Soldering Isn’t as Hard as It Seems – Things I’ve Learned

Over the past two weekends, I took the next step in my mechanical keyboards journey – I started soldering my own keyboards. It was something that I was initially hesitant on picking up because of my lack of experience, but after spending over a year in the hobby I decided that it was the correct thing to do.

While this post isn’t going to be useful for anyone who’s already experienced in soldering, I thought I’d share some pointers I picked up firsthand and hopefully help some beginners out there.

Building a keyboard isn’t difficult, and soldering switches is probably the easiest part of building a keyboard. The fact that I, a 33-year old man with no experience or DIY skills, could follow instructions to put a kit together is a testament to how easy it is.

The most beginner-friendly way to begin is to pick up something like a simple numpad kit that has all the onboard components already soldered in. This way, you can get a taste of what it’s like to put a keyboard together by just soldering the switches in, which was what I did.

I picked up this numpad kit from AliExpress and managed to build it in under half an hour. It was that straightforward.

This technique mentioned in the Soldering is Easy comic is correct. You place the component between the iron and the solder – this way, you’ll ensure that the solder will stick to the component because it will only melt the solder if the component is hard enough. This site has some pictures of what a good solder joint should look like.

I might be wrong on the theory here, but what I’ve discovered is that solder will only stick to parts if they are hot enough (or coated with flux?). This is something I did not know at the start. If solder isn’t sticking to your iron instead of your components or the PCB, that means it hasn’t been heated long enough. I know that flux is involved here as well, but I haven’t figured out how that works yet. I know that if solder isn’t sticking to a joint, I continue heating it until it does.

Initially, I did not know why my solder wasn’t melting despite me holding the iron against the component for quite a long time. This resulted in me sticking the solder directly onto the iron to melt it to form a connection – which was the wrong move. This could result in cold joints where the solder is only formed around the joint and PCB, but not creating a connection.

It might seem obvious, but use as much of the soldering iron tip as possible to heat your components. When I first started soldering, I was wondering why sometimes solder would melt instantly vs other times when they wouldn’t melt at all. It was by accident I realized the whole tip of the soldering iron could be used to transfer heat to the components. That was a game-changer for me. Once I learned this, the task became so much easier to do.

Speaking of tips, I found it easier to work with a cone-shaped tip than the fat square tip that came with my soldering iron (TS80). Even though the fat tip was much faster when it came to heating up components, it felt so unwieldy in my inexperienced hands. From what I’ve heard, it can be the better choice in some cases, but I guess I’ll find out in the future. Having a small and precise head to work with turned out to be the right choice for me. If you’re struggling with a square tip, maybe changing to a smaller cone might make the difference.

Fortunately, the fine folks over at The Board Podcast Slack gave me loads of good advice before I started soldering, and one of the best tips was to pick up a solder sucker. I’m very glad I listened because if I didn’t have one with me, I doubt I would have managed to finish any of my keyboard kits. These things are invaluable. Because unless you’re perfect and know how to use the right amount of solder each time, and never make bad joints, they will come useful in the future when you’re desoldering switches. I think there are much more advanced tools you can use for the job, but this SS-02 Solder Sucker has served me well so far. I’m pretty sure I’ll get a lot of use out of it in the future.

As for maintaining your solder sucker, it’s not too difficult – make sure it isn’t clogged up with solder – use some tweezers to get rid of solder stuck in the head every few uses.

Another good tip I’ve picked up is to reflow your joints after you’ve finished them. It might be troublesome, but sometimes it’s better to be safe than sorry. Sometimes joints may look good or functional even if they’re not. After you’re done soldering, it’s a good idea to use your iron to reheat the components and the solder again to reform a connection. If you don’t have a multimeter to test your connections, reflowing solder can help reduce the number of bad connections on your board.

Other tools that I’ve found useful: flush cutters (for trimming stab legs, pro mico headers and switch-legs for shorter cases), tweezers (to hold small components like SMD LEDs or wires in place, and to bridge connections if you ever need to test something), and a screwdriver set with multiple head types (you never know what kind of screws you’ll be getting with your keyboard). A multimeter is also a useful tool for you to test if you have any faulty components, or to test if a switch has been soldered in properly – very useful when you’re building a keyboard that can’t be powered on without a controller.

Lastly, I’d recommend a good place to work while you put your keyboard together. Besides having adequate ventilation and bright lights, you want a table that’s high enough so you don’t get neck strain (like I did) while spending hours soldering components to a PCB. Clamps with adjustable hands would also help for certain components (I’m definitely going to pick up one of these in the future) because trust me when I say it’s no fun trying to solder wires to headers without one of these. It feels like you need three hands just to do the job.

On a side note, desoldering a pro micro has got to be one of the most challenging things to do. I haven’t been able to do it properly yet, but it’s one of the skills I’ll need to pick up in the future. I’ll update this post when I get that down!

Some answers to questions I’ve seen floating around the internet:

What kind of solder do you use?

Cheap solder

I use some cheap solder (photo above) available at my local Ace Hardware which is 60/40. It probably isn’t as good as some other well-known brands but it works for me. I’m no expert but I think most leaded solder with rosin core will do (you need rosin core so it can work for electronics).

What temperatures do you work with?

I initially started at 300° Celsius, but I found that the solder I used melted way faster at 350° Celsius, so I’ve been working at that temperature. It really depends on what you have, so experiment to find out what works for you. If you’re fast and more experienced, you can go even higher to reduce the wait time for your components to heat up. Also, don’t be too afraid of damaging your PCB/components. Unless you’re heating at a super high temperature (something I wouldn’t recommend if you’re new), you shouldn’t be too worried about causing any damage, especially if you’re only doing through-hole components.

Basically, that’s all I have to say on the topic for now. If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to drop a comment below. I’d be more than happy to hear tips from those with more experience than me.


This post was written on my Fourier and Tanuki – the two keyboards I put together over the past two weekends.

UT47.2 Review

UT47.2 with clear low profile case

When Keyhive announced the UT47.2, I was immediately interested: a hotswap staggered 40% keyboard kit for $38 (group buy price – excluding shipping, switches, keycaps and case) – what more could you ask for?

Clear 3D printed plate and case

I purchased the optional 3D printed low-profile case since I wanted more protection for the PCB than the default kit provided, and I’m more than happy with it. Despite the case and plate being 3D printed, I had no issues inserting switches into the plate, which lined up with the PCB and case perfectly. Assembly was a breeze.

NovelKeys Kailh Box Pink switches

Kailh Box Pink were my switches of choice and after using them for a day, it’s safe to say I’m in love. Box Pink is my new favorite clicky switch. It makes me wonder why nobody is talking about them? They feel like a slightly heavier Box White switch with a much deeper click – similar to how a Box Navy sounds, but softer! I’m definitely picking up more of these for future clicky builds. If what I’ve said sounds like what you’re looking for, give them a shot. You won’t regret it. Great job, NovelKeys!

DSA Granite

After testing out the switches, the next step was putting the keycaps on – which took more time than putting the board together, I kid you not. Major props to Keyhive for the wonderful experience. Keycaps are DSA Granite, which was what I had on my (sold) Vortex Core. They couldn’t have asked for a better new home.

Important!

Flashing the keyboard was straightforward – just remember to set your QMK Toolbox configurator microcontroller to atmega32u2 (something I missed initially), and you’re good to go. I’ve been using 40% boards for a while now so I already knew what layout I wanted on it – there was no need to experiment. For this keyboard, I used a combination of my Planck and Kumo (Minivan) layout. If you’re interested, you can preview it or download the .hex and .json here.

While there is a lot to praise about the UT47.2 – I do have some minor complaints (none were deal-breakers for me, but I thought I’d point out). Firstly, it uses a 1.25u (enter) key on the home row. This isn’t an issue if you’re using flat profile keycaps like DSA, but on sculpted profiles (i.e. Cherry), it’s going to be difficult finding keys for it in the right profile (almost impossible if you want the correct legends). A handful of upcoming keysets will be addressing the need for this extra key. But if you plan to use an existing sculpted keyset with this board, you’re going to have mismatching profiles for that 1.25u key since most 40s kits in the past only have one of those (usually with the Tab legend).

Bought my own rubber bumpons

The kit didn’t come with stabilizers for the 2u space (unnecessary, but supported by the PCB and plate), rubber bumpons (also unnecessary, but something I appreciate) or a USB-C cable. Those are my only complaints.

If you’re interested in picking up one for yourself and missed the group buy, fret not. Keyhive has some extras for sale here ($50) and you can purchase the optional case here ($25) – Keyhive has tons of different designs. SpaceCat also has the UT47.2 on sale here.

Typing Test – quality isn’t that great since it was recorded on my phone, but it should give you an idea of what to expect.

Conclusion: the UT47.2 is one of the best staggered 40% keyboards I currently own. If you’re thinking of trying out the form factor, on a budget and not looking to solder – this keyboard is right up your alley!

This post was written on my UT47.2

60 minutes of fame

I spent my weekend being quite productive, I must say. I organized my keyboard spare parts into plastic boxes, and threw out a lot of cardboard boxes and plastic bags. Now I have extra space in my closet for more keyboard stuff.

I’ve mentioned about having thoughts of recording my own podcast in the past before, and while that hasn’t taken off, I managed to do the next best thing: by being a guest on a podcast I regularly listen to! Over the weekend, I took up Don’s invitation to be a guest on The Board podcast and it was a lot of fun. I was expecting a lot of awkward silences and dead air, but conversation flowed pretty well. I had never been interviewed about keyboards before, so that was fun. I get to speak about something I’m interested in.

The audio quality of my microphone is pretty terrible, I should have recorded locally so he could merge the files but it’s listenable. If you’ve ever wondered what I would sound like on radio, feel free to listen to the episode. Thanks again to Don for having me on! I’ll be up for another episode down the road if the opportunity rises again!

I think my body might be telling me to quit drinking. Last night I was out for some beers and I noticed that every time I took a sip of beer, my jaw started to hurt for no apparent reason. It kept happening throughout the night. However, whenever I took a swig of water, my jaw was fine. No pain at all. I’m not sure what the cause is and googling doesn’t give me anything useful. Hopefully it was just something fucky in the air (or drink) last night because it would suck if my jaw hurt every time I drank alcohol.

In addition to drinking beer, I had a lot of water which helped my body immensely the following day – I didn’t have to sit on the porcelain throne for most of the day (something which usually happens after a night of drinking). I guess I know what to do whenever I go drinking in the future. Water = good.

1UP Keyboards HHKB (kit) Review

1Up Keyboards HHKB Kit

After using the Tokyo 60 and Tofu for a few months, I realized that they’re not as portable as I’d like them to be. Even though they’re not heavy like a full-sized keyboard, you start to feel the difference in your backpack – I could tell whether I had one of them inside by the weight of my bag alone. While I have a regular HHKB, its lack of customization (without a Hasu controller) annoys me sometimes, especially because I love using mouse keys when working on my laptop.

I’ve been keeping my eye out for a lightweight HHKB custom keyboard, and when 1Up Keyboard’s Hotswap HHKB Kit flew into my radar, I knew it was what I wanted. Here’s what I ordered: clear plastic case, carbon fiber plate, hotswap Tsangan PCB, and stabilizers. I got my switches and keycaps elsewhere.

Side profile

Firstly, I want to shout out about the purchasing experience on the 1Up Keyboards site. It’s been the best purchasing experience I’ve ever had on any keyboard shopping website. It was so easy to make sure I got everything I needed for the keyboard. There are easy-to-use drop down menus to select what you want, with prices listed clearly and total price updating live. All the options are selectable on a single page, and they make sure you can only choose compatible parts. Even though I didn’t need it, I can see how easy it would be to recommend to people who are building their first keyboard.

Back to the keyboard. It arrived undamaged, in no frills packaging that was sufficient to keep it protected. No complaints there, I also received a whole bunch of stickers to use. I assembled the board with no issues. I have never used a carbon fiber plate prior to this, so I expected it to be extremely flimsy – I was so wrong. Switches snapped in nice and snug. It worked just like a normal plate that was very light.

I put on Box Navy switches with Maxkey SA keycaps on this and was surprised to feel that it was even lighter than my HHKB (I don’t have a scale that’s accurate enough to measure the difference – my test was holding one keyboard in each hand, so I could be wrong). I was very impressed by how light it is. I suspect it would be even lighter with different (shorter) profile keycaps on. Regardless, it met my requirements of a lightweight, programmable MX-style HHKB.

Exposed carbon fiber plate

First thing I noticed about the typing experience was the flex. While it didn’t feel like I was bending the PCB, my keystrokes felt more cushioned compared to typing on a metal plate. Then again, it could have been the effect of a tray mount vs. integrated plate (which the Tokyo60 and Tofu HHKB use). I would probably need to use more plates and mounting styles to come to a conclusion. In my opinion, the switches and keycaps that you use will probably have a more noticeable effect than the type of plate but this is coming from someone who’s relatively new to the hobby. More experienced people would probably tell you otherwise. As to whether this feels better or worse – I’m indifferent. Flex vs no flex is a personal preference, and I don’t have a preference for either.

Typing on SA keycaps on Box Navy is a pretty enjoyable experience. The thick clicks are definitely amplified and people know when you’re hard at work, or gaming. I’ll be trying out different switches in the future (the positives of having a hotswap board) to see if they work better with the flexible plate.

The underglow is BRIGHT

The underglow lights on this thing is bright – especially when paired with a clear case, you can easily illuminate the surface around the keyboard. Fortunately, you can easily disable them if you find it distracting (I only turn on the underglow for photographs as I rarely use it when I’m working). You get the standard RGB modes and colors you can access through QMK, nothing out of the ordinary here.

Programming the PCB was easy – just like any other QMK PCB. However, I’ve been seeing an issue with the board pop up a couple of times on the 1Up Keyboards Discord: my PCB arrived unflashed. This meant, I couldn’t input any keystrokes on the keyboard when it was first assembled. I had to use the physical reset button (fn+b wasn’t working for me) to get it into bootloader mode before flashing my keymap. This isn’t a big deal for most people, but some sort of default layout would have been helpful for those who decide to screw the board into their case before flashing it (you can’t access the reset button without removing the PCB from the case). I’m not sure if it’s an issue for all of the PCBs they sell, or me and the people who complained were only the minority.

Issues: I won’t lie – the silver carbon fiber plate is hideous. I should have gone with black or red, though I can’t expect it will look much better. I’m not sure if it’s possible, but a texture-less version of the carbon fiber plate would have been more up my alley. This is my biggest problem with the keyboard. Yes, you read that right. I love everything else about it.

So was the board everything I wanted? Yes. I set out to build a lightweight keyboard and I got exactly that. And to top it off, it’s affordable (your choice of switches or keycaps will affect the base price). It’s also an in-stock item that you can purchase any time from 1Up keyboards instead of having to wait for a group buy (unlike the Tokyo60). Oh, it also comes with USB C.

Overall, I am extremely pleased with the 1Up Keyboards HHKB and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anybody looking for an easy to assemble, lightweight and affordable keyboard. It is also available in other styles (standard ANSI and Win key-less) if HHKB isn’t what you’re looking for.

Here’s a sound test of the 1Up Keyboards HHKB:

Not giving up on ortho just yet

When I got my Planck late last year, I ended up putting it aside most of the time due to my difficulty with using the ortholinear layout. I felt kinda bad about neglecting it so over the past two weeks I’ve been forcing myself to use the keyboard exclusively when working outside, and what a difference it’s been. I can actually type at decent speeds right now, and even though the bottom row is still a challenge to me, I think I can actually get used to it (I’m up to 76wpm now). Good thing humans are adaptable creatures.

The main issue I face with this board was with QMK. I’m happy that the people working on it have been keeping it updated, and they’ve been very responsive on reddit and discord. Big shout out to them. For people who want to stick with the default layout, this won’t be an issue since you don’t need to mess around with keymaps and setting up build environments.

In terms of build quality, you get what you pay for. I do have two screws that seem to unscrew themselves from time to time, I’m not sure why, but I’ll have to implement a fix in the future.

For my layout, I haven’t changed much since my initial setup but yesterday I remapped it to be closer to my other 40% keyboards because I find myself going to the same hotkeys on this board, so I’ve got another retraining step to do. Having an arrow cluster is quite useful – when paired with the function key, I get a very intuitive page up/down, home/end key cluster.

I have also replaced my BOX Royals with Gateron Greens because I find them more enjoyable to type on. BOX Royals do sound real nice in this case though. I’m still using the KBDFans XDA set I designed. May or may not replace them in the future, depending on how much I want to invest in the Planck. I’ll probably be on the lookout for a nicer case.

Maybe I need a few more months with it, but I honestly don’t feel the benefits this keyboard has over my other 40% keyboards. 40% keyboards are already tiny, I have no issues hitting every key from the home row regardless of the stagger – the ortholinear layout only confuses my muscle memory. The best thing about the keyboard is its portability. It’s the lightest keyboard I currently own and I really enjoy traveling with it in my backpack.

One Week on Ortho

So, I finally received my Planck keyboard and I’ve been using them on and off for over a week so I thought I’d write a quick post about it just because I haven’t written anything this week.

For those of you who don’t know, the Planck is a 40% ortholinear keyboard – which means the keys aren’t staggered like a regular keyboard (look at how A is slightly to the right of Q, Z is slightly to the right of A and so on), the keys are lined up in a grid instead. This is supposedly better in terms of ergonomics, but since I haven’t had any issues typing on staggered layouts all these years, I don’t really feel the difference. However, this grid layout introduces a new problem for me (which I assume will go away with time) – muscle memory.

Maybe I’m just a slow learner but I’m having a lot of trouble adapting to the Planck layout. I find myself hitting the wrong keys even if I look at the keyboard to type just because my hands automatically reach out to hit the keys when I have a word to type. It gets annoying when you have to use backspace multiple times while writing a single sentence. Because of this issue, I find myself not using the Planck as much as I’d like to. Other than that, I have no qualms about the keyboard. Initially I had some trouble remapping the keys due to a problem with the QMK configurator site, but since that has been sorted out, everything is fine and dandy, the way I like it.

In terms of build quality – you get what you pay for. I bought the EOTW (easy on the wallet) version of the board because I wanted to try out the layout, and for how cheap it was, I thought it was worth it. The EOTW plates are gorgeous, and so is the PCB. Definitely one of the nicest looking PCBs I’ve seen for a keyboard. The form factor is great – I love how light and tiny it is, though it might feel a little fragile due to the lack of a case (which can be easily solved by spending more money).

Overall – at least based on my short experience with the Planck, I think ortho is not for me. That being said – for people who have issues using staggered layouts, this could be a viable option for a more ergonomic keyboard. At this point in time, I see no benefits to relearning how I type so I don’t think I’ll be an ortho user in the future. That being said, I’m still going to continue using it over the next few months. If my typing doesn’t improve on it, I’ll just turn it into a giant macropad or try to flip it.

7 months and done

Last Sunday was a momentous date for me because of two things: I finally understood the feeling of rooting for a team and watching them win a tournament (all the other times I’ve felt like I’ve always cursed the team I supported by watching them). Virtus fucking Pro won the KL Major and I couldn’t be happier for them. FIrst Valve-sanctioned major of the season, and my favorite team ever since they put on a hero pool clinic at The Summit 7. That tournament turned me into a fan of the team. Anyway, I don’t want to bore anyone with the specifics, but they put on a great show and I hope to see them continue winning in the coming months. The best part about the event was probably walking around in a Virtus Pro hoodie because everyone at the venue seemed to be a Secret fan (there was a Malaysian player in their squad) – I enjoyed those salty tears.

Secondly – I’ve finally finished my Minoxidil course. All six bottles. It took me seven months, but I’m finally done with having to apply liquid on my face twice a day. Feels good not to be burdened by a regiment anymore. On the downside, I see no significant improvement to the state of my beard. I guess you just can’t make hair grow when there were no hair follicles to begin with. Where do I go from here? Well, at least I know Minoxidil doesn’t work for me and my next course of action would be hair transplants so… yeah, I’m not that bothered or desperate enough – looks like I’ll just have to live my life with a patchy, unimpressive beard. Oh well. On the bright side, it is more facial hair than some of my friends can grow.

Seven months ago, I also purchased my first Topre keyboard. The HHKB Pro 2 is still one of my favorite boards to type on. The sound, tactility, and layout – all amazing. I have yet to come across a better typing experience. Recently there have been rumors about an upcoming HHKB Pro 3, so I’m looking forward to that. Assuming there are significant changes to warranty an upgrade. My wish list? MX-compatible stems, built-in programmability. They could keep everything else the way it is and I’d be happy. I know people would like stuff like USB C (I’m not looking forward to having to buy more cables to replace the ones I currently own), heavier domes (an option would be nice, I’m not sure if I’d enjoy something heavier but I would definitely try them out), metal casing (I am honestly a fan of the keyboard’s plastic case – its sound signature and weight would be very different if it wasn’t made from plastic), and Bluetooth (a fine option as long as it’s optional).

In recent keyboard news, my Planck has finally arrived (after a long-ass wait) and I’m personally not the biggest fan of it. I’ll definitely have to spend more time typing on it. I know it’s not a popular opinion but at the moment, I feel that learning to type using an ortholinear board seems way more trouble than it’s worth. It seems very likely that I’ll be turning it into a giant macropad or selling it off. Will give it a thorough chance before I do that.

Tofu HHKB vs Tokyo60 showdown

Tofu HHKB
Tofu HHKB

UPDATE 14th April 2019 : reviewed another hotswap HHKB – the 1Up Keyboards HHKB Kit

Having received my Tofu HHKB kit yesterday and already having a Tokyo60 in my possession, I felt that I was in a unique position to offer my viewpoints comparing both of the keyboards since they are similar in terms of features and price.

After assembling my Tofu HHKB and flashing my layout on it, which was a pretty straightforward process since I built the Tokyo60 almost a month ago, I gave it a test run and starting typing out my thoughts about both keyboards. First it started off as a few paragraphs, then I realized I had a lot more to say than I initially thought. As I wrote more, I decided to just put the information down as a table (see below). Also, please forgive my terrible photography skills as I’m not a photographer and I don’t have a decent camera – regardless, you can just browse Reddit to see much better pictures of the keyboards.

Tokyo60
Tokyo60

For context, I own an HHKB Pro 2 (my first and only Topre board) that I use very often. Since adapting to the layout, I’ve programmed it on all my keyboards since I really enjoy it. When the opportunity to get a custom HHKB that didn’t need any soldering, I jumped on it – which was how I joined the Tokyo60 round 1 group buy. A few months after that, KBDFans (great online store btw) decided to release a HHKB version of its Tofu keyboard I hopped on that preorder as well. Now I own two hotswappable HHKB keyboards.

Tofu HHKB rear
Tofu HHKB rear

Tokyo60 rear
Tokyo60 rear

I love how the Tofu HHKB looks – its minimalist approach with its sleek edges and sharp corners really tickles my fancy. The shiny brass weight at the back really ties it all together, giving a little bit of spice to an otherwise reserved design. I think it looks much better than the Tokyo60 – not that it is a bad-looking board in the first place, it’s just very generic and subdued if you put them side by side. I know quite a lot of people complained about the gaps on the Tokyo 60 since they weren’t representative of the render but I honestly don’t mind them at all. Sure, it sucks that there are ways for your food to get into your keyboard, but honestly – you shouldn’t be eating at your keyboard in the first place.

Tokyo60 gaps
Tokyo60 gaps

Tofu HHKB gaps
Tofu HHKB gaps

However, when it comes to almost everything else, I think the Tokyo60 has the Tofu HHKB beat. I’m not sure if I received a bad Tofu HHKB PCB (but based on some Reddit comments that I’ve read, I wasn’t the only one) – I had a few loose Kailh sockets that I had to fix in place with some electrical tape (hopefully they hold out and I don’t have to resort to resoldering them in the future). This really affected how I felt about the keyboard – it was like receiving a substandard product. I’m not sure if it’s due to the alignment of the plate/PCB but inserting switches to the sockets was also a bitch to do – I had quite a number of bent legs despite be trying to insert the switches as carefully as possible. I only bent about 5 switch legs when inserting them into the Tokyo60. Also, when I was removing keycaps from the Tofu HHKB, most of the time, the switches would come out with the keycap. This could be due to extra tight keycaps, a tight switch stem, or issues with the tolerances for the switch sockets.


Tofu HHKB PCB

UPDATE 7th October 2018: after speaking to a KBDFans rep, they mentioned that they’ll be sending me a new PCB, so I’ll be updating my review once I’ve received it!

UPDATE 29th October 2018: received my replacement PCB today, assembled the keyboard with no issues – no sockets coming loose and not many issues with bent pins (only bent 3 switches this time around). Everything is working as expected, so the only complaint I have with the PCB is that it is uglier than one for the Tokyo60 (which may or may not be a valid complaint for other people – I’m not bothered by it).

Both keyboards come with underglow RGB support and no way to show the lights. Tokyo60 addresses this with the round 2 extras but I have no idea if KBDFans will be doing anything about it in the future. Also, even though you don’t see the PCB when the keyboard is assembled, I appreciate the design put into the one of the Tokyo60 – it looks great, while the HHKB Tofu PCB I received was plain white with no design at all.

Here’s how the underglow looks like at the moment – essentially useless since there’s no way to see it clearly unless you look in between your keycaps at a certain angle. This will also probably vary depending on the keycaps you have installed.


Tofu HHKB underglow


Tokyo60 underglow

Programming both boards was straightforward (if you’ve used QMK before) so I had no issues there. The weight on the Tofu HHKB also works as a slider that allows you to choose which USB C port you’d like to use (or you can remove it for a lighter board and access to both ports). However, the keyboard didn’t come with a USB C cable which was a minor annoyance, while the Tokyo60 had a mini USB cable bundled with it.

 Tokyo60Tofu HHKB
PriceUSD 159.99USD 159.00
AppearanceGood, nothing to shout about - a standard-looking custom MX HHKB.Great, sleek design with sharp corners. In my opinion, a very sexy design, especially with the shiny weight at the back.
Build qualityGood, solid case, no issues fitting together. No issues when removing keycaps. Good, solid case, no issues fitting together. Weight gives it additional sturdiness. Not sure if it's due to the size of the sockets or the tightness of my keycaps, but removing keycaps pulls the switch out together as well.
PCBIn terms of design, it looks great, Kailh sockets work well without any issues.Plain looking PCB (not that it matters), but my PCB had issues with 3 of the Kailh sockets being loose (one of them even popped out during assembly). It uses holtites for the switches around the USB ports - which may or may not be an issue for some people (I don't have a problem with it).

(Update 29th Oct: received the PCB today, assembled the board with no issues - no more problems with sockets falling out and only 3 pins bent this time around!)
Ease of assemblyNo instructions provided, but there were no issues here - very straightforward. No instructions provided, but there were no issues here - very straightforward.
PortsMini USB, left side.USB C (two ports) left and right.
UnderglowRGB underglow enabled on the PCB, but there's no way to see it. However, an acrylic base is scheduled for R2, so that issue will be rectified.RGB underglow enabled on the PCB, but there's no way to see it. No idea if there are plans for an acrylic base.
Included accessoriesMini USB cable, screws, GMK stabilizers.Two blank keycaps (not sure what they are for), brass weight, magnets for the weight, screws, stabilizers (not sure what brand they are but they came disassembled and they don't have any extra legs to clip).
FirmwareQMK.QMK.

Overall, I’m satisfied with my Tofu HHKB (I really wish the Kailh sockets were soldered on properly – hopefully they have better QC in the future) and would recommend it to anyone looking for a hotswap HHKB custom keyboard. It also has the added benefit of being in stock, while buying the Tokyo60 would mean waiting for it to go live on Massdrop (round 2 just ended). In terms of practicality, they’re both the same – just choose which keyboard you want based on its design.

Other notes:
The Tokyo60 does have more exciting colors, but you’re going to have to wait til next year to buy one.
The Tofu HHKB is available in a variety of colors, with mixed halves as well, but nothing as eye-catching as Akira Red, Rose Gold or Ink.

The Tofu HHKB is my first keyboard with Gateron Greens and I’m really digging them. They are definitely less tactile than Box Navy switches (on my Tokyo60), but with the added benefit of being not as loud. There’s still a satisfying click, especially with /dev/tty MT3 keycaps.

Speaking of keycaps, this is also the first time I’m using MT3 keycaps. I’m using the full-sculpt profile (row 1-5, no row 0 on HHKB) and they’re definitely reminiscent of SA keycaps. I now understand what all the reviews are talking about when they say that these caps cup your fingers. I’ll need to spend more time typing on them to form a stronger opinion but I’m liking it so far. While I’ve spotted some alignment issues (as is expected with dyesub keycaps), they’re not too glaring. My main issue is the text thickness of the characters on the number row – in my opinion they look a little too bold compared to the alphas.

Typing Tests:

Tofu HHKB
Gateron Green switches
/dev/tty MT3 keycaps


Tokyo60
Kailh BOX Navy switches
SA Control keycaps

As requested by a user from Reddit, I’ve taken some shots of the keyboards side by side so you can compare the differences between their heights/angles.

One Column Short

Yesterday I received my newest keyboard – another 40% board – the Daisy. I immediately flashed my preferred layout on it, put some temporary keycaps on and started typing away. Lo and behold, I kept making mistakes. I was thinking to myself, what is wrong with me? Was it the clicky switches that affected me?

I spent a few minutes on an empty notepad document and analyzed my typing mistakes. They were very consistent: I was typing U instead of I, K instead of L, M instead of N, comma instead of full stop. It was then I understood what was wrong: it was the missing column on my keyboard.

Prior to this, my only experience with 40% boards was the Vortex Core which had an additional column of keys compared to the Daisy. Since it was the only 40% board that I’ve spent the past few months mastering, my muscle memory was already tuned to it. Who would’ve thought one column (which consists of 3 keys) would make such a big difference?

For reference, here is my Vortex Core layout:

Here is my Daisy layout:

I was so used to typing on the Core which was one column short compared to a 60% board, but the position of the home row fingers (ASDF HJKL;) was still the same so it wasn’t much of a challenge. With the Daisy, it was a different ballgame. Because I was missing the ; key, my pinky had to rest on Enter – something I had never done before in my life. Enter was always a key or two away from where my pinky rested, not under it. When using the Core, I located where to rest my pinky by finding the enter, and moving one key to the left.

I guess my mind still thought I was typing on the same board and caused me to make the same consistent mistakes. Since recognizing the problem, I have corrected my hand placement and am almost back to full speed with minor mistakes. I guess even the slightest changes can have a significant impact when you’re so used to doing something one way. And I thought I was done with learning pains. Can’t wait to see what it’s like to type on a Planck!

Not gonna have proper keycaps to fill this board for a while, so I threw on my old DSA keycaps in the meantime. For those of you interested in my Daisy layout, you can find it here.

Vortex Core Update (and typing tests)

Just thought I’d post a small update since Vortex posted new firmware for the Core that enables custom remapping via its online layout editor. Thanks to it, I’ve got the keyboard bound to 99% the way I like it.

My previous complaints about not being able to reassign the Fn1 keys and having too many unused keys rebindable have been solved. My only gripe is that I can’t move the default Fn key – I can only assign another key to work as Fn, so I now have two Fn keys instead of one. However, since it’s not that much of an issue I can live with it (I still hope they will fix it in a future update though).

Currently, my Vortex Core has the following layout:

For those of you interested in using this, here’s my layout file for you to flash onto your Core.

On a side note, I’m done with 100% keyboards – I’ve replaced my full-sized SteelSeries Apex M500 at home with a Plum Nano 75. I wanted to give Topre clones a shot and the Plum Nano 75 seemed like a pretty good idea.

For a Topre-clone, I would say it’s far from the stock experience of real Topre (comparing vs the HHKB). I bought the 45g dome version with additional 20g springs and it still feels linear as hell. I can’t imagine what the 35g dome version would be like. I might replace the domes in the future for more tactility, but I’ll stick with it stock for now. Typing on it sounds quite nice – it’s a very ‘ploppy’ sound. It’s hard to describe but you can check it out on my typing demo:

I love its form-factor. The function row over a standard 60% body is perfect for keycap compatibility. The only thing that would make it better would be a HHKB-style bottom row, ala the Eve Meteor.

I appreciated that the stabilizers came lubed with the board though. No rattle at all, and the build quality of the board was solid. The stock keycaps leave a lot to be desired (in terms of appearance). Fortunately, it has MX-compatible stems so I swapped them out with some Tai-Hao Black on White ABS keycaps (costar stabs were a pain in the ass though). The cable channel can be annoying if you unplug it often but since I’m leaving the board on my desktop at home, this isn’t an issue for me.

I bought the non-Bluetooth, non-RGB version so I can’t comment about those features (who needs them anyway?) but overall, I’d say get the Plum 75 if you’re a fan of the form factor and intend on replacing the domes if you’re not a fan of linear typing experiences. Avoid it if you’re looking for an alternative to real Topre – get a real Topre keyboard instead.


After recording the typing test for the Plum Nano 75 I decided that I would make typing test videos for my other keyboards as well, so if you’re interested in hearing how my other keyboards sound, here they are:

HHKB Pro 2

KBD Fans HHKB

Vortex Core