Ortholinear TKL design/build - my first!

Hey all,

After lots of thinking and not so much doing, I’m finally moving ahead with my first custom-designed, from-scratch keyboard build. I wanted to go with something familiar-yet-new, and actually useful day-to-day, so I’ve set out to replace the ANSI TKL on my home desk.

I’m a fan of vertical columns but wanted to keep the layout somewhat accessible to other people who might be using my desk as well, so I tried to keep the layout as ANSI-like as possible. After a few iterations, I ended up with this:

I ended up moving three keys (grey in the picture) - I think += will be fine, but I’m a little more nervous about the location of the braces for programming. Time will tell I suppose… One thought would be to use a space-cadet-style shift for the square braces, move the curlies onto a single key, and set the key on R5 back to Menu.

Thankfully that can all be changed later in software - what can’t be changed is the plate:

This is just the result of plugging the layout’s KLE data into the swillkb plate builder and adding some mounting holes. My plan for now is to get the plate cut in 1.5mm stainless steel and leave it at that… No case or PCB for now. I’m just going to use M4 screws secured with nuts to hold the plate above the desk, and hand-wire the matrix to a Teensy that will sit loose (!). This is probably not a long-term solution, but given that this is my first build I want to strip away extraneous aspects and put all of my focus into the fundamentals. Once I have a working keyboard I’ll think about a case…

I plan to order the plate from Sculpteo LaserGist Big Blue Saw but haven’t pulled the trigger yet, so if you see any rookie mistakes or other potential issues with it, please let me know…


Make sure to regenerate the plate using ai03’s builder, as it’s the much more accurate one. SwillKB has been known to make some rounding errors that cause some manus to screw up, and that doesn’t happen with ai03’s.

Otherwise, looking good! Make sure the Teensy has at least something to sit in - even if it’s just a cardboard coozie for it, you don’t want to worry about your wires.


Yea, layout design is difficult. A good layout will make use of easily accessible keycaps, but ortho really messes with that. I personally lean heavily towards larger modkeys. I think a sea of 1u keycaps is not a good solution. I will say, there is a surprising amount of interesting layout designs out there waiting to be discovered. I’ve somehow amassed 7 of them. Can’t wait to get some prototypes made and do some testing.

Here’s one of my more insane layout ideas. The Cyclone layout.

The concept behind it is to improve ergonomics by separating both alpha halves by 2 middle columns used for navigation. I haven’t tried it yet, but theoretically this arrow key design shouldn’t be two difficult to get used to. Its designed for the left hand to use at a slight angle while the righthand is on the mouse.

One of my more core philosophies is to eliminate keys that are just too difficult to make use of ergonomically. In the case of this cyclone layout, all of the space underneath the palms is taken away. The real challenge with this layout is designing a case that doesn’t look god awful, as its just a little too much empty space to make it a rectangular case, but if you just cut around the layout it would look weird and sharp.

I can’t wait to read all of your posts about your layout design process. Keyboard design is such a fascinating area. We are basically trying to reinvent the wheel and there are so many things to keep in mind to find a good balance of old and new, cheap and unique, ergonomic and familiar.


Thanks for the tip!

Here’s a dumb question - the two tools have different stabilizer positions for the spacebar, how can I tell which is correct with respect to where the cruciforms will be on the keycap (I’ve ordered an ABS SA 4u spacebar from PMK but don’t have it yet…)? Also, what are the implications of the different shapes for stabilizer compatibilty (from the swillkb documentation it seems like the aio3 design will only support Costar stabilizers as-is, is that right)?

Cool design! I wouldn’t consider it totally crazy, in my original ortholinear ANSI thread @Lesbian pointed me to the Boardwalk, which uses those middle columns, and the TypeMatrix does it too, although to a lesser extent. Seems like that would provide some of the benefits of a split layout without actually needing the split. I didn’t explore that too much given the goal of keeping things familiar with this design, but I think it’s worth playing with more in the future.

Have you thought about staggering the outer columns? Given that there’s room for the ring and pinky finger columns to move down, that might be a way to score some extra comfort while also balancing out the board (might even help with the case design challenge)?

Regarding thought process for this design, I talked through some thoughts in that other thread, particularly the last post. I’m still waiting on the 4u spacebar to arrive so I know where to put the stabilizers in the plate, so if you have any thoughts of your own, definitely let me know - the plate isn’t set in stone (or steel I guess) just yet.

Update: The 4u spacebar came in and the stabilizers are 57mm apart, so the swillkb layout is correct in that regard. I’ll play around and see if I can just fix the rounding in the swillkb .dxf file rather than try to change the ai03 output (spacebar aside, based on the comparison above they seem to generally agree?).

Also, with the spacebar and some extra 1.5us I now have a mostly-complete keycap set! It’s definitely a bit of a cobbled-together hodgepodge (yes, that’s an SA spacebar…) but I think it’ll work nicely to start. I still need to figure out the function row - worst case I can always use some OEM caps for a true multi-profile typing experience. :wink: