Question and Answer
I’ve been in the mechanical keyboard world for only a short time now, but I’ve come to really see the wonders of having a custom-built keyboard. If you’re reading this, I’m sure you have the same thoughts on your mind. So, exactly what do I need on my desk at this very moment to be able to build a mechanical keyboard?
Well, to start with, you’re going to need all these parts: switches, a case, keycaps, a printed circuit board (PCB), stabilizers, a soldering kit, snippers, and maybe a keycap puller and a switch puller. A way that you can save time and some money is to buy a prebuilt keyboard kit, which we’ll discuss later in the article.
The Main Parts
PCB and aluminum frame
PCB stands for printed circuit board. The PCB is the base of your keyboard. It lets the switches communicate with your computer, after it’s soldered.
Tenkeyless and 60% layouts are the most common size for building your own custom mechanical keyboard.
Upon doing some research, the Satan GH60 is widely used in the community and has extensive documentation. It is fully programmable, has macro support, and has an RGB option too. It does require soldering and is not hot-swappable.
The case is the foundation of a stable keyboard that will be steady and not wobbly.
Cases vary from plastic to wooden to aluminum. Even gold. Anything you can think of.
Aluminum offers the sturdiest option for your keyboard. But if you’re lugging it around to tournaments or to work and back, this might be too heavy. Typing on this keyboard can result in loud echoing and metal sounds.
The important points to consider here are:
- Make sure the keyboard size you are planning on making is compatible with the case.
- Do you want a certain angle for your case?
- Do you usually type with the feet of your keyboard up or down? Make sure your case agrees with your typing position.
Switches are a necessity. Make sure you know the basic switch types and have an idea of what you’re looking for: linear, clicky, or tactile. We discussed the very basic Cherry MX switches in a previous article.
This is your time to shine! Time to find your feel. Cherry MX switches are the most common, but you can explore around. Make sure the switches are compatible with the PCB.
Input Club has an amazing guide on different switches with graphics, charts, and descriptions. For sound tests, you can do to Youtube or ask someone on Reddit.
Keycaps are another are where you can be creative. Or sleek and clean. Or colorful and dazzling. Again, this is where you can shine through.
Some of the same websites we’ve linked to before have keycaps to offer in different sets. Make sure you are buying the right size set. Don’t build a 65% keyboard and forget to get arrow keys.
It’s not all about looks, sometimes it’s about feel too. There’s different kinds of plastics, finishes, heights, and size.
Stabilizers are super important for your larger keys such as the space bar, enter, shift, and backspace. We explained what stabilizers are and what they did in a previous post.
There are different price points for stabilizers with different feels and quality. We previously did research on the 3 best keyboard stabilizers for your mechanical keyboard and talked about the differences.
You’re going to need one longer stabilizer for the space bar, the space varies based on your PCB. And four smaller stabilizers for the other ones. Again, make sure you get the right sizes.
There are different mods you can do, but I think that’s going further than the scope of this article.
TaeKeyboards recommends getting a variable temperature soldering station rather than an iron that plugs straight into the wall to keep it at a safe temperature. Make sure it has an iron holder to avoid burning things or yourself.
Input Club has a good list of recommended soldering irons. The best one is the Hakko FX888D-23BY Digital Soldering Station. Currently, it is priced at around $100 on Amazon (not affiliated).
For their other recommendations, go to their guide on their website. A solder sucker to fix up mistakes and cutters are also recommended.
JUJU on YouTube has great video tutorials on how to solder your own keyboard.
Keyboard kits and how they might save you some time and effort
For the beginners out there, there are keyboard kits out there a hot-swappable PCB. Some popular places to buy these keyboard kits are KBDfans (This is a scary website! It’ll hook you in quickly. Beware.)
Inside most kits, you get the USB-C cable, switch remover, and keycap puller. The kit itself includes stabilizers, the PCB, case and aluminum framing.
Depending on pricing, the case can range from plastic to aluminum to wood.
When looking at these kits, make sure the switches that you want to use are compatible with the PCB.
These kits enable you to build a fully customized keyboard without having to solder anything. There are only three steps.
Building a keyboard using a keyboard kit
- Open the keyboard kit and gather your keycaps and switches.
- Match the switch to the PCB and push your switches in.
- Put the keycaps on top, and tadah! All done!
If you were to do all this yourself, you would need to clip on the stabilizers, mount the aluminum frame to the PCB, insert switches, solder it, put it into the casing, and then keycaps.
Having a kit saves you about an hour of work if you know what you’re doing and are experienced.
In no way am I turning you off buying individual parts, but as a beginner myself, soldering is a hump that I must overcome. And don’t worry, I will. Custom build incoming someday.
Another option that’ll reduce all the effort but still end up with a customized build
Now I know you’re hear to build your own keyboard, but if you’re looking to make a customized keyboard without going through the effort of putting it together yourself, you can go this route.
Certain manufacturers such as WASD Keyboards give you the option to customize a keyboard online. They’ll send you the completed product in the mail, and you can start typing right out of the box.
On WASD Keyboards, there are many options such as choosing your case color and choosing the switches.
When picking out keycaps, you can select your colorways. For example, my letter and number keys and the space bar could be mint green. The modifier keys could be, hmmm, royal navy blue. And together, you have a beautiful work of art. It’s possible to add specific colors for the engravings on each key.
For the more creative people, you can upload image designs for the keys and even pick your own engraving fonts and styles.
We’ve looked at all the essential parts to building your very first mechanical keyboard.
For a convenient list, I’m going to bullet list it down below for reference in the future:
- Aluminum frame
- Soldering station
- Solder wire
- Solder sucker
- Keycap puller
- Switch puller
We’ve also discussed other options out there such as customizing your keyboard online from a manufacturer and having them build the keyboard to ship to you.
And don’t forget about keyboard kits that come with PCB, frame, and case all put together so all you must do is put in switches and keycaps. This method doesn’t require any soldering.
There were a ton of links and resources to other websites and stores to obtain some ideas for purchasing your different parts.
Good luck! And I cannot wait to see your custom keyboards! Make sure you link it so we can see in the comments down below.
If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, we would love to hear it in the comments down below. If there’s anything else you want us to research, we are at your bidding.
As always, happy typing!
How to build a custom keyboard (cheap) Youtube.com
How to design your own mechanical keyboard Youtube.com
Can you build your OWN mechanical keyboard? Youtube.com