Custom keyboards are easy to build. You just need five parts:

  • PCB (PCB)
  • Board case
  • caps
  • Stabilizers
  • Mechanical switches

I also recommend buying a backplate which increases durability and print stability. If you just want your keyboard to look nice, I have some tips for making things better at the end of this article. But first, let’s look at how you can build your own mechanical keyboard.

Necessary tools for keyboard assembly

At a minimum, you will need two keyboard soldering tools: soldering iron With low power consumption and some Rosin core solder .

If you just want a quick, cheap, and dirty way to get started, check out the soldering deal, which includes just about everything you need to get started:

  • Low Power Soldering Iron: If you are a beginner, feel free to buy a cheap low power iron. Hot irons may melt faster, but they are not for beginners. For those who want a little more, buy an adjustable power iron. I have a 900M handpiece compatible Aoyue model and it has never let me down.
  • Rosin core solder: Solder is an alloy of tin and lead that melts at low temperatures. The rosin inside the solder is an organic compound designed to remove impurities that degrade conductivity. It liquefies when heated, causing it to spread along the solder joint.

Additional (but recommended) tools

Some additional but highly recommended tools include sucker for rations, steel wool, cotton swabs and 90% alcohol :

  • Solder suction cup: If you make a mistake, the solder suction cup can draw out the heated solder.
  • Steel wool: Steel wool is used to clean the soldering iron tip without damaging it. The cheaper ones are abrasive, but if you’re using a disposable soldering iron, this is a good choice. Otherwise, invest in a brass cleaning pad designed for a hot iron.
  • Cotton buds : A cotton swab is used to apply alcohol to the board.
  • 90% alcohol : high-strength alcohol without additives is excellent for removing residues of Rosen flux.
  • Key fob remover: Although it is very easy to put the keys on, they cannot be removed. There are two types of keycap removers: wire and plastic. I recommend using a wire stripper. The model above, however, is both in the same package.

You may also need a non-conductive surface that you can work on. I prefer to use a wooden cutting board. Wood is resistive, meaning it does not conduct electricity easily.

Buying Mechanical Keyboard Parts

Everyone needs something different from their keyboard. A printer may want an experience similar to a dull analog typewriter. An interior designer may prefer a colorful aesthetic.

With endless customization options, keyboard creation allows the user to create something that no other manufacturer makes. The only trick is to find the parts to build the cheated blacksmith machine.

There are five (or seven) components you can choose from:

  1. PCB (PCB)
  2. (Optional) Plate
  3. Keyboard cover
  4. Mechanical switches
  5. caps
  6. Stabilizers
  7. (Optional) LEDs

The Easy Option: DIY mechanical keyboard kits

If you mainly want to learn how to solder and not worry about tuning, get an unassembled mechanical keyboard kit. The unassembled kit includes all major components, so there are fewer problems. A great deal right now is the YMDK71 mechanical keyboard kit. It also includes a rechargeable battery for Bluetooth wireless operation.

create a custom mechanical keyboard using dialing

The easiest way to get started with a DIY mechanical keyboard is to buy a kit. Each DIY keyboard kit is different, but it includes a printed circuit board (PCB), sometimes a backplate, a case, and mechanical switches. Those who know exactly what parts they want should purchase the components separately from each other. It may cost more, but the customization options are significant.

Note. I don’t like Bluetooth-only keyboards. but the YMDK71 offers both wired and wireless connectivity.

1. Keyboard PCB

Of the five main components, the printed circuit board (PCB) is the most important. The circuit board defines the layout and functional layers of the keyboard. Generally speaking, PCBs come in several kinds of form factors, most of which are based on the number of keys it can hold.

The most popular of these PCBs is the 60% form factor. As the name suggests, the 60% keyboard includes 60 keys. But there are other types of keyboards, including 40%, 75%, 87% and more.

You can purchase a variety of PCBs from AliExpress, including GH60, YYD75, DX64, and more. (Of these, I prefer the DX64 because it includes a right-hand keyboard and uses the same chassis as most 60-key variants.)

build custom mechanical keyboard - PCB

Among the more exotic circuit boards is the ErgoDox mechanical keyboard, which is designed for ergonomics. There are also boards with inverted LED lighting holes, allowing compatibility with front panel keycaps.

Some circuit boards (such as the fully assembled ErgoDox EZ) are solderless «plug-and-play» designs, allowing for easy switching of switches. However, most options do not offer this luxury. I do not recommend building ErgoDox as your first keyboard. While great, it is not suitable for an entry level soldering project.

Important points to note :

  • The printed circuit board must match the occasion!
  • The circuit board determines if you have an LED backlight.
  • If you have LEDs, the PCB determines if you are using the keys with front or top printed information.

2. Keyboard

The keyboard keypad helps secure the switches and provides added stability and reliability. While plastic stabilizers exist (and they’re OK), the most common are steel and aluminum.

build custom mechanical keyboard - keyboard

In my experience, aluminum plates tend to warp to bend during shipping, while steel is extremely durable but heavy. I recommend steel if you can find it. But aluminum is a great choice if you prefer portability.

Plates also come in different colors. I suggest that you carefully consider the aesthetics of your build before purchasing any part.

3. Keyboard cases

It’s a good idea to buy the case along with the PCB. Most providers offer the deal as a combo deal. Combined deals are cheaper overall, and buying from the same supplier also guarantees compatibility. In most cases, GH60 cases fit most of the other 60% of keyboard boards.

build custom mechanical keyboard - keyboard case

The telltale indicator of whether the case will fit the PCB is a look at the screw holes. If the screw holes match the PCB, you most likely have the correct case.

4. Mechanical switch

After PCB Mechanical Switches are the second most important component. But there are many types to choose from.

The mechanical switch gives the mechanical keyboard its distinct feel and sound. When pressed, each type of switch has a different feel (or tactile feedback), sound, and springiness (measured in grams required to press the key). Easy, smooth activation is great for gamers like most red color switches. Others are designed to emulate a typewriter. My favorite is the lightest, smoothest and quietest switch (Gateron Clear).

build custom mechanical keyboard - mechanical switches

There is a bit of history here. The first small mechanical switches came from Cherry GmbH. But ever since their 2014 mechanical switch patent expired in 2014, competition has arisen. There are now dozens of companies making keyboard switches. Some of these switches are shameless clones of the original Cherry design. Others have improved or modified Cherry’s original design.

Today’s switches include quite a few brands. Of these, Gatheron ranks first on the list for affordability and quality. However, there are several exotic types of switches.

For example, some of the more radical technologies include Varmilo’s Sakura electro-capacitive proximity switches, which dispense with mechanical keystrokes — a fancy way of saying that a switch uses fewer mechanical components.

If you’re interested in learning more, some other examples include Kailh, Razer, Outemu, Greetech, and Zealio. All these switches can be found using the so-called switch tester. Of the testers (or samplers), check out the Gateron 9 switch tester. By putting together many different types of radio buttons, you can find out what suits your individual input style.

For a more detailed description of the switches, see what type of mechanical keyboard is right for you.

5. Keyboard

Keycaps differ depending on where the letters are printed on the key, how the letters are printed, and the materials used in the key. These features contribute to the durability and visibility of the key (especially when LED lights are used).

LEDs : If your PCB has LED terminals in front of the key, it means you need front key keys. If the holes for the LEDs are on the back, you need top printed keys.

Inscription A: If you don’t have LED lighting, you need sublimated keys. Sublimated lettering won’t wear off over years of hard typing. Double lettering, where the characters are made of plastic, is more durable, but it is designed for illuminated keyboards.

build custom mechanical keyboard - keycaps

materials : Typically, PBT, ABS, and sometimes silicone, metal, or rubber materials are used to make keys. Although PBT is more durable and does not become glossy after years of use, it is also more expensive. However, I bought a set of double PBT keys that cost $10 for a full set of 104 keys.

6. Stabilizer: cherry vs costar

Longer keys like the spacebar, Shift and Enter keys will wobble when pressed if you don’t have a stabilizer. The stabilizer is inserted into the left and right sides of the keyboard cover.

There are two types of stabilizers: Costar which sets the stabilizer above the plate (if you have a plate), and cherry which launches the stabilizer under the plate. For example, here is a comparison between Cherry (top) and Costar (bottom):

build custom mechanical keyboard - stabilizer

Of the two types, I prefer Costar stabilizers. The Costars are easier to work with, although they do sound a bit louder than the Cherrys. Cherry stabilizers suck if your keyboard has a plate. To replace the anti-roll bar, you must unsolder the switch.

In addition, there are two options: the type that works with on-board switches and the type that works with on-board switches. If you are building a keyboard for the first time, buying the wrong stabilizer is easy.

Costar is not without flaws. Besides making more noise, it won’t work with some kinds of keys either. However, most people are probably better off with Costar. Here is a video on how to install them:

7. Light emitting diodes (LEDs)

If you are purchasing an LED board, consider buying LEDs. It may double the amount of time it takes to put together your board, but they look amazing!

LEDs come in different colors. There are even color-changing LEDs (although they require three pins). I recommend buying on eBay. You can wait a couple of weeks, but buying from a Hong Kong seller costs about $5 for 100 LEDs.

build custom mechanical keyboard - leds

Specifications required for most boards, no flanges and 3mm. There are both white LEDs with color filters and transparent LEDs that give the desired hue. It doesn’t matter which type you go with. PCBs are designed to work with different types of LEDs, so don’t worry about voltage differences between different colors.

how to make your own mechanical keyboard

There are also SIP connectors that allow you to replace LEDs without the need for soldering. If you plan on changing colors frequently, a SIP socket is a good idea. Also, if your board doesn’t clearly indicate negative and positive polarities, the SIP connector avoids the need for desoldering in case of a mistake.

How to build a mechanical keyboard

Before you start learning basic job skills For those interested in learning the basic skills, here are some DIY soldering projects to get you started.

The main purpose of this article is not to build a keyboard, but I will touch on some important assembly instructions. In general, assembly should occur in the following order:

  1. Inspection and layout
  2. PCB preparation
  3. Prepare a plate
  4. Prepare stabilizers
  5. Insert Switches
  6. Insert and bend LEDs
  7. start soldering
  8. Remove
  9. Inspection and testing

1. Checking and locating your PCB

The first basic step is to check the motherboard, switches, and LEDs (if you have LEDs) for signs of damage. Then mentally imagine that you will go through the next five steps. By preparing a mental image of what is required for the next steps, you will reduce the number of errors and solders (a tedious pastime).

2. Prepare PCB

At this point, you want to check the PCB for short marks or other bizarre marks. If you see residue or other marks on the motherboard, you can clean it with a cotton swab and high-strength alcohol made for electronics. I know people who drink medicinal alcohol, but he has a chance to create a short.

3. Plate (optional)

If you have a plate, the plate must be placed directly above the PCB so that it can accommodate the switches. There will be a gap between the board and the PCB.

build custom mechanical keyboard - plate

The switches secure the circuit board in place. Overall, the plates make it much easier to build a keyboard compared to soldering the LEDs and switching directly to the motherboard.

4. Stabilizers

The stabilizers must be inserted into position at this point. There are both Cherry and Costar style stabilizers. As noted above, the main difference between the two is that Costar gimbals are easier to install, but cause some confusion when typing. Cherry makes less noise, but requires a somewhat complicated installation process on some cymbals.

build custom mechanical keyboard - stabilizer

You will notice that Costar stabilizers come with plastic bits that fit into the keycaps. These bits hook into the anti-roll bar.

how to make your own mechanical keyboard

The stabilizer wire is then snapped into the stabilizers that are attached to the plate.

5. Switches

This is where things get a little more complicated. To reduce the amount of PCB bending during installation, you must first install a switch at each corner of the board. You must push the switch all the way into the plate so that the switch pins appear on the other side of the board. If the pins are not fully pulled out, you will have trouble getting electrical conduction.

custom mechanical keyboard assembly - switches

If the switch contacts are bent prior to installation, they will not slide out from the back of the PCB. You must make sure the pins are even before inserting the switch into the board. As you turn on more switches, distribute them evenly across the keyboard. By doing so, you reduce the force applied to the PCB.

how to make your own mechanical keyboard

If you choose to mount the switches directly to the PCB, this step is less difficult as the switches are pressed into the board with little effort.

6. Insert and bend the LEDs

Single color LED lights include two pins. The longer the positive pin, the shorter the negative one. On most PCBs, you will notice that the LED holes on the board are marked with a negative or positive symbol. When you insert the LED into the holes, make sure the long leg of the LED is inserted into the hole marked positive.

how to make your own mechanical keyboard

The tricky part is that the LED holes for the bottom row keys (such as spacebar, Alt and Ctrl) are often inverted, meaning the terminals are on the opposite side. I made a mistake when soldering the lower row LEDs incorrectly and had to solder them.

After installing each LED, make sure it is fully inserted and bend your legs. Bending the legs will prevent the LED from sliding back onto the board. Even slight slippage can cause the LED to protrude enough to prevent a full key press.

how to make your own mechanical keyboard

Now turn the board over. Solder time.

7. Start soldering

A good way to solder is to move like you are reading a book. Start with the pins on the top left side and move from left to right. If you take breaks, make sure you use a cotton swab and rubbing alcohol to remove the organic residue left by the Rosen flux. If you leave it to dry overnight, the rosen hardens and then requires a scraper to remove it.

Here is a video on how to start soldering:

I have one warning about the video above. Solder stripping can be dangerous. I recommend using — at a minimum — steel wool designed to remove solder.

8. Clear

Because the soldered Rosen core can be slightly conductive after caramelization, you will need to do some cleaning. Remember that rosen will harden if left in the air for too long, so you will need to clean it up right after you finish soldering. Otherwise, you will need to scrape it off.

9. Inspection

Lastly, you’ll want to check each solder point for signs of weakness. A good solder joint will prolong the life of the product. A bad joint can break and split in the end «Cold solder» may not conduct electricity properly.

However, most bad solder joints can simply be melted down (or reheated) to fix the problem. So don’t worry too much about mistakes. The point of this project is to learn, not to be perfect.

Other Tips for Custom Mechanical Keyboards

You can further customize your keyboard with other features such as noise reduction changes, LED filter color changes, and more.

Vinyl packaging : The easiest way to customize your keyboard is with a vinyl wrap. Vinyl film is a thin layer of adhesive vinyl. It comes in a variety of colors, patterns and textures. Typically, applying vinyl requires a hair dryer, water and soap, and a cutting tool.

Color Filter : Color filters may appear on the Cherry mechanical switch indicator (but not most other brands). They are most useful for white lights, although they can pass through any colored LED.

Silencers : You can find o-ring dampeners or more expensive models like QMX clamps. I found that they both reduce the sound by a small but negligible amount. QMX clamps are available in PCB and PCB versions.

Your custom mechanical keyboard is finished!

Anyone who uses a keyboard for most of their day needs a mechanical keyboard. Whether you’re a stenographer, gamer, programmer, writer, or anyone else who types a lot, the right keyboard can work or play a little more comfortably and productively.

Have you decided you don’t want to build it? Check out the best mechanical keyboards you can buy instead of this. And if you need a backup device, check out the best wireless multifunction keyboards. too.

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