Let’s split

February 01, 2020

I have a new favourite keyboard.


Let's split two-part keyboard Let's split two-part keyboard

But why?

After using and loving my KBD4X, the one one possible improvement I could imagine would be having it split in two halves. This was somewhat to my surprise, as I have never tried or really wanted a split keyboard before. But with a keyboard as small as the KBD4X, my hands come and stay very close together all the time. I started imagining being able to move the two halves apart, and that both felt new and somewhat significant.

So I started looking around, and may perhaps have asked a couple of people in Kodsnack's keyboard Slack channel about where one might get a split 40% keyboard assembled. I do not feel ready to solder a whole keyboard myelf. Having looked at some videos I know that I could do it, but I also know I would need to get a lot of pretty small solder points right all at the same time, and the process still looks more like a chore than a pleasure. Once I had got this far in my thinking and asking, it was hard to resist when I was pointed to Mechboards, their Let's split kits, and found out that assembly was an option I could pay a bit extra for.


The soldering iron comes out

Then came the classic waiting, prolonged by the extra time for assembly. The wait felt completely worth it, even if the assembly was not perfect in the end. I have had some glitchy keys, either producing no keypress sometimes, or producing too many keypresses. The latter problem was solved by adjusting debounce settings in the firmware. The former has at least been improved by re-soldering some points. The problem came back a bit for one key however, so I re-did it. Seems fine so far, but some people with more a lot more experience told me the best thing usually is to replace the entire switch. So that might be my next move.

In summary, I have taken the glitches so far as a motivation to learn and do more. It also makes me appreciate having such a repairable device all of a sudden. I can see everything, and parts are so large even I with a cheap soldering iron have a fair chance.

What about key layout?

I have not changed the layout at all from my KBD4X, but I keep thinking there should be more I can do. For starters, I have a whole extra key to assign. But I think the sanest thing will be to keep the two boards very much the same, so my thinking goes more toward changes I could make to both. Current ideas are to remove the arrow keys on the right side, to see if I can re-work the keys around my numpad a bit, and perhaps adjust so that I have a modifier or two on the right side of the layout as well. As it is now, I have a few four-key shortcuts which are completely on the left side of the keyboard, and that becomes noticeably impractical on a split board where the right hand is suddenly far away.

I still have on my todo list to find a convenient way to visualize my layouts. Even the one I currently used has changed quite a bit from the one I display in the KBD4X post. For example, I added some useful characters like -, + and so on around the keypad area. I am not completely in the flow when using the keypad though, so I think I can do more there.

Anything else?

I only have one set of keycaps which I really like, so I am in the market for a second one whenever it might pop up. But the KBD4X gets to have the secondary caps, so the split one looks just great. It is my work keyboard, and I do miss it whenever I come home to the non-split world. But I think the right caps will close the gap significantly.

Getting used to the actual split was surprisingly easy. I think it helps a lot that the halves are so small and have so relatively few keys. There is not much of anywhere for either hand to drift, and it also struck me that so many more keys are along or very near an edge that orienting myself is made even easier.