The Essential Pieces of Equipment You Need to Build a Mechanical Keyboard Right Now

essential parts to build a custom keyboard on the switch and click blog

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.

custom 60% keyboard

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.

Some resources for PCBs include Keebio, the beloved KBDfans, Clueboard, and mechanicalkeyboards.com.

Case

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

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.

There are many resources for getting different keycap sets: Amazon, the mechanical keyboards subreddit, Geek Hack, websites such as KBDfans, eBay, and mechanicalkeyboards.com.

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

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.

Different websites for keycaps: KBDfans, the keycaps subreddit, mechanicalkeyboards.com, KPREPUBLIC, and Drop (formerly Massdrop) also has keycaps.

MT3 /dev/tty keycaps on a keyboard
MT3 /dev/tty

Stabilizers

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.

Soldering Kit

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.

soldering a circuit board

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

  1. Open the keyboard kit and gather your keycaps and switches.
  2. Match the switch to the PCB and push your switches in.
  3. 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.

Summary

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:

  • PCB
  • Aluminum frame
  • Case
  • Switches
  • Keycaps
  • Soldering station
  • Solder wire
  • Cutters/snippers
  • Solder sucker
  • Keycap puller
  • Switch puller
  • Stabilizers

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!

Sources

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

Build your own mechanical keyboard project: What you need to get started Techspot

How to build your own keyboard Kotaku

Beginner’s Guide: How to build a 60% mechanical keyboard Youtube.com

How To Clean a Mechanical Keyboard

mechanical keyboard cleaning guide on the Switch and Click blog

Question and Answer

You’re typing away on your keyboard when your fingers notice something wrapping around them, squeezing them into little sausages? You look down, it’s long, dark, and slightly irritating to your fingertips to pick up. It’s a long piece of hair that fell onto your keyboard and might have lodged itself under your key caps to live again for another day. Now that you have invested in an expensive mechanical keyboard, the question is: how do you keep it clean and well-maintained to get the maximum lifespan out of it?

Don’t look too far. The answer is near. Keyboards, not just the mechanical kind, are near things such as finger oils, food spills, and the occasional hair loss. Regular light cleaning can be done regularly, and deep cleanings can be done as needed. It’s important to avoid damaging the electronics such as wiring and switches within the keyboard. Some keys, such as the ones with stabilizers underneath may be difficult to take off and put on, so save those for the deep cleanings. Keyboard maintenance can be done with simple household supplies such as a vacuum, cotton swabs, all-purpose cleaner, microfiber towels, and a brush. Keep reading down below for in-depth cleaning.

dirty and dusty keyboard
Go from this nasty-looking thing.
clean mechanical keyboard
To this beautiful thing.

Regular Preventive Cleaning and Maintenance

Personally, a regular basis may mean once every 2-4 weeks, depending on how often your keyboard is near dust and food particles. Doing this regularly will keep your keyboard nice and shiny. It also prevents accumulation of the bad stuff. We don’t like the bad stuff.

Materials Needed

  • Vacuum cleaner with an attachment to reach the keyboard
  • Microfiber towels (2)
  • Warm water or diluted isopropyl alcohol or all-purpose cleaner

Steps to Basic Cleaning Routine

  1. Unplug your keyboard. You don’t want the power to be on while you’re doing this. It’ll be annoying if your keyboard is still connected to the computer and you start hearing those beeping sounds.
  2. Use a vacuum with an attachment tube to blow dust out or suck dust out. Using a vacuum cleaner, gently press on the keys while it’s on to get under those keycaps.
  3. Use a microfiber cloth with a gently diluted all-purpose cleaner to wipe the surface, top and bottom. Make sure that it’s just a little damp and not soaked.
  4. Dry it using another microfiber cloth that doesn’t shed particles. Do not use paper towels, those can shed easily and undo what you’ve just worked so hard to clean.
vacuum attachments
Use an attachment similar to the one on the left-most side.

Other Related Tips

  • Turning your keyboard upside down and shaking may be enough for a weekly basis if you’re feeling lazy and just want a quick fix that will delay the inevitable.
  • Using cotton swabs between the keys and pressing can also help get those grimy areas.
  • White keyboards may accumulate dust and grime much faster (or visibly show faster). Using a toothbrush will help you get deep in there.

Deep Cleaning Routine

A deep cleaning routine may be necessary every 6 months or so. This is when you’ll have to take it apart a bit to get to the root of the problems. Hopefully, you’ve been doing the basic cleaning routine often so this part won’t be as painful.

Materials Needed

  • Keycap puller, I first started with a paper clip that I Macgyvered to go under the keys and pull out. You can also find a  more official one on Amazon (not affiliated).
  • Cotton swabs
  • Safe solvent – see below
  • Bowl
  • Warm water
  • Microfiber towel
  • Possibly pillow case or old undershirt
denture cleaner
Use the cheapest denture cleaner you can find at the store.

Steps for a Deep Cleaning Routine

  1. Unplug the keyboard, should I even say this anymore?
  2. Pull out your keycaps using your keycap puller of choice. If it’s a low-profile keyboard, you’re lucky. You get to use your hands for this step. Be careful of the switches as they are connected in more complicated ways. Make sure you remember which ones go where eventually when you put it back together. The arrow keys are especially hard for me on this step.
  3. Vacuum and use cotton swabs to get at the dust that’s under the caps you just pulled. That should be it for that.
  4. Clean the keys using a safe solvent. Here’s where those denture tablets come in handy. Put all your caps into a large bowl, fill it with water, and drop in a denture tab. Of course, you can replace the denture tablet with a drop of dish soap, laundry detergent, or Simple Green. DO NOT THROW THEM IN THE DISHWASHER. It could melt your keys.
  5. Wait 20-30 minutes, then strain the keycaps. Rinse off the solvent with plain warm water.
  6. Lay out your keycaps on a microfiber towel to dry. It’s also possible to put the, inside a fabric that doesn’t shed and shake them until dry.
  7. Make sure they are completely dry before reassembling.
  8. This might be the time to lube your switches. I’ll link a resource here on how to go about doing that since I have no experience with it yet. It’s time-consuming, but I’ve heard its worth it.
Keycaps spread out on carpet
Hmmm, clean keycaps.

Important Information Below Cleaning Your Keyboard

  • Make sure you use safe solvents to clean your keyboard or bad things will occur.
  • The safe solvents are:
    • Denture tabs
    • Water with a drop of laundry detergent
    • Simple Green All-Purpose Cleaner (diluted)
  • The unsafe solvents (AVOID) are:
    • Acetone
    • Ethyl alcohol
  • Do not use compressed air on your keyboard. Compressed air usually comes out cold and then condensates within the plastic.

Summary

We’ve looked at a simple preventative and simple maintenance routine that’ll keep your keyboard looking nice and shiny for when your coworkers or friends come over to check out the feels. We’ve also looked at a more deep and comprehensive cleaning routine that should be done every 6 months.

This is something that I have yet to do myself on my Massdrop CTRL keyboard I got recently, but I know I need to soon. In another guide article, we’ll gather up the resources on what to do if a spill occurs (gasp!), but in the meantime, don’t spill anything on your keyboard that can’t be wiped up with a quick towel.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post them down below! I hoped this helped you as it did me, I’ll be doing more routine cleaning for my keyboards in the meantime.

Happy typing! And thanks for stopping by.

cotton swabs
Can’t forget these bad boys.

Sources

Updated Guide: How to Clean a Mechanical Keyboard. Daskeyboard.com

Ripster Guide: Cleaning Keyboards reddit.com

How to Clean a Mechanical Keyboard youtube.com

How I Lube MX Switches with Thin Lube youtube.com

Why Mechanical Keyboards are Superior

For those of you out there who already use one of these magnificent keyboards, you already know why mechanical keyboards are superior to the typical membrane type keyboards.

For those of you who still use non-mechanical keyboards, I’ll present a convincing case for you to throw out your keyboard, drive down to your local Microcenter and pick out a beautiful mechanical keyboard. And trust me, you’ll never look back.

Membrane Style Keyboards

The typical style keyboard uses a membrane key system, which I’ll get more into. The keys are not individual, but instead are resting on a pressure pad and are activated when the membrane is pressed and activates an underlaying electrical circuit.

The main downside to this style is the lack of tactile feedback, which makes typing without mistakes incredibly difficult. It’s similar to typing on a waterbed and makes your fingers feel like they are lost at sea.

Membrane keyboards still enjoy widespread use despite their lack of tactile feedback, due to the fact they are incredibly easy to mass-produce and are very cheap. Over the past few years, however, there has been a resurgence in the usage of mechanical keyboards.

Mechanical keyboard search rate on google trends over the last 15 years

Ok, so why mechanical keyboards?

Each key on a mechanical keyboard contains a switch underneath. The switch is composed of spring inside of a housing. Upon pressing a key, the user receives some resistance from the spring and once the key is fully pressed, the keyboard will make a clicking sound!

It sounds simple, but this design provides the ultimate tactile feedback for the user. It is incredibly satisfying to sit down and click away, for every click is a letter typed. You can customize the clicking sound and spring resistance through a variety of different switch types, some louder than others.

If you want everyone in the office to hear how hard you’re working at your keyboard, there’s switch for that. If you want to be stealthily typing away in the corner of coffee shop, there’s a switch for you too.

If you’re more interested in the different switch types, you can read up on the different types of switches here.

Customized keyboard with a mix of yellow and white switches.
Photo complements of reddit user moarcoffeeplzzz

Mechanical keyboards also fix the issue of rollover, one of the common problems of a traditional keyboard. Rollover is the issue of keystrokes not registering when multiple keys are pressed at once.

You can look up the specs for each keyboard specifically by looking at the n-rollover, where n is the number of keys that can get pressed simultaneously.

This makes typing a whole lot smoother for gamers or people who type very fast.

On top of the benefits of tactile feedback, mechanical keyboards are also highly durable!

The switches have a much higher lifespan than a membrane keyboard. The switches are rated for over 50 million keystrokes, a membrane keyboard is only rated for 10 million, or one fifth of the number of keystrokes. That’s a good-looking cost benefit reason to buy a mechanical keyboard if I’ve ever seen one!

Whether you’re a gamer, blogger, programmer, or just a someone looking for an upgrade, you cannot go wrong with a mechanical keyboard. I would recommend checking out a variety of different keyboard and switch combinations to find out what works best for you. Happy typing!

Guide to Cherry MX Mechanical Keyboard Switches

Here at Switch and Click, we’ve created an ultimate guide on common mechanical keyboard switches.

Do not fear, everything you need to know is here.

When you first think of a mechanical keyboard, you think they’re very clicky and audible for each key press. Well, that can sometimes be true. But there are other kinds of switches, the part of the keyboard that registers your press and sends it to your computer.

Unlike a membrane keyboard, which is what you feel when typing on a typical commercial keyboard, a mechanical keyboard has a higher quality feel.

A picture of a membrane keyboard with a rubber dome.
What you see under the hood of a membrane keyboard. Ick.

They are typically spring activated and each individual key on your keyboard has its own separate switch.

Different parts of a mechanical keyboard switch.
Mechanical switches typically are made of more oomph and come with great feel, performance, and lifespan.

In this article, we look at the most common ones, Cherry MX switches, which are renown as the gold standard for mechanical switches.

First, we’ll start with discussing the three common types of switches: linear, tactile, and clicky.

Linear

Linear switches are what they say they are. It has a linear mechanism.

These switches move straight up and down with no bump or click when they actuate, which means they are smooth as butter to press.

Typically, these are used by gamers who need a quick and response keyboard with light presses to ensure quick reactions during gaming.

Common switches here are the Cherry MX Reds and Blacks.

Tactile

Tactile switches are bumpy. They provide feedback when you type on them.

These switches are relatively quiet. When you press on these switches, you’ll feel a bump in the middle somewhere.

This makes this kind of key great for typing since you get to feel when the button registers and that lets you know that you can let go now and move on.

Common switch types here are the Cherry MX Browns.

Clicky

Clicky switches are just like the tactile switches, but they provide an audio feedback as well, in the click. This is what you typically think of when you hear “mechanical keyboard.”

If you love the clicky sound, this is for you.

Common switch types here are the Cherry MX Blues.

Cherry MX Switches

Switch board of different Cherry MX switches to test before buying.
A switch board of different Cherry MX switches for people to test before buying.

Cherry MX Red

Cherry MX Red switches are linear switches, which means that when you press on them you do not feel a bump or a click when you actuate the switch.

The distance of these switches is 4mm with an actuation point at 2mm.

These switches are very light to press, requiring only 45g of force.

They are typically used by gamers who need to press keys quickly and responsively to react within a game. For typing, these switches are not considered the most optimal since there is no tactile feel when a key is registered.

One pro about the red switches is that they are extremely quiet, which is beneficial when typing in a household or workplace where you don’t want to distract others. The only sound you’ll be hearing is when the switch bottoms out.

Cherry MX Black

The Cherry MX Blacks are a heavier version of reds with the force of blues.

These switches are linear and quiet. They require 60g of force and have the same distance and actuation point as the other Cherry MX switches as well.

On these switches, it gets heavier as it bottoms out. When typing a lot, these tend to cause finger fatigue due to their actuation force.

They make a good combination between reds and blues.

Cherry MX Brown

Cherry MX Browns are tactile, yet quiet. This means that you get the feedback from typing and feel when the key registers without the clicky noise.

Like other Cherry MX switches, they have a travel distance of 4mm with an actuation point at 2mm. These are relatively light switches, also requiring 45 of force.

Cherry MX Blue

Cherry MX Blue switches are what you think of when you think mechanical keyboard.

These are very loud and clicky. They have a travel distance of 4mm and actuation is at 2mm. These are heavier than the other switches and require 50g of force.

I don’t recommend bringing these switches to your workplace to type on. I’ve done it before, and you can clear the clicky-clacky from another room away. It’s almost embarrassing to type on these at work.

On a side note, there is not much that can dampen the sounds of these clicks, especially if you’re streaming on Twitch or Youtube. The audience will hear every single click. Not even O-rings will save you here.

In Summary

In summary, Cherry MX switches are the gold standard to mechanical keyboard switches.

We’ve looked at the general characteristics of the most popular Cherry MX switches: reds, blacks, browns, and blues.

If you’d like to learn more about Cherry MX switches, I would recommend going to their website (not affiliated) to have a closer look at each one.

When you are shopping around for your first mechanical keyboard, try different keyboards with different switches.

You might want to feel the feedback when you type, or you want to hear it. On the other hand, you might be gaming and want a linear switch.

Try different switches out and see what works for you. Everyone is different in the way that they type and game.  

There is no holy grail switch to rule them all, so don’t worry about getting the best switch.

It all depends on your preferences.

Here are some questions that may help you find the answer to “Which one should I get?”

  • Are you typically going to use your keyboard for typing or gaming?
  • Do you like to hear the clicking sounds when you press the keys?
  • Do you type lightly or press the keys until they touch the bottom?
  • Do you like the tactile feedback when typing?

While there are tons of other switches out there from different brands and manufacturers, this is a basic overlook of the most common types of switches that Cherry MX offers.

Hopefully, this article helped you out. If you have any comments or questions, feel free to post it in the comments below! Thank you for reading and have an awesome day.  

Blog title: guide to Common Mechanical Switches: Cherry MX Switches on Switch and Click.