Let It Begin! The Perfect Keyboard Shall Be Mine.

Okay, I am going to do it.  I am going to have a good solid costs-me-money go at making a mechanical keyboard with my preferred Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000-esque* layout using Cherry MX Blue switches.

Primary Goal: have (almost) the same keyboard layout as the MS Ergo 4000 with Cherry keys.  The vertical swell in the middle, as well as the horizontal spread, are to be mimicked as closely as possible.

Secondary goals:
-Serviceability.  I am an electronics tech. by training, and products that can’t be fixed strike me as dumb.  I could simplify this by potting the whole affair, but it’s hard to service that way!
-Spill tolerance.  I have spilled one drink on one keyboard, ever.  Apparently this is more of a problem for some people.  I witnessed a Logitech keyboard survive a full-on drenching (by a co-worker) due to the excellent drainage designed into the board.  This.

-Not straightening the visually-staggered rows – my elbows are wide enough the rows ARE straight to my fingers.  Straightening the rows would mean relearning a key layout I have been very happy with for years.  Also the letters would be at visually funky(er) angles, so no.
-The space bar is a challenge.  I don’t know that it has to retain the same shape but it would be aesthetically pleasing to me.  Getting the spring right may prove difficult.  Cross or bar seem to be the most common types of stabilizers.  I see that Unicomp does sell replacement space keys (bar stabilized) so that might be one way to go.  I also see a big shiny spot on my space bar, so i am not entirely sure I need a full-sized space BAR anyway.
-The zoom control between the banks of keys I can delete, having never once used it.  Installing a trackpoint-like device there would be an option, but my trackball is 0% a problem for me to use, even hanging out past the end of the ten-key.
-The back/forward keys below the space bar I will happily eliminate, having only ever cursed them as they fouled up my using the computer, until I pulled them off the keyboard and stuffed some foam in their holes
-I would like to retain use of the multimedia keys
-The My Favorites key might have to be deleted just because of its location, which works with me because I don’t recall ever having used this even once.
-Lose the F Lock key.  I hate this, and pull it off every keyboard.  Possibly run it out to a hidden microswitch somewhere on the off chance it gets toggled somehow and needs to be reset to normal F key mode.
-Lose the Insert key.  I hate this, and pull it off every keyboard.  Possibly use a double-wide (flipped tall) key for a larger Delete key, which gets a workout on my keyboards.
-Lose the top-right backspace key.  Also the equals and parintheses keys (over the tenkey area)  I never use these, and hate the top-right backspace key, and pull it off every keyboard.
-Run F1 without a keycap.  I almost never use F1, but when you need it you can’t go without!  When there is a keycap on my F1 key, I find this key being frequently struck by accident – I use F2 a lot in my work.
-I’m ambivalent about the caps/num lock LEDs, with regards to size, color and location.
-Backlighting: maybe.  If the donor board is backlit, probably mine will be too.  If it is, it will either be auto-dimming or have an analog (pot or slider) control for infinite variation of lighting intensity.  3 or 4 levels of brightness, and I’ve gone this far?  Not enough levels!
-Adding a USB port or hub would be cute, but it’s pretty far down the list.
-The wrist rests are perfect on the MS 4000 keyboard.  If I could keep these rests, that would count as a win but keeping the MS 4000 chassis may be a bridge too far.
-n-key rollover is not something I care about.  I MAY integrate diodes per switch but don’t hold your breath.  I use 4-key chords at most, and the MS 4000 suits me fine in this regard.
-It would be sweet to mimic the matrix and reuse the ms 4000 controller but we’ll see if that proves practicable.
-Ten key is a feature for me.  I could possibly make a TKL version if someone wanted to front me the cash for the service
-Possibly provide this as a service.  You give me keys and a keyboard, and I charge you a hundred-fifty bucks (or more?) for the conversion. Alternatively, I buy them where I can, and charge you whatever it costs.  This would probably run into the $250-300+ range.
-Maybe consider using different keys for the space bar.  E.g., reds or blacks on a brown keyboard, or greens/clears on a blue keyboard, etc.

I considered hacking an IBM M or Unicomp, for the ultimate keystroke feel.  But these look an awful lot like the steel plates are integral to the switches’ locations.  Good for durability, BAD for quick layout changes.  Also they are FLAT across their width and I prefer the central swell on the MS 4000 board.

The current leading candidate for hacking-up is the Rosewill RK-9100xR.  I like the laser-etched caps.  Backlighting is nice but not necessary for me, but red is miles better than frikken BLUE (srsly blue? WTH do they not use their keyboards in the dark ever?)   The RK-9000 is a close second, and this may come down to price.  I like that Corsair stabilizes more than just the space bar on the K70.

If I had a 3D printer that could print up to 21″ wide this would be waaaaaaay easier to make nicely finished.  I don’t.  Alternatives are making a biggish 3D printer (not bloody likely) or laying up fiberglass or epoxy forms.  Good thing I’m handy with fiberglass then eh?  Carbon fiber would look sweet but it is a raging BITCH to work with besides being more dangerous to the worker (me!) than plain ‘glass.

 *-esque because the layout has some flaws as detailed in the list, above.  Blue, because I keep reading how blues are intended for typists and I am one, as serious gaming on the work computer is . . . somewhat discouraged.

If you have a functional keyboard with Cherry MX blue switches, feel free to donate it to the cause!


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