortho split with encoder knobs
« Reply #5 on: Thu, 03 September 2020, 18:30:59 »
Update on this!



I've kept working on this project and I've completed my full quality prototype, which includes a CNCed polycarbonate case and more fully featured PCB with USBC, ARM processors, speakers, RGB LEDs and ESD protection.  I also designed some custom 3d printed parts that firmly secure the rotary encoders to the keyboard plate, so I can have fully hotswappable encoders without any wobbly feel or reduced durability.

To keep my prototyping costs down and maximize my prototype exploration space, the latest build is a mono (unsplit) version of the board.  All my prototype PCBs are designed to be broken apart or used as a single part, so the same PCBs used here can be used in a split version.

I've posted a boatload of photos and info about this prototype on imgur: https://imgur.com/gallery/Xw8Xv4J

Offline ScarletSwordfish

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Re: The Basis Split - boardwalk-esq ortho split with encoder knobs
« Reply #6 on: Fri, 04 September 2020, 23:29:10 »
I like your layout, how you maintained all standard characters while still using a basic ergo keycap set. A nice design overall.