Can a 3D printed keyboard last three years?


The Dactly in all its glory, sitting on my desk.

A few years ago, I set out to build my own keyboard. It was a project that taught me a lot about myself - my focus, my tenacity, my interests, my design sensibilities, and so on. The keyboard I built is called the Dactyl, and it combines basically every keyboard trend you can imagine - scalloped keys, split layout, ortholinear layout, etc. etc. I've got a lovely build journal here if you'd like to see how it all went down.

So, its been a little while - three years to be exact - how are things going?

Things are great

Yeah, fuck you, Betteridge1, my shit is perfect1.

I'm super super pleased to report that not only is the Dactyl still kicking, it has proved way more resilient than I had ever imagined. I use it as a daily driver at home2, I also pack it up every single day and bike it to work where I reassemble it and have NO PROBLEMS WHATSOEVER.

Okay, so

Alright. Alright. Alright. Listen, I invested a lot of time building this thing - a lot of sweat, blood, rosin core solder, and so forth. Christ, the Projects page would basically not exist if not for this thing. I admit, I've got some ego on the line. However, to say that nothing has gone wrong would be, well, stretching the truth.

The Good

Its actually been hilariously reliable. I'm not joking when I say that I tear it down and reassemble it at least once a day. And I live on a cobblestone3 hill; there's a fair bit of abuse this thing is subjected to just on the bike ride to and from work. So, overall, very impressed with the durability, given the context. 10/10.

The Bad


The PLA case has shown some cracks. The poorly timed swivel of an office chair crushed part of the decking where the keys are inset, a fix that would require a new print and rewiring.

Additionally, emergency repairs4 have done some collateral damage. The inset for one of the screws snapped out completely, meaning only two M20s keep the second half intact. It's possible that some print tuning would have prevented these disasters.

Finally, the original print included wrist rests which I decided I didn't want or need. I debated filing this under "The Ugly" - it is mutilation, after all - but I don't miss the gels.

A clsoeup of the segments of the Dactyl where I hacksawed off the wrist rests.

The Ugly4

Twice since full-timing the Dactyl I've been plagued by stretches where a whole column would be written out - e.g. "3wsx" or "4edc". Adding to that, keys would get "stuck" - "aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa" for example. I lived with it for a little while before I could identify the culprit - the TRRS jacks.

A closeup of the TRRS jacks

The TRRS jacks are what allow communication between the "smart" and "dumb" halves of the board. They're also the most fatigued of any part of the board - I pull the 3.5mm TRRS cord every time I pack the thing up, ~2 times a day. Despite my best efforts5, the frequent use took its toll; twice I've had to crack it open and resolder the connections to the jack pins.

So, can it last?

The answer is unequivocally yes - really, the only thing threatening your 3d printed board is the next board you want to build6. Despite the constant abuse and repair, my Dactyl is still going strong and the typing experience is sublime. I can't recommend the experience enough.

  1. Sorry, Mom. ↩︎ ↩︎

  2. Full disclosure - this was written on my laptop. ↩︎

  3. Okay, sett↩︎

  4. Your heroic narrator resoldering bits that he did a poor job of soldering in the first place. ↩︎ ↩︎

  5. I discovered the glue gun. ↩︎

  6. Cementing his mastery of the literary art of foreshadowing/guaranteeing the next board takes another three years to finish. ↩︎