How To Build A Custom Mechanical Keyboard

If you’re just getting into keyboards and have asked yourself, how do I build a custom keyboard, you’ve come to the right place on the internet. I’ll introduce myself first, my name is Alex and I build custom keyboards for clients and live on Twitch! This will be a condensed, no-nonsense guide on how to make a keyboard.

Before we start, I strongly recommend checking out this other article first before jumping into this guide. It’s about the terms and jargon you’ll probably see in a keyboard hobby and helpful tips on how to make your first keyboard purchase.

If you don’t care to read that and still need a place to buy all these parts, I actually have a giant list of vendors I’ve organized by region and a short description of what they sell found here. If you’re new to the hobby and want something fast, I recommend looking for more instock products. My go to vendors for in-stock boards and parts are KBDFans, NovelKeys (I work for NK so this may be bias) and Mode. But a lot of vendors have stuff in stock now so don’t be afraid to shop around. 

Also, there are going to be affiliate links here. They give me a kickback and allow me to keep making articles and content at no cost! 

Let’s jump into the process of building your first mechanical keyboards, and to make this easy, I’ve made this a 4-step process after you prep your parts.

A spread of various keyboard tools

Buying The Tools

I’m going to assume you’ve ordered all the parts for your keyboard, but now you need to buy the tools to have a shot at a frustration-free build. I’ll link stuff I personally use here, too.

Here’s what you’ll need:

If you are soldering, then you’ll also need these:

 
Once we gather the needed tools to start our build process!

Parts Prep

“Alex,” you may be wondering, “why do I need lube and a switch opener?” Well, unless you bought pre-lubed switches, I strongly recommend lubing your switches. You would spend the time before you begin your build because lubing switches does take a while (at least as long as the build itself, if not longer). I have a full guide on how to lube switches here. This is really the only item that needs to be pre-prepared before the whole process.

The Build

Okay, it is time to get to the good stuff: building your keyboard. Start by making sure you have everything you need in front of you.

You’ll need:

  • Keyboard case
  • PCB
  • Plate
  • Optional foam
  • Lubed switches
  • Stabilizers
  • Lube for your Stabilizers
  • Keycaps
  • Screwdriver set
  • Tweezers
  • and maybe your plate fork! 

Tweezers being used to test a PCB.

Step 1: Testing Your PCB

Here’s what you’ll need: Grab some tweezers and have a cable handy for your PCB.

First, you’ll open the VIA app or using VIAL.

Either app lets you test your PCB before you assemble the whole keyboard, and once it’s all built, it enables you to program the keyboard so the keys do exactly what you want them to do.
 
Second, with either app open, plug in your PCB.
 
Third, take those tweezers and give each switch contact pad a gentle tap, like in the photo. If everything’s working as it should, you’ll see those keys light up in VIA. In the key tester tab, you can turn on sounds so you can hear and see the contact pad is working. Go ahead and do this for all the keys. Easy peasy! Once you know it’s all working fine, set the PCB aside.

Step 2: Prepping your Stabilizers For Your PCB

Here’s what you’ll need:

Stabilizers (often shortened to “stabs” by a lot of folks, including me), the PCB, a brush, some lube, and your trusty screwdriver set.

Here’s what you do

So, what exactly do we need all these parts for? Well, we want to make sure those stabs are rattle-free. Stabilizer rattle is arguably one of the worst sounds in the keyboard build process, so let’s do this right and lube them before we install them. Here is my detailed guide on how to do that!

After you have lubed them, you’ll want to install them onto the PCB. And doing this is easy! The stabilizers’ wire (“hooks”) will always go toward the larger holes, while the smaller holes for the stabs on the PCB are for the screw-in or clip-in portion of the stab. Use washers if you use screw-ins, and do not overdo how tight you screw them in. Please refer to the photos below for reference!

Once your stabilizers are installed, insert a switch between the stabs, add a keycap, and give it a quick test run to make sure everything’s working like a charm. You are listening for any rattling and to make sure it works. If you hear some, you can always add a little bit of lube via a syringe.

Reference on how to install the stabilizer of a keyboard.

Ensure your stabilizer hook is properly seated.

Pictured is the Dymium65 from Ordinary labs.

Step 3: Installing Switches

Here’s what you’ll need: Switches, PCB, plate, and, if it’s on the menu, a soldering iron.

Note: If you want to use plate foam, you HAVE To install it before inserting switches.

Here’s what you do:

Begin by laying your plate on the PCB—it should sit snugly around your stabilizers. Then, with your switches in hand, start popping them in. If you aren’t using foam, you can use that plate fork we mentioned earlier to prevent the plate from bending down! If you’re rocking a hot-swap PCB, support those sockets underneath. I can’t stress this enough. This support ensures the pressure of the switch fitting inside the socket doesn’t snap or damage the hot-swap socket if misaligned. By giving it some support, you can effectively eliminate this from happening. Simply install switches on a desk pad or use a finger to support each socket. DO NOT install them while the PCB assembly is in the case. 
 
If it’s a soldered situation, make sure those switches sit nice and flush when you press ’em into place. Once you’ve got everything set up, it’s time to break out the soldering iron and work your magic. Easy peasy! I’ll be working on a separate detailed soldering guide coming up soon! My biggest tip for hot-swap and soldered PCBs is to make sure everything is sitting flush. I can’t stress this enough! After installing, I always use VIA again to ensure all the switches function.
 

Step 4: Finalizing your Install

Here’s what you’ll need: The case parts, all the screws, your screwdriver kit, your PCB with plate and switches installed, and any additional foam you are adding to the case.

Here’s what you do: Here is where we will take apart that beautiful keyboard case you got and start installing any needed items like gaskets, daughter boards and any foams you want. Once you’re done this grab that PCB / plate assembly you just built and install that in your case too. Make sure cables are all plugged in if needed and then close it up!

I have built hundreds of boards and while this may seem like a walk in the park to finalize the build, here are some tips and tricks to make this process easier.

  1. Use tweezers when installing gaskets. Don’t let the oils on your fingers ruin those adhesives! 
  2. Sort screws in trays! Make sure you are installing all the screws in the correct spots. Certain boards have very specific screws for certain areas. Don’t lose track of this!
  3. Be careful with the daughter board cables and make sure you are aligning the pins on the connector with the cable correctly. An easy way to do this is to angle the pcb and peak inside the JST connector to see if the pins are on the top or bottom.
  4. If your cables are flip-flopping around everywhere, try a piece of a low tack tape to tame that sucker.
  5. Experiment! So what I mean by this is to try different things like not installing a screw near the spacebar if it’s a top mount, or leaving out a gasket in that same area to help improve some sound.

Once this is done, slap some keycaps on it and you are good to go! 

Assessing Your Build

With your keyboard assembled, it’s now time to take a step back and decide if it’s the way you thought it would be.

Qualities to Check

  • Does it feel the way you want?
  • Does it sound the way you want?
  • Does it rattle?
  • Are all the keys registering?

Feel

If your board feels too firm, try any available differing plates you may have, or even remove the foam! If it’s a gasket-mounted board, you can remove some gaskets to give the board a more “flexy” feel. Just be careful as you do so! Honestly, this part can be hard to do post-purchase and post-build. It’s best to plan out the typing feel before any build.

Sound

You can also change up a sound signature with a foam kit for keyboards that sound too hollow or quiet. If that kit is no longer available, I strongly suggest trying Poly-Fil. Poly-Fil is a brand-name product used for stuffed animals or pillows. It’s a super-lightweight material, and once a little bit is added to the bottom of the keyboard (under the PCB), it takes away some hollowness and brings some life back to your board. If you still feel like it’s too quiet for your taste, you can perform what we in the hobby call a “tape mod.”. A tape mod is applying some masking tape to the bottom of the PCB. That makes the board sound louder. A downside to the tape mod is it generally makes all keyboards sound the same. So, your keyboard may lose some of its character. On the other hand, you might like that sound, so it’s easy to try and, as long as you are careful, easy to undo.

Stabilizer Rattle

If you’re sure you’ve completely followed The Alexotos Ultimate Mega Guide to Lubing Stabilizers to Complete Perfection, then you might think the rattle is caused by a keycap stem being a tad loose. If that’s the case, I recommend adding a thin piece of plastic to help close the gap. Here is a demonstration in video form!

Are All The Keys Working?

After you’re done installing everything, check to see if everything works. I know you already did this, but sometimes you can miss soldering a switch or have a bent pin. In this case, you can just go back in and solder in the switch or remove the switch from the hot-swap socket, straighten the pin with a tweezer, and reinsert it.

Final Thoughts

That’s it! This is pretty much how to build a keyboard. If you want a more nuanced guide to particular things in the process, ask in Discords! Communities are equality as important in the process of finding out information on some of the things maybe not mentioned here. But how much fun was this? You now have a keyboard you assembled yourself. I totally get it’s a more involved process, but think of it as LEGO for adults. I can’t recommend the process enough!