Alex Johnstone

All the keyboards: Clueboard

Keyboard series


This was one of the few boards that I did start to write a post about, optimistically naming it part 1. I never wrote the second part but needless to say, the keyboard ended up on mechmarket. Hopefully I can remember the parts in between and complete that Part 2 now.

I’d enjoyed QMK and the customisation of the Ergodox but the ortholinear layout and the general arrangement of the keys were not going to work for me. I also liked my Poker 2 60% keyboard, but sometimes, and mostly whilst playing games, I found the 60% to be a little annoying. I was probably playing GTA V at the time and found I didn’t have enough keys. So this lead me on the hunt for a board with more keys, that was also QMK and programmable. It turned out that I was also looking for a board that I could buy, i.e. in stock or being produced. Somehow or other I came across the Clueboard. This is a custom keyboard based off the Leopold FC660M model - a 60% keyboard but with arrow keys and two extra buttons - ins and del on the Leopold I think.

This was also my first board that I’d built and the first time I’d picked up a soldering iron in about 15 years. When I say built, there’s various degrees of building a keyboard. The most common version is buying a PCB and then soldering in the diodes, resistors, switches, microcontrollers, LEDs and speakers (yes some keyboards have speakers!), connectors like USB or TRRS and anything else that might be on the board. Depending on the board you buy, it might have some of all of these already pre-installed and all you have to do is solder the switches. Some boards, like the version of the clueboard I bought, had surface mount components. In my case RGB LEDs but diodes and other parts are often also common. These are much harder to solder for the average keyboard enthusiast. They just sit on the surface of the PCB and are generally tiny.

Reminding myself of what I did from my Part one post, I realised I spent a lot of money on this keyboard! I probably, naively, thought that this was my end game and the all perfect keyboard. The Zealio switches weren’t cheap, although I do remember them feeling nice to use - very smooth!

The build generally went well until I came to the surface mount RGB LEDs. Whilst I did manage to do nearly all of them, one I did end up destorying one of the pads so it wouldn’t connect. I tried to recover it with suggested tricks online and even emailed the Clueboard creator but in the end it couldn’t be saved. The rest of them worked and the RGB flashiness was complete!

I’d bought the plastic case made up of many layers and whilst nice I wish I’d waited for or had made a metal case. I also found the extra keys not to be enough to make it worthwhile using over my Poker 2. If I don’t want 60% then I want TKL. I used it for a while and then eventually sold it online. Someone will always buy something, even with the damaged LED, as it’s a lot cheaper than a new one and maybe they think they can fix it.

I enjoyed planning and building it, but in the end the board wasn’t what I’d hyped it up to be in my head. Nothing wrong with it and exactly as described but just not for me. This started the series of building keyboards and getting a bit more involved. On reflection that was what I liked most: the planning, the hunting for parts, and the building. Somewhat like LEGO, once it’s built I find it boring and of no use.