Notes on building a custom mechanical keyboard
Extensive notes on building a custom mechanical keyboard by sourcing parts
Stuff you need
- PCB ($35-$60)
- Plate ($18-$40) (optional - use 5-pin switches and leave the plate out)
- Switches (\$3.85 for pack of 10, $5.15 on AliExpress - around $30 for 110 switches)
- Stabilizers ($14-$19)
Software is also needed to customize the keyboard (e.g. QMK, Karabiner for macOS)
A DIY kit on KBDfans cost $129-$299
Also, watch this
- hot swap or solder?
- RGB or no lights?
- sizes: 40%. 60%, 65%, 75%, 80%, 95%
The PCB will decide which size your case would be, whether your keycaps need to account for backlight (in-switch backlighting) and how many keys you're going to need..
The PCB needs to fit in the case and the screw holes need to match on both.
Could be hot swap or normal one. Hot swap is where you don't have to solder the switches to the board.
I'm gonna go with a hot swap one, because i want to try different switches.
Definitely an RGB, because i can't touch type and need backlighting. Preferably Per-key RGB and in-switch backlighting
60% size = Tenkeyless (TKL) = Don't have numberpad
- ISO (fat Enter)
I need a dedicated PrtScr button, i use it too much I'd lke macro buttons. So in places of Home/End have macro keys
is it too high and fat? how much can the feet be adjusted? will it last 10 years?
Check out the Cherry MX website for a good overview of all switches. Most of the competitors use the same naming convention. You can easily figure out what a switch would be like in any brand if you know the main characteristics of a switch. Gaterons are the most popular MX copy and the plastic they use is apparently really good quality.
Here are the two main things that matter
- Do you want a tactile bump when you press the button (Tactile) or do you want the switch to smoothly go down (Linear)?
- How much force do you want to exert when pressing the key? Actuation force.
- How much noise do you want it to make? (Clicky)
Other things to consider
- Low profile switches (decreased height of the switch, for low profile keyboards)
- Silent switches (Cherry MX Silent Red and Silent Black - minimises bottom-out and top out noise)
- Speed switches (Cherry MX Speed Silver - linear switches with decreased pre-travel (1-1.2mm) and travel (3.2-3.4mm))
I like linear switches with about 50g actuation. That is a Cherry MX Red (or a Gateron Yellow).
The type of stem on the switch will determine the keycaps
|Cherry MX Brown||\$45||Tactile||55g||2mm||4mm|
|Cherry MX Low-Profile RGB Red||\$45||Linear||45g||1.2mm||3.2mm|
|Cherry MX Low-Profile RGB Speed||\$45||Linear||45g||1mm||3.2mm|
When ordering, order extra switches. For every 10 that work, 1 may not.
- milky top - 2st revision - The tops are slightly too small for GMK sets, the caps sometimes catch when pressing down
- clear top, black/gray bottom - 3rd revision - fixes these issues
Pins 3 or 5
Only 2 of the pins are conductors. The rest are plastic feet for stability.
If you use a plate, you are okay with using 3-pins. If you want extra stability, go for a 5-pin.
Leaf means the pin.
SMD or not?
You need an SMD switch if you're using SMD LEDs on the PCB. Clear housings help.
These are the mounty things you find under keys like Space, Shift, Backspace etc. Longer keys need stabilizers..
- KBDfans seems to be dropshipping from China, just buy from AliExpress instead.
- Daily Clack
- How to Clip, Lube, and Band-aid Mod Your Stabilizers
- Gateron Milky top vs Gateron SMD ( Clear top ) switches?
- My Gaming Peripheral Setup
- Look into Gateron Ink switches use a different type of (non-standard) plastic
- Look into bottom out force, Gateron Yellows bottom out at around 170g. That's heavy!
- Is the light in the switch or in the PCB?
- Bottoming out. You can use plastic O-rings to reduce the noise from bottoming out
- some switches with high bottoming out force, e.g. for the Spacebar to reduce that spacebar thud.
- lubed switches
- stabilizer mods
- At least 75% keyboard, preferably a 87-key TKL. I want those six Ins/Del/Home/End/PgUp/PgDn keys, i use them on a daily basis, for Del, and for changing workspaces. Ins is also required for some shortcuts. And dedicated arrow keys. Who even uses an arrow-key less keyboard?!
Retrofitting an existing keyboard
The plan: buy an existing cheap mechanical keyboard with RGB and swap the swicthes and keycaps. You would not need the casing, plate, PCB and cable. Instead of buying a $160 something kit (the fancy ones, like R2 Zephyr 65%, cost $600. yikes. Keycult No. 2 Classic is $885, Keycult No. 2 Rev. 1 is $900.. wow.) and getting it shipped and paying for shipping as well, i could just get a cheap mech keyboard (\$30-50) with cheap switches and swap it. KBDfans sells just the PCB for \$35 minimum, excluding shipping
- T-DAGGER Bora T-TGK315 - 87-key TKL (Rs. 5900)
- T-DAGGER Destroyer T-TGK305-G - 104-key (Rs. 5420, used - 3500)
The T-DAGGER Destroyer comes with detachable OUTEMU blue switches by default (it's a hot swap PCB? =D ). Cable is not detachable, wrist rest is
The T-DAGGER Bora also comes with detachable OUTEMU switches, and the cable is a micro-USB detachable. No wrist-rest and no numpad.
note: make sure the leaaves match, i.e. the yellow gaterons can fit in place of outemu blues..