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    Everything You Need to Know About Custom Mechanical Keyboards

    Mechanical keyboards come in all shapes and sizes, many of which you can find on Amazon or via some other retailer. If you need a new board, buying a pre-built one is the cheapest and easiest way. However, building a custom keyboard gives you the chance to choose everything from the case material, to the switches, to the keycaps.

    A WhiteFox with GMK Hyperfuse caps

    The popularity of custom keyboards has exploded in the last few years, making it a confusing and intimidating hobby to pick up. Let's break it all down.

    Layouts and firmware

    One of the things you'll notice about custom keyboards rather quickly is they tend to have unusual layouts, and they're often tiny compared to the standard full-sized 104-key layout. There are tenkeyless (80%) boards that lack a number pad, but also 65%, 60%, and smaller. A 60% is fairly common these days—these boards have only the main alphas, number row, and modifiers. The arrows and other keys are accessible via a function layer. A 65% board adds back the arrows and a few extra keys, but 40% boards go the other way with the alpha keys and a just a few modifiers. Then there are various split and ergonomic boards, like the Ergodox.

    Some of these are available as niche pre-built keyboards, but there's one main difference between those and a truly custom board. A custom board is programmable, meaning you can have any of the keys do whatever you want. This is extremely important when you're dealing with fewer physical keys because you will need at least one robust function layer to fit in all the standard keyboard commands.

    A RedScarf II with DSA Overwatch caps

    The firmware on a custom keyboard offers much more power than the desktop clients many fancy "gamer" keyboards use. After a board is programmed with your preferred layout, it doesn't rely on any software on a computer. It works exactly the same no matter which device you plug it into. The things you can do are also much more advanced. Some boards include advanced macro support or the option to control the mouse cursor.

    A smaller keyboard layout can be much more efficient than a full sized one. By relegating some commands to a function layer, your hands don't have to move as far while typing, and your mouse stays closer to your hands. True, some people can't get by without a full layout and number pad, but most people who think they do are wrong. It's much easier to scale back the size of your board than you think.

    How To Use Contact Cement to Repair Your Foam Builds

    I use a lot of different types of foam for all kinds of projects. Of course, this means that I also have an equally diverse array of adhesives for foam. My workshop has an entire shelf full of epoxies, cyanoacrylates (CA, a.k.a super glue), polyurethane glues, hot glues, aliphatics, you name it. I've gradually sorted out my favorite applications for each type of sticky stuff.

    Since all of my foam-bonding needs have been covered, I've been resistant to experiment with anything new, until recently. A unique repair job spurred me to try Beacon Adhesives' Foam-Tac, a contact cement intended for use on foam. It provided exactly what I needed, a strong, yet flexible bond. None of my other glues would have worked in this situation. Consequently, my glue collection just expanded.

    The broken rudder hinge on this RC model prompted me to expand my glue selection.

    The Repair

    Molded foam RC airplanes often use what is called a "live" hinge on the control surfaces. It's basically just an area of thin foam that can flex freely. Live hinges are convenient, but not always very durable. In fact, one of my recent model airplane acquisitions had shipping damage that completely ripped apart the entire rudder hinge. This particular model is made of Expanded Polyolefin (EPO) foam.

    My normal process for repairing this kind of damage would have involved several steps. First, I would have trimmed back the jagged parts of the ripped foam with an X-Acto knife and/or sandpaper. The next step would be to reattach the rudder using mechanical hinges. This involves cutting aligned slits in both foam parts and gluing the hinges into place with CA. Lastly, I would find a decent color match in my paint stash and touch-up the cut/sanded areas of foam. None of these steps are difficult, but it all takes time and effort.

    Several of my RC buddies have suggested Foam-Tac for these types of repairs in the past. I'm glad I finally listened. The repair process is much faster.

    How to Protect Your Privacy on Android Without Making Your Smartphone Dumb

    Your Android phone knows where you are and what you're doing, and it'll share that data with Google and any number of app developers. If you're a privacy-minded individual, you might not want to fling your data around freely. At the same time, you bought a smartphone in order to make use of all its cool features. There is a middle ground between being completely open and shutting off all your phone's features. Let's try to find it.

    Secure your location data

    You will hear plenty of people advocating turning off location completely to enhance privacy, but I don't think you need to go that far on newer version of Android. There are plenty of times you do want an app to be able to access your location. It's better to make use of Android's built-in permission system and disable automatic tracking through Google.

    You may not realize, but Google maintains a full history of where your phone has been. You can see it in the Maps app under "Your Timeline." If you don't like the idea of your phone constantly uploading your location to Google, you can disable that in the settings. It's under Settings > Location > Location History. You can turn it off with the toggle at the top, and your phone will stop uploading your location to Google.

    Next, it's time to take advantage of the permission system Google rolled out in Marshmallow. Head to the settings and find the app permissions list. Sometimes this is hidden in the overflow menu. One of the entries in the permission list will be location. Tap that and you get a list of all apps on your phone that request the location permission. You can turn all of them off here if you want, or just leave the essentials on. Apps will request location when you open them, but that can be denied.

    Making a Laser-Cut Nintendo Switch Stand

    Here's a simple and timely project for your laser cutter: a custom Nintendo Switch stand that holds it at more usable angle than the built-in kickstand and allows USB-C port access for charging. Frank sketches out the design and puts it together using threaded rod. Download the SVG file here!

    The Risks of Buying A Cheap RC Truck

    It's definitely true that you get what you pay for. But as a noob, it's often difficult to recognize or understand what you sacrifice with a bottom-end model. So let's take a look at one of the least expensive 1/10-scale hobby-grade RC trucks available, the ECX Amp, and analyze the pros and cons of pinching pennies.

    Analyzing the Amp

    The Amp is a 2-wheel-drive truck that comes pre-built or as a kit. Both versions are priced at $130 and include a radio, battery, and charger. You only need to add 4 AA batteries for the transmitter. The kit version also requires paint for the clear plastic body. Obviously, the pre-built version will get you on the road sooner. But the kit version will jump start your knowledge of how RC cars work. Learn now or learn later. The choice is yours.

    I highly recommend choosing a 1/10-scale model for your first RC car. They are large enough that the components are easy to work on. At the same time, these cars and trucks are not so large that replacement parts and hop-ups are prohibitively expensive.

    The ECX Amp is one of the least expensive hobby-grade trucks available. What do you sacrifice by going cheap?

    Like most modern off-road models, the Amp has a molded plastic chassis, long suspension arms and oil-filled coil-over shocks. I've crashed the truck into a few immovable objects and it has proven to be tough.

    The transmission has a gear-type differential. Many racing cars and trucks use limited-slip differentials. While limited-slip diffs allow tuning options, they are also more difficult to assemble and require maintenance. Gear differentials are very tough and work well in most situations. They're definitely the best bet for newcomers.

    This Old FX Shop: Interstellar Model Kit

    We pay homage to Christopher Nolan's Interstellar by building model kits based on the practical miniatures used in the film's production. Frank and Norm each make a Ranger spaceship, showing painting, masking, and weathering for this scale model.

    This Old FX Shop: Miss Monster's Masks

    One of our favorite aritsts is Melita Curphy--aka Miss Monster--who sculpts beautiful figures and masks with a distinct techno-organic style. We're thrilled to paint two of her masks on this episode of This Old FX Shop!

    How To Mold and Cast Foam Props!

    Our very own Frank Ippolito shows you how to make simple silicone molds to cast and paint foam replicas of props like shop tools! We go over the moldmaking process and show how self-skinning expanding foam can make great-looking stunt props for your projects.

    Shop Tips: How To Use Spray Paint Nozzle Tips

    This week's tip from Frank Ippolito is about actual tips--for spray cans, that is. Frank shows Norm how he uses different nozzle caps for different effects when spray painting props and signage in his shop. Whether you run a large workshop or just work out of your garage, we want to hear your shop tips that you rely on in your projects. Post them in the comments below!

    5 Tips for Hobby RC Rookies

    Getting into the RC hobby has never been easier or more affordable than it is right now. There are tons of high-quality, beginner-oriented RC vehicles to choose from. However, there are also a lot of sub-par products as well. Even with the right equipment, learning the ropes can sometimes be a challenge. Making a few missteps as you're just getting into the hobby can ruin your enthusiasm and sour the fun. Here are a few tips to help potential RC hobbyists make a positive start.

    Get Help

    Whether you are interested in aircraft, cars, or boats there is probably someone in your area who is already up to speed and knowledgeable. Seek out RC clubs, racetracks, or hobby shops. You are bound to find folks who are willing to help you get started.

    If flying is your goal, attend a club meeting even before you buy any RC equipment. Most RC clubs have dedicated instructors who teach newcomers how to fly. The majority of aspiring pilots who try learning all by themselves either fail completely, or destroy many models on their path to competency. Also, an instructor can help you choose the right equipment. Some clubs even have models set aside just for training.

    If you're more interested in surface vehicles (cars, trucks, boats), find out what models experienced hobbyists in your area are using and recommend. It can be a big boost to have local experts who are familiar with your specific equipment. You're bound to receive helpful advice for setup, maintenance, and repairs.

    Having a mentor is the best way to make smart buying decisions and learn the skills you need for the RC hobby.

    If you live in a rural area, you may have trouble finding other modelers nearby. There are numerous online forums such as RC Groups and RC Universe that can sometimes partially fill that void. Just be wary of advice received online. There are a lot of self-proclaimed experts who give out bogus advice. With a little research, the true experts are often easy to identify.

    The bottom line is that RC is as much a social activity as anything else. Finding other modelers with similar interests makes the RC hobby more enjoyable and also speeds up your learning curve.

    Shop Tips: Cutting Foam for Propmaking

    Frank shares some of his favorite blades and techniques for cutting foam for prop and costume fabrication. Whether you run a large workshop or just work out of your garage, we want to hear your shop tips that you rely on in your projects. Post them in the comments below!

    Shop Tips: How To Properly Clean Your Paint Brushes

    Frank shows us his workflow and tips for keeping his paint brushes clean after using them, including what cleaners to use and how different types of brushes can be treated differently. Whether you run a large workshop or just work out of your garage, we want to hear your shop tips that you rely on in your projects. Post them in the comments below!