Help me with my Christmas list → custom external keyboard

Alright MPUs, I want a fancy custom keyboard for Christmas. Point me to your favorites and why? Thanks!

Hi Beck

If by “custom” you mean artisinal /creative keys in interesting shapes then I would recommend Etsy, where you will find lots of unique designs.

If you mean a keyboard with a great response for typing and tons of customizable keys, then the gold standard (which I use) is the Corsair K100 mechanical keyboard. If you want to go all out then add the iCue Nexus.

I really like the Moonlander:

Between the split design and the columnar layout it’s definitely an acquired taste, though.

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I came to recommend Moonlander but @ChrisUpchurch did already. So +1 to Moonlander.


I really liked the sound and feel of my Varmilo VA87M Mac White LED TKL Dye Sub PBT Mechanical Keyboard with Cherry MX Blue switches but since getting an M1 MacBook Air, I haven’t been able to pull myself away from the built-in keyboard!

Define “fancy” and “custom” :slightly_smiling_face:

How much do you want to spend?

Do you want something off the shelf, or customized to your preferences?

  • Do you want clicky switches, switches with a tactile bump, or none/silent?
  • Do you want custom keycaps? What key profile do you like?
  • Do you want backlighting?
  • How many keys do you want? (function keys, ten-key pad, navigation cluster)
  • Is programmability important?
    • Is the type of firmware important (i.e. QMK or something else)

Keyboards I’ve retired and why

I have several in the closet, including a Moonlander, a Keyboardio M-01, the predecessor to their Model 100, a Kinesis Advantage2 QD, a Matias Ergo Pro for Mac

The big thing for me that makes the Moonlander and Keyboardio not work for me, is the ability to type chords of modifier keys. E.g. the Moonlander has the nice thumb cluster that can be Command, Option, Control, etc. but you can’t type Command+Option with your thumb, unless you put your thumb between. Then if you need Command+Option+Control, you need both thumbs, a finger, and carefully plan to be able to reach the letter that you want to press in conjunction. Whereas with my CTRL (and many other) keyboard, index, middle, ring fingers on one hand, and a finger on the other hand for the letter.

Moonlander and Keyboardio are also very programmable, and you can program braces, parens, etc. to be accessible with one finger, but you have to remember and retrain yourself, and I find the cognitive load of that to be too great. Neither have F keys, nor the inverted T arrow keys, plus other navigation keys like Home, End, etc. Of course these can be programmed, but - more to remember.

The Kinesis Advantage didn’t fit my hands. I felt like I had to contort my hands too much to press keys on R4/R5 (ZXCV… on a Qwerty keyboard), and was constantly stumbling on other keys.

The Ergo Pro and other split keyboards - there was too much ambiguity in where the halves of the keyboard were spatially. With a one-piece keyboard, there are fingers on keys at all times, and it’s easy for Brain to calculate distances to keys on the same or other hand. Also, the F keys are weird.


If you’re going to get custom switches, I recommend buying a switch tester so you can get a feel for the different switches - clicky, silent, etc. I prefer Cherry brand, but there are others available. There are tons of keycap sets for Cherry MX-style switches.

My Daily Driver

It’s a Drop CTRL, in Black with MX-Blue (clicky) switches. It has the Bladerunner 2049 keycaps from These keycaps are DSA profile, which is quite flat. If I had my druthers, they would have been SA or DCS profile, but they’re Bladerunner so that overruled. FWIW, I have several extra keycaps left over and could change the color scheme, use conventional keycaps for all the F keys, etc.

It’s also very programmable, and uses QMK firmware, so I can have my usual Dvorak key mapping, plus another ‘layer’ that is Qwerty to ease some login pain. For comparison, the keyboard was $250, and the keycaps were $194.

I guess the most important thing is, with this keyboard and my Logi MX Vertical mouse, my wrists don’t hurt.


Moonlander looks well suggested. I also like the ultimate hacking keyboard. Both are very programmable.


I love my Das Keyboard 4 Professional with Cherry MX brown keys.

  • Solid and responsive keypress action – typing is a breeze. I make far fewer mistakes on the Das than on the (ugh) MacBook keyboard.
  • Designed for Mac.
  • Extra USB ports are useful for USB dongles for the headset and Logi mouse.
  • Volume control and sleep buttons.
  • Easy to clean.
  • Feels like it will last decades.

I hope it is okay if I add my question:
Is there a flat profile keycap mechanical keyboard, which has the same special key arrangement like MacBooks?
Meaning, bottom left has: fn + ctrl + opt + cmd?

You could do that on the right side of the CTRL keyboard and some of the others from Drop, since they have four modifier keys on that side. I’m considering making the right-most one fn myself.

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Thank you :slightly_smiling_face: That’s one option, but for me it is more about spacing and muscle memory. Especially since on the MBP’s keyboard ctrl and opt are less wide and positioned more to the right as on your keyboard for example.

This is also what has kept me from using the Magic Keyboard with the number keypad since its fn key is above the arrow keys and the modifier keys left of the spacebar are wider.

As many here I use a ton of keyboard shortcuts with all four modifiers (+ hyperkey). And I would be switching from using the keyboard at my desk and the built-in one on the go for almost half the day. I feel that I just won’t get used to it switching back and forth constantly.

I like low-profile and low-key-travel keyboards, but since Apple switched to the butterfly keyboard style my typing got less precise. It’s just too flat and the keys are too large so that I sometimes hit neighboring keys.

Wow, what an internet :rabbit::hole: (and market :money_mouth_face:) mechanical keyboard makers and users have created! Now I’m looking at the Planck EZ, which I believe @ryanjamurphy uses?

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I love the Dygma Raise. It can be a normal keyboard and split or tent. I think it’s great to slowly move to an ergo setup. The built in wrist rests are also perfect, at least for me.

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Another tweak: there is the option of adding o-rings to control how the switch bottoms out. This is helpful ergonomically, providing a little cushion for your fingers at the end of travel, and reduces the clack sound that some keys make.

o-ring kit

Some people lube their switches and/or stabilizers, but I haven’t seen the need myself. I believe Krytox 205g0 is the lube of choice.

That is a nice looking keyboard, with a great tenting system.

I had a Planck EZ.

I adored it. But, after four weeks of use, I still wasn’t up to my QWERTY typing speed. (I don’t know if that’s just me, or maybe typing speed is a factor—I’m at 120+ wpm on QWERTY.) humblebrag, I know

I also disliked switching from non-QWERTY to iPad and iPhone—swapping between QWERTY and ortho setups made me feel off-kilter.

So, I sold the Planck EZ (via Reddit’s excellent Mechanical Keyboard Market). The recipient is still quite happy with it—I was chatting with ‘em a month ago.

I dream of ZSA (the makers of Planck/Moonlander) making a QWERTY keyboard someday, though. They are so good.

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I agree, ortho is a challenge for me too.

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After a year using the Moonlander on the desktop, my only problem with ortholinear is when I’m using a MacBook or Magic Keyboard and start typing 'x’es instead of 'c’s. :grinning:

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I’m concurrently glad and disappointed to hear this! I was hoping you loved it so I could settle this and go ahead and email Santa. Now I’m reconsidering, but of course glad to maybe not make a similar mistake. I still might go for it tho, it’s so dang cute!

It has a midi mode. It literally outputs its own music. From the keyboard!

I really wish I could’ve kept using it.

Unfortunately, the only way to know is to do a real test. Give yourself a month or more, and plan to sell it (and lose a bit of the total cost) if it doesn’t work.

Which, I know, makes for a bittersweet xmas gift.