Apple Forces Non-Mac User To Make Ergonomic Mac Keyboard

Mac Ergonomic Keyboard

If you’ve ever typed for a significant amount of time you know that it can become painful. Long term exposure can cause wrist and arm injuries. There are some things that can help alleviate the risk of injury like taking frequent breaks, good posture and using an ergonomic keyboard. [Ian] likes the feel of Mac keyboard keys but doesn’t like the traditional straight layout. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t make an ergonomic keyboard so [Ian] stepped up to the plate and made one for himself.

Mac Ergonomic Keyboard

Just starting this project was an extreme pain. Apple glues their Mac keyboards together. A heat gun was used to melt the glue to 400°F as kitchen utensils were stuck in between the halves of the case, keeping the glue from re-sealing the case together. Once the case was apart the unnecessary keys were removed. [Ian] is actually modifying two keyboards into one because he wants the middle keys to show up on both sides of the keyboard. With the necessary keys identified, the metal support frame was removed from the unneeded sides of the keyboard.

Notice that the number pad has been removed so the mouse can be closer to the user. Instead of ditching the arrow keys, a slot was cut in the metal frame to facilitate a bend. This bend allows the arrow keys to be flat on the desk while the letter-based keys are at an ergonomic angle. [Ian] admits that setting up the angle of the keyboard was based on trial and error… a lot of it. Once in the most comfortable position, the two keyboards were permanently supported by wood blocks and glue. More wood was then used to trim out the keyboard and give it a finished look.

A 4-port USB hub is buried inside the new case. Two ports are used for the two keyboards and the other two are routed to the exterior of the case. Keeping the two keyboards separate and using a USB hub results in not having to modify the keyboard electronics.


UPDATE 28-June-2014: [Ian] wrote in to tell me that I screwed up the title. He’s an iOS developer by day and uses Macs all the time. He built the keyboard at home and tested it on a Dell running Ubuntu, hence the lack of a Mac in the photos.


64 thoughts on “Apple Forces Non-Mac User To Make Ergonomic Mac Keyboard

  1. The Applle IIe has a very nice sculpted keyboard, meaning the key surfaces as a whole form a concave keyboard which helps keep all the keys within a radius of the finders. Very low fatique, like an IBM Selectric typewriter. The Platinum edition has a numeric keypad as well. They are dirt cheap and plenty of room inside plus mount an LCD on top. hey, I’ll have to try it!

    1. Yes, but “[Ian] likes the feel of Mac keyboard keys”. As do I, as I can’t stand the (comparatively) long key travel on most keyboards. It’s a great solution to a potentially painful problem.

      Now if only Apple would make a wireless keyboard with a numpad…

      1. i wish i stopped reading on “likes the feel of mac keyboard keys”. it was all downhill from there.

        those keys are an abehation whose sole purpose is being thin. nothing else.

        so he proceeds to buy TWO keyboards from a company that does not make the product he wants (and goes out of their way to make it hard to mod them), but hey, he gives them twice the money, so that should teach them to not make products he does not want! great way to exercise your consumer power!

        then he makes a tall as hell keyboard (with switches that only exist to be thin). sorry man, you replaced repetitive injuries from bending your wrist sideways to bending them up. unless you have a pretty good set up to compensate that.

        i hate to read comments like this one here, but i couldn’t avoid. really. i tried. i’m not just trying to be an asshole, even if i had to come out as one this time :(

        1. I have a wrist rest at the appropriate height; keep in mind that the tallest part of the keyboard contains the keys that are well within reach of the opposite hand (at a more reasonable height).

          I’m not sure I understand why my preference for the Apple keyboard would be a personal affront to you. Don’t you think that if was serious enough to spend all this time building a comfortable typing experience then I’d probably start with the keyboard that worked best for me?

  2. The only reason to chop up Apple keyboards to do all this would be to attempt to make it look nice and match that aluminum style. Otherwise you’d just hook a normal ergonomic keyboard into the Mac. However, the end result looks absolutely horrible. On top of that, he butchers the version of the keyboard with a number pad rather than just using the numberpad-less versions of the keyboard.

    I don’t get it.

    1. I considered getting the Microsoft Sculpt, but I do a lot of reaching across the “center line” when I type (especially using keyboard shortcuts with a hand on the mouse). As for the mac keyboards that don’t have number pads, they have 2 problems: first, there’s a useless “fn” key in the lower left, and second, the layout of the arrow keys is poor — not to mention nonexistent pageup/pagedn/home/end/ins/delete keys.

        1. That’s true, but as a developer I am always using hotkeys — and fn is not part of any hotkey sequence (even though it occupies prime real estate by the modifier keys on my keyboard).

      1. PS – I do have to agree with you on the arrow keys though (but it’s not just a Mac problem). Best arrow keys I’ve seen were on my old Sony Vaio – they were (gasp!) the same size as the other keys! They just made the right shift button a little smaller to compensate. Can’t believe more laptop makers don’t do this.

      1. I don’t. I have a very very slight bend in my wrists while typing, maybe 1-2 degrees but effectively they’re straight as I’m typing this. I don’t understand why anyone would bend their wrists like that in the first place. When I do my thumbs get in the way of each other.

        1. trying to straighten your hands like that does seem like trouble. now that i’m paying attention to it my hands are straight to my arms but a good 30º to the keyboard. good thing i’m not a fatty or it would be more like 45º. i suppose this is not the most efficient but whatever, i’m used to it.

    1. The position of the inch on the picture is telling me that something maybe be wrong…
      How do you manage to push the Space key like that ? And no, I wont start to speak about each finger and the global hand position.
      The actual straight keyboard layout seems ergonomic enough, especially in case where you need to use one hand only (which is way more difficult with a split one).
      Anyway, this is still some good made hack, despite the fact that the wood frame is way too high and might result in fast wrist harm.

  3. I’ve never understood RSI, especially as illustrated in the picture embedded in the article (guess I’m thankful for that – aunt’s been a typist/secretary for most of her career before retiring multiple decades ago, she still suffers from all sorts of joint problems).

    I’ve been typing for what, 20-25 years now, and I don’t think I’ve ever, for a split second, held my palms and arms like that, nor had any pain or injury that could have been attributed to typing.

    Maybe it’s not the straight keyboard that’s at fault here, but the way new people are told to hold themselves when typing? Views on ergonomics change, if it hurts to keep your hands like this, well, don’t keep them like this. Mainly, don’t type the way typists teach you to type. Typists develop RSI, typists teach you typing, you develop RSI. Does the pattern really need pointing out…?

    I am pretty happily typing continuously with 10 fingers without looking at the keyboard with finger positions and movements substantially different from what typists use. Sure, I am probably slower than speed record holders, but can more or less keep up with normal conversation rate if need be, which is still ten bajillion times faster than what’s needed for general computery tasks (I live in xterms, I admin, I code, and every once in a while I write a letter to someone).

    This is not to say “ergonomic” keyboards are crap scam, if it works for you, so be it, but you’ll have to pry the SK-8855 from under my dead cold body.

    1. If you want a real culprit, watch someone with long fingernails typing with their fingers splayed out to keep the nails out of the way. Talk about stress on the tendons and carpel tunnels! I don’t think I could do it for ten minutes.

      For some reason this reminds me of how people used to wonder what was scratching up the glass on the Xerox machines. How odd since nearly half the working population has a glass cutter on their ring finger! In public school prep rooms, more like 90%. The cause is obvious once you know where to look.

      1. Ah, long fingernails! Wouldn’t have thought of that as I wear the length elsewhere.

        So they voluntarily inflict pain on themselves. That’s OK then. Just remind me to tell them to fuck off when the whining starts.

    2. I was a video editor form 1990 to about 2007. I can tell you that I’ve completely worn out my wrists. But then again, that’s not normal typing, You spend most of your tine reaching for the “I” “O” and JKL keys. Throw in QWER and function keys, and you have a real wrist work out. I don’t think any keyboard would have prevented the damage. Angles or not. Repetitive motion is just that…..

      1. sorry, i mean YOU gutted at least 3 mac keyboards, that somehow counts as a hack, bot its not practical, and expensive. you could have atleast tried only gutting one, to achieve your goal

        1. If you read the article, you’d know that I gutted only 2 keyboards that I bought secondhand. You can’t gut a single keyboard, because (1) you can’t cut the spacebar, and (2) you can’t reliably cut and re-attach conductive traces that are printed on plastic. Perhaps you should give this project a shot and let me know how much better you can do it.

  4. Apple actually did a split ergonomic keyboard somewhere in the 90’s. I actually have one of these ADB keyboards and with a ADB to USB, it still work fine.

    What I understood about RSI is that is more the mechanical event of pressing a button that builds up the strain. The action of mechanical keys or older keyboards depress deeper. The clicklet keyboard should resolve a lot of these complaints.

    The split angled feature has more to do, with the wrist, releaving it more.

  5. I guess the next step is to fab up a custom keyboard.

    I’ve never liked the short keys on laptops – I will put up with them on the go. At home, I have a Microsoft Natural Elite hooked up to my desktop Mac.

  6. you should be able to use a pc usb keyboard on a mac.

    the windows key becomes the command key

    the alt key is the option key

    sometimes the menu key is the option key.

  7. I gotta quote a movie here: “You must be the dumbest smart person in the world”.
    Like, while it obviously took a lot of work, it requires a lot of specific knowledge, why not use a proper keyboard, instead that horrid flat key design – after all, the whole point is to make it more comfortable to type, right?
    And if someone is going to type lots, isn’t a mechanical keyboard a lot better? I know I’m a faster writer when using one of those and I make a lot less typos.

          1. Why snobs? Like, mechanical keyboards aren’t a thing for status or something like that. Sure, it’s more expensive, but it’s not like you’re paying solely for the brand…

          2. I think they’re snobs because the ones I’ve known or read from generally turn their nose up to any key type that’s not a very specific kind of switch, or even specific model of keyboard. And bore others about their very strong preference.

            Maybe I misused the term. It wasn’t really about cost. A good input device is certainly worth more. I just haven’t bought into their Highlander mindset.

        1. You got it – keyboards with very few exceptions are mechanical.

          As JRDM correctly notes the idea that “mechanical” keyboards are a separate category is promoted mostly by fanboys and snobs.

          Why should one separate “mechanical” switches from other types? The one thing common for the “mechanical” switches are that they are consisting of separate switch units, other than that the actual mechanism in use can differ strongly between different makes and types (there are few manufacturers nowadays however older types of switches are still referred to as “mechanical” so this still stands true).

          So what is the actual differences then? The one thing in common of all switches in this category is that they have great stability in x/y axis (with the z axis being the activation direction) if compared with the commonly used scissor switch. But even so there are other design types that uses dome switches that can have matching stability.
          The other thing in common is that the feedback when pressing a key differs to a collapsing dome switch – how they differ is make/type specific.

          Sorry for the ranting…

          1. I find it curious how the term “snob” and “fanboy” is being used for mechanical keyboards users and, well, the modded keyboard is an Apple one. Which presumably leads to the worst kind of snob and fanboy in the whole world.

            Also, feedback and interface is super important in any kind of machine input/output, which is why some people prefer ergonomic keyboards. Mechanical keyboards provides a better tactile feedback (which is why I assume I type better with mechanical ones) and the sound also helps in that matter – for instance, that’s why those laser keyboards had clicking sounds.

            In case anyone is interested: (from Techquickie)

          2. I think you’ll note the modified keyboard was even photographed connected to a Dell, though the user also has Apple stuff.

            The topic shifted a bit to the type of keys that use a buckling spring, Model M, Northgate and similar. My biggest complaint is people using a rather broad term – “mechanical key” as a short hand to mean only a very specific type of key mechanism, that somehow, no other key mechanism qualifies for the term, they are not mechanical keys, despite being mechanical keys, which seems to suggest some kind of kool-aid symptom. So the comparison to Apple fans does seem kind of apt.

          3. > “mechanical key” as a short hand to mean only a very specific type of key mechanism, that somehow, no other key mechanism qualifies for the term…

            That’s not true. Yes, Cherry MX switches are “mechanical”, because that’s a specific key mechanism. There are also a few Cherry clone switches out there that have the exact same mechanism. There’s also Buckling spring and beamspring keyboards, Alps switches (personal fav), and even torpre switches are considered ‘mechanical’, despite the fact they use a (capacitive) rubber dome for the actual switch contacts.

            The only way I’ve found to quantify the difference between mechanical and non-mechanical keyboards is the fact that non mechanical keyboards use a rubber dome – and only a rubber dome – for the key travel. Every other type of switch is then mechanical, pretty much flying in the face of your ‘very specific key mechanism’ assertion. As for the scissor switches in the Apple aluminum keyboard, that’s probably up to debate, but the general consensus is that they’re not mechanical.

            The ‘is this switch mechanical’ question is really just a matter of nomenclature. I can tell you alps and torpres are mechanical just as well as I can tell you a shitty Dell keyboard isn’t. I can also tell you that Venus and Jupiter are planets, and the moon isn’t. Pluto and the hundreds of exoplanets? ehhhh…. they’re not planets by the strictest definition, but maybe….

          4. I love people here. Not only you guys are smart, but are fast repliers (no sarcasm).

            Anyway, yes, I noticed he’s using the keyboard on a laptop (actually, that’s what really caught my attention).
            But yes, I do agree that “mechanical keyboard” is a broad term for a specific kind of hardware – and a rather improper use of the language, if we’re being picky because most of input methods are using mechanical components – but that’s how they are called. So here I also agree with Brian’s explanation and I also agree is a matter of nomenclature .

    1. Many prefer shorter key strokes and don’t find it “horrid”. Personally typing on “mechanical”* keyboards are close to torture when it comes to effort and feel – that they tend to sound like a crazy woodpecker going wild on the keyboard isn’t too nice either.

      (* As JRDM correctly notes notebook type keyboards are mechanical too – using a scissor mechanism with collapsing switch)

      1. Many people prefer shorter key strokes because they don’t know mechanical keyboards. It’s a lot easier to like something when you don’t have parameters for comparison.
        I’m too young to have any contact to early IBM keyboards that didn’t use these crappy membranes and live in a place where technology took a lot of time to arrive, so it’s quite a miracle I know what is a mechanical keyboard and how great it is.
        And the majority of people here are technologically impaired if presented to anything that’s not absolutely mainstream.

        And technically speaking, pretty much anything that is used as an input method is mechanical – which we can exclude capacitive touchscreen – so even the cheap membrane keyboards are mechanical. So, rather than a proper definition, is a range of keyboards types.

    2. I’m curious how much typing the mechanical keyboard crowd has done on Apple keyboards. I did spend quite a bit of time on this keyboard, but are you really suggesting that I would have started out with a set of keyboards that I didn’t think were the most comfortable for me?

        1. I built the keyboard you’re discussing. It’s what I type on now (before that, it was just the stock Apple keyboard). Before that, it was the Apple laptop keyboard and/or a Dell laptop keyboard, with a Dell clone of the SK-6000 when I was at my desk. Before that, it was the SafeType and before that it was the Microsoft Natural. Before that, it was a crappy split keyboard from Dell that whetted my appetite for the more comfortable hand positions that ergonomic keyboards offer.

          I’m old enough to remember (and have used in earnest) the very clicky IBM keyboards. When Das Keyboard came out, I decided to give that style of keypress another shot — but eventually concluded that it wasn’t for me. Its mechanical keys felt better than a lot of rubber dome keyboards, no question… but not so much better that I stopped wanting to go back to the SafeType I was using at the time. The Apple keyboard impressed me because after a week using it, I brought in my SK-6000 to replace it — only to find (to my complete surprise and slight horror) that I preferred the Apple and couldn’t conceive of going back. That was the impetus for splitting the Apple keyboard.

  8. What I miss in “ergonomic” keyboards are cursor keys, that are on the same level as the shift-key, and not space as it is common.
    Combined with textinput that moves dependent on shift alt and controll for begin, end, next, line, word, sentence, … etc. … editing becomes much quicker.
    As far as I know, only Amiga keyboards have that feature.

    1. Tastes differ :) My ideal keyboard would have the standard inverted T layout but with the up arrow on the space bar row. Don’t tend to use the arrow keys too often though…

  9. Apple does use pretty ordinary USB keyboards, other than their completely non-ergonomic design, all form, no function, like most Apple stuff these days.

    But keep in mind, the key factor in RSI is “repetitive”… you’re always doing the same thing with your wrists (or whatever). It’s not necessarily that you’re hacking at a keyboard 10 or 15 hours a day … well, ok, if you’re a Mac user, maybe not so much “hacking” and maybe only 6-8 hours… got to take those Latte breaks and hit the Hipster clubs at night. But the thing is, you’re ONLY doing that with your wrists, you may well have RSI problems.

    I went through a few times when I was getting just that… serious pain in the wrists which could shoot up through the arms… not good. I was also doing CAD work all day, then doing photo, coding, other similar computer work all night. Bad plan.

    Today, no wrist pain, and that’s after burning out one only very slightly ergo-keyboard, onto another, and having a pretty crap keyboard at work. The key is varying the use of the wrist. Most mornings, I’m doing 1-1.5 hours in the gym. Most nights, I’m playing guitar for 1-2 hours. And ok, driving more than I ought to. Mixing it up, rather than limiting hours at the PC or getting all kinds of crazy ergo gear, had made all the difference.

    I don’t doubt that ergo keyboards and mice can help…. just that they’re trying to mitigate the problem. Mixing up the way you use that wrist can help eliminate the problem. Then again, I won’t get into the RSI I was starting to get in my shoulder, too much playing guitar in less than optimal seated position…

  10. I’ve never met a keyboard I couldn’t work on – might not be great – but to take ALL that time to build a custom made keyboard – I make way to much money doing my real job for any of that nonsense (has he REALLY tried several other erg keyboards before stating that only the mac keyboard is good enough for his sensibilities?).

    1. According to what I wrote in the article, I have in fact owned several ergonomic keyboards and found them lacking in one way or another. If you think working on interesting projects in your free time is “nonsense”, then you must have a fairly low opinion of about 2/3 of the projects featured on this site.

      1. Haha, totally agree with you there. I can’t believe how many comments on Hackaday say something like “why make this yourself? You could buy it or do without it.” because I wanted it to be exactly the way I wanted it, because I wanted to see if I could, because I wanted to know how it worked, and because would be boring.

    1. I prefer the no-nonsense short travel of the Apple keyboard keys, although I am aware of “mechanical key” keyboards and their variants. I wish that I liked the mechanical keys better, for precisely the reason you mention — it would have given me a huge head start in making a custom keyboard.

    2. That ErgoDox is interesting. I know a guy that’s designing an interface of some kind using Cherry MX switches, if it piques my interest, I might try something like that.

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