Building my first split keyboard (Lily58) ⌨️


I’ve wanted to use a split keyboard ever since I started watching ThePrimeagen, a software engineer and streamer who uses a split keyboard with Neovim.

As a software engineer, I’m on the computer coding all day in Vim. Sometimes after a coding session, my wrists and hands start to hurt.

I’m concerned about getting an RSI (repetitive strain injury). As it is, I’ve already gotten a wrist injury from exercise two months ago. I think that a split keyboard can potentially improve my computer ergonomics, because I can align my wrists and shoulders to more natural position while typing.

And so I started searching for a keyboard that would not only reduce my wrist pain and risk of getting an RSI, but also make me 🔥 BLAZINGLY FAST 🔥 in Vim.

Finding a Good (Available) Ergonomic Keyboard

At first, it seemed nigh impossible for me to get my hands on a split ergonomic keyboard in my country, the Philippines.

From what I’ve seen, most split keyboards were either custom-built (ordering custom parts/PCBs and soldering), or too expensive on top of import prices (i.e. Kinesis/Ergodox).

Luckily, someone in a Discord server I’m in runs a business here that sells pre-built split keyboard kits. Thank goodness for Next Keyboard Club!

I looked at his shop’s catalog, and decided to buy the Lily58 Pro. It’s a 60%-ish split keyboard with a small OLED display on each half.

The Lily58 has a columnar stagger, which means that the keys are staggered by column, instead of being row staggered like in regular keyboards. I’ll explain in an image below.

Next Keyboard Club also had other keyboards (Corne/Reviung41/Fifi) in stock, but they were 40% keyboards without the number row. I need the number rows for games and switching workspaces in a tiling window manager.

I’m not nerd enough yet to give up the number row, so I’m good for now. buys a Corne keyboard 6 months later anyways

Row and column stagger? I still don’t get what they mean

I’m bored, and I have nothing else to do, so I made this illustration to show the difference between keyboard layouts.

illustration showing the difference between
row stagger, column stagger and ortholinear keyboards

The Parts

Keycaps

I chose to use blank DSA-profile keycaps from KBDFans. I initially wanted every keycap to be black, but I realized that it looks boring. Instead, I went with a keycap colorscheme of black, orange, and white.

Switches

On my former regular keyboard (Royal Kludge RK71), I had brown switches. What I liked about brown switches was the tactility. What I didn’t like was that they weren’t tactile enough.

So I replaced them with Akko’s CS Jelly Purple switches, which were tactile switches like browns but with a stronger tactile feedback. I would describe them as light-medium in tactility, heavier than browns but lighter than Durock T1/Boba U4T switches. I’ll reuse these trusty Akko switches for my build.

Keyboard Components

NamePriceLink
Lily58 Pro (Smoke Black Acrylic, Type-C Pro Micro)₱6,627Next Keyboard Club
Akko CS Jelly Purple Switches₱1,043Shopee
KBDFans DSA Blank Keycaps₱1,685Shopee
Customized Coiled Cable₱688Shopee
Total₱10,043

Assembly

The Lily58 keyboard I bought was already soldered, installed with OLEDs and flashed with firmware. However, you still have to assemble the PCB and plates with screws and standoffs, and place the switches/keycaps yourself.

I’ll admit I was a bit clumsy while assembling my Lily58 keyboard. I’ve spent all my time tinkering with software but never with hardware before.

I dropped screws on the floor several times, and I was almost sure I lost the first screw I dropped until I found it next to my computer case.

I think I’ve been too rough with the PCBs, because I’ve manhandled them too many times while aligning them with the plates.

But hey, the OLED turned on when I plugged the cable, and I’m typing on my functional Lily58 as I’m writing this! So everything turned out just fine in the end. I think. 😅

Build Results

Here are the pictures of my finished keyboard build. It’s not the most beautiful or striking, but I’m pretty proud of it.

Lily58 split keyboard with a black case, and black, gray and
orange keycaps connected with a gray coiled cable

Lily58 split keyboard right half on a black
deskmat

Lily58 split keyboard with a black case, and black, gray and
orange keycaps connected with a gray coiled cable

My Initial Thoughts

On a normal keyboard, I was consistently typing 120+ WPM (words per minute) on Monkeytype. I was worried that a split keyboard could slow down my typing speed to 10-30 WPM for a few weeks. Many people I know found that they were drastically slowed down from adjusting to a split keyboard and that it took a few weeks or months for them to adjust.

It turns out my worries were unfounded. I practiced typing on my Lily58 with Monkeytype, and I was quickly able to reach 110+ WPM in a few hours. I was able to get that high so fast because I’ve been practicing touch typing for more than half a year now. After a day of using my Lily58, I was able to achieve 121 WPM.

Angelo's score on Monkeytype with his split
keyboard, 121 words per minute

My score graph

I looked at the graph of my typing speed over time in Monkeytype. In the graph above, you can see a dip in typing speed on the right. That’s when I switched to my new split keyboard. My typing speed dipped, but I’m recovering quite fast. I predict that in a week, I’ll be back to my normal typing speed.

After I was accustomed to the columnar stagger layout, it does feel more comfortable to me than a row stagger layout. I really, really like the keyboard being split into two.

Lily58 has 58 keys, which is 13 keys less than my previous keyboard (71 keys). I was able to manage the reduced key count because I can do layering and other shenanigans with this keyboard. I use Vial to modify my keyboard layout and layers.

Vimming Time

To try out Vim on my Lily58, I’m currently writing this blog article in Vim. Already, I can write in Markdown super well. I still have to see how I fare doing work projects with this keyboard.

I’ve set up my Super key (switched with the Alt key) so that when I tap it twice, it becomes Escape instead. It has become an intuitive way for me to exit out of insert mode. Here’s my normal layer layout below.

My layer 0 key set

Conclusion

I’m still not as fast yet in my Lily58 as I was in my old regular keyboard, but I feel like this keyboard will make me the fastest I’ve ever been in Vim.

Already, I can notice the benefits of having more freedom to place your hands around. I can position my arms in a more comfortable and natural position. I’m probably never going back to a regular keyboard anymore, because I’ve fallen in love with splits.