Porting QMK To A Cheap Mechanical Keyboard

Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen an incredible number of DIY keyboard builds come our way. Some have had their switches nestled into laser-cut aluminum and others 3D printed plastic. They may be soldered together on a custom PCB, or meticulously hand-wired. But however they were built, they almost all shared one thing in common: they ran some variant of the open source QMK keyboard firmware.

But what if you just want to run an open firmware on the keyboard you picked up for $50 bucks on Amazon? That’s exactly where [Stephen Peery] found himself nine months ago with this DK63 gaming keyboard. Since so many of these small RGB LED mechanical keyboards are very similar to existing open source designs, he wondered what it would take to blow out the original firmware and replace it with a build of QMK.

While [Stephen] doesn’t have everything working 100% yet, he’s nearly reached the end of his epic reverse engineering journey. The first step was tearing apart the keyboard and identifying all the components it used, then pulling the original firmware out of the updater. From there, between Ghidra and Serial Wire Debug, he was able to figure out most of what the stock firmware was doing so he could replicate it in QMK.

According to his README, the RGB LEDs and Bluetooth functionality don’t currently work, but other than that it seems QMK is up and running. If you’re OK with those concessions, he has information on the page about flashing his build of QMK to the stock DK63 with the ST-Link V2 so you can give it a shot. Though you do so at your own risk; we wouldn’t recommend doing this on your only keyboard.

We’ve seen commercially manufactured keyboards running QMK before, but it usually involves completely replacing the original controller with new electronics. That [Stephen] got this all working on stock hardware so other owners can follow in his footsteps is really a considerable accomplishment.

[Thanks to Baldpower for the tip.]

40% Keyboard Build Is 100% Open Source

[Blake]’s interest in building keyboards happened naturally enough — he was looking for a new project to work on and fell into the treasure chest that is the mechanical keyboard community. It sounds like he hasn’t built anything but keyboards since then, and we can absolutely relate.

This tidy 40% ortholinear is [Blake]’s third build, not including macro keebs. It’s based on an open source case and plate from Thingiverse, and uses an Arduino Pro Micro running the popular QMK firmware to read input from 47 Gateron blues and a rotary encoder.

We particularly like the double rainbow ribbon cable wiring method [Blake] used to connect each row and column to the controller. It looks beautiful, yes, but it’s also a great way to maintain sanity while programming and troubleshooting.

Keyboard builds can look daunting, even at 40% of standard size. But as [Blake] discovered, there are some really good guides out there with fantastic tips for hand-wiring in small spaces. And now there is another well-written guide with clear pictures to point to.

Looking to split from the standard rectangle form factor but don’t know what to go with? Divine your next clacker with this split keyboard finder.

Thanks for the tip, [jrdsgl]!

Breakaway Keyboard PCB Makes Customization A Snap

Once upon a time, keyboards were something that you took with you from computer to computer, because most of them were built quite nicely. After a few dark decades of membrane keyboards being the norm, the rise of the mechanical keyboard community has shined a light on what is possible with open source designs. Anyone can join in, because quality clackers now exist on every level, whether you want to design the perfect split ortho with OLEDs, rotary encoders, and rear view mirrors, or just want to fork over some money and get to punching switches.

Break me off a piece of that candy bar keeb.

Building your own keyboard doesn’t have to be daunting. It can be as easy or as involved as you want. There’s still a fair amount of soldering simply because it’s a keyboard. But there are plenty of options if you don’t want to do a whole lot beyond soldering switches (or hot swap sockets!) and putting a case together.

Take for instance the JNAO (Just Need An Ortho) build that [Jared] just finished. It starts with a PCB and on-board controller, and the idea is to customize it from there. You’re left to 3D print, laser cut, or otherwise carve your own case and a plate to stabilize the key switches, and then get down to business deciding on switches and keycaps.

The interesting thing about the JNAO is the breakaway row of keys on the bottom. The standard grid is 12×5, but if you don’t need the dedicated number row along the top like [Jared], you’re not stuck with it. And you’re not stuck with the default layout, either. Flashing to a standard Planck layout didn’t go as easily as [Jared] might have liked, but we think he was wise to get the firmware squared away before ever turning on the soldering iron.

Don’t know what to do with such a small keyboard? They’re pretty much perfect for cyberdeck builds.

Vintage Keyboard Gets The QMK Treatment

While nobody could deny that computing technology has some a long way in the last few decades, there are many out there who believe peak keyboard was sometime before the turn of the new millennium. They prefer the look, feel, and especially the sounds, of those classic keyboards to what passes for an input device these days. So much so that it’s not uncommon to see one of these old mammoths get freshened up and pushed into service with a modern computer.

Which is exactly what [Juan Pablo Kutianski] has done with his Compaq MX-11800. This keyboard, which is actually a branded version of the Cherry G80-11800, really stands out in a crowd. With an integrated trackball and a two-row arrangement for the function keys, it’s not hard to see why he’d want to show it off. But while the hardware itself was solid, the features and capabilities of this old school keyboard left something to be desired.

The solution was to replace the keyboard’s original electronics with a Teensy++2.0 running the popular QMK firmware. This not only made the keyboard USB, but allowed [Juan] to tweak things such as the trackball sensitivity and add in support for layers and macros. All of which can be managed through VIA, a graphical configuration tool for QMK.

As we’ve seen in so many projects, the combination of QMK running on the Teensy is a powerful tool for getting the most out of your keyboard. Whether breathing new life into a vintage piece of hardware or creating something truly custom like our very own [Kristina Panos] recently did, it’s definitely something to keep in mind if you’re considering any keyboard hacking.

The ABCs Of Adding QMK To A WASD Keyboard

[Oleg] is a software engineer who appreciates a good keyboard, especially since coming over to the dark side of mechanical keebs. It’s true what they say — once you go clack, you never go back.

Anyway, before going full nerd with an ortholinear split ergo keyboard, [Oleg] had a nice little WASD with many upsides. Because the ErgoDox is oh so customizable, his use of the WASD had fallen by the wayside.

That’s because the ErgoDox can run QMK firmware, which allows the user to customize every key they see and add layers of functionality. Many people have converted all kinds of old keebs over to QMK by swapping out the native controller for a Teensy, and [Oleg] was sure it would work for the WASD.

[Oleg] got under the hood and found that the controller sits on a little removable board around the arrow keys and talks to the main PCB through two sets of double-row header pins. After some careful probing with a ‘scope, the controller board revealed its secrets and [Oleg] was able to set up a testing scheme to reverse engineer the keyboard matrix by connecting each row to an LED, and all the columns to ground. With next to no room for the Teensy, [Oleg] ended up strapping it to the back of the switch PCB and wiring it quite beautifully to the header pins.

With Teensy and QMK, it’s easy to make a keyboard any way you want, even if you’re all thumbs.

A Customizable Open Source Mechanical Numpad

Mechanical keyboards with reduced key counts are all the rage these days, but while those streamlined input devices might look cool on your desk, there are times when the traditional number pad or navigation keys are quite handy. Rather than just going without, [Mattia Dal Ben] decided to put together his own mechanical auxiliary input device for when the main board just isn’t cutting it.

[Mattia] is calling his creation the YamPAD, which stands for Yet Another Mechanical numPAD. One of the major goals for the project is to produce a design that’s easy for others to replicate and customize. His PCB has a socket designed to fit an Arduino Pro Micro, which combined with the QMK firmware, offers a wide array of configuration options. All that’s left is to add in the Cherry MX switches and some 1N4148 diodes.

But if you want to take things a little further, [Mattia] has that covered as well. The PCB design has provisions for RGB LED back-lighting should you find yourself in need of crunching some numbers in the dark. There’s even a spot for a 0.91″ OLED display if you really want to take things to the next level.

As of right now, the YamPAD is just a bare PCB, but [Mattia] is planning to design a 3D printed enclosure for it soon. The sketches he’s done so far depict a printed case which we think bears more than a passing resemblance to a Wii Fit Balance Board, but of course being a fully open source project, you’ll be free to design your own case based on the PCB’s dimensions. It would be interesting to see what other kind of customization the community might come up with once the design is finalized.

If you like the idea of the YamPAD, you might also want to check out the kbord we covered back in 2017. If you want to see the full keyboard done in this DIY open hardware style, there are already some choice entries into the field.

1970s Lab Equipment Turned Retro Pi Terminal

When it was released, the Beckman Model 421 CRT controller represented the latest and greatest in liquid chromatography technology. Its 12 inch screen would allow the operator to view critical information such as flow rate and concentration, and its integrated keyboard simplified system control. It made liquid chromatography faster and easier, allowing lab technicians to focus on analysis rather than the complexities of operating the equipment.

But none of that matters right now. What matters is that [Igor Afanasyev] found one of these gloriously vintage devices at a local swap meet and decided it deserved a second chance at life. With a Raspberry Pi and a surprising amount of support hardware, he was able to turn this roughly 40 year old piece of scientific equipment into a multipurpose device that does everything from classic gaming to multimedia playback. It’s got a few quirks, but overall this is a gadget that any hacker would love to have kicking around their modern-day lab.

[Igor] explains that the Model 412 is essentially just a dumb terminal with no internal logic, so in theory it should have been possible to just hang the thing on a serial port and be done with it. But unfortunately the display drive board was dead, so a full rebuild was in order. This meant that there’s little left of the original device other than the keyboard and the case itself, but since it isn’t exactly a “vintage computer” in the traditional sense, we think the purists will allow it.

For the display, [Igor] used an LCD he salvaged from an old digital picture frame. It was the right size to fit the opening, and thanks to an unpopulated VGA header on the board, wasn’t too difficult to get connected to the Pi with an HDMI adapter. He also added a hardware VGA scanline generator board so that no matter what the Pi shows it will have that classic old-school look; a fantastic detail we don’t usually see on builds like this.

The keyboard on the Model 412 was more of a control panel than a traditional input device, so not only does it have keycaps which say things like “FLOW RATE” and “WRITE TAPE”, but it has a fairly weird layout. After reverse engineering the somewhat unusual key matrix, he spun up a custom firmware for the Arduino Pro Micro using QMK which would let him use the board on the Pi as a standard USB input device. But rather than replace the keys, [Igor] created a little cheat-sheet overlay that he could put over the board to see what keys translate to which letters. It’s awkward for sure, but we really appreciate that he preserved the unique nature and look of the Model 412.

Like the Heathkit H19 that was brought back to life with an internal Raspberry Pi or the DEC VT100 with a BealeBone inside there’s something about the visual aesthetic and no-nonsense approach of these vintage terminals which continue to make them compelling into the 21st century.