Mar 3 2010

Blank keycaps on my keyboard (stage 1)

As a long time fan of the daskeyboard and having been newly introduced to the Happy Hacking Keyboard (HHKB) yet having never owned either one, I thought it might be a nice idea to make my own. I have delayed posting this blog to enable me to spend around a month actually getting used to this new keyboard and the benefits that having no indication on the keys will actually provide.

I am happy to say that over the last month, I have been switching between this keyboard and my laptop keyboard. This was a pretty standard thing anyway but as this is now all blank, it was a change indeed. As background, I have been touch typing for around 8 years after progressing in a less than standard fashion. Normal hunt and peck to start with as always and then as I sped up, I forced myself to not look at the keys.

Traditionally, most people would either cover their hands or would still dip and look at the keyboard out of habit. Thankfully I have managed over the last 6 years to iron out my habits of looking at the keyboard so I’m fairly competent at typing. Sadly just not at spelling…but that’s another story.

One thing that this keyboard has taught me over the last month is that I already know exactly where all the keys are on the keyboard but that on the odd occasion when I miss-key or go for a rarely used key, I still look down. This is quite perplexing for me as I was wholeheartedly convinced that I was actually quite good at not needing to look. I seem to do it only for a split second but it is enough now to remind me that I still do it. I have since been forcing myself to go for the backspace key than looking down as I know where that one is without even having to think about it; then I simply gauge by the mistake as to where I need to nudge my fingers.

I have found that my typing speed and accuracy actually went down a fair amount over the first 2 weeks of using the keyboard and I was getting most of my passwords wrong. Thankfully though with another 2 weeks of perseverance, I have manged to get back up to my normal typing speed and I have only a small way left to go until I hit my old standard of mistake making. Sadly that is still yet to improve as fast as I was hoping.

The beauty is that moving back over to my laptop keyboard is actually MUCH easier. It really is a superb way to learn by actually working out your problems on the most difficult way you can come up with. Needless to say that it doesn’t really help switching keyboards at the best of times but this really is a challenge not for the faint of heart. I am happy to report that after a month of fairly frequent use though, I’m actually back to where I was before, this can only mean that improvement shall be made in later weeks/months.

Anyway, enough about the waffle, let’s talk about the build itself! I started out with a generic, bog standard UK 102 key PS2 keyboard that I bought on eBay a few months back. It’s black, normal high-profile keys and virtually the same as everyone’s first keyboard. As a twist from the HHKB I decided to go for the additional red Esc key and to also have my W, A, S & D keys in a metallic blue for when I’m gaming, and because it looks kinda geeky too.

I used a standard sheet of sand paper (120 grit) to actually sand the tops of each key one by one. Silly I know but I fancied doing a nice job of it. The keys currently have a semi-brushed look to them but I suspect that will fade over time and with use. They are all nice and smooth though, which is the feeling I was going for. Considering keyboards with heavy use tend to become smooth in groups and as this keyboard is destined for some very heavy use indeed, I thought it would be nice to start where you will inevitably end up.

It didn’t take too long to sand each key by hand but I did experiment with a polishing bit on my Dremel at one point with some less than beautiful results. Each key took about a minute of sanding to get the desired result but naturally, it wasn’t something you could do all in one go with that number of keys. I ended up sanding them in batches which worked rather well. For the coloured keys I went for some Humbrol Enamel paint but sadly the WASD keys have not quite come out as I had hoped. For the second round of tweaks I am going to use some acrylic paint which is much lighter and then varnish over the top of them for the extra protection. Anyway, here’s the picture below at the end of round one.

The nearly finished article

For the future I shall be monitoring the typing progression for myself, painting the WASD keys again with a lighter blue, swapping out the green LEDs for some nice blue ones and with a bit of luck, converting it all over to USB and even building in a USB hub too. More to follow after round 2.