- Cooking As an Art, Vol. 2, with Roberta Smith by Dave Chang
A second installment of chef Dave Chang speaking to art people, this time with Roberta Smith, arguably the best art critic in the game.
- How I Design Stuff, Straight Up by Christopher Schwarz
A detailed yet consise read on how a furniture designer goes through his design process from start to finish. Now that I’m interning at an industrial design firm, stuff like this is all I want to read about.
- Why Patek Philippe’s Thierry Stern is Stubborn About Steel by Joe Thompson for Hodinkee
This comes as no surprise to many watch enthusiasts, but Thierry Stern has officially admitted that Patek Philippe is intentionally limiting steel watch production despite being aware of the Nautilus’ aftermarket craze. Stern cites IWC’s failure to go back to gold after they moved to steel as an example, saying that “once you lower the price with steel, it is very hard to come back.”
- Op-Ed: How Barneys Lost Its Cool by Eugene Rabkin for StyleZeitgeist
The big fashion story this week is on Barneys New York’s shuttering of 17 out of 22 of its stores. Rabkin explains really well how Barneys used to be the shit, and how financial pressure have forced it to “lose its cool”.
- Who Was Jeffrey Epstein Calling? by The Cut
It’s been said multiple times already, but another piece of edgy yet great reporting on super-rich-rapist Jeffrey Epstein by The Cut.
- The Real Story of Supreme by Noah Johnson for GQ
Hands down the best profile of Supreme out there, by a fashion writer who’s comes from a skate background.
- Why Fit Pics Are Headless by Die, Workwear!
Another great article by Derek Guy linking the headless fit pics to masculinity.
Really made me think about selling my entire wardrobe and going full ACRONYM.
An illuminating article on the art fair by my favorite art critic, Jerry Saltz.
Another day, another excellent article by Derek Guy. This article really hits home as I’ve found myself rethinking my outfit right before I leave the door far too often, thinking that it’s a bit too ‘out there’ for the California college campus I’m on. In some ways, it’s good to know that no one actually cares.
I’m not sure if the statistics are out of whack in the social circles I’m in, but depression is a common theme with the people I surround myself around. Even as someone who is currently battling a host of mental health issues, it was hard to help my friends with their depression because I just didn’t know how to. This article was really helpful in giving me the language to do so, and is well worth the read even if you don’t know anyone with depression.
Atelier & Repairs has always stood out as a brand doing something different with denim. Patchworking and repairing, Atelier & Repair’s signatures, are not new concepts by any means. However, their approach to those two concepts is loud and creative in a way that I haven’t seen yet. Also, as a self-professed tree hugger, this upcycling vintage and used fabric thing that Atelier & Repairs does is my shit.
In the past few months, Atelier & Repairs has been making serious waves in menswear. They have been featured in high-profile curated spaces like B’s at Bergdorf Goodman (that Bruce Pask, the taste God, co-sign), are stocked in workwear purveyors like Blue in Green, have an ongoing collaboration with 18 East, and was highlighted by Nike’s Circular Design initiative as a case study for refurbishment of old garments.
In the Blamo! podcast episode with Maurizio Donadi, the founder of Atelier & Repairs, Donadi talked about how he was frustrated with overproduction and the obsession with growth in the clothing industry. As such, following his illustrious career with large brands such as Diesel and Giorgio Armani, he has settled on a brand model that ‘commits to not producing anything new’ with Atelier & Repairs.
Additionally, Donadi has worked at Levi’s, which is a good sign that he knows his stuff as his business revolves around cutting up said brand’s pants and stitching them back together.
After hearing that and seeing those jeans on the TL (timeline, for all you older than 35), I picked up a pair of their The Detroit model to see what they’re all about.
Retail Price: $375
Fit and Wearability
Tagged Size: 31
Waist: 16.5 inches
Rise: 11.5 inches
Thigh: 12.25 inches
Inseam: 28 inches
Hem Width: 7.25 inches
One thing I look for in the fit of a pant is how it works with different kinds of shoes. I personally like the silhouette of my footwear to be proportional to the cut of my pants. For example, I would usually pair a Chelsea boot (typically slim) with a slimmer, closer fitting pair of pants. Service boots and chunky derbies, on the other hand, go better with straighter fitting pants.
The Detroit has what I’d characterize as a cropped straight tapered fit. According to Atelier & Repair’s website, The Detroit is essentially a Levi’s 501 that’s cropped and tapered slightly. Its high-rise, loose through the thigh and slight taper below the knee makes for a modern relaxed fit that is, in my opinion, the perfect middle ground between a sloppy, loose fit and the carrot-shaped, relaxed tapered stuff Western Internet jeans enthusiasts are into these days.
Because of this, I found that The Detroit works well with a wide range of shoes. Paired with my Converse Chuck Taylor 70s, visvim Virgil boot, and Tricker’s Stow boot, the jeans never looked out of place. While it does work with slimmer boots like my R.M. Williams Chelseas, I’ve stayed away from that as I have relatively small feet and the wider hem of the jeans when cuffed further drowns out my feet. #small
Unfortunately, I made a sizing mistake on these as I assumed that the tagged size would correspond to the actual waist measurement. After cinching the waist with a belt, the jeans stay nice and secure on my body. However, because of how loose the pants are around the seat area, there is significant puckering and bunching up of fabric around the placket.
Additionally, because the patchwork sections are thicker than the body of the jeans, the jeans do not drape like jeans when seated or flow like jeans when in motion (fancy way of saying walking). This is not necessarily a bad thing as it has it’s own distinct way of fitting, but is something you should know if you’re expecting a jeans-lite experience as I was.
While the cut of The Detroit is relatively accomodating, the patchworked fabric is very showy, and is thus difficult to style without going overboard. Even though the patchwork fabrics are in similar shades of blue to the main jean fabric, they still act as the visual focal point in any outfit. As such, on warmer days, I found myself pairing it with just blank tees to allow the patchworking to carry the outfit.
In general, though, I find that it goes well with a Japanese workwear and Engineered Garments-esque wardrobe. Bruce Pask wears it well here with a solid navy chore coat and taupe Clarks chukka boots.
Fabric and Construction
The broken-in Levi’s 501 used as the base of The Detroit makes for one of the softest pant materials out there. It is denim-like in appearance, but light-chino-like in its pliability and soft hand feel. It also is not threadbare like you would expect of jeans that are this worn-in.
That is where praise of its comfort ends, though. I found that the patchwork sections by the thigh and knee areas are scratchy. It’s not too rough as to chafe the skin, but it is rough enough that it can be annoying when walking around in it.
As far as its construction goes, it’s excellent all around. The stitching on them is clean and without flaws or loose ends. I’ve worn them for a few months now and the jeans have yet to unravel or tear.
One minor gripe I have with the construction of The Detroit is the use of the reverse hem instead of a regular hem. I would’ve preferred to have the option to choose between a cuffed and uncuffed look, but the reverse hem forces a cuffed look from the get go.
In summary, while The Detroit has its quirks and isn’t exactly the most functional of pants, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my experience with it. Their take on patchworking in jeans — repair work on the outside — is also different from what you typically see from the visvims and Amiris of the world. Because of this, I think Atelier & Repairs is an exciting new brand and I’ll be on the look out for what they have in store.
Unfortunately, I will have to part with my pair of The Detroits because of the sizing mistake I made, but I will be on the hunt for my next A&R pants for sure.
As a long-time community member, custom keyboard enthusiast, bona fide artisan collector, and now the hottest keyboard designer in the space, Zach ‘riotonthebay’ Allaun of Keycult has been the talk of the town lately. His custom keyboard kits have seen critical acclaim from the most discerning of collectors and tremendous appreciation in the aftermarket.
With all this Keycult hype, it would be dumb of me not to capitalize on it in some way. So, as he’s gearing up to release the hotly anticipated Keycult No. 2, I secured an interview with him to talk about his journey as a collector, the TypeMachina backlash, going independent, and what’s in store for the future.
The interview was edited for length and clarity.
Talk about how you got into the hobby, because I know you’re a collector of artisans and high-end customs.
I started off as a computer programmer and there were people with mechanical keyboards floating around. I thought, you know, I spend all day on a mechanical keyboard, so I thought it would be nice to get a nicer keyboard than my Macbook Pro chiclet keyboard.
I, like many other people, was introduced first through r/mechanicalkeyboards, and I was one of the people who made the turn to go down the geekhack path. Once I knew more, (I found that) more discussion was happening there.
Like looking for something deeper?
Yeah, looking for something deeper. It’s harder to have long-term conversations (on reddit) because everything was gone the next day.
And when was this?
I think the end of 2013. I got a Quickfire Rapid, and I made some ergo clears and put them in it. It was a horrible soldering job, and I probably did it unsafely in my tiny little studio in Brooklyn at the time, but it was good!
At the time, I was pretty firmly on the Topre train, and I used mostly an HHKB, and I had a Realforce 87u. I guess I was a friendly enough guy, so I sorta become friends with BunnyLake and BroCaps, and I got really into collecting artisans.
Then sometime in 2017, for whatever reason, I saw a lot of people making fairly uninspired keyboard cases, and I thought, surely I could do this. It wasn’t really that I had this amazing idea and that I wanted to see this made, but it was more like, it would be cool to make a keyboard. And so I did it.
I remember going to a coffee shop with a notebook and just sketching out various ideas for a case design based on things I knew and liked, writing out some stuff about how I wanted the mounting the system to work. I decided this seems like an interesting challenge, and I went in search of what I can do that’s different or better than what’s already out there.
That’s probably also why it took me so long to design the No. 2. I didn’t want to just do the exact thing with the No. 1 but with a different aesthetic, but I wanted to do something that pushed things forward a little bit.
Which I appreciate! I really see the thought you put into the case designs and you’re really pushing the boundaries of what keyboard design could be.
I appreciate that. But this isn’t me trying to put myself on a pedestal and say that other designers are not doing new things. There are a bunch of different motivations to make cases. One of them is that many people missed out on simple cases early on. For a long time, it wasn’t the case that KBDFans had simple cases in-stock. If you wanted a simple, 2-part, top-mount, you sort of had to wait for the next simple, 2-part top-mount group buy to come along.
Did you have any experience with CAD before keyboards?
Not at all. I learned CAD in order to design keyboards.
Which I think it’s cool because you can pick up CAD from Youtube or tutorials and stuff, and start contributing to the community just like that.
A background as a computer programmer helped, because it taught me to think systematically and pay attention to details, so I got up to speed more quickly. I still, to this day, don’t think I’m an excellent CAD designer necessarily, but as I’ve been trying to turn Keycult into something more, I’ve been putting time every single day into doing design, even if it’s not keyboards.
Keycult No. 1 and TypeMachina
So let’s move on to your first keyboard, the No. 1. So, why call it the No. 1?
First thing, I’m honestly not great at naming things.
Also, with the name Keycult, I thought the idea of naming things No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and so on meshed well with the idea of a cult where you had to know what those were. If you’ve followed it from the beginning, you know what each of those designs are, and are a part of that.
I decided that No. 1 would represent an overarching design, and No. 2 would be a design, and so on. The simple numerical system that feeds into the idea of the cult could be a bit of post-rationalization.
I mean, post-rationalization is great! Many designers do it.
With the name Keycult, I thought the idea of naming things No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and so on meshed well with the idea of a cult where you had to know what those were. If you’ve followed it from the beginning, you know what each of those designs are, and are a part of that.
Now about the tech. The highlight feature of the No. 1 was the midpiece/weight. So what made you want to experiment past the weight being just a shape or a rectangle?
Are you familiar with the (Lin3x) Whale?
So the Whale has this angled back that is sort of an inverse angle. I really liked the aesthetic of the inverse backside. And I really like the idea of doing a sandwich mount because I was using a Dolphin V2, which to this day, I think is one of the best feeling keyboards.
Yeah! I was gonna say, I can see the throughline between all the Lin3x boards, and what you’re doing, but it’s not a copy by any means.
Sure. I thought those were good ideas. The Dolphin has the plate that was visible from the outside. So I just started sketching ideas, like what the side profile might look like, what the bottom might look like. The weight design was meant to be reflective of the overarching design, where it is both squared and curved. Almost sort of a yin yang thing.
I didn’t initially have the idea that the band around the side was going to be the same part of the weight. At some point, it just became obvious that it was what I should do. It was just wasteful (as separate parts).
You’re adding another piece that needs to be CNC-ed and anodized and all that.
You’re adding more complexity. The band feels a little tacked-on in the same way sandwich diffusers are tacked-on. They’re completely optional, and it feels less integral to the design. That then morphed from just a midpiece to a 2-part case bottom. It just became obvious that it would be cooler to make it all one piece.
So the first run was just with the people you were close to in the community, and the second run was with TypeMachina. How did that collaboration come about? Was it Sherry hitting you up or…
It was Sherry (owner of Originative Co. and partner of TypeMachina) hitting me up. The first run was a private, invite-only group buy. And it was that way not because I was trying to be exclusive or secretive, but because I was just so afraid of running group buys. To this day, I’m still afraid of running group buys!
I invited Sherry to join it, and Sherry just said ‘I would be interested in just stocking this’. So he had all the boards produced.
My hunch is that WASD was not used to QC-ing CNC’ed aluminum boards.
Which makes sense.
Which makes sense. If you’re used to getting injection molded parts, you check a few of them and they’re all gonna be the same. Whereas (in CNC boards) there’s so much variation from case to case because each one is done by hand. Then they just started getting shipped out from the WASD facility. People got them and realized there were a lot of QC issues. There anodizing issues, there were color mismatch issues.
Some of them were good, and I know that there are a lot people are happy with it. But it was definitely a little bit of a, um, disaster.
So how was dealing with the backlash like. Like, it wasn’t you who was involved in production or the packaging fiasco, but it’s still your name on the board.
Thankfully, most people understood what my involvement was and I didn’t feel too much backlash. If anything, it maybe helped me. It amplified people’s desire to get a good Keycult board. There were rumors for 6-8 months that the Keycult was going to be released. Then it got released, and it was a huge letdown. That made people excited again to get a good Keycult board.
Yeah! Personally, after people got their TM boards, I looked for ones from the old run.
Yeah and I see people on mechmarket looking for them occasionally as well. So all of this influenced my decision to not tell anyone about the No. 1/60 and No. 1/65 until they were ready.
Which is how a proper vendor would do it.
Right. Unless you really controlled the means of production, you can’t (tell anyone). I was afraid that if we started talking about it, and it took longer for whatever reason, it would become this meme that Keycult stuff just never releases.
If you were buying something from me directly, be confident that the QC is going to be very good, and if there were issues they would be disclosed.
However, if it went perfectly, I likely wouldn’t be selling boards myself. I don’t know if I would have designed another board. So it definitely made me think that we could do this better.
There were rumors for 6-8 months that the Keycult was going to be released. Then it got released, and it was a huge letdown. That made people excited again to get a good Keycult board.
No. 1/60 and No. 1/65
Now onto the No. 1/60 and No. 1/65, tech-wise, you really went all-in with the gasket. You made it thicker, it was actually engineered to dampen instead of just to seal the sandwich mount. What are your thoughts on adding rubber to a keyboard?
I think a lot of experimentation still needs to be done. Basically, I thought it would be cool to isolate the plate/PCB assembly from the case. That was based on a discussion I had with Wilba, where we started theorizing about what contributes to ping, resonance, vibrations and other unpleasant typing experiences. We started talking about different case constructions, and we came to the conclusion that having something isolated is beneficial.
Then I started researching materials. The material I used is Poron, which is made specifically for vibration dampening. I think that certain rubbers could sort of create a trampoline effect. Like, you don’t want to fall on concrete, and you don’t really want to fall on a trampoline. You want to fall onto something that slows and stops.
Like a mattress.
Exactly. I definitely think it changes the feeling and sound, it quiet things down a bit, it leads to less ping. It’s possible that it’s not optimal for tactile switches. There are harder types of Poron that could be better for tactile switches to get that pop back up. Like a HHKB and its plastic plate that gives you a fun, thocky experience where your fingers are just bouncing on the keyboard. Maybe that would be possible to replicate with.
Before, the USB was a design constraint. Having a daughterboard means I have another thing to differentiate my board.
About Wilba. You worked with him for the PCBs for the No. 1/60 and No. 1/65. How was it like working with him?
He’s a super smart guy. Some of my best keyboard tech-related discussions have been with him. Working with him is like having a design partnership instead of a contractor-client relationship. It wasn’t my idea to use a daughterboard. I knew that he designed good PCBs. He said that he was doing some daughterboard stuff with RAMA. That gives you a lot of flexibility. The daughterboard is able to be seated closer to the desk. It can also be made parallel to the desk, so it comes out of the keyboard nicer.
Before, the USB was a design constraint. Having a daughterboard means I have another thing to differentiate my board.
So, now onto the reaction to the No. 1/60 and No. 1/65. The hype surrounding the boards were ridiculous. A few weeks after the sale, people were trying to buy the board for a thousand dollars on mechmarket. Do you feel any pressure to produce more units?
I mean, it’s exciting to see the reaction. It’s exciting to see people interested in the thing you’re making. I didn’t anticipate this many people wanting one. Maybe I should have, but part of the reason is that I didn’t talk to anyone about it before the release. At this point, it is clear that there is a lot of unmet demand for the No. 1/60 and No. 1/65. It’s going to be a little while before we go back to that form factor. Maybe something towards the end of the year.
I don’t think you should buy keyboards because they’re exclusive, so I don’t feel like I should make more boards for them to be valued at $1000 per board. That’s not what motivates me. On a selfish note, I’m not seeing those thousand dollars.
On the other hand, because the boards are numbered units, I don’t want to take something that people got that was special, and go everyone gets one, unlimited, RAMA-style, and everyone and their dog gets a No. 1/60 and No. 1/65.
On a selfish note, I’m not seeing those thousand dollars.
Also, you don’t want to oversaturate the market. It’s good to maintain the energy surrounding the brand. Long term, it’s better for your brand if there’s always an undersupply.
I think you’re right. For a brand, having a healthy aftermarket creates excitement and hype for new releases. And that’s given us more information on the volume we should release in the future, and also made us start thinking more about doing a limited pre-order. Like, pre-sell a certain amount of boards, and make a little more for the store.
I’m very excited about the demand, but I feel bad that there are a lot of people who I like who can’t get these keyboards. One of the reasons I do this is to make cool things for people that I like. When they submit a raffle, there’s a very small chance (they get to buy the board). Like entering a NightCaps raffle, except that NightCaps gets to do one raffle every day, and we get to do one every 3 months so it feels even worse. The next opportunity might not be for a while.
Keycult No. 2 and the Future
Now moving on to the No. 2, which is the main reason I wanted to talk to you. You really one-upped yourself with the design on this. No external screws, no side seams, and still with a gasket dampener sandwich mount. It’s ridiculous.
Yeah I’m pretty happy with the design.
So I know it’s inspired by the HHKB Pro HG and all of that, but how did the design come about?
I was just looking at the HHKB Pro HG at one point, and I thought it would be really cool to have one but it would never happen. It was never sold in public.
Yeah! And you go to Yahoo Auctions and look for old bids, and it’s like, 500,000 Yen. Good luck.
Yeah. I was like, I’m never going to get one of these. I love the expanse of the polished stainless steel on the bottom. I felt like it would be going a little too far to do the adjustable back feet.
Like the red legs?
Yeah. That would be stepping a little too far into the uncool zone. Instead of taking inspiration, it would be straight up copying it.
Once I knew the aesthetic I wanted, I basically wrote down a bunch of constraints. I don’t want the stainless steel interrupted by screws, I think that’s a big part of the aesthetic for me. This giant mirror bottom.
I didn’t want to compromise the isolated sandwich gasket mount. I felt like it would be a cop-out to do a top mount, because it’s become a Keycult thing to do something with the mounting that isn’t totally standard.
I also wanted to not compromise the proportions of the keyboard. The mounting block screws that pull up the base plate have to be pretty far into the case (Editor’s Note: more towards the middle of the case, rather than the edge of the case where mounting screws usually go). They have to be there because otherwise there’s not enough material in the mounting block to thread into.
As it is, it’s already pretty thin.
Yeah. The keyboard is as thin as it can be while being structurally stable. So from there, I just kept problem solving until I had a solution for each problem. What I had was a janky case with a solution for each problem. I tend to have two files for each design. One to get to the end result that I like visually and solutions to each problem, and another one to recreate this.
It’s usually just a marathon session of recreating it in a principled fashion so that the design is much cleaner, making sure that I get all the dimensions and tolerances right. That’s how I got to this iteration of design; I just took all of those solutions into account and created a fairly cohesive case.
I don’t want the stainless steel interrupted by screws, I think that’s a big part of the aesthetic for me. This giant mirror bottom.
You talked about how the isolated sandwich gasket mount is a signature Keycult feature. Is basing your design off of something that already exists, like how the No. 1 is based off Lin3x boards and how the No. 2 is based off the HHKB Pro HG, but then enhancing it to the next level, is that also a signature feature?
I’m not really sure. I’ve had a few false starts on a No. 3. where I had an aesthetic in mind, and then not been able to refine it to a point where it deserves a spot in the lineage. Some of those are not based on anything, really. Like I have an aesthetic in mind that a whole case could flourish around, but I couldn’t make it work.
So now onto the cost. The No. 2 is going to be one of the most expensive boards ever at retail. The aluminum version costs more than the Jane V2, and the stainless steel version costs more than the brass version of the E6-V2. Talk a little bit about why it’s so expensive.
It’s expensive because a seamless case is expensive. A seamless case is more expensive because the top case has to be milled out of a larger block of aluminum. Also, because of how the case is constructed, the top part has pretty thin walls so you can’t just power through all of that aluminum. You have to mill that slowly and that increases the milling time.
The mounting block is also complicated. There are a lot of different angles to it in order to get that look. There’s not a lot of room (in the case) to simplify the machining. You gotta have a complex setup with multiple fixtures to get it at the right angle for milling.
For the stainless steel version, the stainless steel piece is ludicrously expensive. The material is expensive, and milling is expensive. Stainless steel is just very hard to machine.
And then there’s a lot of hand finishing that goes into the outside of the top case, and into making sure the bottom piece has a mirror finish on the stainless steel and an even finish on the aluminum.
I had two prototypes made at two different factories, and both of them quoted similar prices, so I don’t think I’m being taken for a ride at the factory we used. It’s just expensive to machine.
There’s not a lot of room (in the case) to simplify the machining. You gotta have a complex setup with multiple fixtures to get it at the right angle for milling.
So the No. 2 is going to be in-stock. Maybe talk a bit about in-stock vs group buys, and the Keycult Quality Disclosure.
I think group buys are risky for the participant, and equally risky for the designer/runner. I think they’re risky from a financial perspective for both the participant and the runner, and I think they’re risky from a reputation perspective for the designer/runner.
This is a pretty unforgiving community, and it’s one whose standards increase by noticeable measure every year.
In order to do a group buy responsibly, you need enough money to cover the group buy and be extremely confident in your supply chain. I am fairly confident in my factory, but one of their problems is having extremely reliable QC. You can see from the No. 1/60 and No. 1/65 that we sold 10 or 11 B-stock boards in the end. If you actually look at those B-stocks, they’re better quality than the boards you’d expect to get from a group buy. The difference is that we want people to be extremely confident that if they’re buying an A-stock unit, that they know the full extent of what could be wrong with it.
The only way you can combat this is in a group buy scenario is by dramatically limiting the number of configurations and to buy a significant number of extra units to cover defects. There is just going to be a defect rate.
Selling stuff in-stock is sending a message that we are trying to operate as close to a legitimate business as possible, where you can have high expectations of us. Hopefully in the long run, it would put us closer to making Keycult a sustainable thing. For people who are willing to accept a little bit more markup for something you can immediately buy.
And it’s worth it for people who want a perfect board. You’re paying maybe 50 dollars or 100 dollars more. But in a group buy, you save the 50 bucks and you’re stuck in this limbo period of 3 to 6 months where I’m asking: Am I going to even get my board? Or if I do get my board, what’s the quality going to be like?
Part of the in-stock thing was to set the tone of what Keycult is going to be. It’s possible to do a pre-order or group buy, like a RAMA-style, but we don’t have any plans right now to do an open group buy with an arbitrary number of units, because I’d be nervous about sending my factory an order for 300 boards. I just don’t have the experience to run a group buy at that scale. Doing in-stock means we can scale up in a responsible, incremental fashion.
I want to grow Keycult into a sustainable business. I don’t know if that means going the RAMA direction and scaling up the number of boards we do. It might be that another way we scale is to be more boutique and offer more premium stuff.
A metaphor that Anthony (from 001Keyboards) brought up was that people like to think that keyboards are a premium hobby, but you know this from clothes and watches that keyboards are not a premium hobby compared to others. There’s a lot less engineering that goes into keyboards. But, it’s still a very new market that has space to grow in unexpected directions.
One thing we considered was what would it take to machine keyboard ourselves.
Like completely in-house?
Yeah. There is a guy named John Grimsmo who runs Grimsmo Knives, I think his model is really cool.
He owns a CNC machine, a whole shop that does everything in-house.
Yeah. He has a very fluid production line. Instead of doing batches of a 100 and sell everything, it’s this constant production line of knives in small group and he controls everything. Each knife has mini variants, and when you control the entire means of production, you can charge a much higher premium and you can create a lot more variety.
It’s also easier for you to implement improvements. With Grimsmo, there are a lot of small, incremental changes, and every new knife is better than the last.
I think it would be really cool to have something like that for mechanical keyboards. We’re not ready to do that with our desktop CNC.
Maybe making companion wrist rests that meet the aesthetic of a board to go along with it. (The desktop CNC) is just a way for us to learn about making things in-house and making things to a high standard.
This is a community that really appreciates behind the scenes stuff and seeing how the sausage gets made, and I think they would respond really well to a Grimsmo Knives style businesss.
It would be cool to make this into a thing that could be a real profession for some people, and a part of that is growing the community.
This is interesting because like you talked about earlier, this community is really small compared to clothes and watches, but this could be a way to really push it forward. To go to something bigger that could actually support more depth and nuance like the other hobbies do. It’s cool that you as a designer are thinking about these things.
I think right now, only RAMA can really call himself a professional keyboard designer. There are very few people who have turned the hobby into a profession. You have people like Zeal and Novelkeys who have made this into a profession, but everyone has their day jobs. It would be cool to make this into a thing that could be a real profession for some people, and a part of that is growing the community.
As I’ve developed my daily media diet, I’ve started collecting articles like people collect stamps. As such, I thought I start sharing the articles I’ve enjoyed this past week.
Kapital is one of my favorite brands right now. It is doing the wackiest shit in the workwear/hobowear space, and there’s just no other brand like it. This review of Kapital’s Century Denim made of 3 differently dyed yarns is one example of what makes it so, damn, good.
A bit of Malaysian pride going into this article recommendation, but it’s always fun to see designers peel behind the curtain of how they got where they are now, espcially for a young and exciting brand like MING.
This is really embarassing for me to admit, but the Failing Upwards podcast is my favorite thing to listen to at this moment. Much more than high brow shit like Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History or Longform or 99% Invisible. It honestly feels like a cult. Anyways, Mordechai Rubenstein (or Mister Mort) has been a permanent fixture in the menswear game for a while now and is a super cool guest.
For the longest time, I would fight the weather with the way that I dressed. Warm day? Button-up and a cardigan. Flannel and a jacket. I wanted to look good, and I was very willing to endure pit stains for it.
Recently, though, the Californian beach city guy, if-you-know-you-know, laid-back aesthetic has been rubbing off heavily on me. The people I’m describing probably aren’t even conscious of the vibe they’re giving off, which is a big part of why I think it’s cool. I’ve also been trying to draw less attention to myself, but without looking like a bum. As such, I’ve been drawn heavily towards the highest quality basic garments, and the loopwheeled tee is one of those garments.
Loopwheeling refers to a knitting method in which yarns are knit slowly around a cylinder, with the resulting tube-shaped fabric falling downwards.
Because the only tension present in the knitting process is its own weight, the resulting fabric is a low tension weave that retains the softness and natural characteristics of the yarn used.
The Bandanna Almanac, has a great writeup on his visit to the Kanekichi factory — a factory that makes loopwheeled products for many of your usual suspects in the Japanese workwear space. In the article, you can really see how old-school-industrial looking the loopwheeling process is. Yet, you also see that loopwheeling is an artisanal process, requiring the careful hand of shokunin (Japanese for artisan/mastery of a craft) to regulate the machine’s operation.
While loopwheel tees only provide a marginal difference in comfort and construction, it remains the end-all tee for the most discerning of workwear enthusiasts. It is rare, expensive, made like the good ol’ days and completely unnecessary. Just how I like it.
While the T-shirt is something that most are okay with wearing on its own now, it had its start as underwear. In an article written by MoMA’s Michelle Fisher for the Google Arts & Culture blog, the T-shirt came about when undergarment companies ‘bisected the union suit (a mid-nineteenth-century underwear invention), creating long johns on the bottom and an undershirt on top’.
The T-shirt’s proliferation is also heavily linked to masculine ideals. In the same article, Fisher talks about how the its military, hard labor and rebel associations were what really drove its popularity. Masculinity, amirite guys.
Companies also marketed these undergarments for the general citizenry using strangely ambiguous rhetoric that played up the garment’s comfort, construction, and ease of maintenance, focusing on the image of the virile, heteronormative soldier or dad on one hand, while performing a parallel function as a homoerotic signifier of the taut male torso on the other.
The loopwheel machine’s invention came somewhere in the middle of that. Invented by Guiseppe Nigra, an Italian inventor, the technology was licensed out to American sportswear makers (like Champion, for example) and was used continuously between the 30s and 60s. The loopwheeled sweatshirts made in this period were so soft and durable that Japanese vintage buyers would scour all over America to buy them up and sell them back home.
Right around the middle of the century, the slow weaving process of the loopwheel was no match for growing consumerism. With its hard labor and army connotations, the T-shirt was marketed by undergarment makers like Hanes and Fruit of the Loom as a masculine garment that could be worn on its own. Combined with its ease-of-use (no buttons and no need for ironing) and superior comfort, the tee shirt grew in popularity among the young and old alike.
As such, loopwheeling was slowly phased out in favor of 2-part flat knit bodies that are sewn together at the seam — the standard tee construction you see today.
Not all hope was lost for the loopwheeling, though. As with a lot of mid-century American cultural production, the Japanese noticed that manufacturing methods were changing and decided to preserve them. Workwear enthusiasts in Japan saw that the loopwheeling as a knitting method was being phased out, and those super soft 1950s and 60s sweatshirts were drying up in stock. Japanese clothiers then bought up loopwheel machines, brought them back to Japan and started making them there.
Today, apart from Merz B. Schwanen in Germany, loopwheeled machines exist only in Japan, where factories have multiple machines running simultaneously and an additional few on ice for when those break down.
If I had to pick one thing about loopwheel fabric to talk about, it would be its texture. Because of the slow weaving process, loopwheel fabric has this irregular texture that is not only visual but physical. It is neppy in the selvedge denim sense, meaning that parts of the cotton fabric sticks out slightly from the main fabric surface. With this naturally heathered look, even a blank loopwheeled tee has enough visual interest to stand out on its own.
That distinct horizontal nepping gives loopwheeled fabric a look that you cannot really replicate with other knitting methods. On top of that, the horizontal streaks become more obvious with wear and I find that super cool.
Because loopwheel tees are made by very slowly knitting hanging fabric around a tube, the result is a very low tension weave. This means that the natural characteristic of the yarns used is preserved in the knitting process, (usually) resulting in a softer hand feel. This also enables the production of a heavyweight and thick tee that is still breatheable and soft.
Additionally, the removal of the side seams means that there isn’t a raw edge to chafe against the skin, providing for a more comfortable tee when moving around.
While not directly related to loopwheeling itself, loopwheel tees often come with high-end construction elements that improve their structural quality over generic tees. On loopwheel tees, you will commonly find reworked collars that don’t overstretch, tighter stitching, better quality cotton and nicer hems.
Obviously, the whole reason you’re buying expensive garms is to flex on your Internet friends. Just watch how many more Internet points you get when you say that the shirt is made by The Flat Head or Real McCoys vs. American Apparel or Gap. Trust.
Yep. Loopwheeled shirts, especially in America, will run you about $100 per. And because of the nature of the stores that sell loopwheel stuff, they almost never go on sale.
Sure, it is expensive because it takes so many skilled artisans to make that slow-ass machine run(to be specific, one machine makes one meter of fabric per hour). Loopwheeled shirts are also better made and thus will last you longer. You could even get them proxied from Japan to save a bit of cash. But, just because one can explain its cost doesn’t make it worth it.
It really is up to you to decide if the marginal benefits that loopwheeled products provide are worth the huge jump in price. I personally have a bunch of Bella+Canvas blanks that share body time with my fancy schmancy loopwheeled stuff, that costs one-tenth the price. The point of diminishing returns for clothing differs for different people, and I respect that.
To me, a major downside of loopwheeled tees is that it fits inherently boxy. Because the body shape of the tee is fixed by the diameter of the tube the fabric is woven around, the chest, hip and waist measurements are the same. Unlike a 2-part tee that can be made to complement the natural V-shape of the torso, there is no way to change that in a side-seam-less loopwheeled tee.
While some people prefer tees that fit like ones made from way back, I personally prefer tees that fit a bit more ‘tailored’. Because my waist is quite a bit smaller than my chest, the bottom hem of my loopwheeled tees tends to look flared out and unshapely.
Furthermore, without the side seam to hold the shape of the tee together, garment twist is a much more noticeable issue.
You’re Really Only Flexing On Yourself
Let’s face it. You may have racked up hella Internet points on reddit, Styleforum and Superfuture, but irl people aren’t gonna know the difference between your fancy Japanese loopwheel tees and a tubular knit, Walmart Gildan thing. You’re gonna claim that your tee is special because it doesn’t have a side seam, but many of your friends probably own tees like that too. And when you start going into how soft it is because it was made on a vintage, low tension weave machine by artisans, you’ve already lost them.
If you’re really trying to flex with a tee shirt, you’d be better off dropping this fake blue-collar dressing thing and buy some Off-White or Supreme instead.
Loopwheel vs Tube Knit
Because loopwheeled T-shirts are generally delineated by the lack of side seam, it is commonly mixed up with tube knit T-shirts. Another type of T-shirt construction, the tube knit/circular knit, also results in a tee sans side seam. To make things more confusing, loopwheel tees can come with side seams if the loopwheeled fabric is cut up and restitched at the seams — something I’d like to see more of.
Compared to the low density, slow-moving loopwheel machine, the modern tube knit machine draws from 10+ yarns simultaneously and rotates super fast to spit out knits at a rapid pace.
Because of the tension needed to support that high-speed knitting process, the resulting fabric is thinner, tighter in weave and flatter in appearance. This is in contrast to the fluffy, loosely woven and highly textured loopwheeled fabric.
Because it is difficult to distinguish the far more expensive loopwheeled tees from the inexpensive tubular knit ones in pictures, many companies get away with mislabelling their tubular knits as loopwheeled. As seen in the Superdenim/Real McCoys mislabelling of the two-pack tees (they are not loopwheeled), it’s the retailers that get it wrong, too.
As such, it is important to do your research on the brands and the retailers to get the product you’re after. You can trust shops like Self Edge, Rivet & Hide and Corlection to provide accurate listings and specification sheets for their products.
If you’re looking for a basic, blank, no-frills loopwheeled tee, I’d go for the legacy Japanese brands that buy from the Wakayama factories (or make their own). The standouts for me are Studio D’Artisan’s Suvin Gold blanks, The Flat Head blanks (dat triple-stitched collar tho), and Warehouse & Co.’s pocket tee. To get that good good for the low low by sacrificing high-end construction elements, check out offerings from Entry SG and Barns Outfitters. And for all you big guys out there who don’t play well with Japanese sizing, The Strike Gold has got you covered.
For something non-Japanese and with a better distribution network worldwide, Merz B. Schwanen is your only option. They’re the only company producing loopwheeled stuff outside of Japan, but they’re pretty damn good at it. The fabrics are excellent, the construction is top-notch, and they have that triangular armpit thing that is pretty unique.
To make an already bougie product even more bougie by adding an artisanal element, check out Tezomeya. They take a blank loopwheel tee made at the same Wakayama factories and hand-dye it in-house. They also make a version of it with shibori (tie-dye), resulting in some funky (and weird if seen without context) patterns that will sure to impress even the most discerning of your Internet friends.
As I’ve developed my daily media diet, I’ve started collecting articles like people collect stamps. As such, I thought I start sharing the articles I’ve enjoyed this past week.
I have a feeling that Die, Workwear! is going to have a permanent spot in this new series, but for good reason. With this article, Derek thoroughly covers how the seasonal fashion cycle came to be, how it is being sped up, why that’s damaging and how we can do better.
Hudson Yards, New York’s newest large scale property development project, has not had the greatest of reviews this week. The Baffler adds to that beat down, but this article doesn’t feel like a pile-on as it brings up new points that I haven’t seen around the web.
When I first found out about the print version of this article originally published in 2015, I scoured the Internet to try to buy the sold out magazine. Unfortunately, the magazine was flipping for over $100 in most cases, and I wasn’t ready to pay that much for an article. Luckily, it is now free to read on 032C’s website, and boy is it a read. Raf Simons is the G.O.A.T., and holds a solid place on my Mount Rushmore of menswear designers.
I’m an engineer by training, but I’ve always seen myself as a creative. I first learned of this article through David Chang’s podcast episode with its author, Jerry Saltz. While this article talks specifically about the plight of the artist, I think its lessons could be applied to any other form of content creation.
Saying that in-house movements isn’t the be all end all of watchmaking definitely is not the hottest of takes, but this article explains why it is a thing — it’s just cuz.
When the KBD67 was first announced, I thought it was the one. The high-end custom killer. The game-changer. The man of the people, but like, for keyboards. Because of its complete feature set, simple-yet-great looks, and relatively low price point, I thought that the keyboard would eventually attain iconic status in the community purely on the back of how objectively good it is.
Fast-forward to now, the KBD67 hasn’t proliferated the market as well as I’d hoped. Wondering what went wrong, I wanted to review the keyboard for myself. As such, when I was given the opportunity to review it as part of a build commission for a friend of the blog, I jumped at the chance.
Case Material: Anodized 6063 T6 Aluminum
Plate Material: Anodized Aluminum
Weight Material: PVD-finished Brass
Layout: 65% with Bottom Blocker
Elevation Angle: 5 degrees
Front Height: 20mm
Case Construction: 2-Part Case with Bottom-Mounted (!!!) Plate
PCB: Proprietary KBD67 PCB with QMK and USB-C support (Non-Hotswap)
Price: $189 (Case, Plate, PCB, Weight, Stabilizers) +$30 Brass Plate Upgrade
As per usual with KBDfans keyboards, the unboxing experience is very spare. The KBD67 came in a generic black cardboard box with a custom cut foam insert. It’s good enough to prevent any damage during shipping and transportation, but nothing to write home about.
I’m okay with this, though. With higher end custom keyboards, I would expect a better unboxing experience as it is an additional platform for group buy runners to flex their design chops. For cheaper keyboards like the KBD67, on the other hand, I would prefer a more basic unboxing experience to bring down the price of the kit.
After a quick physical inspection of the board, I’m glad to say that the keyboard came dent-free, with only a small scratch on the top case right below the spacebar — nothing a blob of Sharpie can’t hide. The PCB also came preflashed with a good default layout, which is always good to see.
One other cool thing that KBDfans has done here is that they’ve provided an extra plate screw and an extra case screw with the kit. As a serial screw loser (or screwed loser, depending on who you’re asking), this is a godsend. As far as I know, the only other manufacturer who does this routinely is LZ. I hope that this becomes the norm rather than the exception in our hobby. #innovation
Building the KBD67 was a smooth process, even if it didn’t seem like it would be the case.
My first impressions of the brass plate was ‘well shit, the switch cutouts are fucked’. Just looking at them, they were wonky and not perfectly rectangular. The thought of needing to pull out a dremel made me anxious as this was a customer build. Luckily, the Zealios V2 switches used here clicked in assuringly. To my surprise, the switches were perfectly aligned, too. 5 of the cutouts were slightly too tight and a bit of twisting and pushing was needed for perfect insertion, but it’s not a big deal.
Even better, the plate has a fixed bottom row — a much-welcomed feature for 65% and 75% keyboards. The PCB has support for multiple bottom rows (insert joke about swiss cheese), but the relatively fixed plate layout meant that none of the switches needed aligning before soldering.
As an unabashed layoutist, I believe that certain layouts (Tsangan on 60% and TKLs, 6.25u on 65% and 75%) are objectively better than others and KBDfans chose my favorite 65% layout for the KBD67. As such, I’m glad to see the largest custom keyboard maker supporting fixed layouts, even if it was at the cost of a small amount of sales.
This point doesn’t need mentioning because the plate is so good, but for completion sake, the PCB mount leg holes were perfectly sized for both my go-to retooled Cherry MX Blacks and the customer’s Zealios V2s. This means that the PCB is good to go for future plateless 65% keyboards if KBDfans chooses to go down that route.
Programming the PCB is also a breeze as it supports QMK out of the box. It’s no VIA configurator, but it gets the job done.
Case Design and Quality
Aesthetic design-wise, the KBD67 almost has the simplest construction possible for a bottom-mounted keyboard. It has your standard 2-part case with a seam running around the sides that joins the top and bottom cases.
However, unlike many other 2-part cases, the KBD67 does nothing to hide that seam. While other popular 2-part cases like the TGR Alice, Noxary X60 and LZ CLS try to make the seams as flush as possible, the edges on the KBD67’s top and bottom cases are filleted, meaning that the seam is both visible and tactual.
The one deviation from a simple case profile is the OTD Koala-esque bottom curve. It’s a feature that’s found on a few of 2018’s more popular keyboards like Quantrik’s QXP, but it doesn’t do much for me. I personally prefer a case recess that is more functional in terms of making the keyboard easier to pick up, and the Koala curve is not that.
The PVD-coated brass plate found here is a welcomed addition. That brighter-than-my-future, gold-hued plate seen through the keycap layer adds a low-key-baller feel to the keyboard. It does attract fingerprints, but it could be easily brought back to full sparkle with alcohol wipes.
Quality-wise, the case is hit-or-miss.
First of, the top case-bottom case color matching is excellent. On all 4 sides, I see virtually no difference in its black shade or tone between the cases. While black anodization tends to hide flaws a lot better than other anodization colors, it is still very impressive. I would even put the matching on the KBD67 up there with the TX and Ducks of the world — two makers with the best reputation for color matching in the hobby.
This is one of the benefits of joining a large-scale group buy; it’s easier to color match when there are multiple top and bottom cases to choose from. Smaller-scale, more expensive keyboards don’t always mean better quality.
The anodization itself is also top-notch. The grains are smooth to the touch and consistent to the eye. There is minor streaking on the sides that is very difficult to spot in perfect lighting, much less in photos. Not a deal breaker by any means.
The keycap-to-bezel distance is questionable, to say the least. While the bottom distance is pretty much perfect, the top and side distances are way too small. The reverse Tokyo60, one could say. While a cropped distance does look better, it makes it difficult to fit a keycap puller through the crevices.
The bottom screw holes also aren’t dimensioned long enough, causing the screw head to protrude out slightly from the bottom case even when fully screwed in.
The brass weight on the KBD67 is a thin, grill-shaped insert that screws on to the back of the bottom case. Because of how thin (and thus light) it is, it’s more of an aesthetic accent than a vibration reduction element.
The light brass weight means the keyboard itself is light, too. In combination with the generic round bump ons found underneath, the KBD67’s low weight means that it slides around my desk pretty easily.
Typing Feel and Sound
A keyboard’s plate material and plate-mounting system are the most important factors in determining the typing feel and sound. The KBD67’s bottom-mounted brass plate setup combines my favorite plate material with my favorite plate-mounting system, and it performs as well as I thought it would.
As I’ve mentioned in my guide on keyboard construction, if the plate were mounted to the heavier bottom case instead of the lighter top case (as found in top mounts), the typing feel would theoretically be more stable. This is because the case vibrations from bottoming out would have to pass through more material and thus would be more dampened.
While I can’t say for certain that a bottom-mounted case feels much better than a top-mounted case because the KBD67 only supports the former, I will say that the keyboard types like a dream. The bottom out feel is firm with very little give or shake — just how I like it. Sound production is also singular and deep with little reverb.
Do take this with a grain of salt, though. The Typing Feel and Sound section of my keyboard reviews is something I find difficult to write with any authority because of how subjective it is. Because of how important it is as a performance marker, I feel the need to write about it as part of a comprehensive review. However, the difference in ‘feeling’ between keyboards of similar setups is almost negligible in most cases. As such, I can only be sure of an opinion when a keyboard is egregiously bad. Quantifying how good a keyboard is, on the other hand, is a far more difficult task.
Quick note on the Zealios V2: They’re amazing. Without going into too much detail on the switch (if you want detail, check out Krelbit’s excellent review), the Zealios V2’s tactile bump occurs right at the top of the depress motion and is the most tactile switch I’ve ever tried. I’ve always thought of myself as someone who prefers a more subtle tactile bump (think MX Browns and Topre), but I’ve since changed my mind. Typing on Zealios V2 is flat-out fun. I have concerns about the switch’s durability, especially when desoldering, but performance-wise it’s my favorite tactile switch out right now.
I think that the KBD67 could be the point of diminishing returns for most people, and is definitely so for the rational keyboard enthusiast. Its complete feature set meets all the basic requirements that I have for a keyboard, plus some. It’s an easy board to build and has a relatively special plate mounting system in the bottom mount. The case quality is also one of the best out there irrespective of price. While KBDfans keyboards have previously carried the ‘great, but for the price’ caveat, they’ve now shown that they’re ‘great at any price’.
If you’re looking for a great performing board and don’t mind too much about reddit/Discord clout, the KBD67 is the board to get.
Right from its inception on geekhack’s Interest Check subforum, GMK Space Cadet was an insta buy for me. This keycap set appealed to me on a personal level because 7bit’s old SA run of this colorway was what really pushed me out of my Magicforce-Leopold-KUL phase into custom keyboards and keysets. I remember seeing the group buy post for Round 6 and getting sticker shocked, but intrigued.
Now that I’ve had a chance to really play with GMK’s remake of the fabled MIT Lisp computer keycaps, here are my thoughts.
While I don’t have the original Space Cadet keycaps nor the SA 7bit caps to compare this to, in isolation, the blue modifier-grey alpha colorway of GMK Space Cadet is amazing. In natural light, the blue modifiers in particular really pop. The cool grey alphas paired with the (obviously) cool blue modifiers also give the set a coherent look. Oblotzky is one of the 4-5 keycap designers I trust with getting the colors right, and this set exemplifies that.
On a more personal note, grey and blue are two of the three colors (the other being brown) I gravitate towards in the clothes that I wear, and as such the keycap set fits my vibe too. I’m not sure about you all, but the only thing I ever think about is how my fit pairs with the colors on my keyboard. It is God-tier accessorizing at the highest level.
GMK Space Cadet is also a relatively flexible colorway (with sets like GMK Laser on the other end of the flexibility spectrum, for example). It looks great on a wide range of keyboard colors like grey (pictured above), black, navy, and silver. The special dual-legend grey alphas could also be paired with existing sets like GMK Oblivion and GMK Serika.
All-in-all, it’s a great looking colorway and my favorite GMK set to date.
The 1.5mm-thick ABS found here is keycap quality par excellence. The keycaps are generally free of burrs and defects. The longer keys like the spacebar, ‘Return’ and ‘Shift’ are also straighter than men with monster trucks and AR-15s. This means that they will always sound and feel great on correctly lubed stabilizers.
The surface texture is relatively smooth from the get go, sitting somewhere between EnjoyPBT (rougher) and BSP (smoother) in terms of roughness. While a rougher surface texture usually means a slight bump in typing accuracy for me, I personally prefer it smoother for that premium, lush feel.
Where GMK’s ABS really shines is in its long term use. Shine as in the keycaps lose their surface texture, and not the good shine. Like moonshine. The quirks of English, amirite?
I quite like the look of a fully-shined keycap set, and I’m keeping this set past it’s initial wear to hopefully get to that point, but it’s not for everyone.
Apart from issues with long-term durability, GMK keycaps set the bar for keycap quality.
Legend quality on GMK keycaps are the best in-class for doubleshot ABS, and it’s not even close (I’m looking at you, JTK).
The legend files used here are pretty great. Typography and kerning issues are few and far between (Get it? Kerning… Far between… I’m on a roll here), with the minor spacing issue here and there. Check these photos out:
In the ‘Shift’ and R3 ‘Control’ photos above, we can see that there is a difference in typography between keys with the same legends. One could be perfect, but the other could be badly kerned. As such, I’m guessing that it’s not so much am inherent production flaw but a more fixable file flaw. New molds may be needed to support those changes (which is costly), but there’s no need to upend their entire production method.
Legend sharpness is also excellent. In the past, high contrast legends on GMK sets tended to feather at the edge between legend and base, but all my latest GMK sets (see: GMK Laser Review) do not have this problem. Look at the sharp-as-a-tack edges of the control key here:
However, some of the sharpness benefits that doubleshot ABS brings over dye-sublimated PBT are offset by what I call ‘pooling’ on the smaller letters. ‘Pooling’ is the blobbing/gathering of plastic at the end points of the smaller legends that is inherent in the doubleshot production method. Check these out:
The ‘Rub Out’ keys are also somehow much taller and larger than the other legends in the set, which is odd and annoying:
Those few issues aside, the legends found here are still some of the best in the market. The ‘pooling’ issue and some small kerning issues mean that it’s not perfect yet, but we’re getting there.
In short, GMK Space Cadet is great. As someone who loves the colorway but far prefers Cherry profile over SA, this keycap set is the one. GMK and Oblotzky have done great work
While there are some things that the best dye-sublimated keycap sets do better (typography, no pooling, deeper sound, dat sweet PBT feel), there will always be a place for GMK in any collection because properly color matched custom colorways are, in my opinion, the coolest thing about this hobby.
For me, GMK Space Cadet is a keeper. Considering the fact that I now I have a one-in-one-out system of collecting, I think this says a lot.
If you follow my blog, you would know that I’m a huge fan of Topre. Yes, this affection does come at the cost of street cred — and we all know how important that is — but I truly enjoy typing on my HHKB.
As such, when KBDfans announced that they were running a group buy for Topre replacement keycaps, I was so excited that I wrote an article about it and bought it despite having owned 3 iterations on this colorway.
Now that I’ve gotten a chance to put this set through its paces, here’s a review!
Material: Dye-Sublimated PBT
Profile: Topre Profile
Price: $75 for the Base Kit, $9 for Mod Pro Kit (for Realforce 87u, Leopold FC660C and Leopold FC980C)
The keycap base of Topre 9009 is decent enough, but it misses the mark on many essential quality markers.
The keycaps feel cheap compared to BSP and Gateron blanks — probably due to its measly ~1mm thickness — but are free of burrs or defects for the most part. They feel pretty similar to stock Topre keycaps, but that’s not saying much as stock Topre caps are nothing special to begin with.
The surface texture on the Topre 9009 keycaps is the roughest bar none that I’ve seen. The very gritty texture comes from the larger grain size on the plastic used. Think Duck anodization, but for keycap texture. I prefer smoother keycap bases, but the rough texture does let me type more accurately as I can feel the keycaps better.
Topre 9009’s keycaps are noticeably smaller in its X and Y dimensions than stock keycaps. As you can see in the picture above, this makes the gaps between keycaps extremely obvious. This bothered me a lot while using the set because I wasn’t used to the way it looked on the board. While improving on this in future iterations will require a complete change of the molds used, it has to be done as the difference in keycap size is unacceptable.
Another huge problem with the set is that about 20% of the keys on my 60-key HHKB have crooked stems. The ‘Z’ key is the most obvious of the bunch:
Many other users have reported similar issues with their keycaps, especially with keycaps in the Mod Kit. Again, this is a huge issue that has to be fixed moving forward.
Lastly, 7 out of the 60 keycaps on my HHKB don’t click in like stock Topre keycaps. Instead, they squeeze in similar to how MX keycaps are fitted by friction, just unsatisfyingly so. As a result, some keycaps sit higher than the other keycaps on the same row.
Where this keycap set really shines is in its legend quality.
The dye sub quality on the Topre 9009 is top-notch. The legends are crisp with minimal feathering, and are competitive with some of the best MX dye sub legends that I’ve seen. Here’s a comparison of Topre 9009, Hammer BSP, and EnjoyPBT 9009:
Both EnjoyPBT 9009 and BSP Red Cyrillic edge out Topre 9009 in quality when viewed up close, but from a regular viewing distance, I could hardly tell the difference.
The typography on the set is excellent, too. Gok, the designer of EnjoyPBT Black on White and omnipotent ‘Fixer of Legends’, had a hand in making sure the legend files were up to scratch, and it shows. The chunky-alphas-and-icon-modifiers legend style of Gok’s EnjoyPBT sets is a welcomed addition into the world of Topre keycaps. Kerning and misalignment are also basically non-issues.
Legend quality has always been where stock Topre keycaps fall short, so this huge improvement is one that deserves credit.
Going into the review, I didn’t think that I needed to write a sound profile section. Both the stock keycaps and Topre 9009 are made of Topre profile ~1mm PBT, so they should sound the same…. right?
Strangely, the bottom out sound coming out of Topre 9009 is obnoxiously higher-pitched than that of stock. Here is a typing sound comparison between the two:
This is very odd as keycaps of the same profile and thickness tend to sound pretty similarly. In the world of MX keycaps, for example, BSP and OG Cherry sound slightly different from Gateron, but barely so.
I got used to the higher-pitched sound of Topre 9009 after a while, but after switching back to the stock keycaps, it was obvious that I much preferred the latter to the former. The stock Topre keycaps bottom out with a fuller and deeper sound that complements the HHKB better.
I was hyped after hearing that KBDfans was producing custom colorway Topre keycap sets. I’ve always had a soft spot for my HHKB and I thought this change could revitalize Topre keyboard collecting. I would have been satisfied with a slight improvement in dye-sublimation and the fresh new colorway if everything else were kept the same.
Unfortunately, as good as the legends and colorway are, the regression in keycap quality and sound profile make it hard for me to recommend this keycap set. Essentially, you would be paying $84 for better legends and that just isn’t worth it for most people.
At the end of the day, I’m keeping Topre 9009 on my HHKB because the legends are that much better than that of stock. I’m also confident that KBDfans will do right by this keycap set and fix the issues I’ve outlined. However, Topre keycaps still have some catching up to do.