Mechanical keyboards have been gaining popularity among computer enthusiasts and gamers due to their superior typing experience and durability compared to traditional membrane keyboards. While many high-quality mechanical keyboards are available in the market, some enthusiasts prefer to build custom ones to suit their preferences and needs. This article will go through the steps of building a custom mechanical keyboard.
Before we begin, it’s essential to understand some basic concepts of mechanical keyboards. A mechanical keyboard consists of individual mechanical switches for each key instead of a membrane keyboard that uses a single membrane layer to register keypresses. Mechanical switches offer tactile and audible feedback, often preferred by typists and gamers. Different types of mechanical switches are available, each with unique characteristics such as actuation force, tactile feedback, and noise level. Popular switch types include Cherry MX, Kailh, Gateron, and Zealios.
Additionally, mechanical keyboards also have a PCB (printed circuit board) that controls the input and output of the keyboard, as well as a case which houses the PCB and switches. The case can be made of materials such as plastic, metal, or wood and customized to fit the user’s preferences.
Now that we have a basic understanding of mechanical keyboards let’s dive into the steps involved in building a custom mechanical keyboard.
Step 1: Choose your mechanical switches
The first step in building a custom mechanical keyboard is to choose the mechanical switches you want to use. This decision will significantly impact the typing experience and feel of the keyboard, so it’s essential to research and test different types of switches before making a decision.
Cherry MX switches are the most popular type of mechanical switch and are widely used in commercial mechanical keyboards. They come in different colours, each with a different actuation force and tactile feedback. For example, Cherry MX Red switches are linear and have no tactile feedback, while Cherry MX Brown switches have a tactile bump without an audible click.
Kailh and Gateron switches are also popular alternatives to Cherry MX switches and are often more affordable. Zealios switches are a premium option known for their tactile feedback and smoothness.
To test different types of switches, you can purchase a switch tester which contains sample switches of different types. This will give you a better idea of the feel and sound of each switch type.
Step 2: Choose your PCB
The next step is to choose the PCB for your custom mechanical keyboard. The PCB is responsible for translating the keypresses into electrical signals that the computer can process. Many different PCB options are available, each with different features and compatibility with different switch types.
One popular PCB option is the DZ60, a 60% PCB that supports multiple layouts and switches types. Other popular options include the GH60 and the XD60.
When choosing a PCB, it’s essential to ensure it’s compatible with your chosen switch type. Most PCBs will support the common Cherry MX, Kailh, and Gateron switch types, but some premium switch types, such as Zealios, may require a specific PCB.
Step 3: Choose your case
The case of a mechanical keyboard not only protects the PCB and switches but also affects the overall look and feel of the keyboard. Many different case options are available, each made from different materials such as plastic, metal, and wood.
Plastic cases are often the most affordable option but can feel cheap and less durable. Metal cases provide a more premium and durable feel but can be more expensive. Wooden cases offer a unique and stylish look but are less common and can also be more expensive.
Building a mechanical keyboard
Mechanical keyboards have gained immense popularity in recent years thanks to their durability, reliability, and customizable features. They are known for their tactile feedback, responsive keys, and a longer lifespan than membrane keyboards. While the market offers a variety of options to choose from, some keyboard enthusiasts opt for building their mechanical keyboard. One question that often arises in this regard is whether it is cheaper to build a mechanical keyboard.
The answer to this question is complex, as it depends on various factors. Building a mechanical keyboard requires purchasing and assembling individual components, which can incur additional costs. However, it also provides the option to choose the features and components according to one’s preference, which can be cost-effective in the long run.
To understand its cost-effectiveness, let’s break down the costs of building a mechanical keyboard.
Switches: Switches are the most critical component of a mechanical keyboard, responsible for the tactile feedback and actuation force. Depending on the type of switch, the cost can vary from $0.30 to $2.00 per switch. Switches are available in different types, such as Cherry MX, Gateron, Kailh, and many others, each with unique features. Building a keyboard from scratch can provide the option to choose the desired switch, but purchasing in bulk can significantly reduce costs.
Keycaps: Keycaps are the visible part of the keyboard, and they come in various sizes, shapes, and materials. The cost of keycaps can vary from $10 to $200, depending on the material, colour, and design. Building a keyboard allows for the customization of keycaps, significantly reducing costs compared to buying a pre-built keyboard with high-quality keycaps.
PCB: The PCB (Printed Circuit Board) is the keyboard’s backbone that connects all the components. The cost of a PCB can vary from $20 to $80, depending on the size, compatibility, and features. Building a keyboard from scratch allows the option to choose the desired PCB, but it can also be an additional expense.
Stabilizers: Stabilizers are responsible for keeping the longer keys steady and even, such as the spacebar, enter key, and shift keys. The cost of stabilizers can vary from $5 to $20, depending on the type and brand. Building a keyboard provides the option to choose the type of stabilizer, which can be a cost-effective solution.
Case: The case of a keyboard is responsible for providing protection and aesthetics. The case cost can vary from $20 to $200, depending on the material, design, and brand. Building a keyboard allows the option to choose the desired case but can also add up to the cost.
Additional components: Other components such as diodes, resistors, and capacitors may also be required, which can add up to the cost. The total cost can vary from $100 to $300 or more, depending on the quality and brand of the components.
In conclusion, the cost-effectiveness of building a mechanical keyboard depends on various factors. Building a keyboard allows the option to customize the components and features but can also add up to the cost. Purchasing a pre-built keyboard can be cost-effective but may require the desired features or quality.
If one is willing to put in the time and effort, building a mechanical keyboard can be a fun and rewarding experience. It provides the option to choose the desired components and create a unique keyboard. However, purchasing a pre-built keyboard may be the best option if one is looking for a cost-effective solution.