Author Topic: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard  (Read 50484 times)

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Offline geniekid

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The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« on: Sun, 02 November 2014, 12:20:48 »
89359-0
Flickr album here

This is a project I've been working on for the last six months.  At the time I had just completed my QFR modification project and I decided I wanted to build a keyboard by myself.  After looking for various parts for months and trying to convince myself that I could live with this or that compromise I was forced to face the terrible truth my endgame keyboard is never going to be made by anyone other than myself.  The equally terrible counterpart to that truth is the realization that I did not have the technical skills to get there.

Well, every journey has to start somewhere.  I'm a pretty bright guy (and modest too) so I decided I would develop the skills I lacked.  I would take a pragmatic approach and make one or more *middle-game* keyboards, advancing myself each time.  The Metal Dragon is the first milestone of my journey.

It is a Phantom keyboard with an anodized aluminum case and a stainless steel plate top.  It was designed in eMachineShop's software and cut/milled by eMachineShop as well.  Anodizing was done by a Anotone, a local Chicago shop.

81418-1

I knew I wanted a keyboard where the plate was the top cover as well.  I really like the aesthetic and the simplicity that comes from this design characteristic and it makes cleaning easier too.  I considered using aluminum 6061 for the plate but since the PCB would be fixed to the case via the plate on top instead of via standoffs on the bottom I was concerned about rigidity.  I decided to go with stainless steel.  The downside to using stainless steel is that it costs more to cut and it can't be anodized.

81416-2

The main case is aluminum 6061.  It's very simple open rectangle with two standoffs in the middle to support the PCB and four standoffs near the top edge to fasten a USB breakout board.  There are a threaded holes around the top edge to fasten to the plate and two threaded holes in the bottom for possible feet.  The idea to use a breakout board so I could use a detachable cable with the Teensy-based Phantom PCB was entirely inspired by Photeq's TEK-80.  The case is anodized with a dark green.

81420-3

I checked the measurements multiple times, but there were still dimensional errors at the end.  The breakout board standoffs were too tall and there was not enough vertical clearance with a fully soldered PCB.  I thought I would have to just go with an internal cable directly from the Teensy but then realized that I could turn the breakout board upside down and fasten at a slight angle.  The other problem is the opening for the USB port is small most of my USB cables have a housing that is too big to fit.  Luckily, it turns out the USB cables that come with Coolermaster's QFRs have minimally sized housings and fit perfectly, which makes sense if you look at the bottom of QFR and see how little room they have to work with themselves. 

The last problem I ran into was one I had not expected at all.  All of the stabilizers on this board are Cherry plate mount except for the spacebar, which uses Costar stabilizers.  It turns out the wire for Cherry plate mount stabilizers sticks out past the edge of the Phantom PCB so I could not fit the PCB assembly into the case comfortably.  Thankfully the design of the plate allows for both Cherry and Costar stabilizers so I had a plan B.

81426-4

Assembly was otherwise fairly straightforward.

81422-5

I wanted a logo of a small dragon logo engraved into the case and my friend who works as an animator was nice enough to do some graphic design work for me pro-bono.  Unfortunately, it turns out one-time custom engraving is not that cheap and after all the money I had already spent I decided I would try to hand engrave it myself using a Dremel.  This is a middle-game keyboard after all, so I think the goofy looking dragon can be forgiven :)  For reference, this is what my friend had drawn up for me.

81424-6

Amazing no?  For the endgame keyboard I will definitely have the engraving done mechanically. 

Currently the keyboard is using vintage MX Brown switches harvested from an old Compaq board.  I hadn't typed on Browns for awhile and I wanted to see if after my experience with 62g clears, stock clears, reds, Matias tactile Alps, and buckling springs whether my outlook on Brown has changed much.  My personal opinion is that Browns aren't the best switches out there, but are more than adequate for daily use (as opposed to stock clears which I did not enjoy using on a daily basis). 

The caps are DSA Dolch from Signature Plastics.  This will likely change in the future.

It would be difficult for me to thank all the people who contributed to this project unknowingly but I will give recognition to those that I consider instrumental.  Photeq's TEK-80 thread was my main source of inspiration.  MOZ's CAD resources hub was invaluable (he also sold me 2 Phantom PCBs for $50 shipped from India!).  mkawa provided significant advice concerning materials and finishing advice.  Obviously bpiphany is responsible for the Phantom PCB in the first place.  metalliqaz's Easy AVR firmware is what drives the controller.

I have attached the emachineshop files (.ems) that I submitted.  It comes with all the mistakes that I listed above.  I think you will have to use their free software to open it but the software has an option to export to a DXF file.  Anyone is free to use and distribute the drawings.  Obviously I assume no responsibility from their use :)

UPDATE (November 17th 2014)
With the coming of winter, the humidity has decreased to the point where I noticed I am occasionally getting shocked by the keyboard - in particular, by the unfinished steel plate.  I'm not sure if I will do anything to address the problem with this keyboard, but it's more motivation to try powder coating for future plates.  The thickness of powder coating is significant enough that I would probably have to change the design specs slightly but I think it's worth a shot.  It's possible I'll have to get my hands on some anodized screws as well.

UPDATE (January 31th 2015)
mkawa hooked me up and I was able to send the top plate to Tammi at Rainbow Paint and Blasting for a Cerakote finish.  I really like how it turned out aesthetically.  Also, it's thin enough that I do not think I would've altered the design dimensionally to account for it if I had known during the design phase that I was going to have it painted.  Unfortunately, the finish does seem to scratch easily so I will probably plan for a powder coating finish next time and design with dimensional tolerances in mind.

I also swapped out the DSA Dolch key caps with DSA Granite key caps for accurate legends as well as a splash of green.
« Last Edit: Fri, 13 February 2015, 09:33:17 by geniekid »

Offline SpAmRaY

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #1 on: Sun, 02 November 2014, 12:33:49 »
Very nice! I like the layout.

Offline t2russo

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #2 on: Sun, 02 November 2014, 12:36:30 »
The low profile design is excellent.  One of the most creative Phantom builds I've seen.

Offline dorkvader

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #3 on: Sun, 02 November 2014, 12:40:39 »
I love it! Dark green is one of my fav. colours, and it's uncommon to see a KB in that colour. I'm glad you picked one with good taste.

The layout itself is pretty good too. What are the 2 `! keys in the upper corner for? I was thinking HHKB layout. If you I wonder if you can get a 1.5x backspace or delete and a 1x \| key.

Offline Wildcard

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #4 on: Sun, 02 November 2014, 12:49:19 »
Very nice design. I really like the finishing you've done with the case and keyset. What's the total height of the case?

Offline geniekid

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #5 on: Sun, 02 November 2014, 14:37:51 »
Thanks guys :D

The layout itself is pretty good too. What are the 2 `! keys in the upper corner for? I was thinking HHKB layout. If you I wonder if you can get a 1.5x backspace or delete and a 1x \| key.

You are right - HHKB layout.  Unfortunately GMK Dolch didn't come with a 1x \| so I will likely be putting Granite on there with some of the green keys to kinda sorta match.  If Nuclear Green ever gets done in DSA/DCS/Cherry I would use that.

Very nice design. I really like the finishing you've done with the case and keyset. What's the total height of the case?

15mm from the bottom of the case to the top of the plate.

With regard to the finishing - I'm happy with how this one turned out, but I recently had a small numpad case made that was powder coated and I'm equally pleased with that one.  I think it's hard to go wrong with either one but I particularly like powder coating's ability to color steel so I may go with that option moving forward.

Offline nubbinator

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #6 on: Sun, 02 November 2014, 14:52:50 »
Could someone rehost the pics on imgur, Flickr, or another similar site?  I really want to see the pics, but all GH hosted pics are only partially loading, then timing out for me.

Offline Photekq

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #7 on: Sun, 02 November 2014, 15:15:21 »
Could someone rehost the pics on imgur, Flickr, or another similar site?  I really want to see the pics, but all GH hosted pics are only partially loading, then timing out for me.
Same :'(

Offline TBone

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #8 on: Sun, 02 November 2014, 15:57:45 »
Could someone rehost the pics on imgur, Flickr, or another similar site?  I really want to see the pics, but all GH hosted pics are only partially loading, then timing out for me.
Same :'(
Plz. Very interested but I can't see anything.

Offline geniekid

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #9 on: Sun, 02 November 2014, 16:14:30 »
Hm, let me see what I can do.

Offline geniekid

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #10 on: Sun, 02 November 2014, 16:28:21 »
Flickr album here.  I just uploaded the same scaled down pictures that I did for this post.

Offline strict

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #11 on: Sun, 02 November 2014, 18:33:40 »
Beautiful build! As a fellow Phantom enthusiast I am immensely impressed at the the amount of effort you put in as well as the creativity of the design. You have got one of the best Phantom builds I've ever seen!  :thumb:

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Offline geniekid

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #12 on: Sun, 02 November 2014, 18:53:04 »
Beautiful build! As a fellow Phantom enthusiast I am immensely impressed at the the amount of effort you put in as well as the creativity of the design. You have got one of the best Phantom builds I've ever seen!  :thumb:

Wow you should see the smile on my face right now :)

Offline CPTBadAss

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #13 on: Sun, 02 November 2014, 19:04:02 »
You made an extra one for me right? :P

I'm really into this keyboard. Was your inspiration for the layout the CM TK? It reminds me a lot of that board, and I liked how that board had it's layers setup.

Can you explain a little more about the breakout board? I've not seen too many on custom boards and your has Sparkfun silkscreened on it. Does Sparkfun sell that little USB connector? Or the little PCB?
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Offline geniekid

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #14 on: Sun, 02 November 2014, 20:34:26 »
You made an extra one for me right? :P

I'm really into this keyboard. Was your inspiration for the layout the CM TK? It reminds me a lot of that board, and I liked how that board had it's layers setup.

Can you explain a little more about the breakout board? I've not seen too many on custom boards and your has Sparkfun silkscreened on it. Does Sparkfun sell that little USB connector? Or the little PCB?

Ah, no but I wish I did.  The price for having 2 milled is only like $25 more total than a single one so I'd almost be halving my costs.  There was very little reason to get just one but this was my first time designing something so I was almost certain I would just be wasting $25 on two unusable cases.  Going forward I'm definitely trying to find partners in crime to split costs, the problem being differences in aesthetic taste.

It's been so long I don't even remember my inspiration for the 5x3 numpad but I think it is an idea that stems naturally if you're looking at a Phantom PCB and looking all those open switch slots on the right.  Certainly the HHKB that I had at the time convinced me that dedicated navigation keys are not necessary for a usable keyboard.  After deciding I wanted a 5x3 numpad on a Phantom I tried to find an appropriate case but all I could find was talk about acrylic cases made years before I joined Geekhack.

The USB breakout board is this one from Sparkfun.  It let's you wire something to a mini-USB socket.  Usually you're not using it to extend an existing USB socket so I guess this is a pretty novel use.  I'm not sure who's idea it was originally but I got the idea from Photeq's TEK-80 thread.  The mini-USB-to-open-wires cable is something I made myself by cutting up a normal mini-USB cable.  I actually had already done this before while building an Ergodox (the Massdrop kit comes with 2 mini-USB cables for this purpose).
« Last Edit: Sun, 02 November 2014, 20:43:52 by geniekid »

Offline CPTBadAss

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #15 on: Sun, 02 November 2014, 20:37:13 »
Oh cool, that breakout board could be really handy. Thanks for sharing that link :).

And ah you're right, I'm probably dating myself. The Phantom design happened way before my time in the keyboarding community and I associate that setup to the TK moreso than the Phantom.

In either case, you should a) go to Keycon Chicago b) let me type on it c) let me show the world your cool board with the CPTBadCAMTM

(Your board is amazing, thank you for sharing it with us :D)
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Offline dorkvader

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #16 on: Sun, 02 November 2014, 20:40:05 »
You made an extra one for me right? :P

Ah, no but I wish I did.  The price for having 2 milled is only like $25 more total than a single one so I'd almost be halving my costs.  There was very little reason to get just one but this was my first time designing something so I was almost certain I would just be wasting $25 on two unusable cases.  Going forward I'm definitely trying to find partners in crime to split costs, the problem being differences in aesthetic taste.

This is GH. I'm 100% sure you could have sold the second. Always prototype two and sell the spare to help cover costs.

Speaking of which, who'd be down for a Phantom Dragon GB? If you missed out on the skeldon GH here's your chance for more phantom action.

Offline geniekid

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #17 on: Sun, 02 November 2014, 20:47:01 »
In either case, you should a) go to Keycon Chicago b) let me type on it c) let me show the world your cool board with the CPTBadCAMTM

Heck yea!  I'm pretty sure I already agreed to let you and esoomenona crash at my place for KeyCon Chicago :D

Offline byker

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #18 on: Sun, 02 November 2014, 20:57:33 »
This is really cool. Congrats, I bet the it feels good to have the hard work pay off!  :thumb:

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #19 on: Sun, 02 November 2014, 21:35:04 »
You're an inspiration for aspiring keyboard do-it-yourselfers everywhere geniekid  :thumb:

Offline NeedAFix

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #20 on: Sun, 02 November 2014, 22:12:05 »
Cool stuff.
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Offline jdcarpe

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #21 on: Sun, 02 November 2014, 22:19:46 »
You made an extra one for me right? :P

Ah, no but I wish I did.  The price for having 2 milled is only like $25 more total than a single one so I'd almost be halving my costs.  There was very little reason to get just one but this was my first time designing something so I was almost certain I would just be wasting $25 on two unusable cases.  Going forward I'm definitely trying to find partners in crime to split costs, the problem being differences in aesthetic taste.

This is GH. I'm 100% sure you could have sold the second. Always prototype two and sell the spare to help cover costs.

Speaking of which, who'd be down for a Phantom Dragon GB? If you missed out on the skeldon GH here's your chance for more phantom action.

I'm in for this. I would have been in for a TEK-80. I love me some Phantom.
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Offline dorkvader

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #22 on: Sun, 02 November 2014, 22:21:46 »
who'd be down for a Phantom Dragon GB? If you missed out on the skeldon GH here's your chance for more phantom action.

I'm in for this. I would have been in for a TEK-80. I love me some Phantom.

You got to type on the skeldon, right? I want to get a stainless steel plate for it with a better layout

Offline jdcarpe

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #23 on: Sun, 02 November 2014, 22:25:46 »
who'd be down for a Phantom Dragon GB? If you missed out on the skeldon GH here's your chance for more phantom action.

I'm in for this. I would have been in for a TEK-80. I love me some Phantom.

You got to type on the skeldon, right? I want to get a stainless steel plate for it with a better layout

No, I never actually got to see a Skeldon in the flesh. :(

If you want me to draw you a Skeldon plate, just let me know which layout you want. Then you can have it cut somewhere.
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Offline byker

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #24 on: Sun, 02 November 2014, 22:32:43 »
who'd be down for a Phantom Dragon GB? If you missed out on the skeldon GH here's your chance for more phantom action.

I'm in for this. I would have been in for a TEK-80. I love me some Phantom.

You got to type on the skeldon, right? I want to get a stainless steel plate for it with a better layout

No, I never actually got to see a Skeldon in the flesh. :(

If you want me to draw you a Skeldon plate, just let me know which layout you want. Then you can have it cut somewhere.

Hey JD, slightly off topic, but how much does it cost to have a plate cut roughly? I have been experimenting with new layouts  :p

Offline strict

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #25 on: Sun, 02 November 2014, 22:35:17 »
I had never seen a skeldon before (or even heard it mentioned) so I looked one up. I have to say I like geniekid's design way better, though it could be because I'm partial to the exposed switch tops look.

If he offered this deign in a group buy or for sale I would almost certainly have to pick one up.

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Offline dorkvader

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #26 on: Sun, 02 November 2014, 22:36:17 »
Hey JD, slightly off topic, but how much does it cost to have a plate cut roughly? I have been experimenting with new layouts  :p
My research has shown about $60-$90 depending on a number of factors.

higher values are more common.

I had never seen a skeldon before (or even heard it mentioned) so I looked one up. I have to say I like geniekid's design way better, though it could be because I'm partial to the exposed switch tops look.

If he offered this deign in a group buy or for sale I would almost certainly have to pick one up.

I'm currently using my skeldon with the top piece removed so it shows the switch tops. Geniekid's design is awesome.

Offline byker

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #27 on: Sun, 02 November 2014, 23:05:58 »
Hey JD, slightly off topic, but how much does it cost to have a plate cut roughly? I have been experimenting with new layouts  :p
My research has shown about $60-$90 depending on a number of factors.

higher values are more common.

I had never seen a skeldon before (or even heard it mentioned) so I looked one up. I have to say I like geniekid's design way better, though it could be because I'm partial to the exposed switch tops look.

If he offered this deign in a group buy or for sale I would almost certainly have to pick one up.

I'm currently using my skeldon with the top piece removed so it shows the switch tops. Geniekid's design is awesome.

Thanks DV!  :)

Offline Photekq

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #28 on: Mon, 03 November 2014, 05:46:27 »
That's a great keyboard you have there geniekid.

While the exposed-tops look isn't my cup of tea, it looks like a very well thought out case. Much better thought out than my TEK-80 :)) I'm glad my board could inspire you, and I'm looking forward to seeing more builds from you soon :thumb:

By the way, how much did eMachineShop charge you for that work?

Offline geniekid

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #29 on: Mon, 03 November 2014, 08:24:32 »
Much better thought out than my TEK-80 :)

I do not agree :)

By the way, how much did eMachineShop charge you for that work?

About $150 for the laser cut plate and $350 for the milled case, shipped.  They offer finishing services (blasting, anodizing, powder coating) as well but I was afraid of spending money on a faulty design so I had it anodized by someone else for $150.  As dorkvader said, I could easily have had 2 of them made AND anodized for barely more than the cost of one but I was very unsure of myself at the time - in retrospect it was an expensive mistake.  Since then I've used emachineshop one more time for a numpad case (pictures here) and the cost for making two with a stock color powder coating finish came out to $160 per case.  I was fortunate enough to enlist Mashby as my partner in crime for that project. 

I've thought about making more and selling them at a profit which I might try sometime next year (I really want to be a GH Artisan one day), but anyone who wants to run a GB at cost using my designs is free to do so!  I've drawn so much from the community I think that is the least I can do.

Offline billnye

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #30 on: Mon, 03 November 2014, 08:41:33 »
Amazing board! I really like the green color.

I'll look forward to seeing future boards from you.

Offline MOZ

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #31 on: Tue, 04 November 2014, 08:55:12 »
Stunning board and stellar job building it.

@CPTBadAss, regack made a real good version of a similar breakout board that had micro, mini, USB A, and USB B connectors on the same board, so you could use it in multiple ways.

I can't seem to find out where he posted these :(



« Last Edit: Tue, 04 November 2014, 08:59:44 by MOZ »

Offline mkawa

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #32 on: Tue, 04 November 2014, 20:03:33 »
words can't express how proud i am of you, geniekid. from your first shiny soldered joint to this level of custom design and fabrication. i'm blown away. you're doing geekhack proud, man.

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Offline mtl

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #33 on: Tue, 04 November 2014, 20:36:27 »
Congratulations, very nice keyboard! :-) I like the layout choice to go with a numpad instead of the cursor keys and such.

You may want to be careful with the cable and USB breakout board. The connector looks to be surface mount and any stress on the cable can pry the connector from the board. A couple of them broke on me that way. If it's an issue, squishing some foam in the case gap is one way to help support it.

Anyway great job! What do you have in mind for your next keyboard?
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Offline geniekid

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #34 on: Tue, 04 November 2014, 22:48:14 »
Congratulations, very nice keyboard! :-) I like the layout choice to go with a numpad instead of the cursor keys and such.

You may want to be careful with the cable and USB breakout board. The connector looks to be surface mount and any stress on the cable can pry the connector from the board. A couple of them broke on me that way. If it's an issue, squishing some foam in the case gap is one way to help support it.

Anyway great job! What do you have in mind for your next keyboard?

Thank you!  Yes if I made more of these I would definitely correct the errors.  Probably would have it so that the USB breakout would be mounted upside down but not at the slight angle.  I would have to raise the overall height of the case by a couple of mm though. 

I have a number of keyboard projects in the queue, but my next custom project is a bit of a mystery, not because I don't want to share but because I'm not really sure.  I was planning on designing a Teensy driven Alps PCB but that is way, way up in the air and may never happen :)

Offline geniekid

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Re: The Metal Dragon - A Custom Phantom keyboard
« Reply #35 on: Wed, 05 November 2014, 07:16:53 »
words can't express how proud i am of you, geniekid. from your first shiny soldered joint to this level of custom design and fabrication. i'm blown away. you're doing geekhack proud, man.

That means a lot to me ;D
« Last Edit: Wed, 05 November 2014, 07:22:41 by geniekid »