For reasons that I still do not fully understand, I decided one day that I needed several distinct and different 60% mechanical keyboards. Never mind that I can only use two, at the most, at a time, I wanted a bunch. After repeatedly counting the aftermath, a bunch appears to be at least eight. Possibly nine.
My introduction into the magical world of fun and delight (for interesting values of "magical", "fun", and "delight") that is 60% keyboards was in April or May 2014, when I passed on a group buy on what was then called Massdrop (now just drop. for reasons I am unclear on) for a Vortex Poker II, which was, at that time, a staple board of the 60% lineup. I passed because Amazon had it for probably $12 cheaper, and I absolutely bought it there.
This board was the first time I ever had a backlit board, and boy are those blue LEDs bright. While I have enjoyed using the Poker II, its lack of easily accessible arrow keys made it difficult to use at work. While you can, using the Function key – Menu, in the above layout – raise a layer with arrows and other useful functions, it broke the flow of normal use for me, so I generally went back to full size or ten-keyless layouts (full-size sans numpad).
The next foray into sixty percents was several years later, when I became aware of the 5° case, which is definitely the reason I got back into this form factor. The 5° is an aluminum case on a five degree angle, I guess? It's a hefty piece of case, just under a kilogram of fancy angular precision. The KBDFans store sells a very nice variety of them, and at the time I made my purchase, offered a fully built kit using Zealio switches, which I picked up. This build uses a GH60 Satan PCB running the QMK firmware, so I could avoid the issues that I had with the Poker II.
QMK allows for you to set up a key that functions as normal when tapped, but can raise a modifier layer when held down. Using this feature on the Caps Lock key, WASD turned into arrow keys. While less useful than a dedicated set of arrows, that is far better than taking two hands to do navigation. That second layer layout has since expanded, both to many of my boards, 60% and otherwise, and to include a common layout of additional navigation and ease-of-use keys, much like the layout displayed below:
The RGB area is only used if the board has built-in RGB backlights, as I really don't mind not having that.
Unfortunately, the 5° happened right around the same time as I started building boards for myself and others. With a lightweight case, some Cherry or DSA profiled caps, and reasonably priced PCBs available, the 60% layout makes for a great split between travel board and daily driver. This lead me to build three very different keyboards.
My first built board in this series is somewhat affectionately called "The Arthritis Board". It has a DZ60 USB-C RGB backlit PCB from KBDFans, a Type 2 acrylic case from KeBo, and some bad intentions. Those intentions took form for the switches. I had a brace of tactile orange MOD-H switches in a bag from an impulse buy I have finally come to grips with. Unfortunately, while I really like the tactility of Zealios, I also purchased some Very Stiff Springs from someone as part of a slowly snowballing mistake, along with some switch films and a tube of lubricant, probably TriboSys™ 3204.
So I took apart sixty-four MOD-H switches, swapped their nice, light 62g actuation, 78g bottom-out springs for 125g SPRiT springs, with a 180g surprise for the space bar, stickered up the housings (see the youtube below), and went to town rebuilding the switches and soldering them onto the board.
I purposefully chose the acrylic case and PCB mounted switches so I wouldn't have the weight of a metal plate or case to make this board the lightest that I own, in stark and aggressive contrast to the force needed to bottom-out a key press. The Arthritis Board is really just mean. I love it. It also isn't the meanest board I've built.
Like anyone who spends entirely too much time looking at keyboards and keyboard accessories (lookin' at you, /r/mk), I have seen/admired several different "sticker bombed" cases. Unlike most people, because they don't have a keyboard-shaped problem in their lives, I decided I wanted to make one of my own.
Because I knew this build would not benefit at all from RGB underglow, I opted for the GH60 Satan PCB, because I already have a working firmware build that I use on the 5° that started this whole mess. I picked up a nice CNCd aluminum case from TechKeys, along with a plate and some raised aluminum feet from Sentraq that they no longer seem to offer. I picked an ANSI aluminum plate over a standard universal plate for this build specifically so I had more surface for stickers.
Ebay is a fantastic resource for bulk stickers, if you look for "skateboard stickers" or "supreme stickers", bulk packs can be found for reasonable prices. I ended up with around 300 stickers, weeded through that pile to find some of the less offensive ones and proceeded to sticker the everliving hell out of the case and plate.
I did another mistake with a DZ60 from KBDFans. This one used some lubed MOD-H tactile switches with no other modifications, because I decided to build a 60% with an arrow cluster. This proved to be an interesting challenge, due to a few reasons. I went threw a number of possible layouts. First, I had to use a set of caps that came with a short right shift, to make room for the up arrow, regardless of the potential final layout, I knew I wanted a standard shaped cluster, not all of the arrow keys in a row. Most of the GMK sets I own allow for this, but none of them came with a short LEFT shift as well.
Some background: keycaps are measured in one unit increments (1u). A standard alphanumeric key, like the letter G, for example, takes up 1u. The backspace key takes up 2u, while the other modifiers all take up some fractional units, like 1.5u or a standard left shift, which is 2.25u. For a nice, easy ZXCVB row, I needed a 2u left shift.
I do not OWN a 2u left shift. If I roll a DSA profile, which is flatter than the other profiles I have, I could maybe swing a blank cap there, but I ended up choosing my layout based on the GMK Plum set of caps, which, again, no 2u shift. This caused the dumbest layout I have built.
I picked this lovely NKPC bamboo case up on Massdrop (now, again, drop, because branding, I guess?). It's good. It does case things. Smells a little weird. Keyboards.
Now things get kind of foggy. I can't really remember which board I built first so this magic divider is going to be... THREE BOARDS AT THE SAME TIME.
In order, that'd be two GH60/Satan boards and the ZEAL60, which has RGB and a fancy PCB I did not put a plate over.
The first 60% here was a two-fold thing: I wanted to make Jailhouse Blues and an attempt to give some of the ISO enters I have from various GMK kits. Seriously, I built a whole board to see if I liked the ISO enter. This entire post is about how I've enabled some seriously dumb shit for myself.
That said, at the time of finishing this post, I use this at work as my daily driver, because my Model M is having... call them emotional problems. It's a good board.
The second board is using a Keyboardbelle Prototype Cassette Futura case. It's sort of reminiscent of the Model F Kishsaver. I like it. It's mine now. This board uses what was left of my Linjär switches... which are linears from Sweden. Unfortunately, it was around this time that I found the bag of 180g springs from my "Arthritis 60" build, above, and decided this was the right place for them to make a comeback.
This thing is somehow actually a joy to type on, but ouch. Further, the wonderful MK Ultra makes sound dampening foams of various sizes and shapes (all keyboardy, mind) and this board has both the between-plate/pcb and case/pcb foams. It types really really nicely, but hurts like the romance in a YA fantasy book.
Finally, the ZEAL60 is a PCB I grabbed on Massdrop (now drop lol) after too many beers one night. It is very pretty and for some reason I decided it needed to have a split backspace, a split right shift, AND an ISO enter. Zilent v2s round out this weird, weird, setup, so it is very quiet, and very bad to actually use. The Zilents are fine, but... split backspace? Why, man. Why.
The moral of this post is as follows: never make a spreadsheet about your hobby. It will only bring you pain, and your peers will ridicule you, but you will DEFINITELY be able to write about it on your blog that no one reads.