May 11, 2021

Guide: How to Build a Mechanical Keyboard

Building a mechanical keyboard is becoming more and more a trend across the globe. The days where 4 big names dominated the mechanical keyboard space are being challenged by community-run projects, small e-commerce sites (like us!), and forums that seek to change the way we think about keyboards. 

The custom mechanical keyboard scene is HUGE, with that, information is so spread out that it is almost impossible to find all the details you need to build a keyboard without spending hours on forums. 

This guide will go over every step to build your first mechanical keyboard. Parts, assembly, and other details. By the end, you will hopefully realize that building your own is not so difficult as it seems!

Before we get to the guide, there are a few considerations one has to know before building a keyboard. 

Group Buys

Community-run projects. Ran by a vendor, designer, or even just a group of enthusiasts. Projects usually go through Interest Checks phases, set minimum order quantities to make the project possible, and wait until the product arrives at the door. This process may take a long time (6-12 months)

In-Stock Parts 

Parts or keyboard kits are stocked, so people may buy without the pressure and waiting time of a Group Buy. Usually, these parts also go out of stock quickly. This is usually the most cost-effective and quickest option but might lack the originality of Group Buy projects. 

Step 1: Decide what you want on a keyboard 

Possibly the hardest step in building a keyboard!

  • You need to decide what size of keyboard do you need
  • What layout would you like? ISO or ANSI?  Think about your keyboard's language. This will determine the keycap and keycap sizes of your keyboard
  • Do you want a particular case material? Wood, Bamboo, Aluminum, or even acrylic for the maximum RGB display?

The great thing about the hobby is that you are finally able to build a keyboard exactly suited for your needs and taste. There is almost no limit as to how unique you want to go. 

Think about the features you would like to have 

  • RGB lighting: Per Key RGB, Under glow, RGB side lighting. Acrylic cases to display the underflow, pudding translucent keycaps
  • USB Port: Most modern boards have a USB C, but be aware of other types of USB
  • QMK or VIA: These are the softwares used programming a keyboard. Some are compatible with QMK or both. 

The biggest factor for most people is size and form factor. You can see a simplified guide below, but you can click here more info and form factors here 

Or even smaller at 40%...
Need to be productive? Try a macropad!

Now here is the reality and our opinions regarding each size. As a general rule, 60% can be the cheapest point of purchase, and as size increases, costs increase as well. 

  • Full-sized: Almost impossible to find in the custom keyboard scene,  only really found on pre-built keyboards. If you are lucky, you can back a community-run project (Group Buy) or start one yourself
  • 1800-Compact (96%): Tries to archive a compact format, without any cost of accessibility. Very hard to find in-stock parts, rarely available outside of pre-built keyboard companies, like Keychron.
  • Tenkeyless (or TKL): A common layout that simply chops off the number pad but still keeps the rest of the keyboard layout.
  • 75%: Similar to a TKL, except the navigational cluster is placed vertically to save space. Fun, stylish, and comfortable to use.
  • 65%: No function row and keeps some of the navigational clusters. It’s also the smallest keyboard size that keeps the dedicated arrow keys.
  • 60%: The most common custom keyboard layout. There are also variations of the 60% format, where it includes navigation arrows, or no window keys, etc. You can find in-stock parts the easiest and often at a cheaper price!. 
  • 40%: 60% format, but without numbers. Might be a bit of a challenge to get used to this size. 
  • Macropad: Extra set of keys that can be used alongside your main keyboard. Usually used as a Numpad, but can be assigned other functions!

Step 2: Now you know what you want, these are the parts you will need for a keyboard, plus different types and considerations

Main ComponentsBrands and other considerations
Parts Required to build Brands, and other considerations
Keyboard CasePlastic, Aluminum, Acrylic, Brass, or Polycarbonate Material

Mounting styles: Tray Mounts, Gasket Mounts, Top mount, etc
PlateAluminum, Steel, Brass, Carbon Fiber, POM
Circuit Board (PCB)Sizes: 40%, 60%, 65%, 75%, TKL, 1800-Compact, or Full-Sized

RGB: Underglow, Per key RGBHotswap or Solderable
StabilizersBrands:  GMK, Durock, Everglide, ZealPC

Types: Plate-Mounted, PCB-Mounted snap-ins, and PCB-Mounted Screw-ins. 
SwitchesBrands/manufacturer: Cherry MX, Gateron, NovelKeys, ZealPC, GAZZEW, Durock, and more

Style or behavior: Linear, Tactile, or Clicky
KeycapsMaterial: ABS or PBT  Moulding: Double shot, laser print, dye sublimation

Profile: XDA, SA, OEM, CHERRY, DSA

Manufacturer:
Group Buys: GMK, Signature plastics, and more
in stock:  Tai Hao, EPBT, Maxkey, Winmix, and more

Step 3: Assembling your keyboard

We recommend starting with the PCB first. Start out by plugging the PCB to the PC with an USB cable and make sure each switch input works. 

Use antistatic tweezers, such as the ones included in this kit, and stick both ends of the tweezers on the two copper holes of the PCB. 

When this is done, the PCB will trigger the key as a key press. We recommend downloading a QMK or VIA software in order to see this happening in action. 

Once you have made sure that all inputs work. It is time to start assembling. 

Step 4. Install the stabilizers. 

Stabilizers are used to “stabilize” those bigger keys on the keyboard. Any keycap bigger that 2U (the size of 2 keycaps put together). First we have to assemble to stabilizers themselves and make them ready to install on the PCB ( or plate, in case you have those)

This is how the stabilizers will look on the end result.

First, put the stem (the cross looking piece) in the larger housing piece. As soon as you do this, pick the steel wire and put it inside the lower chamber of the stem. Once you do this, if you press down, the wire will clip into the stab. Repeat the process and your 2U stabilizers will look like this:

Once you have the stabs assembled, we must install them into the PCB. This is done by simply clipping the stabs into the PCB holes, or screwing them, if your stabilizers of choice are screw ins. 

Step 5  Installing the plate and switches 

Plates can be installed by creating a sandwich with your PCB and installing switches in different corners of the PCB. Switches are built to clip in and be somewhat stable, pinning the plate to the PCB. Do not worry if the plate starts to bend, as the plate will get corrected the more switches are placed.

Step 6 Soldering the switches (Optional if PCB is hot-swap)

Soldering can be intimidating for many. Hotswap PCB allows newbies to skip this entire process. Of course, if you would like a particular layout, you are most likely going to have to solder in your switches. 

The process itself is very simple and requires more muscle memory than explanation, but by heating the solder tip in order melt the solder and form a volcano shape figure.

We highly recommend watching video tutorials or practice your soldering. There are dangers associated with this process, such as inhaling toxic smoke or burning yourself, so please be sure to watch a soldering guide and take proper safety precautions. 

Step 7 Assemble the PCB/PLATE into the case

This may be different depending on mounting style (like case mount, tray mounts, etc). Most of the time this process is fairly simple, as all it requires is to screw the pcb into the case or another type of mounting system. 

Step 8 Installing Keycaps

This is what ties the board together and the most simple step in building a keyboard. However, there are a few pointers which we will develop further in an in-depth keycap guide.

To summarize, keycaps are very varied in options, style, material, manufacturing type. Because of this, you may encounter compatibility issues. Keycap sizes that your board needs might not be included within the set. Make sure you are aware of the keycap sizes included in a set before purchasing!

Conclusion

This concludes our entry-level guide. We hope that you are now more comfortable jumping into this journey. Remember, building your own mechanical is a social experience. Connect with others through /r/mechanicalkeyboards, or multiple discord servers, or even our own server, where we will never hesitate to answer any questions!

We are a small e-commerce keyboard store, based in Spain, serving the EU region. We are passionate about all keyboard things. If you would like to say hi, send us your keyboard pictures, and follow us on our social media platforms, like Instagram and Twitter

Good luck!

We are a small Keyboard company based in Spain. We are keyboard fanatics and like to spread our passion around the globe. Say hi on any of our social medias!
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