Designing a deeper chassis for "mechanical" keyboard module

I believe that Framework should have made space for discrete switches in the 16" keyboard modules. The space currently allowed is - frustratingly - just a fraction too shallow for Cherry ULP. I do not wish to rake over the ashes of a previous debate here, save to say that accommodating discrete switches would, IMO, open the door to hand-built and low volume boards that are uneconomic to amortise a membrane production run. This is of great interest of you are a creator or, like me, use an unorthodox format keyboard, or just want a superior typing experience on this “power user” model.

On the belief that the default chassis will not accommodate these switches and that Framework are not themselves fulfilling this demand, I want to discuss the options to build one that will. Is it simply a matter of modifying the drawings with a slightly deeper well for the keyboard modules and then submitting it to a fabricator with CNC machines to manufacture?

I do not believe that there is any reason not to do so, as Framework purport to endorse after-market housings to use their motherboards as tablets or desktop machines. The difference in depth between this proposed chassis and the standard one would, by my reckoning, be minimal as the ULP switch is very similar to the headroom quoted for the keyboard module. The proposed chassis would of course be backward compatible with the standard keyboard modules, they would simply sit lower in the case.

This thread is for expressing interest and scoping out ideas. Are the ULP the way to go, or is there desire for equivalent laptop keyswitches from Omron or Kailh? And are there other low hanging fruit in the chassis design that we as a community can rectify?

In the meantime I would be delighted if our lovely creators, or third party manufacturers, took this and ran with it. Similarly it would be great if Framework adopted our improvements for future versions of the main product line!

7 Likes

Shim the hinges up and pray the display cable is long enough?

8 Likes

This has come up before in the context of DIY keyboards. I doubt the display cable would be such fine tolerance that 1mm at most would prevent it from reaching.

This seems a good way to prototype things, and test the demand for a “mechanical” switch compatibility. In the long run I feel that there must be a more elegant solution. I believe an aftermarket chassis is the key to unlock all sorts of keyboard creativity.

Are there any projects in progress for discrete switches? Also if you are still about, @dosssman, I would love to hear your thoughts. You seem to have got furthest with exploring an unorthodox keyboard in Framework (see linked thread in this post) I would value your opinion as to the best way forward!

3 Likes

It doesn’t get a lot more elegant than shipping a set of longer screws and a fitting shim (you can do lasercut stainelss steel or something if you want to be fancy). Definitely a lot more elegant than needing a whole custom chassis though that might have other perks.

I do hope you are right, in my experience laptop display cables tend to have very little spare length.

5 Likes

Once I have the laptop in hand, and some switches to play with, I’m thinking of a thicker (or possibly just shimmed, but likely not) hinge, and a 3D-printed TPU “bumper” bezel around the perimeter of the screen rather than shimming on the case.

I haven’t looked at the display cable either since I’m Batch 8, and I haven’t looked closely at the hinge either, and those are what I expect to be the biggest issues. I’ve heard that only factions of a mm are needed to fit the low-profile Cherry switches, so I hope the bezel and shims plan works.

For normal hinge/display mounts, the bezel will be able to have a cutout for the extra space the hinges take up, so it would potentially be that simple… shim between the hinge and display chassis, and a bezel with a bumper around the perimeter.

Next best would require a display cable extension, or a new display cable, and worst would be a new hinge design along with the new display cable… both seem completely doable along with a bezel bumper (and both seem relatively easy to install as well).

5 Likes

If you’re ok with the display not closing completely flat, and potentially not being able to make use of the hinge switch (e.g. manually entering sleep), then you may be able to just print a raised wedge bezel that’s thicker at the top than the bottom, allowing the display to only “partially close”, leaving room for the keyboard. It’d likely be thick on one end, but perhaps that’s tolerable. There’s also likely opportunity to minimize the thickness impact using some other tricks.

3 Likes

Hello there. Thanks for the mention. I am still very much looking into having a custom keyboard to replace the standard keyboard format, although slowed in pace with my experimentation.

I am not aware of any progress on the discrete switch since their mention by NRP.
Depending on how it is executed, it could open the door to more reliable designs for a custom layout, but it does seem like a low priority for FW, understandably.

One direction I have been exploring when it comes to Cherry ULP switches that would not necessarily require raising the hinges would be to have a custom PCB with a valley / depression for the ULP switch to be sited in, so as to offset the additional height that comes from the key and keycap.
On top of that, there is the matter of key caps for the ULP, and last time I check, the best thing I could find was the Corsair K100 with ULP switches but one just to mess with key caps and switches is too expensive for me as of now.

Personally, I am not very enthused with the raised hinged approach as I would like to retain the laptop’s thinness, so I have not looked too much into such direction, but I might change my mind later on.

Some new resources that I found while looking for ways to use the Cherry ULP in case some might be interested though:

Writing this in a rush, so I did not have time to peruse and ponder over everything that was said here so far, but looking forward read more of the discussions later.

Best regards.

4 Likes

There appears to be so little room available (without raising the hinges) that I believe you’d have to use a polyimide PCB. You might be able to have a stiffener applied to the whole board, with cutouts for each key. I’ve seen stiffeners done in fairly complex shapes, just not quite like this would be. But even with a polyimide PCB it feels like you’ll still need to go unconventional for the keycaps.

2 Likes

thanks for the references you could provide.

i’m interested in a custom keyboard myself, but in my case, i’m mostly interested in trying to see if i can get an 18mm key pitch keyboard… i have slightly smaller hands than average, and having a decently powered laptop i could potentially have a healthier-for-my-hands keyboard on is an exciting prospect. i’m waiting to see if anything develops once the fw16 start hitting the hands of DIY types… i’d even be willing to commission someone to help with designing something (for long-term health maintenance, it’d be worth the $$$. and i am bad at electronics).

2 Likes

I have less concern over this approach than I did have, thanks to above posts from @Adrian_Joachim and @Deuce. The additional height should be very minimal, particularly as your own research suggests that it may be possible to accommodate the ULP switch within the existing case. If so, it stands to reason that only a little more headroom is needed to make it a comfortable fit. I think that if an ULP compatible case was made it would be very difficult for the average person to tell it apart from the current design without comparing both side-by-side.

I understand that the “open” aspirations of the framework hardware do not extend to CAD drawings of the chassis, obvious when you think about it as they don’t want to do the job of clone manufacturers for them :rofl:. There are however threads where the case drawings are reverse engineered, such as that here.

Another user is looking at a deeper, more rugged chassis possibly with headroom to accommodate “mechanical” keyboard module. However the stated goals of the project require certain compromises in aesthetics, mass and dimensions, whereas this thread agitates for the chassis many of us feel Framework should have as standard.

1 Like

Oh I am all for an release of the chassis cad, I just don’t think it is very viable to manufacture a different one for a couple couple mm taller hinge. I don’t think clones of the chassis are much of an issue for anyone. It’s not like someone is cloning macbook or think-pad mainboards cause the schematics leaked.

2 Likes

It is not a “couple of mm taller hinge” just for the sake of it. It is a design tweak to unlock disproportionate number of benefits. Here are the main benefits I can think of:

  1. We open the door to custom designs of keyboard module built from discrete switches. Rather than anybody with an unorthodox keyboard design having to be confident to amortise the tooling costs of a membrane design over units sold, a new case design would be amortised over every unorthodox keyboard that is sold. Framwork would better achieve their mission of being customisable. Of course the “mechanical” switches would be desirable beyond the unorthodox keyboard community, as the second point refers:

  2. Better typing feel. This better meets Framework’s mission for class leading ergonomics. We also get the “mechanical” keyboard snobs onboard. I am willing to bet that there is also a big overlap between those who favour “mechanical” keyboards and those naturally drawn to Framework’s mission because:

  3. Discrete switches mean not having to replace the keyboard module if one key fails. This makes the keyboard module repairable; it is possible to de-solder and replace individual switches. Framework would thus better achieve their mission of environmental sustainability.

I am interested to know which of these trinity of reasons appeal most to readers of this thread, but of course there is no need to choose because we get all three for the price of one! The only cost being a mm of two tweak to the chassis (or additional spacer).

3 Likes

For myself, only #1 is important, and #2 is nice-to-have. #3 is not important to me at all.

3 Likes

Might also open the door for users dead set on having trackpoints.

3 Likes

Very interested in this, will be following this thread. Count me in as a possible alpha/explorer to buy in to test some things out :wink:

EDIT: Also YES to trackpoints. Yes please. Pretty please.

2 Likes

I guess I’d rather think of myself as a keyboard connoisseur than a keyboard snob, and ardently favoring, rather than dead set on, mechanical keyboards and trackpoints. (don’t worry David E and dossman, no offense taken :slightly_smiling_face:)
As I proffered in 2021, I would gladly trade a little laptop thickness and a little weight to achieve these, for me, holy grails.
OK. So, maybe I am a snob.

2 Likes

A mechanical keyboard would be wonderful. Hopefully someone can figure out a good way of making it happen.

4 Likes

An external keyboard, connected via dongle, or Bluetooth?

Laptops are designed to be thin and light, so even the thinnest mechanical keys add thickness and weight.

I think you’re more likely to get a trackpoint, although the chances of either are between slim and none.

Better win a big lottery, design your own, choosing your own set of compromises.

I would be interested to know much depth and weight (either in absolute or relative terms) you expect a “mechanical” keyboard to add, using super-low laptop specific switches? Also, just to get a handle on your preferences, how much additional depth or weight do you feel would be a deal breaker for yourself?

Your guess is as good as any of ours, but if available, would you like one yourself? Should we read the above that you see more utility in, or would prefer, a track point to “mechanical” keyboard?

I used to use much thicker laptops, from 2011, and even earlier, a monochrome DOS laptop, that didn’t even have a trackpad, it was nice having the keyboard closer to me, with no extra space for the pad.
I don’t know how much would change if an acceptable ultra low profile keyset is used, probably wouldn’t matter to me, because I prefer function over form.

For a trackpoint device, I’ve had them on several laptops and never really was able to control the cursor with them. More power to those more dexterous than I. I did appreciate the physical mouse buttons that were associated with the pointer nub, though.

So I would prefer a good positive feeling keyboard.

At home I use an MX Mechanical. Not a gamer, so my usage is mostly typing.

Still getting used to taps rather than clicks on the trackpad, also. Too much muscle memory and not enough brain cells allocated to remember the new options.

2 Likes