Once you go clack you never go back!

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16.06.2019

Finally done
Finally done

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.

Picking a model

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.

Ordering the parts

Building one by myself seemed more fun than just ordering one, so after deciding on a keyboard I ordered the parts:

I was lucky that shipping took almost two months and the exam period was over before I lost even more time.

Building the keyboard

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.

Building footage

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

Programming the firmware

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.

Artisan keycaps

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.

Once you go clack, you never go back

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.


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