First Steps - Article #1
If you’ve ever asked yourself, how do I build my own custom mechanical keyboard, I have some info for you to get started based on my personal experiences in the hobby! First things first, here is a quick rundown with some information you need to get started.
Learn more below.
I get a lot of questions asking me for a custom keyboard and how to make one. Essentially where to start in this vast, and sometimes, confusing hobby. It’s not as simple as just saying I want a custom board for x amount of dollars. So I figured, let’s figure this out together.
First let’s get a quick understanding of parts that go into a keyboard.
Hi, my name is Alex. I build keyboards. In fact, I build them on live Twitch. If you ever have a question that we don't cover in these articles, feel free to ask while I'm live!
CASE – First we have your keyboard case. This is self explanatory and houses the internals of the board.
PCB – Next up we have the PCB (printed circuit board). This is where you’ll put your switches and stabilizers into. These come in either solder or hot swap models. We’ll dive into that later.
PLATE – Then we have your plate. This is important! The plate assists in mounting your switches to the PCB. It allows the housing of the switch to essentially lock into place aiding it in securing positioning and then the switch can be soldered into the PCB. Which plate you chose can affect your layout. Most kits will come with a plate that works for the board but if you’re sourcing parts separately, please read into what plate layout you’re purchasing and ensure it works with your board.
STABS – Stabilizers come up next. Without over complicating it, they stabilize the wobble of the larger keys like the shift, enter and space bar. These are essential!
SWITCHES – Then you’ll need your choice of switches. Now different switches sound and feel different. The basics are linear, tactile and clicky. Linear and tactile switches are the most popular out of the three, and personally I’ve been preferring linear switches. A quick summary of these are that tactiles have a bump as you actuate the switch, clicky switches… well click, and linears don’t do either of those things. To learn more about these check out this helpful article.
KEYCAPS – You can let creativity shine with these! These can be found on a number of websites and can be broken down into a few things. Profile, keycap sets, and artisan keycaps. If you’ve used gaming keyboards from big brands, you’re most likely use to OEM caps, in which case the Cherry profile is probably the easiest transition. For more info about set profiles, here is a great detailed article.
Keycult 1/65 with GMK Crimson Cadet.
So, that’s the basics. Right? Well, you can also mod all these parts, like lube and film your switches as well as lube your stabs. Which I’ll be covering in future videos, but there are already some great resources on how to do this. It’s actually simple, just a bit tedious and time-consuming.
Okay so now we’ve covered all that, where can we get everything? Well, hold on. I think there is one really important question you need to ask yourself before you decide on a build. What size/layout do I need. And that’s where our journey will start.
There are lots of different keyboards and figuring out this will can really narrow down the options of where you begin. There are three common sizes, full size, TKL, and 60%. Now, there are a vast amount of other sizes, such as the popular 65% which I personally love to use, but let’s keep it simple for now. For more in depth information, I suggest checking out keyboard.university and using their article to understand more of the differences of keyboard sizes.
The think6.5 v1 – a 65% layout.
512 – 60% WKL layout by ATXKB
Alice style layout – Blazed Titanium w/ Acrylic by Qlavier.
The Austin r2 – an 1800 layout keyboard.
Once you’re done figuring out a few sizes that work for you and your workspace. Next is figuring out where to buy these parts. A great starting point is KBDfans or even picking up a NovelKeys NK65 when they aren’t sold out of them that is. Those are great if you simply want to learn about keyboards. The truth is there are a lot of places to pick these things up, for a list of vendors, visit my Vendor List.
Now, depending on the kit and parts you get, you may pick up a solder PCB, in which case you’ll need to pick up some tools or hire someone to build it for you. Soldering is super easy and you don’t need to break the bank to get started with that. I’ll cover that in a part 2 as well as tools you’ll need to get started with mod and building your keyboard. Hopefully, this helped!
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