Building a perfect keyboard

More often than I'd like to admit, I stumble across something online and before I know it, I've become fully engrossed in it. Call it fascination, obsession or just my magpie-esque tendencies but these "habits" end up costing me a lot of time and even more money.

Recently, I've found myself caught by my newfound love of playing cards but before cards, it was mechanical keyboards.

My MK habit, however, has been around for a good couple of years at this point and I'm far too involved invested in it to back out now. A couple of years back, I somehow found the /r/mechanicalkeyboards subreddit on one of my many journeys down various rabbit holes. I'll admit I wasn't fully educated or aware that there was a fundamental difference between mechanical, rubber dome and scissor-switch keyboards. All I knew was that I was just confused by how anyone would still want to use a mechanical keyboard? My personal experience of keyboards had been pretty much solely Apple-based. Whether that was on my laptop or on one of their external keyboard offerings and because of this, my only thought looking at these mechanical keyboards was that all PC keyboards were awful (from my experience) and how anyone could ever choose one over say an Apple keyboard is crazy talk.

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As someone who spends a lot of time typing at his computer, improving that experience definitely appealed. So I made a brew, sat back and read about the nuances, endless customizable options available and engrossed myself in the community with all my interest. However, this board would be my daily/work keyboard I needed it to fit my needs exactly and allow me to program every single key to do something at my desire.

Why?

First, you might ask why would you build your own board? Cost saving? Definitely not, the MK world is a moneypit you can't really avoid even if you try to do everything on the cheap or from knock-off Chinese vendors. Building your own keyboard comes down to one thing... endless options. Everything really depends on your imagination, effort and ultimately the size of your wallet.

  • Switches (Weight, Sound, Feel, Manufacturer, Colour, Hype)
  • Layout (Standard, Small, 60%, 40%!, Ortholinear, Split)
  • Case (Colour, Material, Design)
  • Keycaps (Colour, Material, Profile... you name it!)

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If you do head into the world of custom keyboards, you also have the option of replacing anything you want at a later date too. Should you see a set of switches come up that you want to swap out for, crack on. A new Aluminium case gets released, knock yourself out. There's nothing set in stone with a custom keyboard.

There is one small catch to building your own keyboard, though: some soldering skill is required in order to put all your switches in place on the keyboard’s circuit board. For a long time, this really put me off - I’ve never soldered before and it sounded really tedious and annoying! But once I started to look into various keyboard build videos and soldering tutorials, I realised it actually isn’t that hard at all. So, don’t let that intimidate you too much!

Prior to building my keyboard, I actually practiced a little bit of soldering with a $15AU electronics kit from Jaycar and a cheap $18AU soldering iron. With the knowledge I’d picked up from watching videos, I was able to do an alright job without a lot of effort.

Prerequisites:

  • 60% form factor (or less)
  • Directional Arrows
  • Fully Programmable
  • Standard(ish) bottom row
  • Number row
  • USB-C connectivity
  • Tactile switch (with Cherry stem)

With all this in mind, I was looking at keyboards like the HHKB, Tada, MF68 or a complete custom board. Due to my requirements on switches, I really wanted to try out some Kailh purple switches so that was a definite tick for a custom board. I eventually settled on a DZ60 as the bespoke nature of the keyboard allows a multitude of different layouts without compromising on the physical size of the board.

Components:
  • DZ60 PCB
  • Kailh Purple Switches
  • Screw-in GMK Stabilisers
  • Aluminium Plate
  • Acrylic Case
  • Various SA Caps
Collection

As per the bike rule of 1n+1, the keyboard rule is the same. So far, I've collected and used around 5 different keyboards and below are a few that i've still kept hold of.

🡐 Older Note

Design and Development Setup

Newer Note 🡒

Purrp - A purple VS Code theme!
Get in touch

Would you like to work together, or simply chat about a project? Don't hesitate to contact me.

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Architects - Phantom Fear

David Perkins © 2020