Holy smokes, this stuff is getting better and better
Nice job and very detailed build man.
Holy smokes, this stuff is getting better and better
Thanks, buddy. I appreciate it. Having a great time trying to one-up myself.
Build #12: Red (Wedding) TADA
After a series of builds with different form factors and aesthetics, I felt it was time to return to the form factor that started it all for me: the TADA68. Why come back to a build that the community generally seems to view as low-to-mid-level? Good for its price point, but low-to-mid-level? Being a bit of a contrarian by nature, and knowing what I know now, I didn’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be possible to build a board, using the TADA aluminum case as a starting point, with top-tier sound and feel. At this point along my learning curve, “top-tier sound and feel” implied a few things:
- Clipped, lubed, bandaid modded, and upstroke-silenced stabs.
- Lubed switches.
- Sorbothane-dampened PCB/plate sandwich.
- Sorbothane-dampened case.
- High quality keycaps.
So we know about these things, right? Straightforward?
Of course the title of this build gives the color away, but Game of Thrones fans will notice the second reference. A dark reference. Without giving too much away, a pointed nod in the direction of betrayal. An ultimate, irretrievable loss of innocence.
“Whoa dude”, I hear you saying, “what the hell happened during this build?” OK, yeah, dial back the melodrama a bit. I didn’t get disemboweled, nor did I have to feed anyone their kids baked into a pie for sweet, sweet revenge. But make no mistake: hard lessons were learned.
It all started peacefully enough. After lubing a bunch of Zealios with 3204, it was time to mod some stabs.
Specifically, as mentioned above, let’s clip them, lube them with SuperLube, and do the @Walkerstop O-ring mod. Walker was kind enough to mention that there might be issues with that mod using PCB-mount stabs, but I wanted to give it a go anyway, as it’s been working well on my daily driver, build #11, which also had PCB-mount stabs.
Up until this point, I’ve also had pretty good luck with silicone pads for the “bandaid” mod. Here’s the pad placement for the backspace and enter key stabilizers.
One of my favorite mods, because it’s easy, cheap (if you do a lot of builds), and lends itself to immediate evaluation, is to put small squares of Sorbothane between the plate and PCB. For a standard 1.5mm thick plate, I’ve been finding that 4mm thick pieces of Sorbo make just enough contact between the plate and PCB to dampen keystroke noise, without applying so much pressure that fitment becomes an issue. Specifically, I’ve been finding that a few small Sorbothane pieces are enough to substantially reduce plate noise, and you can just tap the plate before and after placing the Sorbothane to hear a difference.
Because I was in the build groove, I neglected to get photos of the Sorbo placement before the plate was placed, but you can see one square on the plate strut between the backspace and enter stabs, here:
And, in this photo, you can see a couple more Sorbo squares, on the rows above and below the shift key
Pop quiz: looking at the photo above, what issue is going to arise later on? Do you see the problem? (Answers to come later. Hint: it’s not the Sorbothane.)
Onward. I’ve also been experimenting with using less Sorbothane in the case, both because I can stretch my Sorbothane supply further, and more importantly, because I’m not convinced that covering the entire base yields any perceptible improvement. Here’s the placement I used, with an eye towards avoiding direct contact with ICs, stabilizer screws, and the reset button on the PCB. Avoiding pressure on the reset button seems like a good idea, and in the previous build, I found that too much pressure on the clip end of a stabilizer mount can skew it to one side or the other, affecting stabilizer movement. As for the IC, I really don’t know if it matters or not, but why risk it if we don’t need to cover the entire base anyway?
After soldering and screwing the PCB/plate sandwich into the case, we have one more thing to address before putting on the keycaps. In this case, staying with the red theme, I wanted to use GMK Red Honey. But, the TADA PCB has north-facing switches, which means that R2, R3, and R4 keycaps can hit the switch housing, interfering with feel and sound. Fortunately, by the time I got around to this build, a solution had emerged; place washers around the switch stems on the affected rows to lift the keycap enough to keep it from impacting the housing on keypresses.
These washers are thin, so two washers are necessary on each switch stem. By way of illustration, the leftmost stem in this photo has two switch washers.
For affected keys with stabilizers, I felt it made sense to put two switch washers on the stabilizer stems as well.
And we’re done. And it’s a great board, right? Right??
I wanted to believe. But after testing and evaluation, there were numerous issues.
- Two in-switch LEDs in the number row are dead. They were originally functional, but no light now.
- The O-rings in the spacebar stabilizer housing were not moving smoothly, instead rubbing against the housing and impeding spacebar movement enough to be really annoying.
- Along similar lines, the enter key stabilizer is also sluggish; on visual inspection, it appears that one housing is ever so slightly tilted off vertical.
And, worst of all. Remember the pop quiz? Did you see it?
Answer: when the spacebar wasn’t being impeded by the O-ring, the spacebar stabilizer wire was hitting the plate - because there is no cutout! Maybe my problems with stabilizers are simple - I’m just not paying enough attention to stabilizer fit during the build, and that lack of attentiveness is coming back to bite me.
Dejected with the resulting board’s performance, I left it outside for two months. Maybe a dog will take care of it?
OK, no, I didn’t really leave it outside for the dogs. It did, however, take me two months to get back to this board for the inevitable rebuild. Yes, I have to desolder the whole thing to fix my issues. And before that, I have to remove all of those key washers. Tweezers once again prove themselves invaluable.
After getting the washers and keycaps removed, and unscrewing the PCB from the case, we’re ready to desolder. By the way, for those of you wondering what the Sorbothane looks like in the case after a few weeks of pressure from the PCB, here you go. FWIW, no residue on the PCB. It does require some gentle steady pressure to remove the PCB from the Sorbothane, but the Sorbothane will slowly peel away.
This sort of rebuild is exactly why you want a desoldering gun. This would have been fairly awful to do with a pump and wick, but with a desoldering gun, it was only mildly painful, even with all of those LEDs (I know, I don’t need them, they are nothing but pain. It’s taking time, but I’m coming around to that view). Finally, I got all the LEDs and switches out, unscrewed the stabs, and gently peeled away the plate from the Sorbo squares that were still holding it to the PCB. Now, we can get a good look at the spacebar stab hole, and the absence of the necessary cutout.
A few minutes of work with a needle file gives us what we need, and we don’t need much - maybe a millimeter of additional space is enough.
Next up, I removed the silicone pads I was using for the bandaid mod. These are 0.5mm thick pads, which I thought would be fine under compression when the stabilizers were screwed in, but I’ve been rethinking this recently - I now think that unless they’re cut to size and placed exactly centered under the stab stem, the stab housing can sit unevenly on the pad, leading to a very slight tilt which negatively affects keycap fit and stabilizer movement. So, I reverted back to a known working method; I placed electrical tape in the appropriate spot. You can see that below, along with the four little squares of Sorbothane that sit between the PCB and plate.
Next up, stabilizer upstroke treatment. At least with these GMK screw-in PCB mount stabs, it appears that the O-ring has enough freedom of movement that it can get caught in the nooks and crannies of the interior of the housing (interestingly enough, this hasn’t been an issue with the OEM PCB mount stabs I used in build #11 - I need to compare those housings with the GMK housings). So what to try next? Let’s give the Rama heatshrink treatment a go. Here we have 1.5mm heatshrink wire wrap, and as per Rama’s video, it’s cut into 6mm sections. The 6mm length appears to be important, from my experiments - too short, and you’ll have bare wire hitting the stab housing on the upstroke, and too long, and the heatshrink will create friction inside the stem housing where the stab wire goes.
After disassembling the stabs and cleaning away the SuperLube, I used a heat gun to apply the wire wrap. For this task, a QuadHands comes in, well, handy.
After putting the stabs back together, screwing them back into the PCB, and fitting the plate, this time I did what I should have done the first time: test fitment and sound carefully. And I’m glad I did, as I needed to go back with the needle file and take just a tiny bit more away from the plate. From there up to the switch washers, it was deja vu.
A word of caution to those of you considering using the north-facing key washers. They work, but they are so thin that it’s very easy to put 1 or 3 washers on a switch when you meant to place two. One isn’t enough to fully eliminate the cap impacts on the switch housing, and three washers occasionally generates noise of its own - I think because on the key upstroke, the top washer lifts away from the other two before landing on them again, creating a metallic click. I think this might happen occasionally with two washers, but I can’t think of a way to confirm that.
As a side note, I inadvertently discovered another problem with the initial build during this process - I ended up four washers short, which can be easily explained by forgetting to place them on the stabilizer stems for one key. Sigh. As with everything else in life, it really is all about attention to detail.
So, as you can imagine, I was happy when this board’s original betrayal gave way to a kind, loving relationship. All of the stabilized switches are quiet now, with minimal upstroke noise; lubed switches continue to be everything; and yeah, all of those LEDs work. This is the result I hoped to obtain on the first build attempt!
The north-facing washer issue is real. I think @pixelpusher was the first to document this, and I admit to some surprise at the pushback he initially received - once you actually test this yourself, I don’t see how one can fail to notice the difference. It’s not subtle. I think the north-facing washers on the market now go a long way towards resolving the issue, although they may not be a solution for everyone, since there will now be a slightly more metallic clack on the washer-treated keys. Something to keep in mind whenever north-facing PCBs and GMK caps are on the same build manifest.
If you are using these washers, take your time installing them. They’re tiny, and it’s hard to see (at least with my old eyes) whether I’ve placed one or two or three on a switch stem, and you really do want two.
With all of the high-tactility switches hitting the market, it has to be said: V1 Zealios still hit a lovely mid-tactility spot. With Tribosys 3204 (not on the bumpy legs!), these are really quite nice.
The Walker O-ring method has worked great for me with plate-mount stabs and with OEM PCB-mount stabs, but created problems with GMK screw-in PCB-mount stabs. I need to understand the internal geometry of the various stab housings better than I currently do, as I still prefer the O-rings for upstroke silencing.
The Rama heatshrink approach is not quite as effective at stab silencing as the O-ring approach, but it is an improvement nonetheless. There is a bit less key travel with this mod, but I’m not sure how much of that is actual reduced travel vs. the feel that the upstroke has with this mod, a more muted snap. Note that I applied lube to the exterior of the heatshrink as well as the wire.
When the silicone pad bandaid mod worked, I preferred it to tape. It might be worth looking for a thin silicone tape to get the feel that a silicone pad provides, without so much thickness.
And last but definitely not least, I’ve done enough builds by now that I really should have internalized this: TEST THE STAB FIT AND MOTION BEFORE SOLDERING. Mount them, seat switches, put keycaps on. Test. Test again. Is anything impacting the plate? Are the stab housings perpendicular to the PCB? Is the upstroke noise acceptable? Now is the time to fix all of these issues, not later after soldering.
But, if you have to rebuild it, then you have to rebuild it. And it won’t be the end of the world. Buck up!
Here, let’s get our new friend out of dog’s way.
case: TADA68 anodized aluminum (red) case dampening: 0.1" 40 Duro Sorbothane patches PCB/plate: TADA68 LEDs: red f1.8mm per-key switches: R11 67g Zealios switch lubing: Tribosys 3204 layout: TADA default keycaps: GMK Red Honey stabilizer: GMK screw-in PCB mount stabilizer mods: - Rama-style heat-shrink mod on wire-ends - clipped; lubed housing, sliders, & wire-ends with SuperLube - electrical tape bandaid mod plate/PCB dampening: - 4mm wide strips of 0.25" 50 Duro Sorbothane - strips placed sideways on wide plate struts HxWxD (without caps): 1.25"x12.25"x4.25" HxWxD: 1.63"x12.25"x4.25" assembled weight: 3.20 lb
Great write up as always. I need to try that stabilizer wrap trick! Also, those caps look great on the red tada case.
I know what you mean about testing stabilizers before soldering. I feel like 1/2 of my time building a new board is dealing with the damn stabilizers.
LOL, I concur! I spend an obnoxious amount of time getting the stabilizers just right on my builds nowadays too. It’s a pain in the ass, but definitely pays off in spades with the finished build to take the extra time testing the stabilizers fitment & function with caps on before soldering any switches!
Awesome write ups, thanks for putting the time in to do this! It’s really cool the way you’ve documented all your builds & what you’ve learned with each one on this thread. Definitely will serve as valuable information for a lot of people. Keep up the good work man!
Thanks man, I appreciate it. If not for others documenting their builds and methods, I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this in the first place, so it seems only fair to return the favor. I also enjoy spinning a good yarn…