Building a Better Keyboard

In which I order a mechanical keyboard...

I've started noticing a bit of back pain recently and couldn't put my finger on the cause until I received an email talking about proper posture. I duly sorted out my desk so my work laptop is on a pile of books at the correct height. Then I realised I could not use the keyboard effectively any-more :/

The answer was obvious - order a new keyboard!

I spent quite a while looking around on Amazon at various gaming keyboards and they were looking pretty expensive. Also many of them were bulky and unlikely to work well at work. Thanks to the Hello Internet podcast I was aware of WASD Keyboards who, thankfully, despite their namesake make non-QWERTY keyboards too. They are also cheaper (thanks to the exchange rate) than the aforementioned gaming ones.

So Many Options

Besides making good quality keyboards WASD offer many customisation options on their standard keyboards including:

  • Full control of key colours through their V2 designer (included).
  • Full control of what is printed on the keys through template files (included).
  • Choice of Cherry MX keycaps ($5-15, I went for MX Browns).
  • Choice of sound dampeners ($25)

Choosing a Design

The mechanical keyboard subreddit has a few layouts to look at. I decided I wanted to go the Portal route and combined these similar concepts. However I was particularly enamoured with this colour scheme*:

This picture also made me think it might be a good idea to have multiple layouts on the keyboard using colour coded letters. All I had to do now was decide which keyboard layout I wanted to follow...

*I like my keyboards my men.

Choosing a Keyboard Layout

I had been playing around with a Dvorak layout on my Nexus 6 and knew it was fairly well respected. Following a brief conversation with some friends I ended up looking at Colemak and the WASD website pointed me in the direction of the Workman layout too.

Through my research I found out the following:

  • The QWERTY keyboard design is very old.1
  • The Dvorak keyboard is pretty old.2
  • Alternate layouts don't offer any increase in speed†.3
  • There are interesting ergonomic discussions still going on.

Based on all this I decided to go for Colemak (because of the recommendation) but with Workman as a second option (because it may be better ergonomically).

†If anything it slows you down initially though it can force you to learn to touch-type which is partly why I'm doing it.

The Final Design

Slaving away over Inkscape for a lunch break with the existing templates led to this design that I have now ordered. I have added a black background and coloured keys to give an impression of what it will look like:

We do what we must, because we can!

If you want to play around with this design and adapt it for your own purposes feel free‡.

I'll post pictures when it arrives!

Tom Out!

‡You can find a raw version at WASD keyboards. You can find a guide on using the files there too. I didn't create any of the original vectors images, image credits go to /u/LordMelchior, /u/LtFisticuffs, and Zeptozephyr on Deviantart.