I've always adored how 40% mechanical keyboards looked, but didn't think I could regularly type on one until recently! For the uninitiated, 40s are compact keyboards which come in a variety of layouts. My daily driver is the Prime_E, which features an Alice style layout, no arrows or numrow.
My beginnings in the mechanical keyboard hobby was atypical. Without getting into all the gritty details, the short version: I overworked myself badly. I had Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) and went to physical therapy for months.
I switched to a Kinesis Freestyle Pro and later Kinesis Advantage2 while learning how to type again in Dvorak. I'm still using my Evoluent vertical mouse. It was an ugly set-up, but it served my health well while I recovered.
A few years later, someone showed me the ErgoDox EZ, an ergonomic pre-built and hotswap keyboard. I bought pastel gradient blank keycaps to adorn it at first. Soon after, I wanted something special for the keyboard and ended up producing the Magic Girl collection.
After updating the look of my keyboard, I got into the business side of things and didn't have time to explore other boards or customization.
The Lore: 50 Cent visited the BuzzFeed office where I used to work and took a spin with my Magic Girl ErgoDox keyboard. While I do not condone his stances, this remains to be a special moment in the hobby & my career in it.
Before anyone decides to yell at me: I’m not claiming any of my changes since moving off the Kinesis or ErgoDox are ergonomic. What I know is that I am able to type without strain on a 40% keyboard.
With regards to my RSI recovery, I believe the rest and habit changes made the biggest difference in the end. Buying an ergonomic set-up alone won't solve anything overnight!
After 6 years on the mend, I had the energy to explore the deep rabbit holes of customization. I figured it would be worthwhile too considering this is now my full time work. Honestly, I was also tired of the ErgoDox aesthetically. I wanted to switch things up.
A friend had been bugging me to try out Alice layout as a starting point. This made sense because the Alice has the angled halves as well as Split Spacebar like what I'm already familiar with.
I adopted Split Bksp which made backspace easier to reach. This freed up my left thumb for the Cmd key. My arrows are mapped to Caps Lock + WASD. Great training to be using a regular layer while typing.
When I switched to the 40% Prime_E keyboard, I kept my keymap rather simple. Since I exclusively type using RShft, I remapped the LShft to become a layer toggle. Layer 1 contains my numrow and symbols. My arrows are in the same place as before in Layer 2 along with Esc.
I only use modifier keys on the left side of the keyboard and I leave everything else blank. The M0 macro key is mapped to OSX screenshot. I end up having 2 Bksp keys because I both reach for the closer one or feel for the edge of my keyboard.
And this was my path to 40s. What'll work the best is to observe how you type then create a keymap that fits your habits.❀