Why Make a Keyboard

26 Jan 2022

As documented here and here, I recently made a keyboard. This raises an obvious question; why bother? Instead of doing it yourself, you can easily buy a wide range of keyboards, often for less money and always for less effort. Of course, everyone who makes this odd choice will do so for different reasons, but here are mine.

One factor is that it allows you to get closer to what you want. I was after a split keyboard, and none of the off the shelf options seemed to be exactly what I was after. Add in that I wanted to try out full travel mechanical switches, and it narrows the choices even further.

However, that’s not sufficient justification on its own. The trade-off doesn’t make sense without the other, far more significant, term in the equation: it’s fun. I decided to build a keyboard for the building far more than for the keyboard.

My work is software development, as are many of my hobby projects. This has a lot going for it, but the results are by definition intangible. Moreover, it’s an inherently abstract endeavour. I wanted to try something more concrete, and with an end result I could hold.

I also wanted something a bit out of my comfort zone; while I’m familiar with digital electronics at a logical level, I’d not picked up a soldering iron in well over a decade (and even then I didn’t really know what I was doing). Learning to do this well was (and continues to be; I’m far from finished) a stimulating and rewarding challenge. To my surprise, I found it a very analogue experience, closer to painting than plug-and-play electronics. Perhaps not coincidentally, it’s incredibly absorbing — I found myself losing track of time.

Having finished the build, I’ve moved onto the software — both modifying the firmware, and modifying myself to learn to type on a very different layout. However, I’m already missing the hardware aspects. While reading around the custom keyboard community before starting this, I couldn’t understand how so many people ended up having half a dozen keyboards. Now I get it.

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