The Winghead, a new personal keyboard project

Hello keeb lovers,

As a way to entertain myself and learn new things I started designing and making my own keyboards last year.
It has been a tiring and sometimes frustrating experience but I learned a lot in the process.
I now use my first homemade custom at work for nearly 6 months and I’m still surprised to find it better than my old Filcos and Topre boards.
It is my ‘precious’ :smiley:
If you are curious, the history of the project is on this forum at this link:

I thought that this endeavour would discourage me to go further … just to discover that I was eager to start another design shortly after :slight_smile:
Plus I jumped into the buying spree syndrom that most of you know, and ordered several keycap sets made by famous designers out there :smiley:
I need to have a case prepared for these when they will arrive.

So here is my new project, the Winghead (a special species of hammerhead shark).
It is very new(no more than 2 months) and will take a long time for completion: it took me around 8 months for the previous project to be finished.

What I had in mind for this project:

  • Try a different layout, but not too small either.
  • Increase PCB functionality and complexity a bit to have new challenges.
  • New case design of course.

The PCB(s):

  • No more hotswap sockets, simple soldered switches with plate and pcb mount compatibility.
  • Goodbye Costar stabs, Cherry PCB mount stabs used instead.
  • Increased layout customization, welcome to the PCB Swiss Cheese effect :wink:
  • Separate daugther board PCB with USB C, ESD and over current protection.
  • No capslock/numlock/scrolllock led indicators to keep case design uncluttered.
  • In-switch monochrome LED lighting, independently adressable.
  • ATMEGA32U4 MCU:
    • Try to do more stuff with less available pins than the previous project that used an AT90USB1286 MCU.
    • It is a funny personal challenge.
    • Smaller package makes it easier to find a place in the PCB.

The case:

  • Two parts design.
  • All anodized aluminium.
  • No integrated plate.
  • So no brass or steel weights and no complicated design in order to lower price.
  • Probably sandwitch plate design:
    • I’d love to take inspiration from @Wilba’s work on spring plate design for it’s Thermal.
    • Absolutely genious idea that he had, just watch @TaehaTypes build video and you will understand.

This will be a 1800 layout with the following compatibility:

Progress done:

  • PCB design well advanced, now tuning and double/triple/quadruple checking it.
  • Draft case design, may change depending on plate design choice.

See you soon!

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I was wondering whether you might be inspired to have another go…very much looking forward to following along!

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Hello @jshufelt!

I was wondering that also … and needed a bit of rest :stuck_out_tongue:
But, oh my oh my, here we go again for struggling times :smiley:

PS:
I’m eagerly waiting for your next build log :slight_smile:

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Hey,

Here are some news on the project.

I’ve carefully checked the PCBs several times and they look ok.
So here are some renders below, using tracespace.io website(https://tracespace.io).

The main PCB:

The USB daughter board:

One of the goals in the making of this keyboard is to learn new things.
This is why I wanted to experiment designing a keyboard with individually addressable leds and some flexibility for the keys layout.

As for the layout flexibility, this has turned into numerous DRC errors in Kicad because of pads and holes intersecting each other.
I tried to resolve them and asked questions to other makers in this forum, and came to the conclusion not to try to remove them:

  • This is what we commonly see in these swiss cheese PCBs.
  • These will not prevent PCB to be manufactured anyway.
  • These errors were always listed first in Kicad DRC report and with specific message so could be easily ignored wihout forgetting the other important errors that were coming.

This time I used ai03 Cherry MX schematics and footprints.
The footprints in particuliar are very well made:

  • They have a drawn white bounding box that is exactly at key intervals.
  • So exactly 19.05 x 19.05 mm for a 1U unit for example.

This make switches placement on the PCB a breeze: you just have to ensure that neighbouring keys have coincident edges.
Here is the download link of these for people that are interested:

You may have seen the string “JLCJLCJLCJLC” on the silkscreen part of the PCBs.
As I plan to use JLCPCB services for at least the main PCB this is a little trick to place their serial number were we want on the PCB.
For people that use this PCB manufacturer here is the link that explain more in detail how to proceed:

I wanted not having to solder 100x small SOD323 diodes, plus the CPU, resistors and capacitors by hand:

  • Takes too much time.
  • This is error prone.
  • Learned that by screwing 3 PCBs before having a working one last time :smiley:

So I plan to use JLCPCB new PCBA service, at least for the main board.
They have some limitations:

  • Only green soldermask.
  • Soldering on one side only(not a problem).
  • Don’t have all the components needed.

Anyway I should be able to have everything soldered but the led driver and the JST GH connector, good :stuck_out_tongue:
I will need to learn how to generate and provide a suitable file for the manufacturer pick and place machine: Kicad seems to do at least half of the job with their .pos file format.

I also looked for PCB manufacturer alternatives that are not in China and still have decent pricing.
I came by the name of Aisler:

  • PCB manufacturing done in Germany.
  • They seem to recently provide PCB manufacturing in the USA as well.
  • Not crazy expensive, and shipping is free.
  • They can also provide you electronic components and stencil if you want.
  • Only green soldermask and ENIG finish.

I was curious and ordered 3 USB daughterboard PCBs and a stencil, we’ll see how they come soon.

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I tried to use JLCPCB PCBA service but had problems using it.
I had a few back and forth email exchange with the support (very reactive) and came to a BOM and CPL file that was kind of working.
But in the 3D preview some components were no visible and others not at the right position.
It looks like other people have had similar problems, the preview window is still unstable and they seem to work hard to make it better.
Keep in mind that this service is very new and will work better as time goes on.
As I don’t want to order without being sure that all components are well placed I will abandon using this service for this project. Maybe for the next one it will work ok ?

Still I ordered PCBs from them as their quality is good and the price very low.
The Pilot and Winghead PCBs have been validated for manufacture, now is the time to wait for hem to arrive.
They are all black(mate?) soldermask with ENIG finish, standard 1.6mm thickness for the Windhead and 0.8mm for the pilot(to accomodate the USB C connector that has very short 1mm through hole mount tabs).

Also ordered most of the components at their sister company LCSC as their price is incredibly low for all passive components: for the diodes alone it was more than 20$ cheaper than standard suppliers!

I received Pilot PCBs and stencil from Aisler and was satisfied by the general quality.
I ordered the stencil for the Wingead PCB at their house and I will definitely use their service in the future for smaller prototyping boards.

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Just received my PCBs!
These are looking good and I like the black satin solder mask finish on them.
Also all components have been received.
Now need spare time to solder one and see if it works.

Waiting for these I started designing the case on Fusion360, it starts to take shape :wink:

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I had a bit of free time today, so decided to solder the USB daughterboard.
It was also the time to test how good was the new solder paste I recently purchased.
I’m exclusively using lead free solder but was disappointed by the previous solder paste I had, too consistent and had to really heat the board to melt it, it was not the case of the first ever one I bought a long time ago.

For the standard unleaded solder paster you have to push well over 220°C to be able to melt them.
The one I purchased is a bit special: it is a low temperature solder paste and melts at only 185°C.
They do that by adding bismuth to the metal alloy.
There seem to have some caveats:

  • Lower mechanical properties of the solder joints, adding silver seems to alleviate that(there is 0.4% silver on mine, can go up to 1%).
  • If you put leaded solder in contact with the solder joints, they will melt later on at a temperature of only 95°C.

It comes with 2 plastic compartments with solder balls on one side and flux on the other, just have to push flux compartment into the solder balls one and mix. Voila!

I had ordered a stainless steel stencil at Aisler for dispensing the solder paste.

Now time to put solder paste and see how good it is, my cheepo hot air station configured at 220°.


Sorry for my really dirty silicone mat…

Well this is fantastic, no problem melting every solder joints, including the ones of the USB connector.
I’m happy of the consistency of this solder paste, and not having to heat components like crazy is a big plus!

These PCBs are only 0.8mm thick and you can see that the USB chassis pins are barely protruding on the other side, it has been a bit tricky to hand solder then later.
Once cleaned with isopropyl alcohool and all micro solder balls removed(you can see some in this image if you are carefull) it is good to go!

Next time will be the turn of the big boy, but no free time for this year unfortunately :frowning:

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