Starting in on Dactyl

25 May 2022

projects: keebs
builds: dactyl
tags: 3dp

Since December 2020 I’ve been using an Ergodox EZ as my main keyboard, both for work and games. I have my own QMK firmware flashed on it, and I’m nothing but pleased with it.

Image: My Ergodox EZ

Seasons change though, and in January 2021 I found myself backing the Glove80 Kickstarter. I’ve been curious about a curved (“manuform”) keyboard, and this one looked really slick.

Image: a Glove80 in Colemak layout

Up to that point I’d put together keyboard kits with PCBs, and hadn’t yet 3d-printed any enclosures or plates. I kept seeing peoples’ cool creations on reddit though, and eventually I started down that path myself.

Today I’m writing this on my first 3d-printed, handwired keyboard! It’s the “Dactyl Manuform Open”, available from source code here.

Image: my new Dactyl Manuform handwired keyboard

For my first attempt I didn’t want to change anything from the stock model, but I did frankenstein it with some parts from a similar build, here. I had noticed in my first print of the Dactyl Manuform that the legs wanted to adjust themselves a little too much.

I was stymied temporarily by my available tools at the time: I only had an FDM printer, which didn’t have the right resolution for some of the smaller parts. My partner recently got an LCD resin printer though, so I’ve completed the Dactyl Manuform build.

Image: the guts of a handwired 3d-printed keyboard

Handwiring was fun! A little frustrating. My only loose connections were in some crimps in rectangular cable connectors (my build eschewed the standard 3.5mm cable between the halves, because one fewer microcontroller is 50% easier to debug). I ended up cutting out the cable connector and replacing it with soldered wire connection: it’s not as if I’m going to use either of the halves by themselves.

I’ve come up with my own firmware for it (cribbed from qmk’s). It’s technically Via-compatible, but I don’t know yet how to set the vendor/product/keymap to make the tool show an accurate representation of the layout and key mappings. A work in progress, perhaps.

Last night, after typing on it for an afternoon, I started hacking around in the source code, to see if I could get one with the key layout I’ve grown accustomed to with the Ergodox. I was able to generate something that seems like it’ll fit my needs better, and then I took another look at one of the Dactyl Manuform’s ancestors: the Dactyl Keyboard.

Image: Adereth’s Dactyl Keyboard

With the exception of the inner row, this matches the key layout of the Ergodox. I like the 6-key thumb cluster. I’m not sure how comfortable the shape will be, but aesthetically I think it’s a great board. As I write this, my FDM printer is making a bottom shell, and my partner’s resin printer is making a top shell (in two parts).

Image: three parts of a keyboard frame: two top shell halves printed in resin, and a bottom shell printed in PLA filament

As with my first attempt at Dactyl Manuform, I haven’t tweaked any of the source code. That may come later, if I really find the shape or lack of an inner column uncomfortable. Next up: wiring this half, playing with it, and iterating!

Image: an Adereth Dactyl Keyboard, coming soon to a desk near me