Minimalist mechanical keyboards, Moonlander mods, etc

I’ve recently become aware of how scrunched and constrained I feel typing on a regular (non-split) keyboard. It feels like driving a clown car. So I’d been contemplating moving back to a split keyboard.

After a timely email, and an impulsive purchase, I received a Zip Kit for my Moonlander keyboard. It seems strange to buy a kit to to reduce something, but that’s what the Zip Kit is. It has plugs to fill the spaces left behind when you remove switches and palm rests, along with a few replacement keycaps.

I think the motivation for this comes from Ben Vallack, whose YouTube channel has a lot of keyboard content (relevant link below). He pared his keyboard down to 36 keys. His motivation for doing this is to improve the ergonomics. On his keyboard, each key is either under a finger, or only one key away. I think this is a noble goal, as using a keyboard does take a toll on our body.

I installed my Zip Kit, and took a look at his original configuration.

One thing that is super cool is the way he has defined the letter keys as tap dance keys. If tapped, they send the letter as usual. If held, they send Command+the letter. So in Safari, to open a tab just hold T for about a second, and a tab opens. If you’ve copied some text and want to paste it, just hold V for a second. Highlight some text in this post, hold B, and it’s made bold. Really slick.

In looking at his layout, there were some things I wanted to change:

  • His is based on the Colemak layout, which I consider a half-way between Qwerty and Dvorak.
  • His Enter key is on the second layer, and requires a chord (thumb+pinky) to execute.
  • I use CapsLock remapped to F18 to trigger Raycast if tapped, and Hyper if held.
  • Numeric keypad on layer two - never been a fan of letter keys as keypad.
  • Layer 1 filled with his shortcuts for apps.

My modified layout has:

  • The Dvorak layout
  • An Enter key
  • A key for F18/Hyper
  • Thumb keys moved out a bit, as Ben’s layout has the thumbs resting under the index fingers, not comfortable for me.
  • Multiple functions on the thumb keys
  • Home keys for thumbs send Space if tapped, and Shift if held
  • Layer switch keys are to outside of thumb home button, rather than being the thumb home button, as in Ben’s layout. My thumbs are trained to ‘space’, and retraining takes too much effort.
  • Layer 1
    • Numbers on Layer 1 in near-normal positions
    • Easier access to - and /
    • Backspace and delete - note the mnemonic memory aid, B for backspace, and D for Delete
    • Home/End and PgUp/PgDn - these were on H and E, but it didn’t work out for PgUp and PgDn, so they are in a cluster
    • An inverted T cursor cluster
  • Layer 2
    • Punctuation
    • Escape and Tab
    • Numeric keypad
      • if 4 is held down, it sends ⌘⇧+4 to take a screen shot
      • if 1 is held down, it opens 1Password
  • Layer 3
    • Essentially as it was, save for my addition of CapsLock in case I get CapsLock turned on in macOS.

So far, it’s working well. I’ve written this post using it. Auto-correct has been doing its job, but in actual use it’s going better than I thought it would.

Vallack has since moved on to other minimalist keyboards, including the GergoPlex, the Ferris Sweep, and a DIY custom.

As far as I know, he hasn’t tried an asetniop keyboard yet. It is a chorded keyboard having 10 keys (because you have 10 fingers). Letters, etc. not on the home row are typed by pressing two keys together. There is a version for the iPad, if you’re interested.

Anyone playing with minimalist or other interesting keyboard configurations?


I’m super interested in the Moonlander, looks like you can do all sorts of neat keyboard hackery with it. Out of my price range for now though :joy: Might experiment with doing something like this with Karabiner on my current keyboard, if I can figure out how to do it properly.


These things are brilliant and you are beautiful for engaging with them. Thanks for sharing!

As I’ve written about before, I played with an ortholinear Planck EZ, but got frustrated—I couldn’t get up to my normal typing speed, even after a month of use. Maybe it’s not how quickly you get there, but the journey along the way…?

Thanks! And you’re welcome!

I think a non-split ortho might be worse than a staggered, though I haven’t tried one. If our torso was infinitely thin, then the rows and columns would line up with our fingers.

In addition, our fingers naturally splay out, which rotating the halves can help with.

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Very interesting tip on the delay/hold-down to trigger the “Cmd+(?)” combination — so eloquent. Will play around with my setup to see if I can get this working.

How are you getting on with your pared down keymap, @JohnAtl?

Out of interest, did you ever consider shifting from the Moonlander to something like a Lily58?

Hm. That’s interesting! I like the Sofle with the encoders too.

I’m back to my Drop Ctrl now.
I gradually added a few more buttons back, but ultimately I was just too slow using it. Not sure exactly why. It seems having the halves separated to shoulder width is good ergonomically, but there is increased cognitive load of keeping my hands and fingers positioned in space. Whereas with the non-split, my thumbs are close together near the space bar, and my fingers naturally gravitate to where they should be. Could also be that I’ve hunted and pecked then typed on non-split keyboards since TRS-80 days :slight_smile:


Ah, the good old days. Taught computer classes to kids at the local science museum on “Trash Eighties.” :slightly_smiling_face:


I remember when I upgraded my TRS 80 COCO to 32 MB. Well two 16 MB banks.

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That would be KB :slightly_smiling_face:

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You’re right!. Two 16 KB banks of awesome power. :smiley:

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