a pile of detached black keyboard keys on a black surface

How to Build Your Own Keyboard From Scratch

Keyboards are essential tech tools. Many keyboard variations are available on the market, like mechanical keyboards and flexible keyboards. Nevertheless, it’s still hard to find the perfect keyboard with your ideal keyboard layout and style. If you have specific keyboard needs and preferences, why not learn how to build your own keyboard from scratch?

Building custom keyboards can be a little complex. You might not have much experience building tech equipment, but that is no reason to worry. This article will help you get started and show you how to build your own keyboard with step-by-step instructions.

Why You Should Build Your Own Keyboard

The main reason you should build your own keyboard is your performance needs. Store-bought, mass-produced keyboards are not always the best choice to fit your comfort or productivity needs. Though you can modify an existing keyboard, this has its limits. Creating a keyboard from scratch can ensure that it meets your preferences and needs.

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The convenience of the keyboard layout and efficiency of the key combinations for easily using keyboard shortcuts, plus typing ease and durability, are some essential factors involved in creating your own keyboard. These factors improve your overall user experience and task performance. Another benefit is that your keyboard can be unique, with a custom look you created.

How Hard Is It to Build Your Own Keyboard?

Like any DIY project, starting to build your first custom keyboard is quite daunting. It can be tricky and confusing if you aren’t prepared. Before you start, take time to study the steps. Ensure that you have all the required tools and components on hand. Then, building your own keyboard will be a much smoother process.

How Long Does It Take to Build a Keyboard?

The time it takes to build a custom keyboard depends on your skill level and the type of keyboard you are making. This project may take eight to ten hours for beginners to complete, while experienced builders can complete their keyboard faster.

Just lubing the switches takes three to four hours. Testing and soldering can take one to two hours, respectively. The rest of the time is spent putting it all together. Especially if you are a beginner, you will want to take your time with this project so that your keyboard will function properly.

How Much Does It Cost to Build Your Own Keyboard?

There are different factors affecting how much building your keyboard can cost. Keyboard size, switches, keycaps, stabilizers, and tools affect the price. On average, building a keyboard can cost $200 to $600.

How Much Cheaper Is It to Build Your Own Keyboard?

You can buy a basic computer keyboard for less than $20, however, a personalized or high-end keyboard can be much more pricey. If you have specific preferences for your keyboard, it may be more cost-effective to build it yourself.

What Do You Need to Build Your Own Keyboard?

The keyboard components you need vary depending on what kind of keyboard you’re building. However, there are fundamental parts that are the same on every keyboard. You can buy a DIY keyboard kit that includes a printed circuit board (PCB), a case, stabilizers, and sound dampening foam.

However, if you want to build your keyboard from scratch, you’ll need a list of the necessary parts and tools. Below are the essential components, tools, and technology you need to make your custom keyboard.

  • Keyboard Tester: A keyboard tester allows you to efficiently test every key on your keyboard before starting the assembly.
  • Soldering Kit: This kit consists of soldering iron, solder wire, and a solder sucker. These tools are for soldering and desoldering switches. If you’re going to use a hot-swappable PCB, then you don’t need this.
  • Tool Kit: Your tool kit needs to include tweezers, scissors, screwdrivers, a switch puller, a wire keycap puller, and a flush cutter or nail clipper.
  • Cables: To connect your keyboard to your computing unit, you’ll need a USB cable or USB-C cable if you’re using a Mac.
  • PCB and Case: A printed circuit board (PCB), is the most critical part of your keyboard. It determines your custom keyboard’s size, features, and layout. In standard PCBs, switches must be soldered for the keyboard. Most PCBs already have an integrated plate. Hot-swappable PCBs let you try new switches without desoldering your existing ones.
  • Keycaps: The two types of keycaps differ in the plastic used to make them, Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) and Polybutylene Terephthalate (PBT). ABS keycaps vary widely in quality, from low-quality and more affordable to high-quality, expensive caps.

ABS keycaps can have more striking colors. PBT is denser and has duller colors, but the letters will not fade and get shiny with constant use.

  • Stabilizers: Stabilizers support the larger keys on the keyboard. Most keyboards need five stabilizers, but compact layouts require fewer. Ensure that the stabilizers you use are compatible with your PCB and case. Plate-mounted stabilizers are attached straight into the metal plate above the PCB. Most builders choose screw-in PCB-mounted stabilizers for added stability.
  • Switches: Switches have the most impact on your typing experience. You can choose from three types of key switches, linear, tactile, and clicky. It is easy to differentiate the types since they are color-coded.
  • Switch Mounting Plate: The switch mounting plate holds your switches in place when plugged into the PCB, keeping them from moving and losing connection. Switch mounting plates vary in materials, like polycarbonate, aluminum, brass, and carbon fiber. When choosing a mounting plate, consider the typing experience and what type of sound you want.
  • Grease and Lube: Semi-thick dielectric greases, like Permatex and Krytox, are used for stabilizer ends. Switch lube, such as 205g0, makes it easier to snap the switches onto the plate.

Building Your Keyboard From Scratch: A Step-by-Step Guide

person typing on a blurred keyboard hooked up to a computer monitor with wires
You can create the exact keyboard you need if you craft your own from scratch.

After deciding on the type of keyboard you want to create and getting the necessary tools and components, it is time to start making your keyboard. Below are the basic steps you should follow to build your keyboard from scratch.

Lube your switches

Lube your switches first. Make sure to plan ahead of time, as this process can take several hours, depending on your skill level and experience. There are many instructional videos online that you can follow if you want more guidance.

Test the PCB

Before starting, make sure your PCB works. Don’t touch the board to anything that could cause a short, keep it dry and separate from other technology. Open the keyboard tester tool on your PC.

The PCB has two small holes on every keypad position. Use both tips of the tweezers to touch these holes. Don’t push the tips too hard, which might damage your PCB. When the tweezers connect, you’ll see that a letter or number changes color on the keyboard tester. Repeat this for every key.

Assemble and install the stabilizers

You need to set up the disassembled stabilizers before their installation on the keyboard. Each stabilizer has two housings, two stems, and one wire. Insert the wire into the bottom hole of the stem and snap it into the housing. Fit the stem into the housing and make sure that the side with two holes is facing the front of the housing.

Next, push the end of the wire through the housing and into the bottom hole. Once inserted, push the wire into the guide, snapping it securely. Do not bend the wire. Now, it is time to install the stabilizers into your PCB.

Examine your PCB and you’ll see two circles near the edges, one bigger than the other. If you’re using screw-in stabilizers, the small hole is where the threaded part of the stab will go, while the larger one is for the clip. If you’re using snap-in stabilizers, the bigger holes are on the same side as the wire. Insert the stabilizers to fasten them, and screw or snap them into place.

Assemble the larger components

Screw the PCB into the case and install the plate to the PCB. Use foam to cushion and secure the PCB assembly. Reassemble the case with the other components nestled inside. The entire process of making a keyboard might seem more complicated than it is if you have never attempted it before.

Install the mechanical switches

This step varies depending on the type of PCB you have chosen. If you’re using a hot-swappable PCB, match the big, center mounting pin with the corresponding cut-out on the PCB. Press down firmly. If it’s not pushing in, it means that the pins are not aligned precisely.

If your PCB needs soldering, bring out your soldering kit. Heat your soldering iron to approximately 716 degrees Fahrenheit (380 degrees Celsius). Put a small amount of solder wire on the tip of the iron. Then, connect the iron to the contact pad and pin. Let the solder harden for several seconds before adding more.

Attach the keycaps

Match the stem cut-outs of the keycaps to the cross on the top of each switch. Just push the keycap down to the switch to install. You might need to give an extra push for larger keys to connect to the stabilizer stems.

Retest the keys

Go back to your keyboard tester. Push every key to check its connection to the PCB. Make sure a key doesn’t become bent during the installation. If one of your keys doesn’t function properly, you will need to go back and investigate what went wrong.

Can You Learn to Build a Keyboard in a Coding Bootcamp?

No, you can’t learn to build a keyboard in a coding bootcamp. Keyboard design, layout, and functionality might be some of the topics covered in a hardware engineering course, but bootcamps don’t often focus on how to build hardware.

You can take online courses on computer repair if you want to enhance your skills further. You can also take on more advanced projects, such as building your own laptop from scratch and gain skills through hands-on experience.

Gather Feedback, Reflect, and Iterate

Now, your keyboard has specific features not found in a pre-built keyboard. Making a mechanical keyboard from scratch isn’t cheap, but building something with your own two hands is satisfying and fulfilling. This custom mechanical keyboard will change and enhance your daily computing experience and it may be your first step to learning about computer hardware.

A hobby working with computer hardware can lead to a lucrative career. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, a computer hardware engineer makes an average wage of $119,560 and has a job growth rate of about two percent.

How to Build Your Own Keyboard FAQ

What temperature should you solder a keyboard?

The best temperature to solder your keyboard switches at is between 350 and 390 degrees Celsius (662 and 734 Fahrenheit).

Which is the best stabilizer for keyboards?

Many people believe that Durock is the best stabilizer brand for keyboards. They are very reliable, durable, good to high-quality stabilizers, yet they are also reasonably affordable. However, Cherry stabilizers are among the highly recommended stabilizers because of their versatility.

Should you clip stabilizers?

Yes, it would be best if you clipped the stabilizer legs to reduce the sound of the stabilizer hitting the PCB. To clip the stabilizer legs, you’ll need a cutter, pliers, or a scalpel.

What are the quietest switches?

The Gateron silent switch is one of the quietest keyboard switches. It is a linear switch that is smoother and quieter than its Cherry MX counterparts. Gateron switches are also budget-friendly.

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