How to Build a Custom Mechanical Keyboard: Part II

by Kelvin
How to Build a Custom Mechanical Keyboard: Part II 1

You can't make a special mechanical keyboard without knowing what's inside. That is precisely what the last part of this guide covers. If you haven't read it, now is a good time to do it. Unless, of course, you plan YOLO through the process of acquiring keyboard components and messing things up. Whatever it is, it's time to get your hands dirty by installing a mechanical keyboard.

Buying the necessary components to build a special mechanical keyboard is not a direct matter. You cannot go directly to the nearest Micro Center or enter This is a niche hobby. A special mechanical keyboard is a rare beast that is not mass produced. One way to get a DIY mechanical keyboard kit is through various Chinese mechanical keyboard brands.


Chinese custom keyboard brand

Some brands of Chinese mechanical keyboards like KBDFans Y KPRepublic Now it manufactures mechanical keyboard kits made of high quality aluminum and machined brass at a very low price (of course, relative). Unlike western boutique custom keyboard manufacturers who do limited (and sometimes unpredictable) group purchases, you can pick a mechanical keyboard kit from one of these websites just when you need it.

I don't know of any special mechanical keyboard vendors other than the two that follow familiar retail models instead of the usual group buying routes. Out of the two options mentioned above, I personally spent around $ 2000 on keyboard parts with KBDFans without a hitch. This brand is widely known in the community of special mechanical keyboards. You can also see a similar option on AliExpress, but the actual keyboard kit will always come from one of these two sources.

Both websites offer many options between 40, 60, 65, 80 and 96 percent keyboards and allow you to choose more among various plate and shell materials and types of stabilizers. Use the information obtained through the final installments of this guide to choose your preferred mechanical keyboard kit. You can also choose to buy each component separately, but in the end the price is a bit more expensive and you should pay close attention to the compatibility. Once you know that, all that's left is a painful wait for the postman.

Tools needed

    Metal clips or long wire hooks or small paper clips. Screwdriver base. Anti-static strap strap (optional, if you want to be dangerous). Soldering iron (optional for hot-swapping PCBs). Desoldering pump (optional for hot-swap PCB) 67/33 rosin core solder (optional for hot-swap PCB) Solder flux (optional for hot-swap PCB)

Warning: Some of the steps in this guide involve handling blank PCBs, which are vulnerable to damage from static discharge from the human body. Working with bare feet is the best way to minimize the build up of electrostatic charge. However, this is not effective when working on carpets, wood, or other non-conductive floors. Using an antistatic manual knock is the surest way to eliminate the risk of discharging static electricity.

1. Test the PCB

Ideally, start by testing PCBs. That involves determining if all terminals that interact with the switch are working. Connect the PCB to the computer. We use a pair of pliers to abbreviate translucent layered holes (weld spots) associated with each button to record the input. In an emergency, you can use simple hook wire or uninsulated paper clips if you don't have clips.

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Online tools like and special software like Switch A batIt works great as a good visual aid to this task, making it much easier to trace the keys that have passed the test. Validating each key involves shortening the terminal (through a hole) in the PCB with a lead wire, a clip, or a pair of pliers as shown in the figure.

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A common PCB that requires soldering uses multiple solder points (through holes) for certain keys to accommodate an alternate keyboard layout. In short, don't panic if multiple adjacent terminals activate the same key. The process is more or less the same for PCBs that use hot-swap plugs. The only difference is that the switch terminal can only be accessed from the bottom of the PCB. That is the side where the hot-swap socket is soldered to the PCB.

If all the keys on the PCB register the input, congratulations, you can proceed to the next step. Otherwise, please contact the seller to get a replacement if the wrong PCB has been given to you by the destination.

2. How Stabilizers works

Almost all special mechanical keyboards ship with Cherry-style stabilizers. Without stabilizers, long buttons like space bar, Shift, Enter and Backspace will be difficult to operate. Spaces, for example, will only be compatible with a single spring switch in the middle without a stabilizer. That can work as long as you just touch it in the middle. But touch the buttons on both ends, and it'll spin over the switch like a rocker. The stabilizer basically allows the long keys to work reliably even when moving from the extremities.

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Stabilizers come in two main flavors: a board mount and a PCB mount. Choosing between the two depends on the compatibility of the PCB and the board with each type of stabilizer. You don't need to worry about compatibility if you have bought a DIY kit. However, for those of you planning to buy individual components, be sure to check their compatibility.

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PCB mount stabilizers are generally considered superior compared to plate mount partners because they have less risk of getting out of place. The PCB mounting circuit itself is available in both regular and screw options, the latter being objectively better for staying securely anchored to the PCB and eliminating jitter.

The three types of stabilizers consist of steel posts, housings, and wires. The post is the smallest part with a cross-shaped protrusion at the end that interacts with the corresponding slot on the keyboard. It slides up and down inside the housing, with a steel wire orthogonally placed in the pole socket. The other end of the cable slot is in the second pair of the stabilizer post and housing. Mount the posts and houses connected by a cable to form a stabilizer assembly.

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3. Assemble stabilizers

The stabilizers usually come pre-assembled. Even if it doesn't, assembly is fairly straightforward and identical for all Cherry-style stabilizer variants.

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1. The stabilizer post enters through a hole in the bottom of the housing with the cross-shaped end entering first. The housing accommodates the stabilizer cable through the vertical slot highlighted in the image.

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2. The posts have a single rectangular socket on one vertical face, while the other face has two square sockets stacked on each other. When inserting a post into the house, make sure the two square plugs in the post correspond to the vertical slot in the house.

09a Custom Mechanical Keyboard Guide

3. Now one end of the stabilizer cable can be inserted into the socket at the bottom of the post. It must enter through a vertical slot in the housing.

09b Custom Mechanical Keyboard Guide

4. Connect the cable to the channel at the edge of the house. This should allow the cable to rotate over the channel and move the pole up and down as it rotates within the channel.

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5. Repeat the same steps for the unit on the other end of the cable. Your finished stabilizer should look like the corresponding variant in the picture.

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6. Depending on the form factor and keyboard layout you choose, you will need a long stabilizer (6, 25 units) for shorter spaces and multiple bars (2 units) for the rest of the stabilized buttons. Prepare the right amount of stabilizers guaranteed by your keyboard design.

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4. Install the PCB Mount Stabilizer

These instructions apply to standard PCB mounting screws and stabilizers. Let's start by learning how to install a PCB mount screw stabilizer. Before we can proceed, we must determine the top and bottom of the PCB. The top of the PCB is blank and has no SMD mounting components such as a microcontroller, diode, reset button, and DIP switch. This is the side where you can install a stabilizer.

1. Look at the bottom of the stabilizer house. You can see the retention tabs protruding from the bottom along the end closest to the stabilizer cable. This is indicated by the green dot in the image below. The screw post has been marked by a red dot on the end of the housing.

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2. Let's switch to PCB. The image above shows the corresponding holes in the PCB that are marked with adjusted colors. The larger (green) hole accommodates the retaining flange, while the smaller (red) hole accepts a screw post.

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3. Insert the two retaining tabs on the stabilizer housing into the appropriate large holes on the PCB.

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4. Ease the screw post into a smaller hole on the PCB. Press enough so that the two stabilizer houses sit on the PCB.

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5. Flip the PCB over and install it firmly in place as the name implies. I recommend using a plastic washer to avoid the possibility of a metal screw shorting the PCB.

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6. Installing a stabilizer screw by mounting a common PCB is not much different. The post screws in this stabilizer variant were replaced by post accessories. Instead of using screws to anchor the stabilizer, the post simply goes into the appropriate hole in the PCB.

7. The board mount stabilizer mounts directly to the board similarly. The short side attached to the stabilizer cable is inserted into the corresponding short edge of the socket furthest from the notch cut for the locking mechanism along the long side. With this side attached to the board, you can simply press the other end of the stabilizer to snap it into place.

8. Repeat this process for all stabilized keys.

5. Repair the board to the PCB

It may sound hard to believe, but the most difficult part of this guide is behind us. As we did with the PCB, the first step is to find the correct orientation of the boards.

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1. Place the plate on the work table. This may seem like a confusing socket arrangement, but pointing it in the right direction is easier than it sounds. We will handle boards for a 40 percent keyboard here. Other keyboard form factors are easier to identify, so it should be fine even if your keyboard isn't 40 percent.

This is a simple matter of determining orientation based on the position of a long stabilized key. Because we know where these long keys are located on this 40 percent keyboard (see the image above), we can use this to help us orient the boards correctly.

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Find the tip with the widest hole in the plate. That's where the space bar went. Since we know that the space bar is located at the bottom of the keyboard, you can point the board so that the cut for the gap is at the bottom. This 40 percent board has slots for two space bars.

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2. We are not out of the forest yet. Now we can focus on a single socket that is intended for the Shift key. In the orientation of this board, the slot for the Shift key (marked in green) is on the right side, which is incorrect. Then we turn the plate horizontally. This is how you align the plates correctly. The PCB will interact with the bottom plate, while the switch will enter from above.

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3. Because the boards are attached to the PCB via the switch, we must first install multiple switches to function as anchor guides along the corners of the boards. Do not mount more than four to six switches along the edge of the board. Be sure to fill only the 1u plate socket (one unit). The sockets for the Esc, Ctrl, and right arrow keys are examples of the 1u socket, while the Shift and Spacebar sockets are the 2u and 625u socket. Use pictures for reference, but do not connect the hold switch until you have read and understood the following steps.

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4. Look at the attached image to determine the correct orientation of the switch. The two conductive legs on the switch are connected by translucent layered holes in the PCB. Depending on the PCB design, this could be oriented along the top or bottom edge of the PCB. In some PCB hot swaps, only a few switches like Esc will flip to accommodate the USB port. Note each switch, or you will destroy the pin by inserting the switch upside down into the PCB.

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5. Before pairing the PCB with the board, double check to make sure the switch pin is straight and not bent at odd angles. This will cause them to lose the proper hole and perforated layer on the PCB.

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6. Align the pins on the board retention switch with the corresponding holes on the PCB. A pair of plastic PCB mounting pins on the switch allows the PCB to latch onto the board even before soldering the switch to the PCB. This plastic pin (see image above) locks friction in the appropriate hole in the PCB and is designed to provide switch alignment and mechanical shock stability.

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7. Complete all remaining switches one by one. Long keys like space bar, Shift, Caps Lock, and Backspace can have more than one set of layered holes to accommodate various layouts. Placing the switch in the correct hole is entirely up to your specific design. Be sure to take note of these little details.

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There should be no errors at this stage because we will identify and correct all the errors that appear in the next section. But please, to love all that is sacred, turn the PCB over and check all the silver holes to check if the pin is pulled out. If some pins are lost, it is because the switch should not be there or the pins have been bent.

Checking a bent pin now will save you the pain of finding it after soldering the board. Breaking the entire keyboard is not a pleasant effort.

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6. Dry test on stabilizers / design and general troubleshooting

In a perfect world, the next step is to solder the switch to the PCB. But the world is not perfect, and keyboard manufacturers for the first time tend to make mistakes. Let's take a look at the common mistakes found at this stage.

1. Place the PCB unit and board with the switch pointing up and away from the table surface. Remove the keys and connect them only to the stabilized buttons. It fits across three mounting points: one is on the switch and two on the stabilizer. Firmly press the lock button along these three points until it locks securely. Repeat for all stabilized keys.

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2. Test each of these keys by moving them repeatedly until you are sure they work as they should. If there is a rocker or an obstacle to activate the switch, remove the cover of the affected button and place it on a flat surface such as a mirror or a piece of glass plate. It should be perfectly flat, with no signs of flexing or distortion. If there are structural problems, replace the keyboard that ideally solves the problem.

3. If the key is ok, the error may be in the stabilizer. Remove the PCB board and remove the wrong stabilizer. Verify that the stabilizer cable has come out of one of the channels along the edge of the housing. Returning it should make the switch work perfectly.

4. If the cable has not been disconnected, you may have inserted the stabilizer post incorrectly into the housing. This can be verified by holding both stabilizer housings in one hand and using your thumb and index finger to rotate the stabilizer cable. The two stabilizer posts should move freely up and down in the housing. If that doesn't happen, disassemble the entire stabilizer unit and repeat all the steps in section 4 to replace and fix the stabilizer to the PCB.

5. If none of these steps seems to help, it is reasonable to assume that your stabilizer has a manufacturing defect. Replacing it entirely is the only solution in that regard.

6. Install all remaining keys. If all the cards are in place with no unsightly holes or cleaning issues, slap yourself to improve the situation the first time. The rest of you will see that all permission issues can be traced back to the long button with an optional switch installation point explained in step 5.6. You can now choose the correct switch mount point option and make any necessary adjustments to fix the permission problem.

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7. PCB solder switch

Skip this section if you have PCB hot swapping, because soldering only applies to common PCB. You can choose to keep the button active when soldering or remove it. The latter is a good idea if your workspace is dirty or you are responsible for scratching or staining the key locks.

See keyboard Switch Replacement guide and follow steps 7 through 16 to learn how to join and remove solder. You will mainly use the soldering techniques mentioned in the guide to solder all the switches to the PCB. However, the desoldering instructions will come in handy in the rare event that you make a mistake requesting replacement of one or two switches.

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8. Putting everything in a case

With the switch soldered and the final test done, installing the PCB / board assembly in the box is the final step. Unlike ordinary consumer mechanical keyboards, the case installation process is very easy for custom mechanical keyboards.

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This is primarily because the major keyboard manufacturers are primarily concerned with making products as cheap as possible, while making them difficult to actively and deliberately disassemble. Don't expect large corporate entities to respect consumers' right to improve when this directly contradicts their profits.

Therefore, these steps apply to all the types of keyboard cases and board mounting styles discussed in the previous section of this guide.

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1. Insert the PCB unit / board into the box starting from the top edge of the PCB containing the USB port. This is important because the port protrudes from the PCB and must be loosened into the appropriate hole in the case before you can align the PCB / PCB unit in it. The top mounting box will require the plate to be screwed into the top frame before proceeding to the next step.

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2. For box mount boxes, fix the unit to the box with a screw and call it per day. The bottom mounting box will require the plate to mount to the bottom of the box, followed by the top frame snapping into place. The same mounting box also requires you to install a screw on the top frame (containing the PCB board / unit) at the bottom of the box. The box mounting box only requires one PCB unit / board between the top and bottom of the box with screws holding the three parts.

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That's all there is to building your own custom mechanical keyboard. Hit the keys and plug them into your computer for a superior typing experience. You can further customize the keyboard by changing the layout through the firmware, but it is better to provide a separate guide. The rabbit hole of the special mechanical keyboard goes deeper than you can imagine right now. But for now, you can enjoy the satisfaction of building something rare and beautiful with your own hands.

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