Mechanical keyboard housing

2017

Mechanical keyboards are cool and I like the look and feel of them. I didn't particularly need one and I'd never owned one before, but it looked like it might be a fun machining project for the CNC router I have access to. Then, I was given a scrap of beautiful material which sealed the deal. I tried to do this as cheaply as possible while still having a nice final product. It has a wrist rest, too. Ergonomic! One day I'll build a computer to go with it.

Here is the Fusion 360 file, with all the embedded McMaster-Carr hardware. Here is a STEP file, which you can import into Solidworks or Rhino or whatever. Here are all the STL files in case you want to 3D print it. I hollowed out the wrist rest so you won't spend a million dollars getting it made with Shapeways...but for an FDM printer, use the solid one with low infill. Go nuts!

I got a Magicforce 68 keyboard online for around $60. It has Cherry MX Brown switches, which are pretty clicky. To my knowledge it's the smallest keyboard that still has arrow keys, which I need. How does anyone live without arrow keys? The keys are ugly and the aluminum is etched with the logo. The keys I can replace, but the switches are soldered through the plate onto the PCB, which I didn't want to desolder. I decided to build around it.

Instead of buying standoffs, I used long screws and some washers stacked up that I found at the local hardware store. They work. McMaster 91200A104.

I laser cut a sheet of black nylon. It's glossy and had some laser marks on the corners of each rectangle, so I roughed it up with a random orbital sander at 320 grit. It worked well.

The nylon was a LITTLE too big, but instead of recutting it, I clamped it down to a table with some wood on top so I could sand the edges smaller without it flapping around. I poked the nylon out just a little and sanded until I hit wood.

The nylon covers the aluminum mostly. I could have gotten a little tighter but the tolerance wasn't perfect and the shadow of the key does enough covering.

This is Richlite, or Paperstone. It's a scrap so I'm not sure. It's a cool countertop material that is super dense and rich black and and feels lovely. It's like super-MDF.

This is after the first CNC operation. Before I cut the real material I used a scrap piece of 40lb high-density urethane foam to test the fit of the components.

It fits! And the keys are still ugly! It's a high-quality product for the price, but man. Those keys.

I bandsawed the pieces out, and was left with tabs. These I routed off. Paperstone is really dense, so this was not easy.

The pieces all finished! It was my first time cutting this material so there were some tooling marks on the edges which I had to sand off. It took forever because of the density.

I got some mineral oil from a drug store. I have extra left over to use as a laxative, should the need arise. I wasn't sure if it would work, but the wood pulp soaked it right up! The color became rich, uniform black.

I got little feet from McMaster and screwed them in. Perfect! On the wrist rest, I used screws that screwed into the material directly. On the keyboard, they are clearance holes with a little nut that is trapped by the geometry. This is not a good way to do it, but that's the way I did it for some reason. Maybe just because it's cool and fun. McMaster parts 9540K837, 90190A108, 90272A108, 90480A005.

The USB port has to be accessible, so my solution was to poke a hole in the housing and 3D print a little guy to hold it. Lots of people just drill a hole in the side, which works fine, but I wanted to challenge myself to do everything I could with digital production tools. Also, the material I used for the housing wasn't thick enough to machine a cavity thick enough to hold two PCBs. The print is from a Form 2, which is an incredibly designed and engineered machine.

It's all together! Except the keys.

The first USB PCB holder broke because I underestimated the force needed to plug in a USB, which snapped off the posts inside on my first try. The new one has reinforcement. The little gubs are where the support material connects to the print.

I don't think I'll ever adjust the switches but it seemed important to leave them exposed.

Machine lines. I got some cheap keycaps for $12 but they're all slanted away from the user, which doesn't work with a flat housing. I ordered some slightly less cheap DSA-profile caps. They were $40.

Nice and flat. They're not very well-made, but they feel really nice. I'll upgrade someday.

Maybe I'll dye some of them so it's easier to type, but we'll see. It works fine so far.