How To Build A Mechanical Keyboard in 2020!
You might be asking why would I build my own mechanical keyboard?
Before I tell you why you should build one let me show you how a bespoke ferrari-like mechanical keyboard sounds. You are in for a treat! Watch all of these!
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What you just heard is a lubed linear, clicky and a lubed tactile keyboard in all-metal cases made from solid CNC aluminium. They weigh around 2-3 kg depending on the keyboard!
BEAUTIFUL ain’t it? You can get a keyboard that sounds similar or even BETTER than this! Some like a buttery sound and feel and others like a sharp clack! You decide how it sounds, feels and looks to your preference!
Mechanical keyboards are great. You probably see them at your local electronics store and wonder what the difference is?
Typical gaming mechanical keyboards are:
- Made from cheap plastic;
- Use cheap keycaps which rub out after time (which would cause you to replace the keyboard most times); and
- Use cheap rubber domes which provide no real tactile feedback or connection between you and the keyboard.
At JUJU we believe mechanical keyboards allow us to connect to our technology much better. Once you make one, you feel like you can connect to people on the internet easier. It’s a surreal experience because it’s not only a mechanical keyboard but something you have made that matches you, your emotions and needs.
Custom and bespoke mechanical keyboards are:
- MUCH better than anything you could by on the market because it suits your preferences. You make it the way YOU WANT.
- High quality and more aesthetic
- Typically made from metal or a robust material
- Produces pleasing sounds according to what you like
- Feels much better to type on according to the type of switch you like to use.
- The keyboards above are using lubed mechanical switches.
Lubing your mechanical switches mainly provides a unique typing experience that is not common on your typical mechanical keyboard. I have made a tutorial on how to lube your mechanical switches or keyboard will allow you to get the best experience you can and personalize your keyboard. You can read or watch the article/video here:
How do you build a mechanical keyboard anyway?
First, you want to go buy a mechanical keyboard DIY kit.
Listen, you are just getting into the hobby. It will be super easy if I firstly recommend a kit. Be patient or you will end up like me buying parts which were not compatible wasting your valuable money and time.
KBDFans, Novel Keys, RAMA and many others have high-quality DIY keyboard kits available. All the things I talk about today are in the description.
In this kit you will probably get:
- PCB or the electronic board
- Switch Plate
- Stabilizers (however most stabilizers in kits are of low quality. I recommend screw in stabs from GMK or C3 Equalz)
In order to make a full keyboard. However, you also need:
- Mechanical Switches
The more or less optional items are:
- Lube; and
- Case Foam
You can also pimp out your keyboard with custom coiled keyboard cables from us or even custom artisan keycaps!
Please order good stabilizers because not all kits will offer good quality stabilizers. You don’t want to have that rattle after spending $300+ dollars on a keyboard.
In total, you may be spending between $300 USD to $1000 USD or more on this keyboard!
It all depends on the parts you are buying. The general rule is larger = more expensive, but you will be surprised how much a part such as a switch would cost.
You probably do not know what 60%, 80% or full-size means. This percentage is the literal size of the keyboard.
A 100% keyboard is your full-sized keyboard as shown which will have your number cluster, arrow cluster, function row, etc.
As you remove certain clusters, it can become 80% which means no number pad, or it can be a 60% where you only have the letters, numbers and the rest is programmed into the keyboard.
So, for example, when you press Fn+5 it will tell the computer your pressed F5. You can program your keyboard in anyway you like! This is why the mechanical keyboard hobby exists other than pure aesthetics.
Because Mechanical Keyboards are still pretty expensive, I would recommend buying a 60% mechanical keyboard with a metal case.
It will give you the best view of why mechanical keyboards are better. From there you can modify or even build that keyboard up by lubing it, changing the layout, etc.
In the video tutorial above, I am building the KBDFans Tofu 96 kit which gives you the power of a full-size mechanical keyboard in a smaller space.
You may be getting confused between soldered in and hot-swappable mechanical keyboards. Hot-swap is super awesome if you are a beginner but you won’t be able to learn how to solder.
All you do with a hot-swap board is you plop in the switches at the end. It’s super satisfying both ways but I always love to challenge my fears and get out of my comfort zone. So, I want to challenge you today because soldering is easy and I have several videos teaching you how on the YouTube Channel!
If you choose hot-swap you are also limited with the potential row layouts which may be something you like to modify in the future.
With a soldered in mechanical keyboard, you have the benefit of several layouts and you will need to learn how to solder. It’s really easy. I want you to get over this fear of breaking your keyboard because it’s super hard to. So, do yourself a favor and get that soldered in PCB.
Let’s make this super simple, you need:
- A good quality soldering iron (link below)
- Good 60/40 or 63/37 leaded soldering wire
- Soldering Flux
- Desoldering Pump or braid/flux pen
- Metal tweezers
- Philips Screwdriver (depends on keyboard)
STOP. If your lungs are not working by breathing solder fumes or you stab yourself with the soldering iron don’t blame me. Get some protection now:
- Get some safety glasses
- Nitrile gloves
- Work outside or use a fume extracting fan/hood to not breathe in solder fumes.
I have a selection of safety tools and soldering equipment listed here (These are affiliate links that allows us to write great articles and produce good videos! Consider supporting us!):
Let’s build this Mechanical Keyboard!
- Ok, first you want to test that your keyboard PCB is working well. Go on your computer and type in keyboard tester on Google or www.keyboardtester.com. This will allow you to test that each switch will work before you build it! Connect it up, and use your tweezers to short the two pads. Do not worry you won’t break anything. Keep doing this for every key. If it all looks green then it’s working!
- STOP, you might be thinking let me go ahead and install the switches. NO, you always think about the stabilizers first. IF you forget to install them you will have to desolder it and THAT is a pain in the ass.
- Put together your stabs by placing the stem into the casing with two holes facing the large slot opening and pressing the bar into the slot. (demonstrated in the video).
- To install your stabs, you need to put the hook into the bigger hole. (demonstrated in the video above). It literally hooks under the pcb and then you insert the peg into the smaller hole. I recommend screw-in stabilizers for a better typing experience so it’s essentially the same, the hook goes into the bigger hole and it gets screwed into the PCB on the other side on the smaller hole.
- Now the great thing about stabs is that you can lube them and this provides a very unique and much more pleasurable typing experience. I wouldn’t recommend building a keyboard without lubing your stabs.
- Grab some Krytox 205g0 or some dielectric grease. You can buy Krytox from many keyboard vendors. 205g0 is best for stabs because of its buttery consistency. Add a thin layer of the lube onto all moving parts as shown. Literally do not put too much here. If you do, it will feel sluggish and slow. Once you lube the stem and stab casing, you want to lube the bar with dielectric grease. I recommend dielectric or a ticker lube because most of the unwanted noise comes from this metal bar. You want to quiet it down with that thick grease so it does not rattle. Use a brush to coat it evenly and also use the remaining lube on the brush inside the stem where the bar will sit. Chuck the bar into the slot and push it into the wedge where the bar sits. Then you can move it up and down to ensure your stabs are working properly. Then you do the same for the others.
- So, most DIY kits come with plates. These plates make your keyboard super strong and will create a better typing experience. You can choose between plastic, aluminium or brass. Aluminium and brass are my recommendations. There are suggestions that brass gives off a different typing experience than aluminium. I would recommend you stick to aluminium first because it’s cheaper and you don’t have to polish brass or maintain it.
- Now, this is where you can choose your keyboard layout. So, if you look at the bottom it may have many holes. We can have a longer space or a split shift or backspace. These changes are up to you but you need to know whether you have a keycap set that will support it! This is why I suggest you stick with the typical keyboard layout which will support many keycap sets. As shown:
- So, once you know what layout you want. You want to put the plate on top of the PCB and then you insert the switches into place. Be careful and do this slowly because you can bend the switch legs.
- On the bottom row, you might find it hard to know what hole the switch goes into for the standard layout. What I love to do is get the keycaps I am going to use and literally check the spacing. If the caps don’t fit, keep adjusting till it is sitting right.
- Once you got your layout figured out, put the rest of your switches into the plate. When you put the switches in make sure they are sitting flush against the PCB. There will be a very small gap and not more. You can make sure they are all sitting nicely by flipping the PCB over the switch side and pressing it down with equal force. This won’t break anything. Double-check if there are any bent pins or legs that are missing. You want to do that now before soldering!
- OK! Stop. I can see you are getting scared or worried. Listen to me, even if your solder joints look like crap, does it really matter? As long as it works right? This tutorial is to help you make a working keyboard, and if you happen to do it right amazing! If not and it still works, even better! Ok, you ready?
- Glasses on, fume extractor on, and let’s solder! First set your iron to around 320*C – 350*C. Your temp will depend on surrounding conditions. If it is cold in your room set it near 350*C. If it is warm stick to around 320*C. Look at your soldering iron. If it is crusty, black, which means it is oxidised, it will not solder well at all or the solder will bead on it when you add it to the tip. It needs to look shiny!
- If it does not do these things, use a brass ball (DO NOT use stainless steel) to clean it. If it still doesn’t take solder you need to replace the iron or the soldering tip to a shiny new one.
- Put some solder on the soldering iron tip just before you start to solder. Get the iron and place your elbow on the table to be stable (don’t hover otherwise you will shake) then position your PCB or part you are going to solder so that you are comfortable. Then place the tip of the iron onto the pad and pin.
- Keep it on with medium force with your hand for around 1-2 seconds to initially heat up the joint. Then get the solder and push it into where the soldering iron is sitting and the pad/switch pin. In total, you keep your iron on the joint for around 3-5 seconds.
- If the silvery solder is nicely flowing around the pin then there is no issue. Soldering is really about practice! Keep practicing!
Basically, all you need to avoid are:
- Do not hover from the pin and pad. Press onto it with medium force.
- You need to add solder to bring in flux. Flux helps the joint look nice and add solder onto metals easier.
- Solder is metal and requires heat. If it does not get enough heat it will not flow onto your pin and pad. Double check your temps and increase if necessary. It should be around 300*C-350*C depending on weather, ambient temp, solder used, etc.
Essentially your pins should look like a concave volcano. You should still be able to see the pin outline and the whole joint should be covered in solder. If they don’t it’s fine! Don’t keep poking at it with your iron because that is how you break the pads and the switch. And that’s it! Do the other joints and just have fun! Keep going!
I am so proud of you for trying soldering for the first time! That is bloody awesome of you! You can now essentially fix any electronic device with this skill.
Anyways now we have to test this amazing thing you just made! Plug it in and do a test again! See if all the switches are working and make sure to press them multiple times. If one seems faulty you can easily replace it by desoldering.
Putting the PCB into the Case
Now, we can build the keyboard.
Put the keyboard into the metal case and use the screws to screw it into the case. I like to align my keyboard before I screw it in completely so what I do is I use four corner keycaps to ensure they are all pressing down and not hitting the case. Then I will tighten the screws and it is aligned. Then get your awesome keycaps and enjoy this part. This is hopefully the last time you have to open this keyboard up unless you are modding it.
That’s all from me. Yallah Bye!
Thank you to Tia Cheng from AUMK for helping put this piece together!