Building a custom keyboard is an exciting idea that opens up the imagination with creative schemes of a personalized keyboard design and layout. But with many questions like “how to build a custom keyboard?” or “what do I need to buy?”, the venture suddenly appears too intimidating and difficult. Sure, the process may seem strenuous, but it really isn’t too difficult if you stick to the following series of steps. Additionally, the joyous feeling of accomplishment and a personalized keyboard after finishing are well worth the effort.
What You’ll Need
Before building a custom keyboard, the following keyboard components are needed, which vary depending on your preferred keyboard design, keys, and layout. Take note that the components must be compatible to fit and function properly.
- Mounting Plate
- Switch Puller
- Wire Keycap Puller
- Solder Sucker
- Solder Wire
- Adaptable Soldering Iron
How to Build a Custom Mechanical Keyboard
After gathering the needed tools and components, you can begin building the custom keyboard through the following step-by-step guide.
Step 1: Lube the Switches
Step one in building a custom keyboard is to lube the switches. Lubing the switches is optional among some, and isn’t necessarily required. With lubed switches, the typing experience is greatly enhanced through improved scratch resistance, smoother keystrokes, satisfying tactile feedback, and offers better-sounding clicks when typing. To add lube, simply lubricate each switch on its upper and lower housing, including its spring and stem.
Step 2: Test out the PCB
The PCB is a vital keyboard component that ensures everything works properly. Before anything else, test out the PCB by plugging it into a PC and trying out each key switch with a pair of tweezers. Consider using an online keyboard tester to confirm whether each key activates. Any inoperable switches could mean a PCB defect, in which a new PCB is optimal.
Step 3: Assemble the Stabilizers
Stabilizers tend to be packed in three parts, with each stabilizer usually including two housings, a single wire, and two stems. This means that the stabilizers need to be assembled together before fitting. Enclose the stem inside the housing, by inserting it through the housing’s underside and with the two-holed section facing the front side of the housing. Then slide the wires into the bottom holes of the stem. Pop the wires in place inside the housing to stabilize them, and the wire must only go into the body of the stem without poking through the underside.
Step 4: Install the Stabilizers
After assembly, the stabilizers are installed according to their specific location. Utilize the keycaps on each stabilizer to map out their positions, then arrange and place them accordingly. Once they are all positioned, install them individually into their proper slot. Screw-in stabilizers are generally better and more stable than snap-in-ones and come with a bigger hole for the clip and a smaller one for the stab.
Step 5: Install the Switches
To install the switches, take the mounting plate and line it up above the installed stabilizers. Screw into place the properly aligned plate. Without bending any pins, press on every switch to allow the pins to insert into the PCB. If the PCB is non-hot-swappable, solder the switches into position. Before soldering, ensure you have the proper equipment and in an openly ventilated area, especially since the fumes and dust are hazardous. In soldering, solder each switch’s dual-metal pins onto the circuit board (PCB).
Step 6: Ready the Case
Depending on the custom keyboard rig, the keyboard will be customized according to the manufacturer’s available instructions and equipment. The foam may be regarded as optional, but its purpose allows for a better-sounding keyboard since they are inserted inside the keyboard to absorb any unwanted case ping sounds. Readily-cut case foams are optimal since they come prepped and simply slide directly in. Standard packed foam needs to be measured and cut according to components’ size before being installed.
Step 7: Mount the Circuit Board (PCB)
The mounting method differs depending on the case but essentially means screwing the PCB into the case according to the proper layout and positioning. Ensure that the circuit board is centered correctly for maximum stability. Consider checking the included manual for further specific details and instructions.
Step 8: Assemble the Case
Keyboard cases tend to come in two main components, which require further assembly to enclose the rest of the keyboard and then screw them into place. Again, this varies since custom keyboards come in different designs, but is essentially attaching and securing the case onto the keyboard.
Step 9: Install the Keycaps
On every switch, there is a cross-shaped known as the stem. The stem inserts into its designated keycap cutout, which secures them into the correct position. Slide the keycaps into position through their stem, then install them by pressing them until they click into place.
Step 10: Test the Switches
After installing the keycaps, the keyboard is essentially complete but requires some testing to ensure it functions properly. Test the keyboard through an online keyboard tester or anything that can display keyboard inputs and keys.
Step11: Custom Keyboard Programming
Finally, program the keyboard with custom styles and designs according to your preference. Although this step is optional, programming a custom keyboard allows you to further tailor the layout and keys, making it just as distinctive and personalized. Since the keyboard is complete, it should come with the basic functions and keys, which can be remapped depending on your keyboard usage for gaming, work, or productivity.
Congratulations on building your first custom keyboard! Not only do you feel triumphant and pleased with yourself, you now have a personal keyboard like no other that you can enjoy.
Although building a custom keyboard may seem difficult at first, the process becomes significantly simple, especially when broken down into a series of small and easy steps. Furthermore, custom keyboard building has exploded as a hobby in recent times, growing the community with even more helping hands and with manufacturers increasing their production of custom keyboard kits. With a fast-growing community and more custom kits, this makes custom keyboard building a fulfilling and gratifying venture that is well worth the time and effort.