The ErgoDox is a custom split-hand ergonomic mechanical keyboard project started by GeekHack forum member Dox, and contributed to and refined by many others. It was offered as a kit on MassDrop starting in early 2013. After demand for a second run increased, MassDrop offered a second group buy, which I jumped on and placed my order. As of this writing, MassDrop is running a third group buy for the ErgoDox.
This is going to be a review of my time with the ErgoDox, from construction to roughly a week of use. My kit arrived on June 5th 2013, but I wasn’t able to construct the board until June 16th, due to the fact that 8 month old babies have an odd temporal vortex around them that somehow sucks in available free time like a black hole sucks in matter.
Yup, I spent my first Father’s Day constructing a keyboard. Nerd achievement unlocked.
Unfortunately I decided to write this review after finishing the board, so sorry for the lack of pictures.
I purchased a FX888D soldering iron from Amazon for the build, and I already had a roll of solder, which worked find for the build. I followed along with WhiteFireDragons’s excellent video, and had no problems. I’m pretty sure I lucked way out as I had everything work perfectly the first time.
- Hakko FX888D Digital Soldering Iron (I used the stock tip it comes with)
- A roll of 60/40 0.032” Rosin Core solder from Radio Shack
- Wire tip cleaner (the one that comes with the FX88D is fine)
- A pair of side cutters (if you get the iron off Amazon it comes with one)
- Tweezers (REQUIRED for SMDs in my opinion).
- (optional) A magnifying glass if your eyes aren’t so good
- A ventilated work area.
Construction was pretty simple: I just followed along the steps in the YouTube video. I did run across a few things I wanted to comment on though:
SMDs: These were fairly annoying. On the first PCBs these took me quite a while (about 3 hours, but that’s with breaks and distractions). On the second PCB I got much faster results by soldering only one side of the SMDs for an entire row first, and then going back and soldering the 2nd lead.
Soldering an individual SMD is fairly straightforward:
- Place a dab of solder on one of the pads.
- Place SMD on PCB, and apply tip of iron to the lead, not the pad, until you feel the SMD drop into the solder.
- Solder the 2nd lead.
Teensy 2.0 Micro Controller: The only thing to be wary of is when breaking apart the header pins make sure you apply the force correctly, as I ended up with a row that was one pin too short. Thankfully the box came with extras.
Micro USB Connector: Part of the construction of the ErgoDox requires cutting the male end off of a Micro USB cord and getting at the internals. In the YouTube video, WFD uses a Dremel rotary tool to do this, and I will say that if you have one, USE IT. I had no such tool, and had to use a combination of side cutters and needlenose pliers to extract the internals from the plastic casing. Not fun.
Resistors: Neither WFD’s video, nor the instructions on Massdrop explicitly clarify which resistors go where. As I am not an electrical engineer I had to go figure out which resistors were the 2.2kΩ resistors (the one without the dark brown stripe), and which were the 220Ω resistors (the ones with the dark brown stripe). If in doubt, make your resistors look exactly like this (take note of the resistor stripes and orientation):
The case of the ErgoDox consists of 5 laser-cut layers of acrylic bolted together, and they arrive covered in protective paper adhered to each side, presumably to prevent chipping while the laser performs the cut. However, a couple of the layers did end up having chips anyways, and the paper was burnt in a few places. Not a deal breaker, as none of the plates were actually broken.
However, one of the plates on the left side had a problem where the holes for the bolts hadn’t been drilled out completely, and I had to pop out the left-over plastic burrs that were left in the holes. I also had to use a small phillips head screwdriver to bore out the holes until the provided bolts would actually fit.
Programming / Layout
Following the directions on MassDrop’s assembly page for loading the firmware on to the board was fairly straightforward and I had no problem. Rather than repeat them, I’ll link to MassDrop’s page here.
I use a fairly sparse layout, which you can view here.
I’ve been using the ErgoDox for a little over a week now, and for normal typing (such as this post), I’m back up to 100% speed. However, my dayjob requires writing a lot of code, and I’d say that due to the special symbols that have to be used fairly consistently I’m only back up to about 85% of normal speed.
I put together my board with Cherry MX Clear switches, and replaced all the springs with 65g springs from OriginativeCo. These soften the switches every so slightly, and don’t tire my fingers out as much as the standard clear springs (which I believe are 67g, but not sure).
Typing on this board is extremely addicting. The fact that it is a completely vertical layout (as opposed to staggered like most standard keyboards) has made a huge difference in how i hold my hands and fingers (especially for the left hand, the difference is huge). my hands are more relaxed, and my shoulders are less tense.
All in all, a great purchase and I’m extremely happy with this board. At $200 for the bare board (add $37 for the DSA keycaps, and from $37-$50 for the DCS keycaps) it’s not for everyone. But if you’re into high quality mechanical keyboards and like tinkering with electronics, then I’d highly recommend it. The current group buy for the ErgoDox on MassDrop ends on June 30th, 2013.