Arduino Keyboard is Gorgeous Inside and Out

While the vast majority of us are content to plod along with the squishy chiclet keyboards on our laptops, or the cheapest USB membrane keyboard we could find on Amazon, there’s a special breed out there who demand something more. To them, nothing beats a good old-fashioned mechanical keyboard, where each key-press sounds like a footfall of Zeus himself. They are truly the “Chad” of the input device world.

But what if even the most high end of mechanical keyboards doesn’t quench your thirst for spring-loaded perfection? In that case, the only thing left to do is design and build your own. [Matthew Cordier] recently unveiled the custom mechanical keyboard he’s been working on, and to say it’s an elegant piece of engineering is something of an understatement. It may even better inside than it does on the outside.

The keyboard, which he is calling z.48, is based around the Arduino Pro Micro running a firmware generated on kbfirmware.com, and features some absolutely fantastic hand-wiring. No PCBs here, just a rainbow assortment of wire and the patience of a Buddhist monk. The particularly attentive reader may notice that [Matthew] used his soldering iron to melt away the insulation on his wires where they meet up with the keys, giving the final wiring job a very clean look.

Speaking of the keys, they are Gateron switches with DSA Hana caps. If none of those words mean anything to you, don’t worry. We’re through the Looking Glass and into the world of the keyboard aficionado now.

Finally, the case itself is printed on a CR-10 with a 0.3 mm nozzle and 0.2 mm layers giving it a very fine finish. At 70% infill, we imagine it’s got a good deal of heft as well. [Matthew] mentions that a production case and a PCB are in the cards for the future as he hopes to do a small commercial run of these boards. In the meantime we can all bask in the glory of what passes for a prototype in his world.

We’ve seen some exceptionally impressive mechanical keyboards over the years, including the occasional oddity like the fully 3D printed one and even one that inexplicably moves around. But this build by [Matthew] has to be one of the most elegant we’ve ever come across.

[Thanks to DarkSim905 for the tip]

73 thoughts on “Arduino Keyboard is Gorgeous Inside and Out

  1. I just want another damn Cherry blue switch KB, I moved overseas and left it behind, between new kid every other year and job I never had the free income to replace it.
    Little too, perfect for going laptop mobile and jacking up the lappy to ergonomic viewing angle with a stand or stack of books. I would probably just go with minimal mini-KB optional BT or USB, maybe serial too, ’cause go nuts, and tack on a flip out four line LCD or e-ink display to talk to embedded stuff.
    As for the kids no worries I (and cheap w/free shipping China) now fund their mad hacking.

      1. Funny thing is I have been looking at mechanical KBs today since this make report, and popular opinion seems to say that the generic Cherry clones work pretty well and that one has the great blue clickers. I am open to giving the clone switches a shot if it saves me us$100.
        Now if I could get a good deal on a two tone grays for letters and sides, red backlight, non MSFT ‘win’ key(penguin is ok) and a red esc; swapped ctrl and caps would be nice too.
        This is why I am banned from any more mechanical watches or ever getting model railroad stuff.

          1. Well, okay, as long as they have Cherry blue switches.

            Teletype used to give away business card sized ASCII charts, made for the purpose of manually reading what’s on a punched paper tape. This was actually useful in some cases, like when you didn’t know which end of the tape was the beginning.

          2. Also, this is nothing new; legend has it that for teletype, the printer was developed first, and Baudot code was originally generated by five pushbuttons. This of course required training, but was still both easier to learn and faster to send than Morse.

    1. they are on another layer. you’ll press one of the flower-keys and some other key at the same time to get to those.

      (layers are like extra shifts or alt-gr keys that give you even more chars to type)

      1. At some point in the future, each key will have an electronic paper surface, and the legends will change according to context, i.e., as special keys are pressed. And some people will STILL buy keyboards without any legends at all.

      2. I know how android keyboards work, but those change the indications, this one would have you guess.
        But perhaps there are people that know all alt keys by heart? I somehow doubt it though
        Also when using an external keyboard android allows you to have more keys, so you could add a few common ones.

        1. i know what’s in my alternate layers by heart! with boards like this you manually set what’s in each layer, so you usually end up knowing what you set.

          although, The Community shares layouts and has recommendations for covering the use of a regular keyboard if you don’t want to.

          some people have completely legend-less keys too, which of course needs memorising. mine has legends but i basically never look at it, i’ll even look away to look at someone who’s talking, while still typing

          i don’t say this to brag or anything, just answering your doubt that people do that. i can’t touch type on my smartphone though! (but many blind people can, which is cool.) let’s try typing this without looking.. ok so i can kind of touch type on my phone but only thanks to autocorrect guessing correctly, which can so easily go wrong

    1. It’s affectionately known as “down the rabbit hole”. The draw is real.

      I started with a Unicomp (new production IBM Model M) 7 years ago. Then, over Christmas this past year, built an Iris with Gateron Greens. That’s when the snowball really started. I’ve now got the Unicomp, a 122 key terminal Model M, 3 Wyse boards for parts, the Iris, and two 40% boards on order. The best part? I can only type on one at a time! :P

  2. I’ve never even heard of a 40% keyboard before, but even with too much time wasted on Google, I still have no idea who could use these. Are there games that don’t use any numeric keys? Is one of the mystery keys a “figures” key? I mean, I haven’t seen a three-row keyboard since the Teletype model 32. https://i.ytimg.com/vi/KYl5UtcpUPk/maxresdefault.jpg

    I’d like to go one step beyond “Model M”, myself. My all-time favorite keyboard was the one used on the IBM 029. http://computermuseum.informatik.uni-stuttgart.de/dev/tmp/ibm029c_5.jpg

    This used really deeply dished keys (I get SO annoyed with flat “chicklet” keys) and about 1 mm of travel. Unsuspecting first-time users would recoil the first time they touched one because just he weight of your fingertips when feeling for the home keys would punch about six characters. They didn’t even need to have tactile feedback mechanisms because the you could hear and feel the card punch solenoids just fine without any such contrivances. Through your feet, even.

    Unfortunately, a real 029 keyboard would be useless because the key arrangement was unlike anything that came before or after. But I’d sure like to see a USB update of it. Hmm…

    1. Two years into the hobby, and I now use 40% keyboards almost exclusively.

      The numbers, as well as several other less used characters are hidden under meta keys; it’s actually easier to touch type numbers when you don’t have to deal with an extra staggered row.

      1. I couldn’t remember if the 029 had interlocked keys – it had an error light that would come on (and lock the keyboard) if you somehow hit an illegal code, so I thought maybe that was how they handled simultaneous multiple key presses. I DO remember that Teletype model 33 had an interlocked keyboard, which was cool – it actually helped with developing typing rhythm because as you went from one key to another, pushing the second key would push the first key back up.

        1. What I meant is, I can see the wear pattern on my keyboards, and the area I hit on the space key is no more than 1.5″ across, on a 4.5″ wide space bar. So 3″ of that bar is wasted space – I just never HIT that part of it. But I’m a touch typist, so of course, YMMV as well.

          1. Really, the draw is a small, quality mechanical keyboard that I can program to me liking.

            It’s got the characters we use most on the default layer, and all the rest relegated to function layers.

            This means that I have the functionality of a full board in a much more compact form factor. This means I can use my mouse easier as well, because my keyboard and my mouse are now arranged in a way where I can reach both while keeping my hands in front of my shoulders, as opposed to extended outward in a ‘V’ shape.

            Secondly, I don’t have to hunt around for symbols that are generally closer to weak fingers, because I can assign them closer to the center of the board, on a layer ( looking at you, box brackets). It’s also easier to touch type numbers if they’re just one row above home, instead of two.

            Which brings us to three, which is that I don’t have to extended too far off of home row ever.

            I own and use a few 40% keyboards.

            See: https://imgur.com/a/8d3RS

          2. Okay, cool. I guess now that I think about it, given the choice of a 40% keyboard and one with under-sized keys, if I valued desktop space that much, I might go with the 40%.

            I think where you’ve got the right shift key located would totally throw me, but it’s all about personal choices, isn’t it?

            Up above somewhere, I asked jokingly if this keyboard had a “figures” key like those on Baudot terminals like the Teletype 32. I guess it does, though!

    1. Of course, as long as there’s room. I’ve done this before, though I can’t remember why. It was just a matter of removing the original chip, then “deadbug” the replacement either at the same location or wherever is convenient. Even if it uses a chip-on-board epoxy blob, you can cut the traces going to that. You ARE stuck with whatever switch matrix the manufacturer chose, though, so if you wanted to add N-key rollover capability you’d have to do a lot of modding to the board.

      I’ve also done another trick, which worked very well: I wanted a foot pedal that would generate keyboard codes, for typing transcriptions of videos, to pause and resume playback. I picked up a $5 keyboard at Goodwill and cut out the part of the circuit board that had the chip and the USB cable connection. Then it was just a matter of determining which row and which column wire were needed to generate each code, which just took a few minutes. Much easier than putting together a 32U4 breakout.

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