BAMF2011: Keyboards built from scratch

As the most direct interface between computer and programmer, keyboards can be a deeply personal, sometimes almost religious thing. Some find solace in their vintage IBM Model M, or luxurious leather keyboard, but maker [Carol Chen] took things into her own hands, quite literally. [Carol]’s Maker Faire exhibit has a half dozen specimens of interesting commercial tactile and ergonomic options…but [Chen]’s personal keyboard, where she commits to her work as a full-time coder, has been made to her own exacting specifications.

Cherry switches are available in different colors corresponding to varying tactile feels. These can either be scrounged from existing keyboards (as [Chen] does for the key caps), or vendors such as Digi-Key can source the different colors if you want custom pressure for each finger (as on some commercial ergonomic models). A laser-cut acrylic backing plate holds the key switches in place, while wiring was soldered in point-to-point fashion rather than etching a PCB. Custom-fabbing the keyboard allows [Chen] to tailor the layout to her vim-heavy coding style. Note the miniature space bar, and curious placement of modifier and macro keys around the periphery. A YouTube video shows an earlier iteration of the keyboard in action:

35 thoughts on “BAMF2011: Keyboards built from scratch

  1. I’m probably going to get railed for this but… She spends several weeks on getting this new keyboard together but can’t take two minutes to pick up the dirty laundry from the floor?

  2. ohh my god, she didn’t even vacuum prior to filming this. they really need to be careful of the things they post, as some may be offended by irrelevant issues.

    I’d like to see custom key buttons, something that suites specific needs for gamers, video editing, and the likes.

    I mean you could just buy a gaming keyboard, but what fun is that?

  3. OMG, a keyboard!
    Now really, no real coder works in Windows, and if I was her boss I would not let her take that to the work place, its wires all over the place, one short and bam a dead usb controller or a dead computer, no thanks sir.

  4. Whoops.

    Anyway, I like this. It’s tempting to do something like an MS Natural, but fit to the individual. Could use a multitouch surface to “ghost type” a blank space and log the general pattern, then prototype a physical version with the Cherries.

  5. Hmm, some documentation on how she worked out what goes where would have been awesome. Most keyboard have insanely complex layouts since they use a single plastic printed matix

  6. “No real coder” … Only a single minded person with knowledge of the subject would make assumptions like you have hekilledmywire. Sadly nobody has coded an “idiot filter” for the internet. If they did there is a chance it would be coded in windows ; )

  7. You guys should double check you Servers… the Java virus has been relentlessly attacking me recently and this is the site i visit the most. check you %Appdata%, ALL of the server files, and your Application data Folder in your C:/ drive root! P.S. Wish I would have seen you guys at maker fair today!

  8. @sneakypoo: Just goes to show she’s a true hacker. She’ll tidy up when she’s finished her current projects.

    @hekilledmywire: This is probably why you’ll probably not get the best people working for you. You tighten the reigns around creative people and they lose their will and patience to work with you. I know, I’ve seen a lot of good people leave because of poor management and overbearing bosses.

  9. Holly sh*t!! That room is dirty as hell. I’m not impressed, all that cabling should be replaced by a custom pcb. No need for breadboarding if the controller is commercial.

    1. well, I can tell several of us don’t appreciate the finer points of hacking hardware… Who cares what it looks like if it works well and you enjoy it!? (BTW, check out my basement and cable management. No one has died and no hardware has failed as a result of it.

  10. hey neato! i JUST brought home a couple of clicketty clackers at the thrift store for a project with the same goal! neat thanks for being the first post i see after god killed all of his true followers and brought them back to heaven so he could eat them and become one with him forever and…. man… i like electronical components … my pc case is rarely closed… my clothes spend more time on the floor than they do in my closet… i don’t shower every single day unless i get really dirty every day… i prefer to sleep alone in my own bed, but i really enjoy your company and our sex… just because it takes me a long time to fish through my pockets to find whatever cash i need to pay for something doesn’t mean that i am broke… i don’t write every single post as if it were a speech, or speak every thought as poetry- does this mean i don’t know how to… communicate effectively??? so i don’t really believe that i am some kind of individual who is different from every other person out there trying to do stuff they like, or wants to like stuff they do… unconventional: after all, it only took two people about 15 minutes of actually doing some good working to make me and i have injected way more money into the economy than was ever invested in me… lol i really would be filthy rich if i knew someone who didn’t know how to spend my money better than i do when i am trying to do things that might help make the world a little better… its like 12 hours after the rapture and i am not in heaven yet. god didn’t kill me because i don’t go to church… he let me live because when the earthquakes were going on the stereo was turned up to 11 and well, i guess we all think that kind of shaking is normal… no i am not hung over all, to tell you the truth i slept for like 10 hours until two in the afternoon, then relaxed over some strong coffee while having a deep conversation with people who love me enough to tell me i’m wrong and still allow me proceed with whatever parts of my plans which aren’t open for suggestion because i managed to show how their arguments were logically invalid and their reasoning was not sound, and their past experiences were biased to environmental variables that are no longer issues, needless to say i was wrong, i still am wrong, and have every intention of being wrong in the future. if i ever did anything right the very first time it’s because i wasn’t aware that i had to learn how to do something before i did it. maybe i should. maybe i should.

  11. Wow, that is an impressive amount of work I guess. I think that “pad shaving” and bump tip pregnating yields great results in sensitivity. Mind you this is coming from a synth keyboard repair guy, but the principles would be similar. I have repaired many dead contacts or faulty ones this way. Overclocking the keymatrix scan gives you some fudge room on synths, but I rarely mess with it. The only time I have is when some prosumer level synth promises aftertouch sensitivity which is never implemented in the midi message bytes. This can lead to “muddy” keys and can be remedied/masked by the overclocking. Dunno how much of this actually translates to typing keyboards, but I would definitely say the magic is in the rubber nipple pads/mini spring mechanism and the actual contact pad on the keyboard, which would have been far easier to implement than this marvel of spaghetti wires. Again, kudos on the build, but I’m not sure much couldn’t be done with modified stock for similar results. Finally a quick little hardware guy/coder jab: Ya have tried upping the typematic display rate in BIOS, right???

    i keed i keed

  12. As noble as this is….I doubt you can make a better keyboard at home then what’s already been made commercially. I mean they have keyboards for EVERYONE practicly. The point to point wiring is also kinda messy…would’ve liked to see a custom pcb. (but if she wants her messy wiring that’s fine with me)

  13. I’m happy to see someone fabricating a fairly standard-looking keyboard. I was considering doing something like this and adding a joybutton (i.e., a TrackPoint(TM) without the TM); if someone has done the hard part of designing a one-off keyboard and showing that it can be fabbed, I don’t have to reinvent the wheel (or hope that the designs tailored to mass-production will still be feasible for one-off).

  14. “No real coder” … Only a single minded person with knowledge of the subject would make assumptions like you have hekilledmywire. Sadly nobody has coded an “idiot filter” for the internet. If they did there is a chance it would be coded in windows ; )

    I believe hackaday has a rat that’s eyes glow red when 1 is detected
    and btw, im a real coder, i use batch files in windows 7! that counts….right….?

  15. I’d really love to make my own keyboard, just for fun. It’s my favourite component and it’d be a nice exercise, can anyone give me any pointers on where to start?

  16. @M4CGYV3R
    Most hacking is ‘entirely too much work’ compared to COTS-based solutions, if you don’t enjoy seeing hacks why the frig are you here?

    @Carol Chen
    Good work. : )

  17. This hack is AWESOME! A keyboard is something we use all day, every day, so making a custom one to be exactly what you want makes perfect sense. I’m too cheap & lazy, so I bought a Unicomp Spacesaver, but kudos to Carol Chen!

  18. well, I can tell several of us don’t appreciate the finer points of hacking hardware… Who cares what it looks like if it works well and you enjoy it!? (BTW, check out my basement and cable management. No one has died and no hardware has failed as a result of it.

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