Maker Projects – Part 1 – The Dactyl Manuform


Your keyboard almost certainly sucks. But if you are willing to spend countless hours pulling out your hair, and more money than you are willing to admit to yourself or your wife, then you too could have the perfect keyboard… until you realize that you could do it so much better than your last iteration. Such is the life of the maker. This post is not a tutorial. Here and Here and Here are the tutorials I used to create this build. Rather, this post is simply intended to show off a cool thing I built, as well as provide a few pointers I learned while building my keyboard.

Build Pictures:


Print Time: 34 Hours (Friend’s printer, not mine)
Build Time: 3 Weekends
Switch Types: Cherry MX Brown RGB (Tactile but quietish)
Firmware: QMK – Build File found on my GitHub
Layout: 5×7 Dactyl Manuform

Build Notes:

  1. Dont rush it. This is a hard maker project, and not something to create in a single sitting (especially if its your first time).
  2. Buy a nice Soldering Iron. I started out with a cheap 20 dollar iron. It was bad. It was hard to get any solder to flow and it heated unevenly. A friend of mine lent me his Hakko FX-888, and it changed everything. The first time I tried to wire up my pro-micro, I not thread my wires, and it took about 2 hours to fix. Using the Hakko Iron, the pro-micro was soldered in 15 minutes.
  3. Expect it to not work the first time. If you got your board working without any troubleshooting, my hat is off to you. I did not have that luck. But, I didn’t give up on the project. Here are the main things I troubleshot:
    1. Did you wire everything correctly?
      1. Check a voltage reader for broken lines, two of my columns were not complete and needed additional solder.
      2. Check your wiring diagrams, I wired one of my pro-micros in reverse (I’m dumb, that’s why)
    2. Are any components broken?
      1. One of my diodes on my left keyboard was faulty, so no input was detected from my “W” key. Replacing the Diode fixed the issue.
      2. One of my TRRS adapters had a broken lead. I hard wired the two boards together, which fixed the issue… for now. I’m going to create a long term solution for that at some point.
    3. Did you use the right firmware?
      1. My keyboard would not return any key presses unless I mashed all of the keys. I was sure that I had it wired correctly, but it still would not work. I almost gave up at that point. As a hail marry, I tried using a different keyboard map, and magically everything worked correctly. There is a concept with QMK called Column to Row vs. Row to Column. I had selected a Column to Row configuration when I needed to use a Row to Column configuration for my board.

Whats Next:

  • I want to integrate a Single Board Computer (SBC) into the right hand keyboard. Its totally not practical, but why not? It will fit easily, and then my keyboard can also be my portable workstation computer!
  • I want to integrate a battery pack into the left hand keyboard to power my SBC.
  • I want to integrate LED lights into the keyboard.
  • My build currently only uses six of the seven available columns on my keyboard. I am actually thinking I want to reserve these keys for hardware integrations. The seventh row of keys would manage LED’s, Board Resetting, and Controls for my SBC.

Closing Thoughts:

In the future, I am going to use a different print. This one was awesome, but it does not fit my hands quite as well as I would like. The thumb cluster is a bit further away from the main board than I would like, causing a bit of strain when I try to reach the furthest thumb keys. Otherwise, I love it. I programmed this board such that I would not have to use a mouse, and QMK mouse keys are fantastic. I am proud of what I built, and I know that I can do it again. A special thanks to the friends who helped me with the print, wiring, and firmware for this build. It was not a solo project to say the least. Hopefully the next one will a fully solo project!

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