Building a Custom Keyboard
One evening while I was working with my co-worker he brought up mechanical keyboards and the fact he was getting Input Club's K-Type soon. This prompted me to do some further research and ~6 months later, I've put together 10 or so custom built keyboards. I've learned a ton about the different pieces and parts that make up keyboards, what's involved in building them, and how to program them to use your own unique layouts. I've also learned that I love 60% keyboards. They have all the keys I need and none of the keys I don't.
The following is one of my recent builds. The parts used for this build are:
- PCB: DZ60
- Plate: 2U left shift
- OEM Stabilizers
- DSA Granite keycaps
- Kailh Burnt Orange switches
- 60% Transparent plastic case
- 1.8mm LEDs
- MiniUSB cable
- Finish Line Extreme Fluoro Grease
While recommended to connect your PCB to your computer to test the keys I did not do that for this build. Should you so be inclined I recommend this website. You can use a paper clip to test each switch mount point. Thankfully ever PCB I've gotten has never had any issues, likely why I've been skipping this step for the last few builds.
The next step I take is lubing the stabilizers. This allows things to stay a bit quieter when you're hitting keys like the space bar, the shift keys, enter and backspace. For my build I only needed the stabilizers on the space bar, enter and left shift. Put the lube where the metal touches the plastic and only a little. Don't go crazy wild. In all honesty, I've likely used too much as seen in the image. However, I've yet to see any issues from this, and it's definitely kept things moving nicely.
I've also seen this happen too many times. Don't forget to put your stabilizers on your PCB!!! Too many times people forget these and solder in all their switches and realize it. This will require you to desolder everything. Not fun.
On this specific build, I wanted to use one LED for my artisan keycap. LEDs are quite easy to add. Of note, the longer leg is the positive side so make sure to put that one into the '+' hole. Here's the LED soldered in:
You'll see the keycap and LED in a little bit! It's really cool! Of note, normally I would add LEDs (if I was going to have them on the build) after the switches. However, since this build is using box switches, they need to go first, under the switch.
Alright, once I've gotten the stabilizers snapped into place, I place the plate over the PCB and put switches into the 4 corners. This helps me not only keep the plate in place but also lets me start mapping the switches and keys for the bottom row. Trust me, it's no fun desoldering keys because you've put them in the wrong places! You don't need to push the keycaps all the way down on the switches, just make sure they look right and are in the correct placement.
Next, once I've made sure I've got my bottom row switches in the right places, I will solder those in along with the 4 corners. Again, this just ensures the plate is kept in place and isn't moving all over the place while I add in the other switches. It just adds a little extra stability and will make life easier when finishing up the build.
Now with the corners and bottom row soldered in, I finish adding the rest of the switches to the remaining holes. I'll usually use some tweezers, under the plate, each arm on a side of the switch. I do this because it helps pop the switch in by holding the plate up. I can take a short video of this if anyone is interested. You can put all your remaining switches in now, or do a row, then solder, then a row, then solder until finished, it's completely up to you.
Make sure you ensure your switches are straight and aligned properly. You don't want crooked keys, it's annoying and doesn't look good.
Whichever you've decided to do, the basics are just popping your switches into plate and PCB and soldering them to the board. This step is likely the longest and more difficult. I will admit though, having never soldered before, it's very easy to pick up. If you're concerned you can find some old electronics or a broken PCB to try first.
Next, once my soldering is done I put my finished PCB into my case, and screw it in. Once that's secure I add my keycaps.
If you want a custom layout you can definitely do so. In my case, since the default firmware is for a Windows keyboard, I had to do a little swapping of the keys so it would work properly in a macOS environment. If anyone wants my Windows DZ60 or macOS DZ60 layouts, I'd be happy to update this post with them! I can also do a post on how to setup firmware and how to flash your board if there's any interest.
At this point, you should be all done and have your very own, hand-built custom keyboard!
As noted previously, I used an artisan keycap for my
Esc key. It's an alien or Xenomorph if you may. It's the first brand new artisan keycap I've ever bought and well worth it. Unfortunately, my iPhone 7+ cannot capture LEDs properly, likely due to shutter speed and the light. But here's an image of the keycap up close.
So there you have it, a general overview of building your own custom keyboard. Find below some resources and product links. KBDFans, NovelKeys, and PimpMyKeyboard are my go to places for keyboards and parts, I highly recommend them!
- DZ60 PCB
- 2U Left Shift Plate
- Burnt Orange Switches
- 60% Transparent Case
- DSA Granite Keycaps
- 1.8mm LEDs
- Finish Line Extreme Fluoro Grease