Hi, I'm jshufelt

Build #4: DZ60 1965

When I first saw the SA 1965 set, I fell in love with the colorway immediately - particularly the cream colored alphas and the old school orange. But something about the photo bothered me, and I couldn’t quite place it at first. Beatles? Fine. Les Paul back there in the corner? Check. Tweed amp? Sure. Keyboard case? Aluminum. Wait, what? There’s the problem. CNC milled aluminum is a few decades too early for the vibe this set intends to deliver. But what is the right backdrop for this set?

My first thought was a wooden case, to evoke the feeling of that old turntable your grandma used to use (arguably that was more 40’s and 50’s than 60’s, but just roll with me for a bit). Wood always brings warmth and a natural feel to the proceedings, whatever the proceedings are. Here, a more reddish wood would be just the thing to accent those orange caps.

But there’s something else. If you’ve ever played electric guitar or bass through an old tube amplifier, cranked up, then you can’t help but notice that warm orange glow radiating from the filaments. Vintage, nostalgia, whatever you want to call it - to me, that oversaturated tube glow means a good time. It seems to me that with underglow and the correct LEDs, we ought to be able bring that good time vibe to this board. And with the DZ60, we have the option of a brass plate, which is right on point for the colorway. Perfect!

In build #3, I learned that the non-standard layout bugged me, so for this one, we’re going back to the standard ANSI layout. That means a 2.25u Lshift, which for the DZ60 R2 means plate B. We’re also going to go back to 67g Zealios, after a couple of tries with the 62s - for the moment, that’s where my feelios live.

This build went pretty smoothly from stab mods through switch mounting to soldering, up until the point I did the per-key orange LEDs. I thought I had seated all of the LEDs in the switches, and so I tested the PCB, mounted the plate/PCB assembly in the case, and began installing keycaps, at which point I noticed the problem. One LED had slipped out of its notch in the switch, and was about 0.2" higher than it should have been, just enough to prevent the keycap from fitting properly. Unfortunately, at this stage of the build, there was no choice but to remove the plate/PCB from the board, desolder the LED, remount it, resolder, and remount the plate/PCB in the case. So it goes.

My first impressions were pretty positive - as I’ve noticed in my previous builds, those SA caps just yield a nice satisfying sound, and the look of this build is basically what I was after. But as I work with the board for a while, I notice some pinging. At first I wanted to blame the stabs, which are rapidly becoming my least favorite part of every build, until I realized that the sound could also be created with the alphas. Since it occurs on bottom-out, I assume it’s originating from the brass plate, and while I’m not certain that it isn’t switch spring noise, I would have thought that noise would be audible before bottom-out. So, time to explore case dampening.

A sorbothane interlude

Sorbothane! First time working with this material, and I’m a little unclear on exactly how to use it in a build, but as with all of my other builds so far, it’s about learning by doing. I begin by cutting a piece of cardboard in the shape and dimensions of the bottom of the wood case, to use as a template for cutting the sorbothane sheet. I originally thought I would use a drill to cut holes in the sheet for clearance for the PCB screw mounts, but due to the squishy plasticity of sorbothane, that was about as useful as a urinal in a convent. On to plan B: cut rectangular strips in from the edge to the screw mounts, and then cut enough of each strip away to leave room for the mount, manually putting the strip back in place, kind of like a black Mondrian jigsaw puzzle.
Not pretty, but maybe enough to get the job done?

As it turns out, not really, and I think that’s because I didn’t entirely understand the point of using sorbothane. If you read up on sorbothane, you find that successful installs in industrial machining applications and audio-sensitive environments revolve around allowing the sorbothane to make contact with the noise-making (vibrating) element and absorb its vibrations, essentially converting that mechanical energy to a very small amount of heat, rather than converting it to vibrations in the air.

My sorbothane sheets were 0.1" thick, but the distance from the bottom of this wooden case to the underside of the mounted PCB was roughly twice that, so no direct contact with the sorbothane was being made. If the handwaving analysis above is correct, this means that little mechanical energy from the switches/plate/PCB is being absorbed by the sheet, and hence very little sound is being attenuated. What to try now?

  • One strategy would be to try some other material. But I didn’t want to do that; sorbothane is dense, and a nice side effect of putting a sheet in the case is that the whole board now has a pleasant heft.
  • A second strategy would be to put in another layer of sorbothane, stacking until contact is made with the underside of the PCB. While this is doable, it will start to get expensive fairly rapidly.
  • A third option would be to cut small squares from the leftovers of the sheet I used for this build, and then put these little squares between the full sorbothane sheet at the bottom of the case and the PCB, with the idea of giving those noise-making vibrations a way to disperse through these squares into the sheet underneath.

I gave option #3 a go, and while the difference wasn’t huge, this did actually have some effect on the sound; while the pinging is still noticeable, I had to hold the board up to my ear while pressing keys to detect it clearly. More experimentation is needed, but I feel that there has to be a better way to deploy this material cost-effectively. I’m particularly intrigued by the idea of putting a laser-cut sheet of sorbothane between the
PCB and plate - again, if the analysis above pans out, then this should be a very effective way to squash the high-frequency vibrational transients (i.e., pings). Very interested to see where this IC/GB goes…

Lessons learned

  • Best practices: always double-check LED positioning before soldering!
  • I had DSA Penumbra on this board for a while before SA 1965 arrived, and once again, SA caps yield a much more satisfying sound than DSA to my ears. Give me the thunk.
  • The SA 1965 spacebar was slipping off of the stabilizer stems, but the solution turned out to be easy: place a tiny little square of scotch tape on the top of each stab stem, then push spacebar down into place. That little bit of tape provides enough material between the stab stem and the keycap to keep it firmly together.
  • Sorbothane needs more experimentation to determine how to best deploy it for sonic reduction.
  • I do like the additional weight that the sorbothane is adding. Heft is good.

And oh, yes, crank up your tubes.

Specifications

case: rosewood 60% case
PCB: DZ60 R2, brass Plate-B (2.25u Lshift)
LEDs: per-key orange
switches: R11 67g Zealios
switch lubing: N/A
layout: ANSI
keycaps: SA 1965
stabilizers: OEM
stabilizer mods: clipped and lubed with Permatex Dielectric Grease
case dampening: Sorbothane 0.1" sheet, 50 duro;
    1 full layer at base, 8 small squares between that layer and PCB
HxWxD (without caps): 1.25"x12"x4.5"
HxWxD (with caps): 2"x12"x4.5"
assembled weight (board only): 2.15 lbs
assembled weight (board + wrist rest): 2.90 lbs
5 Likes

I wonder what’ll be next. UT47? Minivan?

Can’t wait to find out :smile:

2 Likes

Glad you’re enjoying it. I’m having a good time going back through my notes and reconstructing the builds. Rest assured there will be more, although perhaps with a slight delay; doing a bit of retooling and workspace reorganization as we speak…

Great build write up! It’d be awesome to see more of these :slight_smile:

1 Like

Build #5: Preonic

I’ve fallen pretty hard into the mech keyboard gravity well, and once I decided I was willfully going to go past the event horizon on tooling and workspace organization, it was just a matter of time before the builds came to a brief pause and another round of workspace renovation ensued.

Now we’re talking!

To kick off work in the new space, I wanted to tackle an ortholinear board. I was fully expecting to dislike the completed result - I have decades of investment in muscle memory for staggered layout QWERTY, and while I don’t have formal touch typing training, my self-taught kind-of-like-touch-typing-but-with-extra-fails gets the job done. But all the same, the layout still intrigued me.

For this first foray into ortholinear, I picked up a Preonic kit. The Preonic seemed like a least-commitment approach to ortholinear, and the kit looked like a relatively straightforward build. In addition, after playing with the components a bit, I realized this would be a great testing ground for some sound dampening experiments.
The Preonic case from this kit was a thin aluminum case, which gave off a ringing sound when tapped with a knuckle. Whether typing on the complete build would yield any ringing sounds was an open question, but I wanted to know if we could nip those sounds in the bud before it even got to that point.

The first step in this Preonic build was installing eight brass spacers on the PCB, to allow it to sit above the bottom of the case, and provide mount points for flathead screws to attach through the case underside. The spacers were only very slightly wider than the diameter of the PCB holes, which made it a little tricky to install them so that they were vertical, instead of leaning slightly into the hole and slanting. Here’s a close-up of me getting it a little wrong on the first try (look at the brass spacer in the foreground).

Next up, the stabilizer - just a 2u Cherry stab for the space bar. The instructions indicated that this was optional, but I needed practice lubing stabs. This time around, I used Permatex Dielectric Grease on the plastic/metal contact points, but I used teflon grease on the plastic/plastic contacts. I didn’t like the teflon grease; it didn’t seem to do much in terms of eliminating the scratchy feel of this stab. I ended up redoing the stab lightly with SuperLube, which took care of the scratch.

Dampening between the plate and PCB

In Build #4, I mentioned my desire to try putting Sorbothane between the plate and PCB, as a way to significantly attenuate plate pinging. I haven’t found a good way to make fine, detailed, precise cuts in Sorbothane due to its stickiness and squishiness, but a decent pair of non-stick scissors at least allow for longer relatively straight cuts. So, if we can keep strips of Sorbothane thin enough, we could lay them on sections of the plate between screw holes, like this:

While that might absorb a modest amount of plate vibration, it would be ideal if the Sorbothane could make contact with PCB. With just this one strip, we don’t make contact at all. This side shot of the plate/PCB assembly shows the gap between the Sorbothane strips and the PCB:

What if we stack layers of Sorbothane here to force contact? Well, at least with the 50 duro 0.1" thick Sorbothane I was using, thickness matters. I tried a little crosshatch like your grandma’s apple pie, if grandma had been hitting the hooch pretty hard before rolling that dough…

…and while that was only a little thicker than the usual space between the plate and PCB, that was still more than enough to prevent the plate from seating properly. It probably could have been clamped down and soldered that way, and the solder joints might have held, but I didn’t want to risk it. So, I popped the plate off, and went back to just the single strips. For plate/sorbothane/PCB sandwiches, the 0.188" sheets that sometimes appear on Amazon might be a better choice, although I’m not sure whether that’s thin enough to avoid the same problem. Also worth reiterating that these were 50 duro sheets, which is the only duro rating I have experience with (but soon I will try a softer 30 duro, thanks to @manofinterests, and you can too if you hurry to the GB…)

Dampening between the PCB and case

Back to the case-dampening portion of the program. The height of the brass spacers for the PCB are only slightly thicker than 0.1", so dropping a rectangle of Sorbothane between the spacers seemed reasonable. I installed and soldered switches in the usual way, and after testing the switches, I seated the board in the case.
The PCB was definitely making contact with the Sorbothane - I was able to (carefully) invert the case and the Sorbothane’s stickiness held the plate/PCB assembly in place. Thumping the case with my knuckle as before, I received a much duller, bassy thump. It’s all about that bass.

In the event you were waiting to hear about my ascendance to the ortho promised land - well, you’re going to be waiting a while. Please make yourself comfortable. Of course I haven’t invested anything like the kind of time that would be necessary to learn this layout, so any commentary at this point has questionable utility at best. But, yes, it was painful :laughing:. I kind of want to turn the Preonic into a super-size macro pad, if one of my kids doesn’t beat me to it first.

Tried 65g Zealios in a build for the first time here, and they are almost a contradiction to my fingers - the tactile bump is there on every keypress, but somehow it is so shallow that I feel like I’m bottoming out on every keypress as well. Also not sure how I feel about XDA; going in, I would have thought I’d be more or less at home on this profile, but the lack of sculpting of any kind seems to be throwing me off a bit. Of course, that could just be because the I is where the O is supposed to be. Kill me now.

Finally, the sound is not bad on this board - not much in the way of high-frequency pinging, although if you hold the board to your ear and type, you can hear a pinging. But I’m not at all sure what I’m hearing is the board any more; it may well be the switch springs. Switch lubing, I hear your siren song. I know you await me.

Lessons learned

  • 0.031" solder is good for switch pads - 0.020" is good for LED pads. If you do LEDs, it’s worth having
    both on hand. I didn’t discuss this before, but yes.
  • Given that other people have had good results with teflon lube for plastic-to-plastic contact within stabilizers, I need to explore my poor result a bit further, most likely by trying again with a different stab.
  • At least for 50 duro Sorbothane, thickness matters - we want contact, but just enough to absorb vibration, and not so much that component fit starts to become compromised by that dense rubbery Sorbothane pushing back.
  • I like the sound change that Sorbothane dampening brings - lower pitched, and a bit more full bodied.
  • 65g Zealios might be the tactile switch for the linear lovers in your home. Can’t imagine this is a surprise to anyone here, but it’s always nice to confirm received wisdom.
  • Coming from staggered layouts, ortholinear requires commitment. It’s not you, babe, it’s me. No, don’t cry. Have an orange. Keeps the scurvy away.

Specifications

case: Preonic orange aluminum
PCB: Preonic R2
LEDs: per-key white
switches: R11 65g Zealios
switch lubing: N/A
layout: default Preonic
keycaps: XDA Canvas
stabilizer: OEM
stabilizer mods: clipped and lubed with SuperLube Synthetic Grease; silicone pads for band-aid mod
plate dampening: 0.1" 50 duro Sorbothane strips on plate between screw holes
case dampening: 0.1" 50 duro Sorbothane sheet in case
HxWxD (without caps): 0.69"x9.31"x4.19"
HxWxD (with caps): 1.0"x9.31"x4.19"
assembled weight: 1.38 lbs
7 Likes

Build #6: Phantom TKL

With five builds complete, and a few more essentially complete except for final decorative touches, I thought it was time to attempt something a bit more challenging, as well as put together what I’ve learned up to this point. Some goals going into the next project:

  • I’ve done a bunch of 60% builds and one ortho, so it seemed like time to try a larger board.
  • All of the PCBs I’ve used have had at least some of the components pre-soldered. How about a bare PCB?
  • Stabilizers remain a sore spot in my builds, particularly with respect to upstroke noise. It’s time to bring out bigger guns.
  • I’ve been avoiding getting into QMK, for no particularly good reason. Time to correct that.
  • Continue exploring Sorbothane treatments for sound dampening.
  • More switch lubing practice. (Wait, I hear you saying, you didn’t tell us about any switch lubing before! That’s true. I write up builds only when they are done - I felt that would be clearer than trying to follow a rolling narrative of all of the simultaneous projects going on. You’ll hear about my conversion to the world of switch lubing in later build logs, even though that experience actually happened prior to this build.)

Putting all of that together, I decided to attempt a Phantom TKL build. If my understanding is correct, this is a comparatively old PCB, with origins in a 2012 group buy and a lot of community activity on Phantom builds during that same year, but as of this writing, cases, plates and PCBs remain readily available. That could be good or bad, but since an evening of googling didn’t reveal any obvious non-starters for a Phantom, and there were good online resources documenting gotchas, I decided to go for it.

Switch prep

Back before I did my first build, I played with a bunch of switches in a switch tester, where I discovered that I’m a tactile switch guy, and of the switches I had available, Zealios were my fave. However, there were a couple of other switches that felt good on the tester. The MOD-L tactile has a 45g actuation force, which is also roughly the actuation force on a 62g Zealio (recall that Zealios are advertised by bottom-out weighting).
Because the Phantom PCB doesn’t have the holes for the plastic side pins on the MOD-Ls, the first step was to cut those pins off.

After that, on to switch lubing. 87 MOD-L Tactile switches, meet Tribosys 3204. I like to take my time with lubing, to make sure I’m applying the desired amount of lube in the intended places, but it still takes me longer than I feel it should. I would estimate around four minutes per switch on average, including disassembly, lubing, and reassembly. Midway through the lubing effort, I acquired an acrylic switch lubing plate to organize the lubing process.

I’d consider one of these switch lubing stations a worthwhile investment if you plan on doing more than one or two boards’ worth of lubing; being able to lube in an assembly line made the process more efficient. I can’t say that it made the process radically more efficient, though. I suppose practice makes perfect.

Stabilizer prep

This was my first time working with plate-mount stabilizers, and after a bit of fiddling to figure out how they actually mounted on the plate, ultimately they’re not that different in function or form from PCB-mount stabilizers, so disassembling, lubing, and reassembling goes pretty much the same way as it does for PCB-mount stabs. Up to this point, my standard stabilizer treatment has included clipping, lubing with SuperLube, and doing a “band-aid” mod with silicone pads instead of bandaids, and I could have just done those mods and stopped there.

However, I’ve had problems with upstroke stabilizer noise in other builds, and I wanted to directly address that issue in this build. @Walkerstop’s silencing mods - clipping all four slider stems and strategically inserting O-rings into the housings - looked like a novel and interesting approach to the issue. I have little to add to his video illustrating the mods (see the resources section at the end of this build log), other than encouraging you to have a good pair of tweezers on hand if you attempt it. And perhaps a magnifying lens if your eyes are bad like mine; those O-rings, and the space in which they fit, are tiny.

PCB prep

The Phantom PCB does not have pre-soldered diodes, so that’s the first step. We need one diode for each key we want to enable. Before I saw the PCB, I was worried that identifying the holes for the diodes would be difficult, but I needn’t have worried; the diode holes were marked with the same SW<num>:<num> label as the switch holes. So, the only remaining issue with diodes is to be sure they’re soldered in the right direction. Each diode has a black band on one end - that end needs to go through the square diode hole on the Phantom, and the other end through the round hole. Once this was done, I used an old crappy multimeter with a diode testing mode to verify the correct orientation for each diode. Note that switches SW4:3 and SW4:4 are upside down, so you’ll have to switch the multimeter probes for these two switches.

Because I’m me, I added diodes to the five “extra” keys the Phantom offers, between the arrow cluster and the
2x3 insert cluster. I thought enabling these keys might be an interesting test case for my first foray into QMK.
Note that the photo above shows the PCB before those last five diodes were soldered into place.

Next up: soldering the Teensy board to the Phantom PCB. Before doing anything else, I plugged the Teensy into the PC to verify that a light on the Teensy was blinking on and off for a 1 second cycle, indicating that the board is functional. Next, I had to remove the spacers from the Teensy board. I ended up doing that with a very small flathead screwdriver to gently pry the spacers away from the board, using the screwdriver at several different locations on the spacer to distribute the force evenly. Next, I had to solder pins onto the Teensy board at locations D4, D5, and E6, and as recommended, leads clipped from diodes serve adequately as pins for the Teensy. Soldering these pins onto the Teensy would be a three-handed job, unless you still have the protective foam that came with the Teensy, in which case you can seat the Teensy and the pins in the foam to hold everything stable while you solder the pins. This worked well. It’s worth seating the Teensy on the board at this point, to be sure all of the pins are going through the holes.

Now, before soldering, with the Teensy seated, you need to clip all of the pins so that they are flush with the Phantom PCB surface, so that you can get the solder joints as flat as possible. This is necessary because the switches for four keys are seated in close proximity to the Teensy, and if these solder joints are not flush with the board, they have the potential to push the switches for those four keys out of alignment. Flush cutters are essential for this task.

With all of the Teensy pins flush cut, it remained to solder the Teensy onto the Phantom PCB. My solder joints weren’t perfectly flat, but a quick switch mounting test looked OK, so I decided to proceed.

Finally, the last step for PCB prep involved soldering resistors and LEDs for the Caps Lock and Scroll Lock keys. The case for this build was a Filco-style case, with light cutouts below the scroll lock key. The LEDs I had were rated at 3V 20mA, so (5V-3V)/20mA implied a 100-ohm resistor rating, but they were also high-brightness LEDs. I was worried that at max current, this type of LED would be far too bright for use as indicator lights. To guard against that, I used a couple of 220-ohm resistors. Aside from that, the only other issue is that the LEDs needed to be mounted on spacers, but that’s not a big deal.

After soldering, a quick tweezer test confirmed that the indicator lights were working, albeit still quite bright.

QMK

The QMK documentation is pretty reasonable, and I didn’t run into any trouble installing MSYS2 on Windows or using git to get the latest QMK code. Remember those extra five diodes I added to the PCB? Those additions meant I had to create a new layout (description of the physical key layout) for this 92-key Phantom, but that turned out to only involve editing a couple of files (these changes are now in the qmk_firmware repo on GitHub). After doing that, the process of compiling a default keymap is just a matter of running the util/new_keymap script, using make to build the firmware, and then flashing the resulting hex file to the Teensy with QMK Toolbox.

It took me a while to work through all of this the first time, but there weren’t really any problems. It was quite satisfying to flash the Teensy, fire up a keyboard tester, grab a pair of tweezers to test switch points, and find that I had a fully functional PCB and controller. Sweetness!

I’m in the process of going deeper with QMK, and I’m working on a unified keymap for all of my boards using the userspace support - but we’ll save that discussion for another time. In retrospect, I should have started poking around QMK much sooner. There is a lot of great stuff there, and it’s worth looking at all of the keymaps and features other people have contributed.

PCB/plate dampening

Bring out your Sorbothane! Having tried 0.25" thick sheets as part of a PCB/Sorbo/plate sandwich, and finding that just too thick, I gave it another go with a 0.188" sheet, cutting in into 1/4" or 1/8" wide strips and laying these pieces on the wider parts of the bottom of the plate.

Unfortunately, this was also too thick; I wasn’t comfortable with the pressure that was going to be necessary to get the sandwich soldered together. My janky solution was to use scissors to shave roughly a fifth of each strip away. This was anything but a precision job, but close enough to get some strips that were making contact with both the PCB and the plate in a more gentle fashion.

This really made a difference - before the Sorbo sandwich, I could hold the plate/PCB assembly and get noticeable plate ping by just tapping the plate with my knuckle. Afterwards, a nice dull bass thunk.

Switch mounting and soldering

Not much to say here - for better or worse, this part of a build is becoming relatively routine.

It was around here, nearing the end of the build (or so I thought at the time), that I realized I’m an idiot. The 92 key firmware and plate support is interesting, but it would be a lot more interesting if the case top actually supported it. Sigh. I guess I have an excuse to go see about machining aluminum now. In the meantime, at least we all know those PHANTOM keys (ha, see what I did there) would work.

Final assembly: case dampening and a custom USB port

This ended up being the longest part of the entire build, due to my dissatisfaction with the way the Phantom was going to connect to a computer. You may have noticed from earlier photographs that the Teensy has a mini USB port, aimed horizontally across the PCB. The Tex TKL case has an opening where a port would go, but there is no mounting of any kind to hold a USB plug or connector housing - so, you’re meant to plug a USB cable into the Teensy and screw the case together with a cable dangling out of the hole in the back of the case. Having a cable dangling out of an open hole triggers my OCD - I want a female port there, like every other keyboard I’ve built so far.

So what can be done about it? I thought I would get a short male-to-female USB extension, say 6", plug the male end into the Teensy, and then see how to make the female end of the cable fit nicely into the case opening. I didn’t have a clear idea exactly how I was going to make it “fit nicely”, but I assumed some idea would present itself once the cable arrived and I could directly evaluate cable mounting and placement.

The first problem was apparent immediately. The hard plastic housing for the female end of the cable was too big to allow for clean positioning in the case opening, so I had to spend some time gently filing down the plastic until I had created a “shelf” on the housing, allowing the housing to fit flush with the case opening. This was trial-and-error with a needle file, and it took a while to get enough material filed off of the cable housing. Even then, I still hadn’t solved how to mount the filed housing into a stable position.

It was at this point that the next two problems presented themselves. First, plugging the male end of the cable into the Teensy and trying to manually align the PCB with the case revealed that the the male end of the cable was just a bit too thick for the PCB to sit cleanly atop the case bottom. Back to the needle file. Second, and more problematic: the 6" cable was just too long to fit comfortably in the narrow recessed area in the back of the case between the Teensy and the case opening once the PCB/plate was put in place. Sigh. Time to level up to cable splicing.

Fortunately, there are any number of guides on splicing USB cables. I was able to cut out a couple of inches of excess cable, strip the outer casing and the ends of the four wires inside the cables, put heat shrink tubing around each of the four wire ends and one larger one around the whole wire, splice the internal wires (color coded, thankfully), solder them together, slide shrink tubing into place over the solder joints, and use a heat gun to shrink the tubing into place. I mismeasured the length of the outer shrink tubing, so I ended up using a bit of electrical tape on either side of the outer shrink tubing to make sure no wire was exposed. Definitely not the prettiest work I’ve ever done, but I ended up with a working ~4" USB extension, which fit just about right in the available space.

Now - how to provide a more permanent fixture for that pesky female USB port in the case opening? I eventually ran across a suggestion to use Sugru for fashioning housings, and after looking at the details, decided to give it a go. When a packet of Sugru is opened, you’ll find a small knob of moldable putty, which you can shape to your heart’s desire, as long as your heart’s desire can be realized in 30 minutes - the time you have available to shape it into the desired form before it begins a 24-hour curing process.

I positioned the female end of the USB cable in the case, and after kneading the Sugru, I manually fashioned a housing, making sure that it made good contact with the case, and making equally sure that it left a bit of vertical clearance for the PCB. 24 hours later, I had a hard silicone miniUSB housing, and, if not exactly a work of sculptural beauty (OK, it’s an ugly knob), at least it’s acceptably solid and stable. Phew.

For the base of the case, to get more sound dampening, I cut a sheet of 0.1" Sorbothane, with cutouts for the Teensy, the cable, and the Sugru plug.

From here, the rest was routine - screw the two halves of the case together and put in keycaps. I’ve got a keyboard! And I can flash new stuff to it! (Note: since the Teensy is now buried inside the case, you won’t be able to get to the reset button to put it in bootloader mode. Shift-shift-pause is the droid you’re looking for.) The Sugru mold turned out OK, too.

And, as a final bonus, the Phantom’s weight is mildly intimidating. Who doesn’t want intimidating heft in their lives? Not this guy.

Lessons learned

  • Sorbothane thickness matters for plate/PCB application. It’s going to be really nice when this parameter is dialed in; even the hack job treatment I applied was still a noticeable sound improvement.
  • Sorbothane is a comparatively expensive case dampening option, but every time I’ve used it, the result is really pleasant, both in sound elimination and added heft.
  • Keep the foam that ICs like the Teensy are shipped in - it’s reusable as a poor man’s mount if you need to do some detailed soldering work and a spare set of hands aren’t available to help out.
  • @Walkerstop is on to something with his stab mods - the fully clipped sliders and O-ring mods are working very well for me on this board. Almost no upstroke noise from any of the stabilized keys, and in fact it really is less upstroke noise than on the unstabilized keys. If this works for PCB-mount stabs, and I don’t know why it wouldn’t, then this is likely to become my standard approach going forward.
  • Lubed MOD-L Tactiles are nice enough, but the stems are more wobbly than those on Zealios, which I still prefer.
  • The barrier to entry for QMK work is not nearly as daunting as it originally seemed, thanks to good project documentation. I’m looking forward to more firmware hacking.
  • Remember those four keys right around the Teensy? The 4 and 5 keys are two of those keys, and what I first thought was stem wobble now looks more like I didn’t get some of the Teensy solder joints as flush as I thought I did - the keys are tilted slightly forward. The MOD-L stem wobble disguised this to some extent, but I suspect I’ll have to go back in and improve those joints.
  • Short cable splices require some care. It’s tough to get the right amount of wire stripped off of the ends of the cut cable, and you want the heat shrink tubing to be long enough to cover your splices, but far enough away from the soldering iron that you don’t prematurely shrink the tubing. I erred too far towards the former problem.
  • Sugru works for fashioning plugs, and so far, the plug seems to be stable when I remove and insert the USB cable. If I were to do it again, I’d spend a bit more time using a straightedge to square off the shape, and even then, if you want the inside of your builds to look as presentable as the outside, this mod is likely not for you.
  • Wear gloves when working with Sugru - it stains the hands, and removing the residue is somewhat difficult. The only suggestion which worked for me at all - rub the stained areas with dry toilet paper(!?). Wasn’t perfect, but was noticeably better than various cleaning agents.

Build resources

I found the following resources helpful for this build (and others), and this build log seems like as good a place as any to give credit where credit is due, when I was able to determine who put up the resource. Also, if one of the unattributed things is yours and I missed you, let me know and I’ll fix it. You deserve the props.

Specifications

case: Tex TKL aluminum (silver)
case mods: spliced USB extension with filed plugs and Sugru fixture
case dampening: sheet of 0.1" 40 Duro Sorbothane, with cutouts for USB cable and Teensy
PCB: Phantom Dual Layer TKL w/ Teensy 2.0 controller
plate: Phantom TKL Anodized Aluminum (silver)
LEDs: Filco-style caps lock & scroll lock: 3mm T1 white (3V, 20mA) w/ 220-ohm resistors
switches: MOD-L Tactile
switch lubing: Tribosys 3204
layout: TKL ANSI (+ the "Phantom 5")
keycaps: SA Foundation (Maxkey)
stabilizer: Cherry plate mount
stabilizer mods: clipped (all four legs); lubed housing, sliders, & wire ends with SuperLube; bandaid-style mod with silicone pads; O-ring upstroke silencing
plate/PCB dampening: 1/4" and 1/8" strips of 0.188" 30 Duro Sorbothane shaved to approx 0.15" thickness
HxWxD (without feet or caps): 0.88" x 14.13" x 5.56"
HxWxD (without caps): 1.25" x 14.13" x 5.56"
HxWxD: 1.75" x 14.13" x 5.56"
assembled weight: 3.69 lbs
6 Likes

Another great build log!

The pictures do a great job illustrating the text. How are you liking the board overall? It seems like a really solid build all around. :slight_smile:

1 Like

Thanks! Overall, pretty happy with it, if for no other reason than I feel like I’m making steady progress towards endgame. At the moment, it’s in rotation with the 67g Zealio Tada (build #1) for daily driving. Will that remain the case? Not sure. The two things I was most happy about with the Phantom build were the lubed switches and the @Walkerstop style stab mods - and the Tada benefits from neither treatment at the moment.

Actually, if I really am getting any better at builds, it probably won’t be the case, because my build backlog is embarrassingly long at the moment, so new daily drivers should be on the horizon, right? I hope the Keebtalk servers have ample storage for build log photos…

2 Likes

Love your builds :slight_smile:

1 Like

Thank you!

This is a really nice build log… quality pictures, attention to detail, lots of information. I like that you addressed dampening the plate, most people don’t do that. I did something kind of similar on my recent 8x build by gluing silicone foam to the backside of the plate using 3mm thick silicone foam, which I think only just barely touches the PCB and maybe not in every spot. but I thin it still helped. Since the 1/8" would be about 3.175 I wonder if that would work better for that purpose?
This is what I did, I think it’s pretty similar:


Also glad the stabilizer mod worked out for you, as far as I know the problem with that mod on PCB mounted stabs is that the slightly different geometry with PCB mount stabs means that if you do this mod, when you pull the keycaps off, you can accidentally pull the slider right out of the stab housing. I didn’t try it myself yet, but this was reported by others who tried it on PCB mount stabs, and when I look at a PCB mount stab and a plate mount stab side by side I can kind of see why that would happen. I will probably still try it at some point just to confirm the issue.

2 Likes

Thanks! Really enjoying all of your recent efforts on switch composition, stabs, lubing - great work. It’s motivating me to dig deeper on my builds.

Speaking of attention to detail, nice work covering all of the plate in the photo above. I wanted to do that with the sorbo, but shaving it to a more appropriate thickness sapped my will to live. At least for sorbo, I wanted something thicker than 1/8" (see analysis here). If that analysis holds, and if it holds for a different material like silicone foam, then 4mm thick strips would be in the sweet spot, and it looks that thickness is available. Any idea about the duro rating of that foam?

Also, thanks for the heads up on issues with the stab mod on PCB mount stabs - this is quite timely information, as I was planning to try that in the next week or so. I assume it’s the clipping of all four legs on the slider that creates the issue?

Sorbothane thicker than 1/8" will be available in R2 :wink:

1 Like

Oooh, you’re making my day.

Geek “arts-and-crafts” (prologue, builds #7-10)

Have you ever wanted to do a build just to see how a keyboard would look in real life?

Usually, I’m building because I’m trying to improve my build skills, or evaluate parts and materials, or try new build approaches, or even all of these at once. Sure, I want the result to look nice, and I do think about the case and the keycaps; finishes, profiles, and colorways are all important. But for the builds I’ve done so far, the primary foci of my endgame quest have been sound and feel.

But this time around, a build was inspired not by the clacks and thocks, nor by the bumps and feels, but by a set of decorative caps - in fact, four builds and four sets of decorative caps. Here are the spacebars from those sets, in a bit of what we call ‘foreshadowing’.

Normally, painted or artisan keycaps don’t get me excited. To my eye, thematic consistency often yields the most appealing results, and the wild deviations from theme that are typical of artisans just end up looking jarring and unappealing. More plainly: when you replace your Dolch escape cap with a neon goblin head, cheers to you, my friend, but I’m sitting this round out.

But there was something about these particular decorative sets that appealed to me. Simple color palettes, consistent styles? I’m in. I thought wooden cases would serve as great backdrops for these nature-themed
caps, and the neutral colors and crisp legends of DSA Otaku would provide alpha coverage without clashing with the decorations. The aggressively red modifiers of DSA Otaku weren’t going to work, but I thought (naively) this would be an easy problem to solve. I mean, it’s just color matching, right? Not a problem.

This is also what we call ‘foreshadowing’.

Meanwhile, at this point, I could have just gone ahead with ordering parts and materials, but I know what I’m about. There needed to be something about these builds that would get me closer to endgame. After some thought, it dawned on me. Four sets of Zilents, 65g vs 67g, unlubed vs lubed, direct comparison. I’ve wanted to try quiet switches for some time, and I’ve seen many mentions of Zilent “scratchiness”, and the beneficial effects of lubing, specifically in regards to these switches, so this project seemed like a great excuse to evaluate Zilents and lubing.

To at least pretend that this little geek arts-and-crafts project has any scientific purpose, I wanted to try to hold everything else constant: DZ60 PCBs, aluminum plates, GMK screw-in stabs, and wooden cases across all four builds, with no attempt to do any case dampening or plate/PCB dampening. The only variables would be switch weighting, presence/absence of lube, and, of course, the decorative keycap choices.

Stay tuned…

Build #7: "Blossom Pavilion"

Here’s a big pile of parts! Let’s get after it.

If you’ve read through all of the preceding build logs, you know the basic drill at this point, so let’s focus on teaching the old dog new tricks.

When I saw the decorative keycaps online, I thought a light pink color would work for the mods, playing off of the spring blossom accents. This is when I discovered that getting the exact color shade and profile you want is, sadly, infeasible. As best as I could tell, the options were these:

  • Design a set and run a group buy. You know, maybe someday? Today, however, is not that day.
  • Raid the kids’ college fund and commission a one-off custom set. Intriguing, but even in the context of this project, a little too far past the crazy bar.
  • Buy existing sets and mix and match caps. We have a winner!

Even so, it’s a winner by split decision - there is a relatively small set of available colors for PBT dye-sub 60% icon mods on PMK, and this more saturated pink was the best I could do. We’ll have to wait for the decorative caps to arrive, but this should work, right?

After trying more aggressive stabilizer lubing in previous builds, and running into problems with sticky stabilizers, I backed off to a slower paintbrush approach with more control. I also opted to do a bandaid-style mod. However, I don’t know about you, but the idea of a bandaid inside my keyboard triggers some kind of weird OCD thing. So, I used vinyl electrical tape instead. Here’s the tape placement for the backspace stabilizers:

And here’s what it looks like with the stabilizer mounted in place. You can see the tape underneath the stabilizer housing.

The DZ60 is known as a “swiss-cheese” PCB due to the number of mounting holes for all of the layout configurations it supports, so I like to make sure I’m putting the switches and stabilizers in the right place. Here, I used a ball-point pen to mark the PCB with the holes I needed to use for an ANSI layout; you can see the pen marks around left shift holes.

Putting the 65g Zilents in.

Do you have an OCD problem like me? Like, you know you’re not going to use backlighting, so there’s no reason to put LEDs in the board, but the board supports it, so, how can you just leave those holes empty? I should look into therapy sometime.

Getting the soldered PCB/plate sandwich into the case:

And, here we are, prior to the arrival of the decorative caps. It’s nice, and while the keys aren’t really silent, they are noticeably quieter and softer than anything I’ve built up to this point, with that nice Zeal tactility. I see the appeal; these are nice switches. I’d also say, however, that I think I get what people are talking about when they say the Zilents are scratchy. The sensation on the downstroke is that of rubbing two almost-smooth-but-not-quite-perfectly-smooth surfaces together, maybe like rubbing two flaps of packaging cardboard together? I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s bothersome, but I’d bet most people would notice it. The switch lubing experiment coming up in a couple of builds is going to be interesting.

OK, fast forward two months, and now I have the decorative caps. Remember that foreshadowing from the previous build log that introduced this little build series, where I showed you the lovely decorative spacebars?
Welcome to the world of group buys, where, every once in a while, things don’t go quite as planned. When I mounted the first decorative bar in place of the blank one, the spacebar stopped moving. Hmmm. After a few minutes of inspection, it became clear that the alignment of the spacebar’s mount was off. After a few more minutes, it became clear that all of the decorative spacebars were defective. Here, the four defective ones are closest to the camera, and a known good DSA spacebar is in the back.

Hard to see? A straight line makes it more obvious.

Sigh. I had the choice of returning the complete decorative sets for a full refund, or just getting a refund for the decorative caps. I chose the latter, as I felt I could still achieve “the look” I was after with the rest of the decorative sets. But that’s when I discovered the next problem, which was entirely my fault; doing color matching by online photos/renders is a really bad idea. What looked like pale shades of green and pink in the renders turned out to be much more saturated colors in real life, and the saturated colors clashed with the saturated pink mods I had in hand.

So, I paid my penance as one does in this hobby, by waiting for more packages. First, a set of color chips from PMK to determine a better match for the mods, and then new mod icon sets in (hopefully) more suitable colors.

Lessons learned

  • Vinyl electrical tape seems to ever so slightly soften the stabilizer clack, but I wouldn’t say it’s a dramatic difference.
  • Prefer the brush lubing approach on the housing, stems, and wires, even though it takes me quite a bit longer to do it this way; I feel I have more control over the amount of lube being applied.
  • Check for plate warping/bending early on in the build; there was a slight warp at the right CTRL corner of the plate, and trying to deal with it after all the switches were seated on the plate and PCB was a pain.
  • I didn’t want Sorbothane (or any other dampening material) to mask changes in noise between switches as we work through this build series, because, science. But the absence of heft is noticeable, particularly compared with build #4 which had a layer of Sorbothane.
  • Color match with plastic in hand!

Specifications

case: walnut 60%
case mods: N/A
PCB: DZ60 R2
plate: aluminum DZ60 Plate-B (2.25u left shift)
LEDs: white f1.8mm per-key
switches: R11 65g Zilents
switch lubing: N/A
layout: ANSI
keycaps:
- DSA Otaku "Katakana" alphas
- SP DSA sublimated 60% icon mods in green (VCC)
- DSA Landscape "Blossom Pavilion" set, 8x1u, 1x1.25u
stabilizers: GMK screw-in PCB mount
stabilizer mods: clipped, lubed with Permatex Dielectric Grease, "bandaid" mod with vinyl electrical tape
HxWxD (without caps): 1.25"x12"x4.5"
HxWxD: 1.5"x12"x4.5"
assembled weight: 1.41 lbs
3 Likes

I enjoyed reading all your building details :slight_smile: I like how detailed and focused on perfection they are !

Keep on building & sharing the fun with us :slight_smile:

1 Like

I appreciate the kind words, and I’m glad you’re enjoying the logs. Because I’ve learned so much from all of the online build logs, notes, and comments that others have shared, it seems only right to do what I can to share my learning experiences.

As for perfection, well, you might be reading the wrong build logs! :grinning: But it’s fun to try to learn something and get a little better with every build.

1 Like

Build #8: "Koi Pond"

I’ve been talking a pretty good game when it comes to the switch and lubing comparisons for this little build series, and keeping things controlled from build to build. But sometimes you just have to roll with the flow. I had originally planned to use vinyl electrical tape for the stabilizer band-aid mod on all four of these builds, but when I read about an alternative option, adhesive silicone pads, I couldn’t resist giving them a try.

The idea behind the stabilizer band-aid mod makes intuitive sense - absorb some of the stabilizer slider downstroke impact on the PCB with a layer of impact-absorbing material. It’s the choice of material that tweaks my sensibilities. For me, I just never liked the idea of putting bandaid fabric inside a keyboard. I thought there must be other more suitable options for absorbing mechanical impact. When @walkerstop mentioned these silicone pads, I picked up a package and resolved to give them a try in this build, with the conflicting ideas in my head that:

  • There wouldn’t be enough change in stabilizer behavior to affect comparisons across the “geek arts-and-crafts” builds
  • This will be much better than vinyl tape for absorbing impacts and reducing stabilizer noise.

Much better, but not noticeable. Sure!

Hard to beat peel-and-stick for ease of installation. The thickness of these pads is roughly 0.5mm, which wasn’t enough to noticeably affect keystroke travel, and the GMK stabilizer housings were able to clamp down well enough on the silicone. I do think it’s important to align the pads on the imaginary centerline running through the stabilizer mount holes, though, so that when the stabilizer housing is screwed into the PCB, it won’t be off-center relative to the silicone pad and then tilt to one side or the other.

The build proceeded from here in the usual way, and to match the “Koi Pond” decorative keycaps, I had originally chosen a light blue color for the icon mods.

And again, as with the previous build, when the decorative caps actually arrived, the colors were far more saturated than I had anticipated. Remember the color matching I had to do for the previous build? That process actually involved not only that build, but this one, and the next one. Batch mode for color chips and icon mod orders! I suppose I should be happy all of this only involved two shipments instead of six…

The feel of the 67g Zilents is similar to the 67g Zealios, as expected, and differs from the 65g Zilents in the same way that the 67g Zealios differ from the 65g Zealios - a more pronounced tactile bump. As with the previous build, these switches have the same almost-but-not-quite-smooth feeling, particularly on downstrokes. With that said, these really feel quite nice - the combination of relative quiet with tactile springiness makes for a smooth typing experience.

Lessons learned

  • Tried silicone pads as alternative to vinyl electrical tape or bandaids - and like them! Peel-and-stick beats cutting pieces of tape, and I think the feel is a bit more consistent.
  • Still a bit too much lube on one stab stem’s sides, ended up having to remove some excess lube with QTips - probably time to try the @TaehaTypes approach with teflon lube for plastic-on-plastic contact.
  • 67g Zilents feel really nice, but I get why some say these switches are loud. I’ll be diving into switch lubing in the next build.

Specifications

case: rosewood 60%
case mods: N/A
PCB: DZ60 R2
plate: aluminum DZ60 Plate-B (2.25u left shift)
LEDs: blue f1.8mm per-key
switches: R11 67g Zilents
switch lubing: N/A
layout: ANSI
keycaps:
- DSA Otaku "Hiragana" alphas
- SP DSA sublimated 60% icon mods in green (VAZ)
- DSA Landscape "Koi Pond" set, 8x1u, 1x1.25u
stabilizers: GMK screw-in PCB mount
stabilizer mods: clipped, lubed with Permatex Dielectric Grease, "bandaid" mod with adhesive silicone pad
HxWxD (without caps): 1.25"x12"x4.5"
HxWxD: 1.5"x12"x4.5"
assembled weight: 1.53 lbs
1 Like

Build #9: "Mountain View"

Before we get into this build, a quick reminder - these build logs are presented in the order that builds are completed. For this little mini-series of builds, progress was 99% complete, but delayed for a couple months, while I waited for various keycaps to arrive. That convention has some implications for the narrative; namely, that it’s possible that builds I’m writing about now (like this one) document observations which earlier builds appear to exploit (like Build #6, the Phantom TKL build). Specifically, if you’ve already read #6, then you know how this build log is going to end, when it comes to the topic of switch lubing.

Let’s lube

But if you don’t know how this build log is going to end, then let’s get into it. With this build, my primary goal was to get into switch lubing, and determine for myself whether it was worth it. There were a number of resources online for lubing stations, lubing technique, and lube choices, and while there were myriad ways to go about switch lubing, there was one common theme - get comfortable, because switch lubing is time consuming. And it’s tedious. Awesome!

Having never done this before, I tried to become informed, and after reading a couple of useful guides and surfing around, I came away with the following consistent themes:

  • When lubing tactile switches (as I was going to be doing here), don’t lube the side of the slider that has the arms with the bumps, unless you want to lose all of that tactility.
  • If not a full-fledged acrylic or 3D printed switch lubing station, then at least organize the lubing process to allow for assembly-line style lubing.
  • Whatever you do for your assembly-line lubing setup, don’t toss all the springs together - they will become tangled, and you will waste too much time gently untangling them.
  • Lube lightly at first - you can always add lube, but you can’t take it away.

As for choice of lube, I opted for Tribosys 3204. There seem to be a proliferation of lube options, but without having direct experience with any of them, 3204 seemed well-regarded and a reasonable choice for tactile switches.

This first time out, lubing all of the switches took me around five hours. That’s a long time, but I wanted to take my time; I was worried about overlubing the switches, and I was worried about accidentally applying lube to the tactile arms. Also, these are small surfaces to lube, and for this build, I didn’t have the help of any magnification. And, there are lots of those small surfaces - the two slider rails on the bottom housing, the base of the stem and the outside of the stem on the bottom housing, both ends of the spring (inside and out),
the three non-tactile sides of the slider, including the little notched bumps on two of those sides, and the slider peg that sits on the spring. By the end of the lubing process, I was feeling the eye strain.

Also, the MX switch top removal tool is kind of a hassle to use. I frequently found that I could get one side of the switch open easily enough with the tool, but then trying to open the opposite side would often cause the first side to snap back into place. Annoying. I finally got into a rhythm where this didn’t happen very often, but I didn’t find it pleasant to use this tool.

Pro tip: if you’re old and your eyes are getting worse (and perhaps even if they’re not), do yourself a favor and
get some kind of magnification setup. I got a magnifying lamp after this project, and it has really made a substantial difference in reducing eye strain, for not only switch lubing, but also switch and LED soldering. Your eyes will thank you! I went nuts and got a wide-angle Luxo with an astonishingly heavy base, but really, even a basic free-standing magnifying lamp would work.

First observation, after lubing the very first switch: wow, that pinging noise I was hearing was spring noise - and it’s gone. Completely.

Second observation, after playing with a single lubed and reassembled switch: oh, that’s smooth. Buttery smooth. And no more scratchy sensation on the downstroke.

At this point, I was pretty excited to get these into a board and try them out, but before that, I needed to mod my stabs. I tried Teflon lube initially for this build, but it wasn’t working for me - the lube tended to “powder off” from the application points, and even when it stayed in place, it wasn’t as smooth as the Permatex dielectric grease. Abandoning that, I switched over to SuperLube to give it a try, and found that while SuperLube isn’t dramatically different from Permatex in consistency, it seemed just a tiny bit less viscous. Because of that, I felt I had better control in the application of the lube to the stabs.

Onward. With stabs mounted and switches and LEDs soldered, it was time to put the caps on. As with the previous two builds, I had already pre-selected a color for the icon mods.

And as with the previous two builds, when the decorative caps arrived, it became clear that the initial icon mod color choice wasn’t the right one to pair with those caps. In this case, a saturated blue worked well with the mountain graphics on the decorative caps.

I like the 67g Zealios on good old Build #1, but these lubed 65g Zilents are nice and certainly competitive as potential daily drivers for me. Super smooth and responsive, good tactility, and quite quiet; lubed Zilents would be a great choice for your shared office, if you’d prefer not to annoy your colleagues with your clacks. My only issue has nothing to do with the lubing, but the spring weight; I still find the 65g versions to be just a bit too light under the fingers. Based on this experience, I’m quite excited for the next and final build in the geek arts-and-crafts series - will lubed 67g Zilents provide the magic I seek?

Lessons learned

  • I was really hoping I wouldn’t get sucked into the world of switch lubing, but if this first experience is indicative, then there’s no getting around it - the difference between this build and the “Blossom Pavilion” build is non-negligible. Clear improvement in feel and sound. “Buttery” feel seems to be the right descriptor.
  • While I got by with a few small Akro-Mils bins to setup an assembly line, I suspect a switch mod station would be helpful to get a much faster lubing assembly line going (see Build #6 for the experience with an acrylic switch station!)
  • A single switch opening tool would be preferable to the MX top opening tool, at least without a switch mod station - I found that often, the side that I had just popped open would lock back into place when I popped the opposite side.
  • So far, I think I like SuperLube best for stabs - it seems just a bit thinner than the Permatex, and that’s making a difference for me during lube application.

Specifications

case: walnut 60%
case mods: N/A
PCB: DZ60 R2
plate: aluminum DZ60 Plate-B (2.25u left shift)
LEDs: white f1.8mm per-key
switches: R11 65g Zilents
switch lubing: Tribosys 3204
layout: ANSI
keycaps:
- DSA Otaku "Katakana" alphas
- SP DSA sublimated 60% icon mods in blue (BCT)
- DSA Landscape "Mountain View" set, 8x1u, 1x1.25u
stabilizers: GMK screw-in PCB mount
stabilizer mods: clipped, lubed with SuperLube, "bandaid" mod with adhesive silicone pads
HxWxD (without caps): 1.25"x12"x4.5"
HxWxD: 1.5"x12"x4.5"
assembled weight: 1.38 lbs