So you’ve decided to build a custom mechanical keyboard? First of all, hats off to you for going down this exciting and rewarding journey. You decided to jump right in and do some research about what your going to need and happened to stumble upon this post.
You want to build your custom keyboard in the most enjoyable and non-frustrating way possible and are worried you might make a mistake. Don’t worry, this is a common feeling because there is just so much to learn.
Do not fear! Avoid these five mistakes and you will be well on your way to building a flawless keyboard that you’ll want to show it off to the entire internet (we recommend /r/mechanicalkeyboards).
We’ve compiled a list of problems that most people encounter when building their first keyboard and ways to help you avoid making mistakes.
1. Ordering parts that don’t fit
Ok, so you’ve ordered all of your parts and you’ve been waiting anxiously days for them to show up in the mail so you can assemble them. Once the parts finally arrive you tear open the boxes and start assembling, that’s when you realize you’ve made a grave mistake.
One of the parts doesn’t fit. You’re mind is in a swirl of frustration and bewilderment as you try to calculate the point in time at which you screwed up to get to this point in your life. Now you need to repack the part, drive back to UPS, ship it off, order new parts, and wait another 2-3 days for the correct part to arrive.
All the while your unfinished keyboard sits in the corner of your room staring at you menacingly and reminding you of the failure that you are.
Well, all of this can be avoided!
Before ordering your parts we recommend that you double and triple check to make sure the components are compatible. Research each of the parts and check the info from the manufacturer to guarantee that everything fits.
Let’s talk about the big trouble-making parts that tend to be ordered incorrectly.
A PCB that doesn’t fit inside the case can be one of the more annoying problems to encounter. It’s incredibly frustrating to be stuck sanding down your plastic case trying to force a PCB to fit inside just because the PCB is just barely too large for the case.
To avoid this, we would recommend looking at the different keyboard kits online. They usually include the case, PCB, and metal plate. These parts are guaranteed to fit together and can make ordering and building a custom PC a breeze.
One of the benefits of a custom PC is the diverse amount of keyboard layouts available, you literally have hundreds of options. When assembling your own keyboard, make sure you are ordering the correct keycaps, especially the spacebar, shift, and enter keys. These are typically different sizes and will require a wider key.
Similar to the keycaps, the stabilizer sizes vary based on the keyboard layout and PCB mounting holes. We caution you when ordering these parts to 1) make sure they are compatible with your PCB and 2) they are the correct size.
There are several types of stabilizers including snap/stab in, screw in, plate-mounted, and hook in. In addition, the stabilizers come in different sizes as well so verify before you order.
Trust us, you don’t want to hook up your new keyboard that you spent hours slaving away on, to realize the dang thing won’t start because you don’t have enough power. You realize your power cable only has enough voltage for a cell phone, not a keyboard.
Verify your power cable has enough voltage before purchasing.
2. Not having the necessary equipment
Attempting to build a keyboard without the proper tools is a quick way to make you wonder why even wanted to build a custom keyboard in the first place. Keep in mind, most keyboard assembly requires at least some soldering.
Additional tools are also recommended such as a keycap and switch puller. They will make your life a whole lot easier when attempting to swap out keycaps and switches.
Here is a short list of recommended equipment:
- Soldering station
- Solder wire
- Solder sucker
- Keycap puller
- Switch puller
3. Not properly installing switches
Let’s say spent an hour carefully soldering the switches to your PCB. You only have a few switches left and then you realize, the layout is wrong. Either you did not properly lay out the pattern you wanted correctly or you don’t have enough room for your remaining switches. Now you need to spend the next hour desoldering and removing switches to reorient them correctly.
This tends to happen when working on unique key layouts, especially in the space bar area where the pattern is slightly different. Before soldering spend some extra time to plan the key layout in more detail. You know the old saying “measure twice, cut once”.
4. Not budgeting enough for switches, keycaps, and stabilizers
Let’s face it. Building your own keyboard is not cheap. Unless you are some sort of keyboard guru and build most the parts yourself, building a custom keyboard is going to cost a bit more than ordering a pre-built one from the factory.
A big mistakes new keyboard enthusiasts make is ordering a keyboard switch, but not factoring the cost of the switches, keycaps, and stabilizers. Most kits will only include the PCB, case, and metal plate. Everything else will be need to be ordered separately.
The price of switches can get quite expensive being any from $0.50-1.00 ea. With a full keyboard you’re looking at $50 at least for the switches alone. If you’re trying to stay under budget we would recommend cheaper MX knockoff switches such as Gaterons.
The keycaps on your customized board tend to be what you and everyone else will look at the most once your build is complete. You don’t want to build your entire keyboard up and realize you have no budget left for the keycaps, and are stuck ordering blank keycaps made of cheap ABS plastic. Figure out the price for your desired keycaps ahead of time, they will usually before expensive than you think. Especially if customized.
5. Not testing switches before buying
So you read online about a new switch that everybody is raving about, so you quickly order them up for the custom keyboard you’re working on. Once they arrive you install them and test them out… only to be extremely disappointed by the way they feel. Now you’re stuck with a brand new expensive keyboard and you don’t even want to type on it.
Next time, before buying switches test them out. This is something we cannot stress enough. There are hundreds and hundreds of switches <> available online, take the time to test a few out and see how they feel. There are switch sample kits that let you test out 10 different switches at once for a few bucks, this is a great way to pick out the best switch for you.
The switches are something you’ll be interacting with on a daily basis so you need to make sure they do not fatigue your fingers or just feel bad to press.
We talked about some of the biggest mistakes you can make when assembling a custom keyboard. Hopefully this list saves you some time with your next keyboard build. If there is anything we left off the list, please let us know and we’ll update.
If you don’t feel like reading, check out the video below.