One Keyboard to Rule Them All - I Built a Dactyl Manuform

After the first lockdown here in the UK, I decided that building a keyboard would make a good lockdown 2.0 project. I’ve had my eye on the dactyl manuform for a while so I took the plunge and ordered all of the parts. Thanks to u/crystalhand for the high quality SLA 3D printed case.

So… 6 months after starting the build, I’ve finally finished it, woo! And guess what, it’s surpassed expectations… I’ve been on the r/MechanicalKeyboards scene for a few years now, mainly playing with r/ErgoMechKeyboards in the hope of ending my journey with RSI. I’ve been using an Ergodox EZ and a Kinesis Advantage2 and they are both great. In my opinion, they are the best keyboards you can buy prebuilt, however, neither of them are perfect. The dactyl manuform combines the best features from both of these keyboards, and it just feels great! Here’s a list of my favourite features:

  1. The thumb cluster is incredible, I can easily press all of the buttons without moving my hands away from the home row!
  2. Curved keywells reduce finger strain (Ergodox EZ doesn’t have this),
  3. True split reduces shoulder/arm strain (the Kinesis Advantage only has a fixed split),
  4. The case can be printed with your preferred tenting angle,
  5. Programmable layouts using QMK (I don’t think you can have programmable layouts on the kinesis advantage).

It’s also really pretty and matches my new desk mat! For anyone interested, here’s some of the deets of my build:

  1. Case - The case is SLA 3D printed by u/crystalhand.
  2. Finish
    • wet/dry sanded to 400 grit,
    • primed with Rust-Oleum Primer Spray Paint-White,
    • spray painted with Plasti-kote Satin Sumptuous Purple.
  3. Swithces - I used Gateron clears for all of the keys except the thumb clusters where I used Gateron reds. These are the lightest switches I’ve ever used and I’ve noticed they’ve alleviated some of the finger strain I used to get when using Kailh speed coppers.
  4. Keycaps - OEM profile from AliExpress.

For my next dactyl build I want to edit the CAD model and print it myself. This way I can add more tenting and increase the curvature of the keywells. I am going to generate a CAD model using this site (it provides a simple GUI for generating .scad files of the dactyl manuform). If you’re like me and you spend all of your money on mechanical keyboards, then I’d highly recommend buying all of the parts for a dactyl manuform. There are loads of great guides online which make the build fairly straightforward. Who knows, you might even finish the build in a reasonable time!

Aidan Scannell
Aidan Scannell
Postdoctoral Researcher

My research interests include model-based reinforcement learning, probabilistic machine learning (gaussian processes, Bayesian neural networks, approximate Bayesian inference, etc), learning-based control and optimal control.

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