Greatest Keyboard Options For You To Choose

Few things can compare to the satisfaction of creating something with your own hands. In the world of mechanical keyboards, where creating your own can improve your everyday computing experience, never has that been more true. More enthusiasts than ever have the need to create their own unique mechanical keyboards thanks to popular streamers like Taeha Types.

Although making your own keyboard can be scary, it is an exciting prospect. What should I purchase? Where do you buy it from? How can you tell if everything will work together? It’s enough to discourage would-be builders from ever making the plunge and encourage them to look through pre-made options in search of a universal keyboard rather than something really unique.

We’re prepared to assist. Whether you want to create the best gaming keyboard for you or the perfect productivity tool, we’ll walk you through all you need to know in this guide.

Requisites for constructing a unique mechanical keyboard

Soldering tools, such as a soldering iron (not required for hot-swap keyboards)

There are numerous websites that provide this, however we suggest KBDFans and KPRepublic for a collection specifically chosen for keyboard builders. Sites like Novel Keys and Prevail Key offer extras including stabilizers, switches, switch lubricants, and more.

Company and Cannon Keys offer well curated collections that frequently include goods that are currently popular among the local population. Although Banggood and AliExpress are also useful sources for a broader search, we have generally found them to be less dependable for quality, support, and shipping times.

  • Pulling keycaps and switches
  • Bandages made of fabric or stabilizer pads
  • flush cutters or nail clippers
  • Using Permatex or another semi-thick dielectric grease
  • Switch grease (Krytox 205g0 is a safe bet)
  • small paintbrush
  • Alternate films
  • Damping neoprene material
  • Examine purchasing a kit

You’re not the only one if all of this seems a bit overwhelming. All of these factors might be intimidating for novice builders, which is why I usually suggest buying a kit for your initial build.

A matching PCB and casing are always included in DIY keyboard kits, but they also frequently come with accessories like stabilizers, sound-dampening foam, and the carrying case. The best places to find customized keyboard kits are on websites like Drop, Epomaker, YMDK, and KBDFans. Sites that specialized in group purchases and accessories have increasingly started producing their own inexpensive kits, such as the TKC Portico, NovelKeys NK65 Entry Edition, and Cannon Keys Bakeneko60, which are highly recommended when in stock. Keep in mind that keycaps posted on helveticaforever.com and switches are typically purchased separately when purchasing keyboard sets.

Things to think about before purchasing

To ensure that everything goes smoothly and that you end up with a keyboard you’re content with, it is advisable to review some fundamental concerns before making any of the aforementioned purchases. If you take the time to think about the following, your build process will go much more smoothly.

Layout

The layout should be taken into account first. Do you prefer a full-size keyboard with a number pad or a 60% smaller keyboard? This will affect not just how well your board works, but also what you need to buy. Here is a list of the most widely used layouts.

Keyboard, 40%

40%: One of the tiniest practical layouts on offer. There are only the standard keyboard keys; there are no number keys. This portable style, which primarily relies on additional layers, is challenging for new users to adapt to.

60%: No function row, number pad, arrow keys, or cluster for navigation and editing. Secondary functionalities frequently exist on a deeper layer that is accessed by specific key combinations.

65%: Essentially, this keyboard is a 60% keyboard with arrow keys. Along the right side of the majority of keyboards with this layout are various navigation and editing buttons.

75%: This layout adds the function row back above the number keys and uses the 65% form factor.

80%/Tenkeyless/TKL: This common keyboard layout eliminates the number pad from a full-size design.

96%/96-Key: This configuration eliminates vacant space by combining the majority of the keys on a full-size board. Some little used keys, like Scroll Lock, are sometimes moved to a lower layer or eliminated entirely.

Full-size/104/108-Key: The typical keyboard configuration with all of the standard keys.

Your keycaps will be affected by the layout you choose. Compact layouts frequently include non-standard key sizes, which makes it harder or more expensive to locate keycaps that match. The hardest layouts to find keycaps for are 65% and 96%, but keycap sets for most layouts are available on specialized keyboard websites like KBDFans. Be aware that some layouts, like the Happy Hacking Keyboard (HHKB), utilize longer spacebars than usual, which may limit your ability to use different keycaps.

Keycaps

There are a few things to keep in mind, but keycaps are a rabbit hole all on their own.

The kind of plastic utilized comes first. Both extremely expensive and very inexpensive keycaps frequently use ABS, which can range greatly in quality. Although premium ABS keycaps can be pricey, they offer more vibrant colors than the other common option, PBT.

PBT is a denser plastic than ABS, so it won’t get shiny over time like ABS keycaps, but the colors are duller and big keys are more likely to deform. PBT keycaps with doubleshot or dye-sublimated legends are a fantastic option for beginners because the letters won’t deteriorate over time even with heavy use.

Case and PCB

After getting that out of the way, you should pick a PCB and casing that are complementary. These are hard to locate on websites like Amazon, but they are widely available on marketplaces specialized to keyboard construction, including KPRepublic and KBDFans. Additional options can be found on Banggood and AliExpress (opens in new tab) (opens in new tab). Make sure your PCB is compatible with your casing. Making ensuring the USB port and all mounting locations for fasteners are aligned is necessary. Be sure to keep an eye out for any additional features that might be of interest to you, such as RGB or hot-swappable switches, which enable you to replace the mechanical keyboard’s switches without soldering.

Mounting Plate for Switches

You shouldn’t get too caught up with the switch mounting plate if you’re a novice builder. Your mechanical switches click into the mounting plate to keep them in place when connected to the PCB. Switches moving around in those hot-swap sockets could lead them to lose connection, something you don’t want to happen!

Switch plates are available in a wide range of materials, including polycarbonate, aluminum, brass, and copper, as well as, at the more expensive end of the spectrum, carbon fiber. Harder materials, like brass, produce a higher pitched sound profile and are more unyielding to type on. Here, you should think about how hard or flexible you want your typing to feel and what kind of sound you prefer.

Stabilizers

Next, you’ll require a set of stabilizers to hold up the keyboard’s larger keys. Although most keyboards need five stabilizers in total, some compact layouts only need four.

Keep track of whether the stabilizers on the PCB and case attach to the PCB by clips, screws, or a plate. Screw in PCB-mounted stabilizers are frequently preferred by enthusiasts due to their increased stability, although compatibility is the most crucial factor. Keep in mind that customizing your keyboard to suit your needs over time is one of the pleasures of doing so.

Switches

Lastly, we reach switches. Would you rather it be clicky, tactile, or linear? Spend some time deciding which switch you prefer because it will have the biggest impact on how you type. Don’t feel forced to purchase expensive Cherry MX switches just because they’re common in production keyboards; the universe of key switches is far larger than Cherry MX. Learn more about the variations. Consider purchasing a switch tester so you can test some out on your own. Consider purchasing a hot-swappable PCB so you can test out different switches without having to unsolder them from your keyboard if you’re unsure which switch is your preference.

The number of pins on the switch is the only consideration. 5-pin switches, also known as PCB-mounted switches, feature five pins on the bottom for increased support and can be installed without a plate. Switches with three pins on the bottom, known as 3-pin or plate-mounted switches, are designed to be used with a plate. Only 3-pin switches are supported on some PCBs. Take a look at a switch slot. Are there five or three holes in it? Don’t worry if your preferred switch has five pins but your PCB only accepts three pin switches; you can still use it in your project by trimming out the two smaller plastic pins with your nail clippers or flush cutters to make it compatible.

If you’ve been involved in this activity for a while, you might be familiar with the term “lubing your switches.” This step takes some time and is optional, but it can significantly smooth down your typing experience and enhance the sound quality. If this sounds interesting to you, check out our post on how to lubricate switches on a mechanical keyboard.

The Keyboard Set Applied in This Manual

The D60 WKL keyboard kit from KBDFans was utilized for our construction, however the procedures described here should work for most keyboard builds. We selected this kit because it includes several features that are already common in homemade keyboards, has the potential to look and sound excellent, and is currently freely accessible for purchase, avoiding the drawn-out group buy procedure.

For $335, the kit came with everything needed to make an unique keyboard, including the chassis, PCB, and plate as well as a lovely brass weight and stabilizers. Despite the price of this particular kit, bespoke keyboards can be made for far less. Excellent keyboards don’t have to be expensive, especially if you take the time to make a few quick adjustments along the way.

The D60 kit has a 60% layout with blockers for the Windows keys, which are used to produce a pleasing symmetrical arrangement when the case obscures the location of the Windows keys. To isolate keystrokes and enhance the typing sound, it employs a gasket mount design that sandwiched soft gaskets between the PCB and chassis. To strike a compromise between a comfortable typing experience and a nice acoustic profile, we selected the FR4 plate. To further customize the keyboard’s sound and feel, the kit also comes with pre-cut dampening foam for the casing and for use between the plate and PCB.

I coupled it with NovelKeys Cream switches that were tightened with switch films, lubricated with Krytox 205g0, and EnjoyPBT Gray keycaps. Both of these also improve the way the switches sound and feel. This keyboard cost $472 to produce in its entirety.

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