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E.E.L. Ambiense

Project Custom Mek-Dek 68 by E.E.L. Ambiense - Completed! 12-31-16


Log Completed 12-31-16

Welcome, munkys! It's been a little while since I've done any projects (last one being LilyPC), and I've been diligently plugging away at the poorly-kept secret project as well as being 'side-tracked' by a new gaming/humor YT channel called "FidnaL4D2?". Hopefully I can finish up a lot of the long-dormant logs that are stinking up my area of the forum here like rotting carrion in the warm, summer FL sun. I'll let that one hang in the air (pun intended) so you can just....think about the mental-image.

Moving on. I've decided to distract myself a bit and try to do a homemade mechanical-keyboard deck. Instead of the typical full-deck I'm more of a TKL (tenkeyless) kind of user, but I've decided I'd try to make something a little smaller than that as well. There's a modestly-priced mini mech-deck you can pick up called the Magicforce 68, which comes with Kailh mechanical switches (another MX clone) on it from factory. Not my first choice, to be honest. I'm more of Gateron switch user, so I've decided to pick up just the bare PCB for the keyboard relatively cheap so I can solder on my own switches choice along with my own LED backlight color choice. And to make it even more interesting, I'm making my own custom frame/shell for it. I've decided on wood and acrylic; maple and trans-gray to be specific, with a gray-stain on the wood with clear poly to seal it.

Let's get started, shall we?

Sexy Gateron reds; linear switches.  Generally I tend to use Blacks (or yellows; same weight), but figured I'd try out something a bit lighter this time and see how I feel.


A nice bag of 2x3x4mm white LEDs for the switches to light things up.


...And some Costar-style plate-mount stabilizers (or stabs for short).  I will have to modify these to work with what I plan to do though.


This is what the stock Magicforce 68 deck normally looks like, for comparison:


Eh...  it's okay I guess. To each their own. The caps are atrocious IMHO, but I didn't even get those with my bare PCB. I plan on giving it more personality specific to my own aesthete's tastes.

Spending some time taking care of some design work (and coffee drinking) along with accurate measurements, I've come up with a completely new shell to replace the stock one. I'm not a major fan of the floating keys look (even if my daily driver is a Varmilo 87), so I wanted something with the more 'recessed keys' kind of look. I decided to approach the shell's design utilizing what is referred to as the 'sandwich technique', in which you build up layers of flat material to create 3D structure instead of having two pieces that snap together like any typical keyboard's shell would. 

What I pictured in my head is a simple, logical shell layering that would allow clearance of the PCB, the keyboard's USB controller, and the switches themselves. Everything will be tied together with recessed screws, threaded inserts, and the top trim will be held on simply with double-sided tape as it's merely for looks. What I'm picturing is a white-glowing frame through the acrylic layer, as well as around the keys themselves (although I probably won't be using backlit caps).


PCB is clean and easy to read, unlike many domestic car manuals, or stereo instructions.



Here's the game-plan. Breakdown of the layers are all based on measurement requirements for the switch-to-PCB distance as well as spacing to allow custom feet to 'tilt' the deck up a bit as I like my decks with a tilt for typing purposes. 

Layering goes: 

Base (6mm wood)

Frame (6mm) wood)

Switch plate (6mm acrylic)

Tie-down frame (3mm acrylic)

Top trim (3mm wood)

Normally you would use a 1.5mm metal plate for the switches (distanced enough from the PCB; I think it's usually around 2mm or so, but not sure) to allow use of stabilizers, but I didn't have that option here by going completely-custom, however 6mm acrylic will probably be plenty strong. Thankfully the PCB is very sparse so the plate can literally sit against the PCB without issue.


The stock USB control-board's wiring was so short due to the stock frame's plug location being on one end, but with the new frame I wanted the USB connector to be in the middle-back, so I had to de-solder and re-solder new, longer wires crimped and reusing the original PCB connector. 


This is the layer the controller will reside at on the frame...


This is how the controller will sit on its layer of the frame...


...And the switch plate layer surrounding the controller.


A shot from the back side...


Here are some sequential shots of how the deck will build up...

Bottom layer with PCB sitting...


USB controller layer...


Switch plate layer...


Frame-tie layer...


And finally, the top fascia trim.


On the base, I needed to begin by counter-sinking the holes which will allow me to install screws that really short standoffs will screw on to on the inside of the base, which will allow the PCB itself to sit on top of allowing screws from the top to sandwich it in place.


Just like that.  Doesn't have to be perfect, and it certainly won't be.  It's the bottom anyway, heh heh.


A short screw pushed through...


...And a thin, nylon washer on it, followed by the standoff.



...And done.


After that, I needed to 'mill' out a recessed area to allow clearance of the dip-switches and USB connector itself on the PCB, as the goal was to make the overall height of the completed deck as svelt as possible.


I just used some rotary-tool attachments and worked the wood down enough and cleaned it out for a test-run with the PCB.


Again, it doesn't need to be perfect as it will be on the inside bottom hidden by the PCB anyway.


...And cleaned up a bit with some sanding.


Seems like it'll work fine.  Moving on.

For the feet, I didn't want to just use some simple, off-the-shelf stereo equipment feet or even a set of the awesome milled keyboard feet I've seen resellers peddling. Not that any of those are bad; quite the contrary. I simply wanted something that fit the aesthetic of the overall mech-deck, so DIY it is. I designed the deck so it would tilt up a bit to angle the deck to an approx. point where I tend to like a keyboard to be angled at. By accomplishing this I designed the feet so they will be a wedge shape to meet the angle of the keyboard itself as it sits on the desk. Here's what I mean.

The new feet. I wanted four of them spread across so it would make the deck stable and strong on the desk. I don't beat the hell out of keyboards; at least, not anymore. But I do prefer them to be strong and stable. I mean, who doesn't?


Here's how the feet will meet up with the base. Two screws for each foot spread evenly across the base. It will require me to countersink the screws as well so it will clear the PCB, as there is very little room for error in there.


...And angled shot showing how it will (hopefully) work.


...And an extreme side shot showing it in action.


I considered adding rubber bushings or something on them as well as the bottom front of the deck, but I use one of those total-desk mats anyway so no real need for it. Hopefully the finished deck will be heavy enough that it won't skate around though. Guess I'll see, and fix the issue when I get there.

Alrighty, until the next update, thanks for wasting your time reading this schlop!


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:jawdrop:EEL project!!! -and awesome already. 


stinking up my area of the forum here like rotting carrion

Have you seen the Kyle zone? It's like he opened the door and tossed a box of bones in.

USB cutout: You might want to toss some padding in the open space. It looks like a great place to raise spider babies.

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On 11/21/2016 at 10:23 AM, Mosquito said:

Looks like lots of soldering ahead, but lookin' sweet so far EEL!

Thanks man!  I'm looking forward to it. :)

On 11/22/2016 at 11:28 AM, Cheapskate said:

:jawdrop:EEL project!!! -and awesome already. 

Have you seen the Kyle zone? It's like he opened the door and tossed a box of bones in.

USB cutout: You might want to toss some padding in the open space. It looks like a great place to raise spider babies.

Hahaha!  Thanks bro.

Yes sir on the padding; taken care of.  That would suck trying to type something and a brown widow crawls out though.

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Thanks man!  

I've been run over with other things going on lately so I haven't been back to this, but all shall come to pass, like a kidney-stone, or swallowing pennies. :laugh:

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Update time!  

I've been busy with other commitments, as well as preparing for some new ones to jump on the plate in the near future.  Let's get started, shall we?

I'm planning on holding this thing together with threaded inserts for the most part, which should give it some stability across the deck (I hope), as well as making it more resilient to abuse (I hope).  Guess we'll see!  I don't plan on beating it like an angry gorilla with a zookeeper, but I also don't want a limp-wristed POS deck!  I mean, who does?

Where was I?  Oh yeah; threaded inserts.  These are the hammer-in-place-and-pray kind.  I won't be hammering them all the way in though, due to no space.  I do, however, plan on epoxying them in place as well which should make them a little stronger.


And a few taps to get it set, much like a veteran porn-actor...


...And done.  Lovely.


A quick test to see if it clears the next layer of the frame, which it does.  Great!


And the next layer....


And the next layer....


Looks great.  Now I have to take care of all the other threaded inserts....  Ugh.


All done. 


Next layer up clears everything fine.  


Hand-threading in the countersunk bolts to tie it together...  Lovely.  Moving on!


The dreaded but necessary Costar-style stabilizers.  Gives me the shivers, lol.  Actually, they're fine.  They can just be a little annoying with the clip-in wire stabilizer, but it's the only choice I have for this kind of project as I cannot use Cherry stabs on this due to the plate being a bit larger than stock.  Normally, any of these stabs will only mount on a 1.5mm metal plate, due to little clipping tabs on them, but these are going on 6mm acrylic....


Like this!  You can see the little clipping tabs won't allow it to actually snap in.  So I have a plan that I think will work out fine...


Meet the Costar stab's frame.


I'm going to sand off the little clips so I can just glue the frames/stabs in place.  Easy-peasy?


Now they drop in just fine.  


...And the rest of them on a dry-run.


I'm going to need to drop the glue right in here, and quickly get the stabs into place, and hope for the best.


Gluing up...


All glued and ready for stabs.


Unfortunately I kind of screwed up at this point. :( I meant to sand the whole thing down to give it a frosted kind of feel to it but neglected to do so before this step, so I had to carefully tackle this after the glued stabs were set.  And on top of that, I actually needed to modify the stabs themselves because a dry-run on a stabilized switch and keycap resulted in a sticking key.  Only option I had was to actually sand out the inside of the stab's frame to make more room...  Luckily I had my trusty needle-file set...


And after a quick bath to get rid of the dust and yucky crud, it looks like it'll work!


Next step is, to actually solder a switch in place so I can do a full test of the stabilizer and verify its working status.  Let's go with the left shift key, shall we?


Heatin' up the iron!


...And stab inserted with keycap mounted.  Here's goes nothin'!


Please work....


...Engage switch....


...And it releases fine!  Works great.  It will of course require a full lubing when the whole deck is completed, but shouldn't be a problem at all.  ....heh....  I said "full lubing"!  :laugh:

Alright, until next update.  Thanks for wasting some more of your time!


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And a few taps to get it set, much like a veteran porn-actor...

proceeded with a brutal pounding. Right? It's like, "1,2,3..JACKHAMMER!" A normal human being would have snapped their d... 

What were we talking about again?


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Update time!  Let's jump into it so I can wrap up this log, shall we?

It's been fairly smooth going, aside from some distractions along the way, much like a gambling addict at Vegas.  Thankfully I ran out of quarters!

I needed to get the legs situation taken care of, but unfortunately I do not have any 'in progress' pics.  Basically I just lined up and drilled out some straight holes in conjunction to how the deck itself will sit upon the legs.  It worked out fine.


Pic of a test-install of the legs prior to stain/seal to make sure it's going to work as well as clear the PCB as it sits just above it.  Seems to work fine!



I've decided on going with a weathered gray kind of look to it, as that is what my brain initially pictured when I thought about how I'd like it to look.  I figured a single-pass on the stain, and a polyurethane seal over that should work just fine.


After stain/seal was completed over the holiday break (and giving it ample time to cure) as well as spending some time finishing up the soldering/install of all the switches as well as the LEDs, I started final assembly of everything hoping for the best.

This is where the controller will sit in its little 'nest'...


Just a couple of teeny-tiny screws to hold it in place, and the frame itself will do the rest...


...Just like this!


Shot from the back...


Moving on to the next layer up is the layer with the counter-sunk holes to 'tie' it all together.  Install with some 'coarse thread' 8-32 countersunk screws to match up with the threaded inserts. If everything was done somewhat correctly, it should go together without issue.  ...I hope.  :unsure:


Like this.


One final test of the LEDs and the switches themselves.  I use an awesome little free program called "Switch Hitter".  Highly recommended for this kind of thing!


For the deck, I've decided I'm going to use some Originative Co Carbon Black "OEM" height keycaps.  I love the color but not too keen on the profile, but they will work just fine for the time being.  I just love the color really, as it will fit in with the color-scheme I wanted to go with for this project.  Would be cool to snag some Varmilo keycaps in gray, or even Cherry-profile gray caps.  Who knows.


Now, to secure the PCB itself to the standoffs on the base of the deck, I've decided to pre-tap the mount-holes on the switch-plate layer for 4-40, and I'm just going to use set-screws!  Zero head profile, so they will fit in between the areas where the switches are really close to each other, and nothing will interfere...


...Such as right here between the Down and Right arrow keys.


...And done.  Six of those in total to hold it in place.  Probably not necessary at all as the switches themselves hold the PCB to the switch-plate, but still.  I want it built like a tank, ya know?


Now to handle those pesky stabilized switches.  Costar stabs are fairly easy to install, but they can be annoying too.  I needed to lube the wire bars where they snap into the plastic stab frame, to reduce/eliminate squeaks, rubbing, and sticking of the key upon press.  Thankfully there are only a few switches on a keyboard that take a stabilizer.


...And finishing up on the keycap install after that.


The biggest key of all is obviously the spacebar, and very necessary for it to work fairly well.  Lube that crap!  Sometimes it's difficult to get the wire bar to snap in with fingers, so I'll use some fine-tip tweezers to push it in.  ...if I only had a nickel every time I've said that statement! :laugh:


...And the other side.


Finishing up on the keycap install, it's that time to drop on the top wood fascia to cover the mount-holes and to finish the deck off!  Granted, it does kind of look cool as it is IMHO.


I love using thin double-sided tape for this kind of thing, as it's stronger than hell but it's reversible "just in case".


She's all done! 


Time to get it cleaned up, adjust/fine-tune a few things, and she'll ready for final photos.

*snaps finger*



Mek-Dek 68 Final Photos


Thank you for watching, and hope you enjoyed it!  Moving on to the next project shortly, as always.  It never ends.


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Thanks man!  

Nah; most backlit keycaps are garbage, but there are exceptions to that.  I just never came across any backlit grey caps out there, in decent thickness and materials.  I'd be fine with ABS backlit caps if I can get them in grey, but not a major market for that, let alone some nice PBT caps.  I have a set of white and black PBT backlit caps that don't have a home, but dont know if I'm like how this deck would look with them on it.  Haha, in all honesty I rarely look down at the deck much so backlighting is mostly just a thing that 'looks cool' to me.  My daily-driver Varmilo 87 deck is backlit and I only turn it on while gaming which is once a week for an hour if I'm lucky.  

I typed this reply on the Mek-Dek 68!  (keycap profile is weird though... I'm so accustomed to my DSA profile caps).

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Not knocking your choice in switches, just curious why you chose Gaterons over Cherry, or any other switch, for that matter?

At some point I want to make my own mechboard as well, but I've got so many projects lined up and zero time to do them as is.  I'm a huge fan of Cherry Clears.

Nice work, EEL.  Though I've come to expect nothing less of you!

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On 1/1/2017 at 0:36 AM, Inakretep said:

Holy feces - that came out GREAT!

Damn, I feel like an ass for being so absorbed in other projects that I've neglected replying to my own log posts.  Sorry, guys!

Thanks, bro!  Glad seeing you about man!

On 1/1/2017 at 5:28 PM, Mosquito said:

Awesome Eel!

Thanks, man!

On 1/8/2017 at 8:56 AM, Jeffrey Stephenson said:

That turned out great. Looks like a lot of fun. I might have to try some sort of keyboard project in the near future.


Thanks, Jeffrey!  It was.  I can only imagine what awesomeness you could drum up on a deck project!

On 2/19/2017 at 10:08 AM, Bill Owen said:

Customizing Mech KBs is the new rabbit hole into Modding....and that I would like to see, Jeffrey!


20 minutes ago, XNine said:

Not knocking your choice in switches, just curious why you chose Gaterons over Cherry, or any other switch, for that matter?

At some point I want to make my own mechboard as well, but I've got so many projects lined up and zero time to do them as is.  I'm a huge fan of Cherry Clears.

Nice work, EEL.  Though I've come to expect nothing less of you!

Honestly, after using Gats, I've realized the quality of the switch consistently feels more smooth and buttery versus actual Cherrys, which their linears tend to feel scratchy like they have sand in them or something.  I've typed on practically anything out there, but I prefer linears for day-to-day use.  I also prefer a heavier switch, but not too heavy due to longer work or gaming campaigns (such as Cherry Blacks).  Gateron just took a nice design and made it work better, and for a cheaper price.  As far as longevity is concerned, it's unknown versus genuine Cherrys.  But typing on the same deck for 10 years sounds a little boring, haha.  

Thanks, bro!

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    There's a thing here. Somehow it moved to the top of the page, but I didn't do it. No, really! But still, Cheaps is likely to blame...
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