I’ve previously written only a few short words about one of my newer hobbies — mechanical keyboards — which has been a fantastic journey, keeping me occupied, teaching me new things, while providing a superior tool for all my writing at the same time. This all started over 30 years ago, when I used my first mechs, but which I left behind when I switched to laptops. Unfortunately, I listened a little too much to Jason Snell and John Gruber talking about their mechanical keyboards on their podcasts, so here I am, and I’d like to share what I’ve collected so far…
Vortex Race 3
My first mechanical keyboard, since I stopped using them some 20 years ago, was the Vortex Race 3. It’s hardware programmable, meaning I can define what each key does without needing additional software, which makes it perfectly suitable as an iPad input device. The Race 3 has a 0° typing angle, was fitted with DSA keycaps, weighs about 500 grams, and is considered to be a 75% keyboard (which is a similar layout to MacBook keyboards).
It didn’t take me long to swap out the stock DSA keycaps for a custom set of XDA Oblique (above), inspired by Apple’s Extended Keyboard II. I also purchased a set of XDA Canvas (below) — a keycap set inspired by Dieter Rams’ work. It’s more playful, has Dieter references in the keycap legends (including his iconic glasses), and uses a custom font designed just for this set.
Since I wasn’t happy with the stock Cherry MX switches the keyboard came with, I desoldered all of them and replaced them with far superior Gateron Yellows.
I managed to come by one of only 175 Doro67’s produced (that I know of — more could have been made just for the Chinese market). The keyboard is far from perfect in many respects, but this was my first 65% form factor (similar to 75% but without the F-row). This was also my first complete build, including soldering. I once again chose to use Gateron Yellow switches, having become accustomed to their feel in the Vortex — they’re smooth linear switches with a spring that just feels right to me. The Doro itself has an 8° typing angle and weighs in at around 1.4 kg. I first outfitted it with GMK White-on-Black keycaps (above) — a Cherry sculpted profile which feels much better on an angled keyboard than the XDA profile, which is more at home on flat keyboards.
I have since replaced the set above with RAMA WORKS’ ePBT Heavy Industry Seq. 2 — a set with dye-sublimated instead of double-shot legends. Since GMK keycap sets are made from ABS and Heavy Industry is PBT, its acoustic signature is slightly different, but not dramatically so.
I am currently considering rebuilding the Doro67 with another set of switches.
I waited 6 months for the frosted polycarbonate Think6.5° to arrive and promptly mounted GMK Minimal on it. The keyboard weighs in at around 1 kg, has a 6.5° typing angle, and is made from frosted polycarbonate, to diffuse the 14 under-glow LEDs, 4 LEDs above the badge on the right-hand side, and 4 LEDs around the ESC key. The lighting is fully configurable, can be turned off, or…
… it can be colour-matched to a keycap set, as I succeeded doing with GMK Metropolis, which came in a few days ago.
Since the Think6.5° has hot-swap sockets, switches do not require soldering — you can just pop them in and out at any time. I built it using Zeal Sakurios, which is a silent linear switch. If you’re curious what both the Doro and Think sound like while typing, just watch both videos embedded below (set volume to around 30-40% to hear what I’m hearing).
I forgot to mention that the Doro67 and Think6.5° are both powered by open-source QMK firmware, which is fully programmable and customisable.
I have one more keyboard coming in the next few weeks and it will probably be my final one for now, although there are a few on the horizon which are incredibly tempting. More on this topic soon.
If you like building things, need a good keyboard, then consider mechanical keyboards as hobby — I’m having so much fun, that I even designed my own keycap set (render below). Hopefully it will debut in early 2020.