How to Make a Vertical, Ergonomic (tie-fighter) Keyboard




Eric J. Wilhelm is the founder of Instructables. He has a Ph.D. from MIT in Mechanical Engineerin...

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
wood screws
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.

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    43 Discussions


    11 months ago

    I've been using this design for eleven years now. It saved my arms, and by extension, my career as a software engineer. I've bought a couple of extra Gold Touch keyboards as backups; I just this month recycled the mount and replaced it as some of the keys were finally starting to give out. I find this design to be more ergonomic and more comfortable than any of the purpose built vertical keyboards I've come across, and the price can't be beat. The Gold Touch can usually be had on eBay for $30, and the light fixtures are maybe $5 each. The fixtures I picked up didn't lend themselves to being bolted so I just used some JB Weld, and it's held up for over a decade. If you can touch type, you can use this keyboard design and save your arms and wrists for years to come.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I just got a gold touch keyboard at work and am curious if you have found any way to let your wrists rest while at the keyboard. I find my wrists hurt because I have to hold them flat while I'm typing instead of resting them on a pad of some sort. I'm thinking about hacking together a wrist rest but was curious if you have discovered anything that helped.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Well, Now I again curse myself for not learning how to type hands free. Bummer. Great build.


    12 years ago on Introduction

    Hmm, I'd say you could just about perfectly rest a book in between the two halves. Would be great for reference material or working through tutorials. ;~)

    5 replies

    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    You can, and I do! I wouldn't transcribe something long from that position though; looking down like that for long periods of time tends to strain your back.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    I can actually map an entire keyboard in my head as I type, when I take my laptop to school, when I'm copying notes, I can type the entire thing without ever looking at the screen, pages, I know in my head what I'm typing in my head, as I type it, and when I look down at the screen, it's exactly what was in my head, maybe one or two spelling errors, but nothing you probably wouldn't screw up once in a while anyways. I don't know of anyone else that can do this (am I born with it??) But I know that it is very useful, that on top of the fact that I can type very quickly, and if I get into it, there seems to be a high speed mode I can get into where I can do paragraphs a second.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    me too when i go to my school i just type i acutally sleep cause i know evrythihng to teach


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    It is called "Touch Typing." Most people who need to can learn to do it. Unless you are managing to do this without touching the keyboard. (do you jack in? )


    8 years ago on Introduction

    To really reinforce the touch typing, Tape or paint the keys.
    Recommend a flat keyboard first.....

    Somewhat funny, I look @ my keyboard half the time in lighted areas, but touch type while driving with my laptop or in dark areas. - Homemade pedestal in my work van.

    Just like texting and driving, don't drive and type


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I have a Goldtouch with a broken U-joint cluttering my cubicle (among other junk, of course <g>). I've been thinking of getting a Safetype but wow, the price!

    This gives me a perfect proof of concept project before I lay out any serious cash. Thanks! :-)


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I would've epoxied the brackets to the keyboard. easier(for me) and doesn't require screws.


    12 years ago on Introduction

    i would recommend using bent plexliglas if possible in keeping with the contemporary look. brazing yields great results for that matter. i love a good 2x4 but when the ladies come over i'd hate to have to explain the sawdust on my desktop. nice idea. this also prevents crumbs from collectig in between the keys.

    5 replies

    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    I'm afraid... Although, you do have a computer setup with bunches of wires in what looks to be the middle of the room... lucky... Then again, people can peek over your shoulder... I think I like my dark corner of the basement!