Iris Keyboard Build

An open source, ergonomic, split, ortholinear keyboard

A few months ago I broke my wrist snowboarding. This was poorly timed as things go - I was five weeks into a machine learning intensive program heavy in software development. The wonderful urgent care at Kirkwood tried to reset what turned out to be a shattered radius head,a broken ulna, and completely torn TFCC. Because the TFCC was torn, the radius and ulna were unstable and needed surgery.

About a week later I had one of two total surgeries needed to stabilize my radius and repair damage sustained to my TFCC complex. The tip of the ulna didn’t need to be moved, luckily, so I only have two scars. My arm is now literally very metal:

A bit more than two months have passed since the surgery. I made it through my program with one hand tied behind my back, so to speak, with a lot of determination and assistance from my professors, peers, and loved ones. I’m extremely grateful for their persistent help.

One thing that really bothered me through this experience was the inability to type, and a limitation in the pronation/supination range of motion my right hand has for now. Because of this reduced range of motion my OT prescribed a vertical keyboard. This setup will help recude my risk of arthritis and repetitive stress injury going forward with a job that demands a lot of typing. This isn’t /all/ bad, however. I’ve always wanted to break into the hardware world and build my understanding of how PCBs, soldering, Arduino and simililar small chips all work together to create a functional tool, so I began to explore the split, ergonomic keyboard world. After diving down into the world of “keebs” and mechanical keyboard-obsessed fans, I settled on a very minimalist build and design. I followed this buildguide to create a fully custom Iris keyboard.

I’ll skip reiterating what the build guide details better than I could, but I did deviate from instructions slightly in some places.

I used Cherry MX Browns switches.

I folded paper to help create space between metal components when soldering the boards into place because I didn’t have the plastic sheeting mentioned in the buildguide.

I used an Ultimaker 2+ filament 3D printer to print an enclosure that supported adjustable height legs to create the offset I needed to compensate for my rotational issues, taking the enclosure from this:

to this:

Using it proficiently will take a few weeks of adaptation as the ortholinear key layout feels very different than the offset key layout Macbook Pros use, and the minimalist key layout means needing to learn to use ‘layered’ key layouts with special key-trigger-based key bindings.

I haven’t yet added integrated LEDs for super-futuristic underlighting or keylights, but I can go back in and add those later if I decide I need my work station to have that Bladerunner aesthetic. Or just build a new keyboard, I have the sinking feeling that I’m going to be futzing with this setup for a while.

Here are a few other images from various stages of the build:

Note: this post was written in April 2019 and finalized/posted in September 2019. This year was busy.