Author Topic: Newbie to the keyboard world trying to design my own keyboard, Need some advice,  (Read 1265 times)

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Offline taako

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Hello!

I just joined the forum because I have recently started upgrading my life ergonomically. I have purchased an electric sit stand, a nice chair, and a good mouse. I am currently even working on a Kinesis Freestyle 2 keyboard but I am hating the staggered way the keys are laid out.

Prior to a week ago I "touch typed" with my own interesting variant of typing where both hands moved all over a traditional keyboard. I rarely had to look at the keys but I realized in order to be more ergonomic i need to learn to type "properly." So i got myself a Freestyle 2 from my works ergo department and now I am fairly comfortable touch typing on a split keyboard (although a fair bit slower and less accurate than my old method on a traditional keyboard), I really enjoy the split style a lot!

My coworker himself has a Kinesis Advantage that he has been using for many years and he recommends it and I may upgrade to that but in my research I actually found the keyboardio to be the most promising ergo keyboard for me, although there is a lack of availability.

Since I am an electrical engineer and have made PCBs before as well as plenty of firmware programming on both AVR and ARM systems, and I also have a 3D printer, I decided it would be a fun hobby project to build my own keyboard.

Ideally my keyboard would have the following features:

1) Fully split design
2) Column Staggered (keys aligned in the up-down direction but entire colunns staggered for different fingers lengths, e.g. pinky colunns lower than ring finger colunn)
3) Slight concavity - I didnt think i'd like the concavity of the Advantage until i laid my hands on it; Ideally my keyboard would be a little less steep
4) Thumb button arcs - this was the feature that REALLY drew me to keyboardio Model 01
5) Fully programmable keys (seems easy enough since i can just load up an open source firmware like QMK)
6) Fully programmable RGB LEDs (also seens easy enough, i have experience with WS2812 as well as APA102C)

I am torn between custom keycap shapes or standard ones. I like the keyboardios custom keycaps but my 3D printer isnt smooth enough to make ones that feel nice; in addition it makes changing the keycaps hard if i need them in very specific shapes.

Here is a list of keyboards I have found that meet most - but not all - of my criteria (many of which are DIY)


### Commercial
* Ergodox EZ - bad thumb clusters
* Maltron - not split
* Kinesis Advantage 2 - not split
* Kinesis Freestyle 2 - staggered rows, blegh
* Keyboardio - not concave, also hard to acquire
* Diverge 3 - not concave
* Esrille New - not split

### Custom
* Dactyl - needs thumb arcs instead of clusters, leds, how to design a PCB for it?
* Eucalyptus - seems perfect if i added more keys to my liking, as well as leds, but how do i design a PCB for it?
* Axios - needs thumb arcs instead of clusters, leds

I started drawing up designs heavily based on the Eucalyptus but I was wondering if there was a better way to design it instead of hand wiring each key.

Ideally I would just design a PCB (or a few smaller PCBs that connect together) but I realized if i wanted the columns staggered AND have it concave then i'd need a flexible PCB which are prohibitively expensive unless you make the cheap screen printed one (like in Dactyl), but that doesn't seem very robust at all. The Kinesis advantage - were it split, is ideal because it manages to stagger the columns (well the pinky column at least) but is also concave!

Can I get any opinions on how I might design a keyboard PCB that is able to fit my criteria but also is robust and something I could get manufactured through Seeed or other simple PCB manufacturers?

It honestly seems as though it's impossible to design a standard PCB that can support both column staggered and concave design. The kinesis advantage is the closest i think i've seem but i think they might use a flex PCB (havent seen the internals). Honestly if the Kinesis Advantage was split, had LEDs, and was fully programmable it'd be the perfect keyboard ever made. But as it stands it seems like with a standard PCB I either have to choose between concave (with each PCB being a row of keys at a different angle and connected to each other via wires) or column staggered (with each PCB being a column of keys at a different offset and connected to each other via wires). The only other workaround is having each key be its own PCB but thats almost no different than hand wiring each key (thought it might make the LED easier to mount).


Lastly, if there are not really good options for making a standard PCB that can support column staggering and concavity then can someone tell me about the robustness of these handwired keyboards where each keyswitch is just held via the frame and there is no underlying PCB? It doesn't seem very robust to me and i feel as though making a design that uses a PCB would be much easier for me to assemle (especially when doing the LEDs with it).
Any general advice is also appreciated! Thanks!
« Last Edit: Fri, 18 May 2018, 17:08:47 by taako »

Offline taako

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After getting home and toying with some ideas on paper (literally) I think I fixed my problem and the answer was that I was thinking too linearly, PCBs in keyboards for each row do not need to be one rectuangular line of keys...

I mocked up with paper what the PCB should look like and then all I need to do is mount them at an angle, this design does force the offset for each finger ti be constant and all keys must be the same size or I'll have collision issues

Offline ideus

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Reliability of hand-wiring keyboards depends on design and building quality. If you are good at DIY craftmanship and have the proper tools at hand, go for it. Otherwise, either have an expert building it for you, be prepare with a fat wallet, or buy something off the shelf. Again, be prepared with some big bucks. There are a handful of extraordinary examples of craftmanship here that makes a kinesis advantage look like an old fart in comparison, but the authors are really outstanding at designing and building his art.

Offline taako

  • Thread Starter
  • Posts: 21
Reliability of hand-wiring keyboards depends on design and building quality. If you are good at DIY craftmanship and have the proper tools at hand, go for it. Otherwise, either have an expert building it for you, be prepare with a fat wallet, or buy something off the shelf. Again, be prepared with some big bucks. There are a handful of extraordinary examples of craftmanship here that makes a kinesis advantage look like an old fart in comparison, but the authors are really outstanding at designing and building his art.

This is a hobby project, as such I will put money into it when it comes and is available but i'm not restricting myself to a set budget or timeline. I have at my disposal a 3D printer, plenty of soldering equipment, some expertise in embedded systems engineering and electronics design, as well as a housemate who is a professional mechanical engineer. I know it might be costly, i'm not looking to make something production quality, just looking to have fun and build myself a board :) .

Offline suicidal_orange

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Sounds like you've done your homework and you're right - there is no easy way to do quality flexible PCBs so if you don't want to settle for the compromises of a commercial offering handwire is the way to go.  You have the equipment and as circuits go a switch matrix is pretty basic so you should be fine.  As you have a 3D printer the sky's the limit as far as the case is concerned (assuming it's big enough) - a great example is the ManuForm.

Hook it up to a Teensy or similar and there's no need to write your own firmware, unless you want to...
                               
Ducky Zero, MX Reds    JD40, Jailhouse Blues           GH60
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Offline ideus

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You have the three T: Team-talent, tools and time. Godspeed.

Offline xack

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    • Make'n'Modify
Hey, with a similar intend i recently did my first self designed, handwirde, split ergo keyboard.
As i documented the process, it might (or not) be helpful: https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=95356.0


Other than that, go for it! Making everything by yourself costs time but is quiet cheap on the money side ;P