A Custom Keyboard At Maximum Effort

No one loves hacked keyboards more than Hackaday. We spend most of our workday pressing different combinations of the same 104 buttons. Investing time in that tool is time well spent. [Max] feels the same and wants some personality in his input device.

In the first of three videos, he steps us through the design and materials, starting with a layer to hold the keys. FR4 is the layer of fiberglass substrate used for most circuit boards. Protoboards with no copper are just bare FR4 with holes. Homemade CNC machines can glide through FR4, achieving clean lines, and the material comes in different mask colors so customizing an already custom piece is simple. We see a couple of useful online tools for making a homemade keyboard throughout the videos. The first is a keypad layout tool which allows you to start with popular configurations and tweak them to suit your weirdest desires. Missing finger? Forget one key column. Extra digit? Add a new key column. Huge hands? More spaces between the keys. [Max] copied the Iris keyboard design but named his Arke, after the fraternal sister to Iris which is fitting since his wrist rests are removable.

In the second video, we see how the case and a custom cable are designed. One of the most beautiful features of this build is the cable with 3D-printed boots that are sized to fit ordinary pin headers. The homemade keyboard that this article is being typed on just has a piece of yellow Cat5 between the halves. When the custom cable is assembled, we see a hack revealed by accident. Twelve wires for the cable are salvaged from some ribbon cable and by cutting the ribbon straight across, every scrap of wire is the same length. No more of those unruly wires at the end or that one short one that kinks all the others. There is also a cable boot design that didn’t make the final cut but featured some secure threaded ends that are still available for download.

Another bonus hack comes from the calipers used to break wires into subsections. Check out how to make your calipers run for years on a singe battery. Keyswitch wiring is explained in the final video, shown below, which is simple enough since it is a row-and-column arrangement. The third bonus hack is when we see that classic gray ribbon “stripped” by applying a hot iron to the tip. [Max], like others, has a video about making helping hands from coolant hoses, but here he chooses the more straightforward route of putting some gummy tack on the table and mashing the header into it. Like the shortcut with the keyboard layout design, an online tool generates the firmware.

When you are ready to make your own keyboard, you will be in good hands with time-tested methods or even 3D printing. If you like the regular design, you can also overhaul an old keyboard, or update a USB device to Bluetooth.

16 thoughts on “A Custom Keyboard At Maximum Effort

  1. Cool!

    I really need a back-lit keyboard to use in total darkness (except the light from the display). Does anybody know a cheap one that’s USB? Gamer boards are too expensive and too complex. I like the ones that have blue lights behind the keys. Red light is cool too. I found a multi-color LED string with remote control for $4.88 USD (new) from Walmart but it is way too bright and overkill. And it only illuminates the top of the keyboard and is visible from all angles. Defeats the purpose of low-light typing. The string is meant for your display too.

      1. Kron – Thanks dude! Explain, please, this back-light thing. What is it for? I assume its just for show while your gaming. But I’m looking for a more utilitarian function. I need for the back-light to shine THROUGH the key caps so I can see them in pitch black room conditions. So I can type my reports in the dark and stop pissing off my family and the cat. “Turn off that light! It’s 2AM darn it!” except its probably not darn it…

  2. “We spend most of our workday pressing different combinations of the same 104 buttons. Investing time in that tool is time well spent. ”

    Try a chorded keyboard. As for above try Corsair. You can adjust the brightness.

      1. +1
        Thanks for link. I recall the era when this first appeared played with a friend’s for a while and was interested in making a version with foot pedals for control and shift functions and as function keys too but, never got a RoundTuit whilst I seemed to adapt to qwerty well enough, great on a laptop not so good on tablet softkeys.

        Nowadays I feel like trying this Chorder style again with increased enthusiasm whilst trialing my own supplement formulations ostensibly to correct several mineral deficiencies and which seem to have offered some cognitive enhacements and noticeablely increased neuro-kinesthetic uptake. So will be looking for a commercial version or similar where I can change the key entries ah lab genetic engineering style. If anyone has two to sell in Australia ie. Left and right please feel free to message me anytime, use the quora msg link on my name link on this comment :-)

        For those not familiar this has a fair explanation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B39J8RpBLvw

    1. My current favorite chorded is the Frogpad. They were hard to acquire when I got mine a few years ago. The company has gone up and down a couple of times at least. Can’t say it isn’t a niche item…

        1. DecaTxt has 96 keystrokes printed on it with color coding so you can learn it without consulting instruction cards. Most keystrokes use only one or two fingers and it’s one-handed. Available on Amazon even though it says out of stock. Twiddler is another that has been around for years but the Bluetooth is 2.1.

  3. It’s a hack to use the cables out a ribbon cable? And to melt insulation to get to the wire inside?

    Hey look, I’m ‘hacking’ by using these labelled buttons to make characters appear on screen!

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