Building a custom mechanical keyboard can be a rewarding experience that allows you to tailor your typing experience to your unique preferences. Mechanical keyboards offer distinct advantages over membrane keyboards, such as better typing feel, improved durability, and faster response times. By creating your own, you can control every aspect, from the switch type to the keycap design, making it a unique reflection of your personal style.
To get started on your custom mechanical keyboard journey, you’ll first need to have a basic understanding of what a mechanical keyboard is and the components involved. Mechanical keyboards utilize individual switches for each key, which provides the tactile feel and audible click that many users love. You can learn more about the benefits of a mechanical keyboard and why it’s worth considering building one yourself in this article.
Once you’re familiar with the concept and advantages of mechanical keyboards, the next step is to gather the necessary components, such as the keyboard case, PCB, switch mounting plate, mechanical switches, stabilizers, and keycaps. As you select these parts, consider how they will work together and suit your specific needs, ensuring you create a keyboard that enhances your daily productivity and comfort.
Choosing the Right Keyboard Size
When it comes to building your own mechanical keyboard, one of the first decisions you’ll need to make is choosing the right size. Mechanical keyboards come in a variety of sizes, each with its own unique features and benefits. In this section, we’ll discuss different keyboard sizes and help you determine which one is best for your needs.
Understanding Keyboard Layouts
There are several common keyboard layouts that you might come across, such as:
- Full-sized keyboards (100% or 104 keys): These keyboards have a complete set of keys, including the alphanumeric keys, F-row, and a dedicated number pad. A Size Matters guide suggests full-sized keyboards are ideal for those who often work with numbers or use the extra keys frequently.
- Tenkeyless (TKL or 80%): These keyboards don’t have a number pad but still include the F-row and arrow keys. They are a popular choice for users looking for more desk space and a shorter distance between the keyboard and mouse without sacrificing too many keys.
- 75%: These compact keyboards typically have around 84 keys, including the F-row and arrow keys, but with some keys combined or removed for a more space-saving design.
- 65%: These keyboards typically have around 66 to 68 keys and exclude the F-row but retain arrow keys. They are suitable for users who value a compact layout but still require the arrow keys.
- 60%: A 60% keyboard usually has around 61 keys and lacks the F-row, arrow keys, and number pad. Programming layers are utilized to access the missing keys through key combinations.
- 40%: These ultra-compact keyboards have around 40 to 45 keys and can be quite a challenge for newcomers, as they depend heavily on layers and key combinations, sacrificing many of the traditional keys for a minimal footprint.
When determining the ideal size for your mechanical keyboard, consider factors such as your desk space, typing habits, and any specific functional requirements you may have. The more compact the keyboard, the more efficiently you can utilize your workspace, but it may take some adjusting to fewer keys or different layouts. Choose a size that will optimize your typing or gaming experience and meet your personal preferences.
Selecting the Best Materials
When building your own mechanical keyboard, choosing the right materials is essential to ensure a quality and enjoyable experience. In this section, we’ll discuss how to select the best materials for your keyboard’s case and plate.
Choosing the Case Material
The case material can impact the overall look, feel, and sound of your keyboard. Here are some popular options:
- Aluminum: A durable, lightweight, and popular choice for custom keyboards. It provides a premium feel and substantial heft without being overly heavy. It can also come in various finishes, such as anodized or powder-coated.
- Plastic (ABS or PBT): ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) and PBT (Polybutylene Terephthalate) are common types of plastic used for keyboard cases. Both are relatively affordable and offer a wide range of color options. PBT is known for being slightly more durable and resistant to shine than ABS, but ABS is still a solid choice for a budget build.
- Polycarbonate: A transparent plastic that offers a unique aesthetic. It’s lightweight and can showcase the internal components of your keyboard, such as the PCB and switches.
- Wood: A natural and warm material for keyboard cases. It can provide a unique look and offer a softer typing experience. Keep in mind that wood can be more susceptible to changes in humidity or temperature and may require extra care compared to other materials.
Pros and Cons of Different Plates
Mechanical keyboard plates help support the switches and contribute to the overall typing feel. Here are some popular plate materials and their pros and cons:
- Aluminum: A versatile plate material offering a balance between rigidity and flexibility. Aluminum plates provide a consistent typing experience and are great for beginners.
- Brass: A dense, metallic plate material offering a stiffer typing experience. It provides a noticeable acoustic difference compared to other materials, with a deeper, more audible sound signature.
- Carbon Fiber: A lightweight and rigid plate material known for its durability. Carbon fiber plates can offer excellent stability without the added weight of brass or aluminum.
- Polycarbonate: A flexible plate material offering a softer and quieter typing experience. Polycarbonate plates absorb some vibrations, which can lessen harsh bottom-outs.
Consider the aesthetic, weight, sound, and typing feel preferences when selecting the materials for your custom mechanical keyboard. Your choices will impact your overall experience and satisfaction with the end product.
Understanding Mechanical Switches
When building your own mechanical keyboard, one of the key aspects you should consider is the mechanical switches. These small components sit underneath each keycap and are responsible for the tactile feel and responsiveness when you press a key. In this section, we will explore the different types of switches and the use of switch testers.
Types of Switches
There are three main types of mechanical switches, which differ in their actuation force and feel:
- Linear switches: These switches have a smooth and consistent keystroke. They lack a tactile bump or audible click, making them ideal for rapid pressing and gaming. Popular linear switch options are Gateron Red and Cherry MX Red.
- Tactile switches: These switches provide a noticeable tactile bump when actuated, offering tactile feedback that lets you know the key has been pressed. Tactile switches are well-suited for typing tasks and general usage. Examples of tactile switches include Gateron Brown and Cherry MX Brown.
- Clicky switches: Clicky switches are similar to tactile switches, but with an added audible click sound when the key is actuated. These switches provide both tactile and auditory feedback, and are preferred by some typists. Gateron Blue and Cherry MX Blue are common clicky switches.
It is important to choose the right type of switch to match your preferences and use cases, as this will greatly affect your typing experience and satisfaction with your custom mechanical keyboard.
Since everyone’s preferences for tactile feel and sound can vary significantly, it is highly recommended to try different switches before committing to one specific type. This is where a switch tester comes in handy. A switch tester is a small device that allows you to test various mechanical switches side by side.
Here’s how to use a switch tester:
- Obtain a switch tester with a variety of switches, including the different types (linear, tactile, and clicky) as well as specific switch brands like Gateron or Cherry MX.
- Press each switch individually, focusing on the force required to actuate, the tactile bump, and the sound produced.
- Take note of your preferences and determine which switch type aligns best with your needs.
By using a switch tester, you can make a more informed decision when selecting the mechanical switches for your custom keyboard. Remember, the choice of switch will significantly impact your overall typing experience, so it’s important to choose wisely.
ABS vs. PBT Keycaps
When choosing keycaps for your custom mechanical keyboard, you will encounter two popular materials: ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) and PBT (Polybutylene Terephthalate). Each offers a unique typing experience based on their individual properties.
ABS keycaps are generally a more affordable option, but they tend to develop a shiny finish over time due to the oils on your fingers. They usually have thinner walls and might not feel as solid as PBT keycaps but offer a smoother texture.
PBT keycaps, on the other hand, have thicker walls and are more resistant to wear and fading. They maintain a textured finish throughout their lifespan, providing a consistent typing experience. One downside to PBT is its higher cost, but many keyboard enthusiasts believe the improved durability and feel are well worth it.
Understanding Keycap Legends
Keycap legends are the symbols and characters printed or etched onto a keycap. They play a significant role in the visual appeal and overall customizability of your keyboard. Legends can be created using several methods, and the most common method is doubleshot molding.
Doubleshot keycaps are made with a two-step process in which two layers of plastic are molded together, creating distinct colors for the keycap surface and the legend. This technique results in durable and fade-resistant legends, making them ideal for long-term use.
When picking keycaps, consider the colors, material, and profile that best suit your preferences. A combination of quality material, such as PBT, and a carefully chosen keycap profile can greatly enhance the typing experience and aesthetics of your custom mechanical keyboard. Remember, it’s all about personalizing to create the perfect keyboard for you.
Essential Components of the Keyboard
Importance of Stable Stabilizers
When building your own mechanical keyboard, stabilizers play a crucial role in enhancing your typing experience. Stabilizers are responsible for reducing key wobble and ensuring that larger keys, such as the spacebar and Enter key, are smooth and stable. Screw-in stabilizers are often recommended as they provide better stability compared to other types. Remember to properly tune and lube your stabilizers to eliminate rattling and ticking noises, which can significantly improve the overall feel of your custom keyboard.
Port Selection: USB-C vs Others
Another key consideration in your mechanical keyboard project is the choice of connectivity options. Nowadays, USB-C has become a popular choice because of its compact design, faster data transfer, and reversible plug orientation. However, some people still prefer older connectors like micro USB or mini USB due to personal preferences or compatibility reasons. Regardless of the type you choose, ensure that the selected port is reliable and compatible with your devices. Also, don’t forget to invest in a good quality USB cable to avoid any connection issues.
Exploring the RGB Lighting Features
For a visually appealing keyboard, you might want to consider incorporating RGB lighting features. You can choose from a variety of LEDs to create a vibrant and customizable aesthetic. Whether you prefer subtle lighting effects or an elaborate display of colors, make sure you research and select the right components that match your preferences. Note that some high-quality keyboard parts might be more expensive, but they can significantly enhance your keyboard’s visual appeal and functionality.
The Role of the PCB
At the core of your custom mechanical keyboard lies the Printed Circuit Board (PCB). This component connects and communicates with all other parts of the keyboard, such as switches, stabilizers, and LEDs. When choosing a PCB for your keyboard project, consider factors like compatibility with your chosen switches, layout options, and feature support (such as RGB lighting or hot-swap sockets). It is essential to pick a PCB that caters to your desired design and functional requirements to ensure an optimal keyboard experience.
To build your keyboard, gather all the necessary components and tools like a screwdriver and carefully follow the assembly instructions. With quality keyboard parts and a well-thought-out plan, you’ll have a reliable and personalized typing tool ready for use!
Step-by-Step Guide to Assemble
Mounting the Keyboard
To start, make sure you have all the necessary components, such as the keyboard case, PCB, switches, mounting plate, stabilizers, and keycaps on hand. First, mount the PCB and mounting plate onto the keyboard case using a screwdriver. Ensure that all the holes align properly with the case and tighten the screws securely.
Soldering the Switches
Before you start soldering, gather your soldering iron, solder, and solder sucker. If you’re using a hotswap mechanical keyboard, you can skip the soldering steps. For a traditional keyboard, insert the switches into the mounting plate, making sure they’re properly placed and facing the right direction. Once all the switches are in place, you can begin the soldering process.
Heat up your soldering iron and apply a small amount of solder to each switch pin’s contact point on the PCB. Make sure to avoid overheating or creating solder bridges between contacts. If you make a mistake, use your solder sucker to remove the excess solder and try again.
Finalizing with Keycaps
With the switches properly soldered to the PCB, it’s time to finish the assembly by attaching the keycaps. Ensure that you have the correct keycaps for your switches, and gently press them onto each switch stem. Don’t apply too much force, as this might damage the switch stems or keycaps. You can customize the layout by using unique and personalized keycaps for your build.
Testing the Keyboard
Finally, it’s time to test your newly built mechanical keyboard. Connect the keyboard to your computer using the appropriate cable, and open up a keyboard tester application or website. Press each key one by one to ensure they are registering correctly and functioning as intended. If any issues arise during the testing, double-check your soldering and connections to pinpoint the problem. Fix any necessary issues, and then retest the keyboard until it’s in perfect working order.
By following these steps, you’ll have a fully customized and functioning mechanical keyboard that suits your preferences and needs. Enjoy typing with a keyboard you’ve assembled yourself!
Building your own mechanical keyboard opens up a world of customization options, allowing you to craft the perfect typing experience tailored to your personal preferences. In this section, we’ll explore some of the key elements you can customize when creating your own mechanical keyboard.
Keyboard Layouts: One of the first decisions you’ll need to make is the layout of your keyboard. This determines the number and arrangement of keys on your board. Common layouts include full-sized, tenkeyless (TKL), 75%, 60%, and even smaller ones like 40%. Consider factors such as your typing needs, desk space, and aesthetic preferences when selecting a layout.
Switches: Mechanical switches are the heart of your keyboard, and they come in a variety of types, each with their own distinct characteristics. You can choose between linear, tactile, or clicky switches, depending on your preference for key feel and sound. Popular switch brands include Cherry MX, Gateron, and Kailh.
Keycaps: The surface of your keyboard is defined by its keycaps, which can be customized in terms of color, material, and profile. There are numerous keycap sets available in the market with varying aesthetics and themes. Popular materials for keycaps include ABS and PBT plastics, while keycap profiles range from the classic OEM profile to taller SA or sleeker DSA profiles.
Case and Plate: The foundation of your custom keyboard is its case and plate, influencing the overall look, feel, and sound of your build. Cases come in various materials, such as plastic, aluminum, or even wood, each with their own acoustic properties and aesthetics. Plates, which hold the switches in place, can be made of materials like steel, aluminum, brass, or even carbon fiber.
Firmware: To truly make your keyboard your own, consider customizing its firmware. Tools like QMK and VIA allow you to easily reprogram your keyboard’s layout, add macros, or configure other features like RGB lighting. This level of personalization ensures your keyboard is optimized for your specific typing and gaming needs.
By considering these customization options for your custom mechanical keyboard, you’ll be able to create a unique, functional, and aesthetically pleasing typing experience that fits your style and preferences. Happy building!
Community Involvement and Support
Building your own mechanical keyboard is not just a fun and rewarding experience, it’s also a chance to become a part of a friendly and supportive community. One of the key aspects of the mechanical keyboard community is group buys. These collaborative purchases allow you to secure high-quality components at a more affordable price and sometimes give access to exclusive or limited edition items.
YMDK and KBDFans are two popular vendors known for their wide range of quality mechanical keyboard components and kits. They often participate in group buys, so keep an eye on their websites and social media accounts for updates on upcoming collaborations. By joining group buys, you not only get the best possible deals but also contribute to the community’s growth and success.
Another active platform that connects keyboard enthusiasts is Drop (previously Massdrop). It offers a broad selection of mechanical keyboard components, kits, and even completed keyboards designed by the community. On Drop, you can also find discussions, polls and, of course, group buys. Engaging with fellow enthusiasts on Drop allows you to share your experiences, learn valuable tips, and get support in your keyboard-building journey.
Don’t hesitate to share your progress, ask questions or seek advice from the community on various forums and social media platforms. The mechanical keyboard community is known for being inclusive, with people from all skill levels willing to help others. So, whether you’re a first-time builder or an experienced enthusiast, there’s always something new to learn and friends to meet in the world of custom mechanical keyboards.
Additional Accessories and Tools
Building your own mechanical keyboard is an exciting project, and having the right accessories and tools can make the process even smoother. In this brief section, we’ll discuss some essential items that can help you in your keyboard-building journey. Remember to use a friendly tone and maintain a second-person point of view.
Tweezers: A pair of tweezers can be incredibly useful when handling small components such as switches and stabilizers. They allow you to install and remove these items with ease, ensuring a clean and secure fit.
Switch tester: It’s essential to have a switch tester on hand while building a custom keyboard, as this will help you determine the feel and sound of different switches. By testing various switch types, you can make an informed choice about which one will deliver the best typing experience for you.
Nail clippers or flush cutters: When trimming excess material or cutting down pins from your switches, nail clippers or flush cutters are essential. These tools will provide clean, precise cuts, preventing damage to your PCB and other components.
Here’s a list of some suggested accessories and tools to have on hand:
- Switch tester
- Nail clippers or flush cutters
- Keycap puller
- Screwdriver set
- Soldering iron and solder (if building a non-hotswap keyboard)
With these additional accessories and tools readily available, you’ll be well-equipped to create the perfect custom mechanical keyboard to meet your needs. Happy building!
DIY vs Pre-made Mechanical Keyboards
When it comes to choosing between building your own mechanical keyboard and buying a pre-made one, there are several factors to consider. Let’s explore some of the pros and cons of each option.
Customizability: One of the most significant advantages of building your own mechanical keyboard is the level of customization and personalization it offers. From the case materials to the switches and keycaps, creating a DIY keyboard allows you to tailor every aspect to your preferences. This is especially useful for gamers and typists who have specific preferences in terms of typing feel and aesthetics. Pre-made keyboards, like Razer, also offer customization options, but these are often limited compared to DIY builds.
Price: Generally, building your own mechanical keyboard can be cheaper than purchasing a high-end pre-made keyboard, especially if you’re targeting a specific budget. However, this varies depending on the components you choose. Premium materials and custom parts can quickly add up, making your DIY keyboard more expensive than some pre-made options. If you’re focused on finding the best value, it’s worth researching the prices of various components and comparing them to the cost of a pre-made keyboard like a Razer gaming keyboard or similar models.
Time and Skill: Building a mechanical keyboard requires time, patience, and some technical skill. If you’re a newcomer to the world of mechanical keyboards, assembling your own keyboard might be a challenging and time-consuming endeavor. On the other hand, purchasing a pre-made keyboard allows you to start using it right away, with minimal setup required.
Quality and Longevity: When you build your own keyboard, you have full control over the quality of the components. This means you can choose parts that are known for their durability and reliability, potentially leading to a longer-lasting keyboard. However, pre-made keyboards from reputable brands like Razer are also built to last and often come with warranties, providing you with some peace of mind.
104-Key Layout: Both DIY and pre-made mechanical keyboards are available in various layouts, including the popular 104-key layout. Building your own 104-key keyboard allows you to choose your preferred switches, keycaps, and case materials, whereas pre-made 104-key keyboards often come with fixed choices or limited customization options.
In summary, the choice between DIY and pre-made mechanical keyboards largely depends on your priorities and preferences. If customizability and personalization are essential to you, building your own keyboard could be the way to go. However, if you’re looking for a quick and easy solution with a known level of quality, a pre-made keyboard from a reputable brand like Razer might be a better option.