Introduction: Keyboard Puzzle for Touch-Typing Classes

About: Openproducts' focus is on design of new products and on innovative approaches towards improving existing products. An example: the CountClock, a concept facilitating children to learn telling the time. Purpose…

Learning to touch-type becomes more fun with this realistic puzzle, made from an old computer keyboard and a wooden board, consisting of different layers. This Keyboard Puzzle has two main learning objectives:

    • Learn which key is placed where: the board does not indicate where the keys are to be placed. This means that kids are forced to memorize the key locations. Whether the placement is correct can be checked by comparing the result with a real keyboard;
    • Learn for each finger which keys are under its control: color codes on the wooden board show the groups of keys that belong to a same finger.

    Two side-objectives are:

      • The making itself. By making a Keyboad Puzzle a connection between hands and memory is established, which might even increase the speed of learning to touch type. (This effect is probably very small, it hasn’t been tested);
      • Having fun.

      Touch-typing may be started at the age of 8 years, although some say that kids may start earlier as well.

      The making of a Keyboard Puzzle is an essential part of the project. Pupils can construct their own Keyboard Puzzle (either by lasercutting or by doing fretwork). Fretwork may be done conveniently in class from an age of say 8 years onwards and lasercutting from 10 years. SVG coding may fit to for kids of 10 years or older.


      • An old keyboard;
      • Wood (triplex);
      • Fretsaw
      • Lasercutter (optional)
      • Four nuts and bolts
      • Colored stickers (optional) or colored pencils

      Step 1: Design of the Keyboard Puzzle Layout

      The Keyboard Puzzle layout is easy to code by hand in Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG). The code is straightforward and available for download in this step, in three separate files:

      • The bottom plate (where the key color codes can be added);
      • The middle plate(s), serving as sinks for the key guides;
      • Top layer, possibly including the logo of your school (or the name of the pupil).

      To view the SVG design: download the files, save and then view them in a web browser.

      For passing the drawings to a lasercutter you'll need to convert the SVG files to DXF. One of the ways to do this is via the Linux command-line; this is explained in Step 2 of an earlier Instructable.

      Step 2: Keyboard Puzzle Top From Lasercutter

      A lasercutter allows to nicely draw the 26 key locations on a wooden multiplex plate. It's a good start for fretwork.

      Step 3: How to Use the Project in the Classroom

      Learning to touch-type may be perceived as dull and making the Keyboard Puzzle might make a welcome change during the courses. The puzzle board can be made in stages, so after a new key is addressed in the learning process, the key can be added to the puzzle. Remove the keys from the old keyboard by using a screwdriver or a comparable tool.

      Note: the first picture above was borrowed from Openproducts' Keyboard Hack, which addresses and solves an annoying keyboard property.

      Step 4: Keyboard Puzzle Prototype

      The picture above shows a Keyboard Puzzle prototype, made using only handtools (no lasercutting). Many variants are possible when making a Keyboard Puzzle. Especially when making them in class, the design should preferably be kept rather simple, and some tooling may be prepared by the teacher.

      Step 5: Open Source Touch Typing Software

      Essential part in learning to touch-type is practicing software. Tom Thielicke designed TIPP10, an open source touch-typing tutor. It is free software, a unique selling point to many schools. Best point however is that the tool is cross-platform (Linux, OS X and windows), which allows children to install the software at home, regardless their computer operating system. Moreover, it is also available in a web browser version. The software is available in English and in German, and it has many features.

      Step 6: Word of Thanks to ISO/IEC 9995

      The pictures in this Instructable refer to an international United States QUERTY keyboard layout, but the concept can easily be translated to any keyboard style. The standardized key size (approximately 19 mm x 19 mm) is mostly similar for different keyboard layouts, so the SVG design files should be fine. This is all thanks to ISO/IEC 9995, an ISO standard series defining layout principles for computer keyboards.

      Step 7: Scrapping Many Keyboards

      When a class of say 30 pupils made their own Keyboard Puzzles you’ll have quite a stack of dysfunctional keyboards left. This is electronic waste that should be discarded properly, in line with national environmental regulation. And when disposing of a Keyboard Puzzle: the plastic keys themselves may not be suitable for recycling.

      Step 8: Keyboard Puzzle Behind the Scenes

      An attentive reader might have noticed two things:

      • When touch-typing the little finger at the right is on the [:;] key. This key is lacking here. The 26 alphabet keys (without : ; { [ ] } | \ etc.) look nicer but are not exactly fit for learning to touch type. One may consider to copy a full keyboard into a Keyboard Puzzle.

      • The lasercutting process of the demo Keyboard Puzzle displayed in this Instructable wasn’t first-time-right, therefore there is a darker area in the lower row of keys (Step 3)

      Step 9: Another Project by Openproducts

      Here another Openproducts project is briefly introduced. It likewise has some educational aspects. The CountClock is designed to assist young children in learning to tell the time: the confusing concepts of an analogue clock (the double scales and double hands, the numerals (or their absence), the half hours and quarters) are all decomposed and offered as separate learning steps, tuned to young children. Multi-colored lights indicate time on separate hour and minute scales. Just by counting one can read off time.

      The device is user-programmable, so original concepts of indicating time can be designed, such as a rainbow or a tidal mode. More info on the open source CountClock concept and its different modes can be found in a series of Instructables, available at: (published January to August 2018).

      Step 10: Stay in Touch

      If you’d like to be informed on new work by Openproducts, feel free to follow and share via social media (via Twitter and FB). You might also point people to the Instructables gallery by Openproducts or point them the CountClock website. Openproducts also has a webshop at Etsy's.

      And last but not least: be welcome to share your experiences with the Keyboard Puzzle in the comments section below…

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