Curved Keyboards

I've been having to do a lot of long-term waiting recently, and it seems that one way I continue to fill my time is to try out different keyboard formats (that is, physical formats; get outta here Dvorak kids).

I think anyone with an interest in programming has at some point come across the legendary KENESIS ADVANTAGE

There's a new post every few months from someone on keyboard subreddits posting this picture, asking what the hell it is, and many have sought after finding an after-market one themselves! Though to be honest most stories I hear end with people shelving these; I know Jonathan Blow has to keep telling people that he hasn't used his in ages since famously being seen with it in the fantastic Indie Game The Movie. Time remains to be seen on how long Randy lasts.

But this is actually pretty close to what I already use and I like the idea, enough to try out in my own. I already drive the crkbd layout daily and am in love with it (as seen in my other keyboard related posts) so I'm used to the thumb clusters and ortholinear key layout.

The obvious thing to try was the Dactyl Manuform. An open-source, configurable, 3D printable keyboard!

dactyl manuform 3D model

I had to pay someone else to print it for me, it's not quite the time for me to seriously invest in that quite yet... but no prob it came in just fine! Ordered it unpainted/finished to I could do it myself so I got right to taping up the key inserts and primed.

Now I've been looking for an excuse to try out Stewart Semple's Blackest Black paint so this was the perfect excuse. This has definitely been done before in the keyboard world, most obviously by TaeKeyboards but that's no reason not to have my own go at it. Gave each half two coats excluding the bottom plate and the microcontroller holders for that panda look.

The thing with these, though, is that you gotta hand wire them. I use the popular QMK firmware which works by creating a matrix (or grid kinda) of the keys, connecting each key in parallel by column, then by row separated by diodes. When this gets wired into the microcontroller inputs, the microcontroller can tell which column and row are being pressed at any given time, which can be mapped to a keymap in the firmware and sent to the computer. tada.

once the grid was built I could carefully wire it into the microcontroller and seat that into it's little holder (and wire up the audio jack that connects the left and right side of the keyboard).

Once allllll that work was done it was ready for some black keycaps to complete the picture

But while I was building the Dactyl I was also trying out something else! A bit more kitted but admittedly much prettier – the TBK mini from BastardKB

I really liked the look of this and who wouldn't be a little curious about this 'flexible' pcb idea. The designer clearly put a lot of attention to detail and love into this. I look forward to trying their other designs, they recently completed some with embedded trackballs.

Inb4 your shitty MX Browns hate, this close up of the case shows how nice the print is, too. Spectacular color and even, I had honestly wished my Dactyl print had been as nicely dialed in but I don't know anything about 3D printing and why that might not have been possible for the other print.

I took a few shots of the pcb, it was a bit tougher to the flex than I was hoping though it worked out in the end (with caveats, read onnnnn)!

I did end up having an issue with this that took me a while to diagnose, however. One of my keys just wasn't working no matter how many times I replaced the diode or reflowed solder. Eventually after probing around I found a short between the offending key's row connection and another column. Took me even longer to figure out where that short was.

Kind hard to see in the photo but at the bottom of the second column here there two nearby traces are scratched and shorted (surprised a DIY board that is mean to be bent had such fragile insulation!). The larger, more obnoxious scratch marks closer to the jumper on the board are evidence of my solution – I eliminated the short by removing the offending traces from the circuit with intended destruction up their respective paths. Then just had to jump that key back into the grid with a little signal wire. Phewwwww.

This is actually what I'm daily driving now though. It's a bit smaller than the dactyl and the materials are nicer. Plus the dactyl has an extra row of keys I don't need...but it looks fantastic!