I built another keyboard

1 Feb 2023

After almost a full year with my Ferris Sweep, I built another keyboard. Why? A split keyboard is great if you only work at your desk. If you move around with it on a laptop it slides a bit too much, the extra cable and setup can be annoying. Besides, I always used my split keyboards as if they were a single body anyway. Maybe one day when I have a larger desk and less of a need to move around with a laptop I will revisit using a split keyboard.


I wanted something very similar - but in a single body. I wanted a simple, clean design as similar to my Sweep as possible. I ended up coming across the Hummingbird keyboard and I absolutely loved the simplicity of having a single microcontroller and how the keyboard looked like a butterfly.

There was only one problem: it had 4 less keys than my already key-deprived Ferris. I needed to make some modifications to the layouts I was used to in order to fit everything on just 30 keys.

Previously I was using Kalih Choc Brown switches on which I tried multiple times to get used to home row mods via hold-tap. It always felt somewhat… Sluggish. The delay was annoying, even after moving the mods to the least used row below the home row. Switching to the new keyboard meant an opportunity to try another set of switches. I went for the Kalih Sunsets because they seemed interesting to me. I’m not quite sure why - but switching to them made home row mods feel normal. This meant that I was also able to switch away from Callum-style mods and free up a little bit of space for other keys.

Discovering that hold tap finally works for me also allowed me to tweak a final annoying feature of my previous layout: the function key layer. I never liked pressing two keys to activate that layer, nor having a layer just for the function keys. So this time, pressing 1 emits 1, while holding it emits F1. Additionally, F11 and F12 are triggered by ENTER and TAB respectively. This proved to be an extremely intuitive and easy to use layout.

One additional cool feature I added was allowing my space bar to turn into a tmux prefix on hold. This provides for an extremely intuitive consistency between leader commands in neovim and tmux commands. Tap for a neovim command, hold for a tmux command. This is the only “non-standard” thing in my layout at the moment, since I’ve made the decision to keep my layout as simple and versatile as possible rather than adding tons of custom combos/layers to make some commonly used shortcuts ever so slightly more convenient. I like the idea of least duplication as possible. Some people like to put some keys on many layers, for example both vim and number layers might have symbols /, %, etc.

Will it be my endgame? I’m not sure yet. The size is pretty much perfect for me - I am not getting anything smaller than the Hummingbird or bigger than the Sweep. I am also definitely never going back to normal keyboards - they actually hurt to use for extended periods of time now. Maybe with a nice 3D printed case this will prove to be all that I will ever need. It could be fun to go one step further and design my own PCB in the future - but maybe instead of building one for myself I can do it for friends and/or family :).