During my first exam period at university, I was really short of time…
As chance would have it, that was the same time I found out about ricing. While discussing the immense amount of lost time with somebody online, he pointed me to the Mechanical keyboards subreddit, telling me this was the place where I could lose not only my time but also my money.
This somehow must have seemed desirable to me, because I instantly threw myself in there. I saw enormous amounts of beautiful, custom made, high-quality, sometimes weird mechanical keyboards and decided: I need one of these.
As a programmer, my keyboard is my main tool; I could indeed spend some time (turns out: also money) finding one that fits me.
Mechanical keyboards come in different sizes, the most popular ones being
I never use the numpad, so I decided to go with the Tada68, a 65% keyboard.
Building one by myself seemed more fun than just ordering one, so after deciding on a keyboard I ordered the parts:
A printed circuit board, PCB
You should definitely get one that is fully programmable!
I chose one made out of solid metal, as it is very sturdy and I didn’t plan on transporting the keyboard often.
Mechanical switches, determining the feel and sound
This is probably the most important choice to make when picking parts. Take a look at the comparision here, it’s really good. I ordered the blue ones.
I was lucky that shipping took almost two months and the exam period was over before I lost even more time.
When the parts finally arrived, I grabbed a soldering iron and pushed my luck. I was worried I might grill the PCB, but everthing went surprisingly well.
… except for the capslock key.
At first I picked the wrong holes in the PCB for the longish capslock key. When I finally finished soldering and put on the keycaps, I noticed the capslock wouldn’t fit onto the board and had to resolder it.
Building the keyboard was a great experience and I recommend just trying it, even if you haven’t soldered before.
Here is some building footage:
picture 1, picture 2, picture 3, picture 4, picture 5, picture 6, picture 7, picture 8, picture 9, picture 10, picture 11, picture 12, picture 13
Once you’re done with soldering and the building process in general, programming is next (yay!). I recommend QMK as a firmware; it supports a wide range of keyboards and offers all the features you can imagine (quite a few more actually).
You can also just edit the code and do pretty much whatever you want:
Have multiple layers producing different characters, play sounds, light the LEDs in a fancy pattern, make the keyboard insert specific sequences of text, …
Programming the keyboard is really easy; you pick a template (depending on your keyboard type), modify it and flash it. The firmware and your modifications are written in C.
You can check out my mod of the Tada68 layout here.
If you want some really fancy stuff, artisan keycaps are the way to go: These are custom made, handcrafted keycaps. Take a look here and here. They are often made out of wood or glass and sometimes even fluorescent materials are used. They are also very expensive.
Building a mechanical keyboard is really a fun thing to do.
Sure, it’s expensive and – depending on the switches – the sound annoys the hell out of your coworkers. But mechanical keyboards are of really high quality (well, depending on your soldering skills I guess). Try typing on one for a day and then tell me you’d ever want to use a rubber dome keyboard again.
They’re also fully customizable, you’re free to design exactly to your needs, in both hardware and software.
If you want to give me some feedback or share your opinion, please contact me via email.
© Niklas Bühler, 2021 RSS / Contact me