DIY Gift Idea: a 4×4 Keyboard

For Yen’s birthday, Kyle had an idea that we should make Yen a 4×4 keyboard, since she is a comp sci major, and this additional keyboard may come in handy for shortcuts.

Kyle did most of the work to build the keyboard then I decorated it. Of course, as usual, Kyle didn’t document all his steps, but he told me everything he did, so let’s hope that I got this right.

First of all, we printed the frame and the key caps using a 3D printer. There were 2 parts to the frame: the box and the cap. The box meant to store the cables and the cap meant to hide all the electronic stuffs in the box. We also had to think about details like a hole for the cable connecting the keyboard with the laptop, space for the keycap to bounce, or places to screw the two parts together. All of these were modeled using a 3D program on a computer before transferring to a USB that we would plug to the printer.

After that, we put the key switches on and glued them onto the cap using a hot glue gun. Kyle and I thought that it would be fun to have diverse clicking noises, so we ended up with all tactile, clicky, and linear switches!

Then, we painted the keycaps and glued them onto the switches. We don’t want the keyboard to be too crazily colorful, so we picked three colors that we thought might go well with grey. We started off doing the ladybug, since it was the only idea that I had in mind at the time, plus I loved googly eyes. Then more googly-eye idea kicked in (most of them are animal-related). The rest were mostly pattern-based and were painted without much planning. The beads, which made some buttons pop out, were done last, to avoid ruining the paint layer.

Finally, Kyle did all the cabling and programming work. He set one button that took you straight to “Happy Birthday” by Stevie Wonder on YouTube and one more to close the window.

We really enjoyed working on this project together. Yen also loved our gift when she received it! She thought the painting were adorable and the shortcuts were very thoughtful. Not sure how much Yen is using our keyboard now, but that means I should check in with her and ask about that!

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