Inspired by the discussion about vertical mice and keyboards on my Ergonomic work station Instructable I decided to give a vertical keyboard a chance. I checked out the Safetype, but was disappointed both by the horizontal placement of the arrow keys and the price. So, I decided to make my own tie-fighter-like vertical ergonomic keyboard.
The tie-fighter keyboard allows you type in a neutral, handshake position with your arms and shoulders supporting your hands. I consider this to be one of the lowest stress positions. As you can't look down to the see the keys, you do need to touch type to do use this; typing in passwords can, admittedly, be a bit frustrating but I'll take that over sore wrists any day.
I figure that we evolved, among other things, to pick berries rather than typing on a keyboard all day long. The tie-fighter vertical keyboard position is a lot closer to a berry-picking position than a standard keyboard.
Check out my other various ergonomic Instructables: Ergonomic Work Station, Stand Up Desk, Standing Desk, and Create an Ergonomic Standing Desk and Office on the Go.
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Step 1: Motivation and Parts
A handshake position (thumb up) seems to be the most neutral and strain-free position for my hands. I've been using a handshake-position mouse (3M Ergonomic mouse) for a few years, and feel that it doesn't cause much harm. I'm not certain any computer input device causes no harm, and have recently added left and right handed Evoluent vertical mice to the mix. I now switch between left and right handed mousing at work and use the 3M at home.
However, my keyboard, a Goldtouch, only goes to about 30 degrees. So, in comparison to the mice, it is essentially flat. This position has been incrementally bothering me more and more.
Goldtouch Keyboard - they seem to run $150 new, so grab one on Ebay. I've bought several, all in great condition and some even new, for $30-$50 each.
wood - 2x4, 2x3, whatever scrap you have lying around
2 outdoor adjustable light fixtures
Step 2: Disassemble the Goldtouch
The Goldtouch is a really easy to take apart, and I applaud them for making a hacker-friendly device.
Remove the screws and take off the bottom half of the case. Remove the screws holding the ball joint in place.
Step 3: Estimate Position
With the bottom half of the case removed, free the wire connecting the two sections of the keyboard. Using some books, or whatever you have, position the two half approximately how you would use them. I went for shoulder width apart. With the thickness of the keyboard itself, this yielded 10 inches between the two sections.
Luckily, there seems to be just enough extra wire to accommodate this positioning.
Type for a little bit to convince yourself this isn't a totally crazy idea.
Step 4: Cut the Case
There's enough wire to go between the two sections, but not enough to use the existing holes for the wire. So, mark the case to expose more of the wire, and cut it with a rotary tool.
Step 5: Try This First -- Argh! It's Terrible.
At first, I thought perfectly vertical would be just fine. So, I measured, cut, and screwed into the bottom of the case two 2x4s.
The resulting keyboard position was terrible, as you can see by the bent wrists required to use it. So, I knew that I needed it to be adjustable.
Step 6: Substitute Ball Joint
What I really wanted was a ball-joint, like the one the Gold Touch comes with. Unfortunately, I couldn't make that one work, and industrial ball-joints from places like McMaster-Carr are too expensive. So, I made my own 3-degree-of-freedom joint from outdoor lightbulb fixtures.
Take two light fixtures, remove the internal light bulb mount, and cut off the housing around that mount. I used a hacksaw, cut the housing off, and then filed any remaining material leaving a flat surface. Drill holes and bolt two of these together with the adjusters 90 degrees out of phase. Their screw mounts give you freedom of movement in the roll direction on both sides of the keyboard, one toothed adjuster gives pitch, and the other gives jaw freedom of movement.
Since I already had the 2x4's mounted to my keyboard, I cut them apart and screwed on pieces of plywood to attach the light fixture's screw mounts.
I held my hands at neutral, had someone measure their position, and then adjusted the keyboard into that position.
Step 7: Type!
Have fun typing in a neutral position. Watch your friends marvel at your keyboard, and then puzzle over how to use it.
I've been typing on this thing for a few months, and I'm pretty happy with it. My hands feel fine after a reasonable work session. Sometimes, I do still have trouble finding the square bracket keys. However, as with any piece of computer interface hardware, I think it's just a new and different way to damage yourself, so I'm careful to maintain stretch breaks and limits on use.