Apple Forced Me To Make The World’s Best Ergonomic Keyboard

I wanted to buy an ergonomic mac keyboard (for work), but those don’t exist. So, I was forced to make my own. Having owned several ergonomic keyboards (including the SK-6000, the Microsoft Natural keyboard, and the SafeType), I can say with confidence and without hyperbole that I now own the best ergonomic keyboard in the world:

  • The key action of Apple’s keyboards is far more comfortable than what was on the market from any vendor 5 years ago. It’s amazing how mushy and “deep” the old Dell SK-6000 feels after typing on the Apple keyboard.
  • The angle of the two halves is comparable to the Microsoft Natural keyboard.
  • Since this is made from 2 keyboards instead of just one modified keyboard, I don’t have to sacrifice my ability to reach across the “center line” and type with my opposite hand (in cases where that’s useful).

And I resent having to build it instead of buy it. My suspicion is that if Apple released an “ergonomic” keyboard, they would be forced to admit that their goal of making the best hardware in the world includes non-ergonomic designs. Whoops.

The first step in the build process was a pair of used keyboards.

Apple probably doesn’t want you to modify their keyboards, which explains why they glued them together. You have to heat them up to about 400 degrees to loosen the glue.

Once you get it hot, you should be able to pry up a corner.

Wooden shims worked better for this than silverware, but I only took pictures of my first attempt.

The keyboard has 2 FFC cables that connect the keys to the logic board. Don’t do what I did; don’t ram your prying tools into the cables and damage them.

The FFC cables are easily disconnected from the circuit board.

From there, you can start getting rid of the unneeded keys. Pry off the top part, then attack the scissor hinge from the side. Wear safety glasses, because they’ll fly out — toward your face.

Apple probably doesn’t want you to modify their keyboards, which explains why they spot welded them together in about 100 places. You have to drill out the spot welds one by one, then peel away the thin steel backing sheet.

You only need to remove the part of the sheet that’s under the keys you don’t want. There is a flexible sheet just underneath the keys that holds all the rubber buttons; you should remove it.

Then, you can cut the excess keyboard frame away with lineman’s pliers.

At this point, you should do a function check to make sure that nothing got damaged.

Then, go ahead and do some more damage. I cut the USB ports off of the main board with a nibbler, but you could just as well use a saw (watch out for the dust though).

In this picture, I’ve made a critical mistake that I won’t discover until much later. I’ve separated the plastic sheets that contain the 2 halves of the contacts for the keyboard, and I’ve inserted a sheet of paper between them to prevent the contacts from touching when the sheet is rolled up (as I will need to do when I join the keyboards together). My first thought was to cut each key contact with a razor and fill it with pink nail polish, but this proved too tedious after only a few holes. The sheets come apart with gentle but steady tension.

The problem is that I damaged several of the traces while doing this, most notably a section of the circuit where the sheets are supposed to be connected.

Cutting a groove in the keyboard allows you to bend it. The groove accomplishes 2 things. First, it allows you to make the bend without stretching the steel or the plastic membrane. Second, it allows you to make the bend in the most solid part of the frame (otherwise, your attempt to bend the keyboard will just bend the thin pieces between the keys).

After a lot of guesswork, trial, and error, I figured out what shapes I wanted for the wood panels that form the new keyboard frame. The masking tape allowed me to mock things up fairly quickly. The tape makes the frame quite rigid.

Using the keyboards themselves as a brace, I glued in some angled wood blocks to form the sides of the case. The front and back sides are not connected by wood.

Next, I glued in 4 blocks that will prevent the bottom of the case from pushing up inside.

The bottom panels are cut, and screwed into place.

Now that the bottom of the frame is constructed, I can remove the keyboards in preparation for gluing them down.

JB Weld seems to be the preferred method of attaching wood to metal.

And this is the point — after gluing down the keyboards and re-installing the electronics — where I discover that I have damaged the plastic sheets, thus rendering most rows of both keyboards inoperative. This is a major setback.

However, it doesn’t stop me from assembling the endcaps for the sides of the case, one of which will have 2 USB ports for my mouse and other accessories.

I had to get 2 more used keyboards, and these are the new ones. I was able to unglue, de-key, and cut up these new keyboards much faster than before, and with fewer mistakes. If you notice, I didn’t remove as many keys this time — the spacebar can’t be shortened, so you might as well keep what’s above it.

Rather than using a sheet of paper to block the contacts in the flexible sheet, I just separated them (with a heat gun this time, about 180 degrees) and dotted them with pink nail polish. There were a few I had to cut into, but I avoided separating any parts that shouldn’t have been separated.

There is some room under the left side of the keyboard, so that’s where the USB hub goes. 2 of the USB plugs belong to the 2 keyboards, while the other 2 go to the open ports on the right side. Shapelock forms the base, and it’s JB welded down to the board.

I also used Shapelock (InstaMorph) to cover the gap on the top of the keyboard. Here, I’m testing all the key events with xev.

Here’s a better view of the tilt angle.

And a better view of the split angle. This keyboard feels wonderful.

Hey Apple: you should make this. I bet your developers want one.

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