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a1733311ecb58e327f11d8979da0c889762aba50 — Adam Price 1 year, 5 months ago 7f4c7cf
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layout: post
title: build an ergodox keyboard
---

Roughly a year ago, I decided to step into a hardcore corner of mechanical
keyboards. I had grown fond of the mechanical switch click, the solid feel of a
keyboard, and the myriad of keycaps available for customization. It was time to
take my relationship with mechanical keyboards to the next level: I wanted to
build my own. Enter the [ErgoDox](http://ergodox.org): an open-source, split
layout, vertically ortholinear, fully programmable keyboard. That's a heck of a
mouthful, but let's break all that down.

- Open-source means that the designs of this keyboard are available to the
  general public at no charge. Anyone can use these designs to build their own
  keyboard, modify the designs, or redistribute them freely.

- Split layout refers to a growing design in keyboards where the layout of the
  keys are split into left and right halves. This allows for the key
  arrangement to be placed at angles less stressful to the wrists and arms.
  There are other keyboards that utilize split layouts like the [TEK
  Keyboard][tek-kb] and the [Kinesis Advantage][kinesis].

- Ortholinear describes the keys being in line with one another either
  vertically, horizontally, or both. The ErgoDox has vertically ortholinear
  arranged keys, meaning the keys are lined up in columns as opposed to rows
  like the standard keyboard. A standard keyboard that most people are familiar
  with is horizontally ortholinear.

- Programmable. Keyboards need software to communicate with the computer, but
  usually the software on keyboards isn't customizable. The ErgoDox's software
  is [available on Github][ergo-fw]. That makes it possible for you to move
  keys around if you don't like where they are by default. You can make keys do
  more fancy things rather than just sending a letter to the computer. This
  allows you to tailor the operation of the ErgoDox to your liking with very
  few limits: a tinkerer's delight!

[tek-kb]: https://www.trulyergonomic.com/store/index.php
[kinesis]: https://www.kinesis-ergo.com/shop/advantage-for-pc-mac/
[ergo-fw]: https://github.com/benblazak/ergodox-firmware

![ergodox image]({% link assets/img/2015-07-26-build-an-ergodox-keyboard/ergodox_topdown.jpg %})

## Parts & Construction

The quickest and least expensive way to acquire parts for an ErgoDox is to find
them yourself using the [official parts list][ergodox-bom]. Another avenue, if
you're more patient, is to purchase a [kit from Massdrop][ergodox-drop] when
they become available every six months or so. The Massdrop kit has been wildly
popular as it comes with all parts needed to assemble an ErgoDox. There was an
[Indiegogo][indiegogo] a while ago for fully assembled ErgoDox boards that
added some interesting fold out legs to the original design, but I believe it
has since ended. You'll need a good soldering iron, some wire
cutters/strippers, and intermediate soldering skills.

[ergodox-bom]: http://ergodox.org/Hardware.aspx
[ergodox-drop]: https://www.massdrop.com/buy/ergodox
[indiegogo]: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/ergodox-ez-an-incredible-mechanical-keyboard

The building process was straight forward. Nothing that someone with basic DIY
electronics skills couldn't handle. Massdrop provides
[instructions][ergo-assembly-instructions] that detail the process along with
high-quality pictures. I took my time during the build which ended up taking me
about 10 hours, but based on your skills you can probably do it quicker.  The
most difficult task I encountered was soldering the surface-mount diodes to the
PCB due to their small size, and soldering the USB mini cable ends to the
board. Be sure to test all the switches before you do the final assembly! I
initially had three keys that didn't work because of bad solder joints.

[ergo-assembly-instructions]: https://www.massdrop.com/ext/ergodox/assembly.php

## Configuration

After completing construction and ensuring all the ErgoDox's switches are
operational, then comes choosing your key layout. The easiest method is to use
Massdrop's [ErgoDox Configurator](https://www.massdrop.com/ext/ergodox) to
setup your keys and layers. The ErgoDox software operates using a concept of
layers on a stack. There is always a currently selected layer. Modifier keys
can be used to switch between layers.

![configurator layout]({% link /assets/img/2015-07-26-build-an-ergodox-keyboard/configurator_layout.png %})

How is this useful? The idea behind this is so that you can do more things with
the same keys. For instance, I use `Home`, `End`, `Page Up`, and `Page Down`
often, but there isn't particularly an easy-to-reach place for them on the
default layer, `Layer 0`. I place those keys on `Layer 1` using the same
physical keys as `I`, `K`, `O`, and `L`, respectively. In the image of my
ErgoDox layout above, you'll see that I can hold down `[~L1]` (near the left
index finger) switching to `Layer 1` making `Home`, `End`, `Page Up`, and `Page
Down` accessible under my right hand. Now I don't have to stretch my hands to
find those keys if I put them in an out-of-the-way place on the default layer.

## Usage

I know this all sounds pretty weird. It certainly was for me when I first used
the ErgoDox. Maybe it even sounds bad, but don't worry! It gets much much
better after about two weeks. I never timed my typing before switching to the
ErgoDox, so I can't confirm speed improvements. I must confess that I do prefer
the ErgoDox, not simply for its uniqueness, but I've found there to be a bit of
truth to its ergonomic differences to a standard QWERTY keyboard. Wrist pain
previously experienced while typing has disappeared because the ErgoDox let's
me type with my arms, wrists, and hands in more natural resting positions. The
novelty is cool in its own right, though. It has yet to get old for someone new
to walk by my desk at work and ask, "Do you really type on that thing?" Maybe
it will eventually, but I hope not :)

## Conclusion

I love typing on my ErgoDox. It's a satisfying experience being able to use
something at work every day that I assembled and tested myself. The ErgoDox
certainly is a different beast from a normal keyboard, but I would recommend it
to anyone who may be considering a more ergonomic keyboard. Feel free to
contact me if you have any questions about the ErgoDox or mechanical keyboards
in general. Until then, type on friends.

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