I built my own keyboard

14 Jan 2023

After encountering early symptoms of RSI last year, I knew it was time to explore more ergonomic alternatives to my laptop’s keyboard.

I found the following variables could be adjusted to help:

Looking at programmable (to use Colemak instead of Qwerty) split keyboards, I found out about the existence of tiny 40% keyboards. No arrow keys, no function keys, just the bare minimum. When you need them they are still accessible, but hidden behind a ’layer'.

But those keyboards are a niche, and therefore companies that produce them tend to charge relatively high prices. I didn’t want to spend £250+ on a keyboard that might end up in the garage after 3 months.

So I decided to build it myself. Luckily, I didn’t need to do everything from scratch as there are plenty of tutorials online1 on each part of the process, including PCB designs2, types of switches, the micro-controllers needed and the firmware itself.

It was a fun and relatively straight-forward project. It has worked flawlessly for over 6 months now. It feels like I can rely on it. If it breaks at some point in the future, I will reuse the components that I can from the current build (e.g. the micro-controllers) and build a new (possibly slightly modified) version.

my keyboard

I chose the Colemak-DH layout which seemed like the best option for Ortho-linear keyboards. It took me about 2 months to adjust to feel comfortable, and now I can type about 75 wpm with ~98% accuracy (50 words, English 5k). While my typing peaks are not as high as before, I feel much more comfortable while typing now. My typing endurance, consistency, and accuracy have improved. I learned to value those over fast short-burst peaks.

Not having to move my hands away from the home row has also attribute to more comfort. Arrow keys are accessible without the need to break the flow of typing by moving the right hand away from the home row. Typing symbols is much easier and certainly more fun. There is a joy to using such a keyboard when you have gotten used to a sensible layout.

Coming up with a sensible layout that works for you can take months. There are trade-offs to each design, and what works for you might not work for someone else. Some time, a sprinkle of creativity, little bit of research 3, and you will eventually converge to find something that works. Forget about a perfect layout. I recommend you start with a sensible config that works for you. If you like mine, feel free to copy 4.