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Moving to Split Keyboard AND new layout!

weirdmayo profile image Daniel Mayovsky Updated on ・2 min read

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As a quick backstory

As a quick backstory, I've been touch-typing on a regular keyboard for about 7 years now (since 13), and managed to reach what most people find to be really fast speeds (120wpm). I enjoy the notion of typing on a keyboard. Typing fast and hitting keys accurately. I find it to be extremely satisfying.

Why not QWERTY?

I never had a problem with QWERTY and the row-staggered (regular) keyboard layout. I had RSI once, on my left hand. That was because I was reaching for Ctrl button a lot, and that required bending my left hand backwards. Remapping Caps Lock to Ctrl fixed the issue permanently, and I never experienced any finger fatigue/RSI ever since.

Now with this new keyboard, certain bigrams are harder to type: NU, EC, SW and others would have to be typed with one finger and there is no stagger that would allow you to use a different finger. I am concerned with speed to a significant extent, and typing faster on this than on row stagger while using qwerty is basically impossible.

That is all to say that this project is purely intrinsically motivated and more so as an experiment in search of something better, rather than something done out of ergonomic necessity, like a good amount of people who do
this stuff do.

Split keyboard

After some developers in the mechanical keyboards community spent their time to try to convince me to assemble a split keyboard, I have decided to go all the way and assemble a split, column-staggered keyboard for myself. The keyboard I decided to go with is Lily58 Pro, because it still has the number row, has four thumb keys and supports a rotary encoder.

Lily58 pair
Lily58 keycap profile closeup

Concerns?

Yes indeed I have quite a bit of concerns, about whether switching to this will indefinitely hurt my productivity.

Getting unused from qwerty

That's one of the things that, in my opinion, can be avoided. First of all, because I am learning Colemak exclusively on my Lily58, my performance on the row stagger keyboard didn't suffer a single bit, although it's only been 5 days of training, so it might change later. Also I am still actively training my QWERTY speed on my regular keyboard, for this specific reason.

Vim

Now this is my actual concern. I am a huge proponent of Vim. I will not give it up at any price. If after 5 months of using this layout my Vim performance is going to be slow and miserable, I will have to abandon this layout and go back to my normal qwerty layout. That being said, I will still keep using the ortholinear keyboard.

I will keep you posted

I am quite excited to log this process from my baby steps to 130 wpm on this layout, so you can follow me if you want.

This article was typed entirely on the Colemak layout on the Lily58 keyboard :)

Discussion

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metalmikester profile image
Michel Renaud

Interesting. Never heard of Colemak before. I don't know if I have that courage. I'm not sure if the layout would work well with my Kinesis Freestyle keyboard.

That Lily58 keyboard sure looks a little strange. No key markings on your model?

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joshinat0r profile image
joshinat0r

It's a custom build keyboard (some shops will sell build ones), so you buy a Case, PCB & MCU and solder some switches onto it and slap you own keycaps on.

Legends on split boards are somewhat pointless, just because the layout is vastly different for each person because of QMK (you can flash custom layouts onto the keyboard).
Those are cherry caps, meaning every row has a different height. Most sets that could cover ortholinear (meaning only 1u keys) are QWERTY anyways (Colemak/Workman/Dvorak support are rare). OP would need to get an unsculpted profile (like DSA) to get proper legends.
It's not like you look much at the keyboard when touchtyping, at least when you're typing on a layout that you're familiar with.

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weirdmayo profile image
Daniel Mayovsky Author

Those are OEM keycaps, so they are a little taller than Cherry. Reverse R1 for thumb keys is really comfy :) Although I will probably get a custom wrist rest for this anyways, because reaching numbers on this thing is surprisingly farther than you'd anticipate.

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joshinat0r profile image
joshinat0r

Never really liked wrist rest for split boards, always felt like I had to adjust them every time I reach for the mouse.

Ended up with low profile on my Lilys (Chocs & no case & rubber feets underneath the PCB) instead and find it much more comfortable because the hand ist resting on the table without having to bend my wrists too much.
But its a dangerous rabbit hole, starts with one basic split keyboard and ends with intricate keymaps and a drawer full of builds because you had to try another keyboard with slightly more staggered pinkies.

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weirdmayo profile image
Daniel Mayovsky Author

Yeah I've seen quite a few members on Discord that have like 15 split keyboards :)
I'm thinking of my next build to be Chocs with a tiny acrylic case at most, and MBK keycaps. But that's somewhere in the future. I have to get used to this keyboard first, before I decide whether I want another split :)

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Daniel Mayovsky Author

I honestly get surprised when people mention that my keycaps are blank. I have this, probably unhealthy, assumption that most people that are involved with anything keyboards, are already touch typing, so they are not looking at their keyboard to see the legends.

I assembled the Lily58 myself. The actual kit only comes with a PCB and a case. Everything is soldered together by hand, which is why its significantly cheaper than the Ergodox keyboard.

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metalmikester profile image
Michel Renaud

I was wondering because on their web site I only saw ones with markings. I don't look much at my keyboard myself - only when creating a new password, just to be on the safe side (that's when I don't just use a generated password).

A few years ago my coworker had one of those original Das Keyboard with blank keys at work. One morning I heard cursing and then saw a tech support guy walk by. A few minutes later he walked back with a regular keyboard. I walked by my coworkers office later and the support guy was at his computer with the regular keyboard on his lap, looking at it and then slowly typing on the Das Keyboard. I still get a chuckle when I think about that day.

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Daniel Mayovsky Author

That's worth a chuckle for sure. And what's even funnier is that he didn't connect his keyboard. He'd just look on his regular keyboard and type on the Das :)

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metalmikester profile image
Michel Renaud

hahaha Yes. I didn’t ask. I figured he probably didn’t have much he needed to type and it wasn’t worth going under the desk and everything. I’m often surprised to see people who have been using keyboards for many years and still need to look at the keyboard and type with only two fingers. Oh well, they’re probably very good at something I suck at, soooooo..... :)

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zappellin profile image
Leon Guillaume

I wanted to take a moonlander, but since I bought a planck keyboard recently I don't really want to swap again.

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Daniel Mayovsky Author

Ortholinear is already a step in the right direction in my books :)
Moonlander is really expensive to be honest. If you don't mind something more hands-on, I would recommend Iris or Kyria. Those have wide thumb key areas like Moonlander, but have to be assembled manually. You could pay for assembly service and it would still come out cheaper than the Moonlander. That being said, Moonlander comes with a wrist rest, but you could get one custom made for about $40-50 with ease.
But Moonlander has a return policy, unlike custom-made keyboards :|

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zappellin profile image
Leon Guillaume

Yes I know, but the problem is that I live in France, so for the assembly service I will have to pay for a shit ton of shipping and taxes and for assembling it by myself, I manage to fuck up multiple Arduino card in high school due to my bad soldering skills, but sure a Kyria is a good solution and I wanted to build a Lily 58 but the component were unavailable.

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Daniel Mayovsky Author

I think it's not that hard to do this build.
The only demanding task soldering skill-wise is soldering on the tiny diodes. Everything else is more so carefulness-wise taxing. You have to make double-triple-quadruple sure you are soldering things on the right side, in the right direction in the right pin-out. The actual skill in doing that is low, it's just the carefulness.

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dcsan profile image
dc

following. i recently got a kinesis split keyboard, but much prefer the clickety clack on a mechanical. did you look at other off the shelf designs?

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Daniel Mayovsky Author

If you want something like Kinesis Split but mechanical, look into Quefrency or Sinc. Those are regular row stagger keyboards, but can be flashed with VIA and you can remap anything, to Colemak for example :)