Building keyboards. 1/n

My first time building a keyboard, I didn’t have a mental map of how a keyboard worked beyond “well it sends a signal and boom, things happen”.

I had been using a Corsair k60 mechanical keyboard for nearly decade, but for the most part I just enjoyed it and didn’t dig very deep into how things worked.

A corsair k60 with red, bumpy WASD and 123456 keys. The polished steel frame is beautiful and also very heavy and weapon-like.

Then, my beloved corsair stopped working. I was sad, but decided to take it as a sign that it was time to upgrade to something that wouldn’t make my wrists hurt every day.

I wanted an Ergodox-EZ. That didn’t work out, however: the total cost to bring it over to Uruguay would have been ~$800.

Ergodox-EZ -a split ergonomic keyboard. Picture from the Ergodox-EZ website.

I knew the Ergodox keyboard itself was open source, so I tried to figure out how to build one. I didn’t know the basic terminology and struggled to build a model of how it all fit together. I got stuck. Even trying to pick keycaps was a struggle; I didn’t know what type I needed, or which sites were reputable enough to buy from.

I gave up. I broke open the corsair and tried to repair it. For a week or so, it worked! Knowing its days were counted, I made a plan to get a custom keyboard.

My old corsair, showing the keyswitches (cherry mx red) after I opened it up to try to fix it.

Given that I was going to build a keyboard, I decided to explore. I almost got an Iris, but I got overwhelmed trying to choose between different plates and cases. To be honest I didn’t really get why it mattered which one I chose, and I didn’t know if one item was the full pack or just the individual piece. It was overwhelming, and I was feeling tired of looking around.

The Iris: a beautiful split keyboard from keeb.io

One day, as I browsed random reddit keyboard posts, I saw the Breeze. It was perfect.

I am really thankful to the afternoonlabs.com creator and to the community that formed around the Breeze. I didn’t need to know much because the site was designed with newbies in mind. For everything else, there was a small discord where everyone was lovely. I ordered all the components that same day, scared that they’d run out of PCBs.

The Breeze keyboard, from afternoonlabs.com. A stunning split keyboard that breaks the mold with arrow keys and the ability to get a macro-pad from the same PCB.

Two weeks later I had a soldering iron, solder, and some other bits and pieces. The keyboard components arrived from the USA through a courier service.

It was the start of a hobby that has given me many hours of peaceful soldering, practice, and less peaceful debugging.

https://twitter.com/rowasc/status/1370870714341933058?t=bEARs3m4RvCYlYQougKKlQ&s=19
My soldering iron, back in March 2021. I didn’t have much of a workspace for hobbies, so it’s placed in a random small table that I had. Behind it there is a lot of other stuff. A pretty dangerous setup, really.
The left side of the Breeze PCB, with cherry blue mx switches, an Elite-C micro, and a TRRS socket soldered on.
Coiled TRRS cable. I was shaping it and testing its resistance still.
Bags and bags of keycaps and keyswitches.
More keyswitches, cables (usb), and micros

After a couple of days of soldering, cursing, and feeling like I would never get it working, I had a functioning keyboard.

My beautiful breeze, on its very first day. Beach themed keycaps, coiled TRRS blue cable connecting each half, and a USB-C cable

The pretty unusual design of the Breeze, with one side having an extra 9 keys, made it a great first setup for someone who was trying a split keyboard for the first time.

By the end of my first build, I wondered why it had seemed so hard to get started.

All the pieces were really simple. It was just a matter of knowing what was what. I made mistakes, sure, but they were not a big deal. Everything worked.

Not having even a basic understanding of the hobbie’s ecosystem was also part of the issue. These days, I at least know what to search for.

Getting into the hobby made me a lot more aware of my own learning style and methods.

As simple of a build as it is, building the Breeze was hard because I didn’t know the community’s language, the MUST vs MAY rules of building a keyboard, what kind of mistakes you could get away with and which ones were fatal. It was hard because those were all just the very first steps towards being competent at something I had never done before.

The next keyboard would be handwired. A different way, a much more involved process, and yet… it was easier. I could learn more easily because I didn’t feel any anxiety. I didn’t wonder if I was going to fuck it up accidentally; I knew most everything could be fixed if I did fuck it up.


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