Building your own open source keyboard from scratch

Jesse Vincent - @obra

Like many hackers, I tend to type a lot. And I’m somewhat picky about my keyboards.

A few years ago, I started reading about the (incredibly sad) state of the art in ergonomic keyboards. Despite the fact that I’d never held a soldering iron, I somehow got it into my head that I should be able to make my own keyboard. Using a keyboard shell and plate designed by someone else, it took me a few weeks to solder together and debug my first working (and entirely open source) keyboard.

Since then, I’ve explored layout design, construction techniques, materials, microcontrollers and a variety of layouts. I’ve also done a fair job exploring the wide variety of ways you can screw up as you make a keyboard. (I've also gone on to start a keyboard company and run a successful Kickstarter for the Keyboardio Model 01)

This talk will cover:

The tiny bit of electronics knowledge you need in order to build a keyboard. The tools you need to build your first keyboard. The materials you’ll need to build your first keyboard (and where to get them.) How to design your own keyboard layout. How to design your own keyboard plate and shell. Options for turning your keyboard shell into something you can plunk some keys into. (I’ll talk about lasercutting and 3D printing. If there’s time, I might talk about resin casting and watercutting.) How to turn a shell, a bunch of keyswitches, a pile of diodes and a microcontroller into a working keyboard. Programming your keyboard’s microcontroller, so you can actually type on your keyboard. Debugging your keyboard. Most importantly, I’ll cover every mistake I can remember making as I hand-built my first few keyboards.