2023-08-04 – I made a keyboard!

Another keyboard!


A couple of years ago I made a BBC Micro tribute keyboard in the runup to the beeb’s 40th anniversary. I called it HHKBeeb:

a dusty compact keyboard with red number keys and brown modifier keys; the ALT keys feature the BBC computer literacy project owl logo; to the right of the keyboard is a Kensington Expert Mouse trackball

The HHKBeeb is made from:

I planned to make a beeb-style acrylic sandwich case, but it was too hard to choose a place to get the acrylic cut, so that never happened.

In practice I find 60% keyboards (like the Happy Hacking Keyboard) too small – I need an arrow cluster. So I used the HHKBeeb with a Keybow 2040 macro pad to give me arrows and a few function keys for moving windows around.


My new keyboard is for a Finch and it has 69 keys, so it’s called Keybird69. (I was surprised that this feeble pun has not already been used by any of the keyboards known to QMK or VIA!)

a compact keyboard; most of the keycaps are warm grey with white legends, but the modifiers and special keys are black and white, escept for escape and arrows which are red and white; to the right is a Kensington Slimblade trackball, and below both of them is a dark wooden wrist rest

It is made from:


A combination of reasons:

story time

I have been mildly obsessed with compact keyboards practically forever, but back in the 1990s there were no good options available to buy, so I made do without.

The first small keyboard I liked was the (now discontinued) HHKB Lite 2, which has an arrow cluster unlike the pure HHKB. I have a couple of these lurking in the Boxes Of Stuff in the corner. But I’m not a huge fan of the limited modifiers, or the Topre HHKB Lite 2 key switches (they’re a bit mushy), or the styling of the HHKB case.

Correction: the HHKB Lite 2 did not actually use Topre switches.

I gradually used Macs more, and switched to using the Apple Aluminium keyboard - the model A1242 compact wired version, and the model A1314 wireless version. I also switched from a Kensington Expert Mouse trackball to an Apple Magic Trackpad.

But then Apple lost the plot with its input devices, so I thought I should plan to wean myself off. And in the mean time, the custom keyboard scene had flourished into a vibrant ecosystem of open source hardware and software.

So instead of relying on someone else to make a keyboard I like, I could make one myself! My own PCB and switch plate, designed for just the layout I want.

And with QMK open source firmware, I can make good use of the fn key that was so disappointingly unconfigurable on the HHKB and Apple keyboards.

what’s next

I’m planning to write some more notes about various details of the design:

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⇐ 2023-06-23 ⇐ More random floating point numbers ⇐ ⇒ The unix69 keyboard layout: nerdy and nice ⇒ 2023-08-04 ⇒