Building a custom keyboard from the ground up

Building a Custom Keyboard from the Ground Up

Are you tired of using the same old keyboard every day? Do you dream of a keyboard that fits perfectly with your typing style and preferences? It’s time to take matters into your own hands and build a custom keyboard from scratch.

Building a custom keyboard is not only a fun and rewarding project but also an opportunity to create a personalized typing experience like no other. From the layout and switches to the keycaps and case, every aspect of your keyboard can be tailored to your liking.

Whether you’re a keyboard enthusiast or simply looking to add a unique touch to your workspace, building a custom keyboard has become increasingly popular. But where do you start? How do you choose the right components? And is it worth the time and effort?

In this article, I will guide you through the process of building a custom keyboard, providing insights and tips along the way. By the end, you’ll have all the knowledge and inspiration you need to embark on this exciting journey. Get ready to say goodbye to generic keyboards and hello to a truly personalized typing experience!

Key Takeaways:

  • Building a custom keyboard allows you to create a personalized typing experience.
  • Every aspect of the keyboard, from layout to keycaps, can be tailored to your preferences.
  • Building a custom keyboard is a popular trend among keyboard enthusiasts.
  • This article will provide a step-by-step guide to help you build your own custom keyboard.
  • Discover the joy of typing on a keyboard that is truly yours.

Understanding the Costs of Building a Custom Keyboard

Building a custom keyboard can be an exciting and creative project, but it’s important to understand the associated costs and expenses. While the price of building a custom keyboard can vary depending on various factors, it’s crucial to budget wisely to avoid any financial surprises along the way. Let’s take a closer look at the expenses involved.

Material Costs

The primary cost of building a custom keyboard lies in the materials required. This includes the keyboard case, PCB (Printed Circuit Board), switches, keycaps, stabilizers, and any additional components such as LEDs. The prices of these materials can vary greatly depending on their quality, brand, and availability.

Unexpected Expenses

When embarking on a custom keyboard building journey, it’s essential to be prepared for unexpected expenses. Mistakes happen, and trial-and-error is part of the process. You may need to purchase extra supplies or replacement parts if something goes wrong. It’s important to approach the project with a flexible mindset and allocate some funds for unforeseen expenses.

Time and Effort Investment

When calculating the costs of building a custom keyboard, it’s crucial to consider the time and effort investment involved. Building a keyboard from scratch requires research, planning, and hours of assembly, soldering, and programming. Your time is valuable, so it’s important to factor that into the overall cost equation.

Budgeting Tips

To budget effectively for your custom keyboard project, consider the following tips:

  • Research and compare prices for the materials you need. Look for deals, discounts, and group buys to save money.
  • Create a budget spreadsheet or use budgeting apps to keep track of your expenses.
  • Consider spreading out your expenses over time. Building a custom keyboard can be a long-term project, allowing you to allocate your budget more efficiently.
  • Join online communities and forums to learn from experienced builders and get insights on cost-saving strategies.

Remember, building a custom keyboard is a labor of love and a unique experience. While there are costs involved, the satisfaction of using a personalized keyboard tailored to your exact preferences is priceless.

Feasibility of Custom Keyboard Designs

Before delving into the design process of your custom keyboard, it’s essential to assess its feasibility. Several factors contribute to the feasibility of your design, including the custom keyboard layout, keycaps availability, and switch compatibility.

Firstly, consider the custom keyboard layout you envision. Determine whether the desired layout aligns with your typing preferences and ergonomic needs. Custom keyboard layouts can vary significantly, ranging from standard layouts to unique split or ortholinear designs. Ensure that your desired layout will provide the functionality and comfort you seek.

Next, examine the availability of keycaps for your custom keyboard. Keycaps are the removable covers that sit on top of the switches and determine the appearance of your keyboard. Different keycap profiles, such as OEM, Cherry, or SA, offer distinct typing experiences. Research keycap suppliers and catalogs to ensure that you can find the keycaps you desire in the appropriate profile, color, and material for your custom keyboard.

To achieve the desired typing experience, it’s crucial to consider switch compatibility. Switches are responsible for registering keystrokes and come in various types, such as linear, tactile, and clicky switches. Some custom keyboard designs may require specific switch types or have limitations based on their construction. Ensure that the switches you plan to use are compatible with your custom keyboard’s design and layout.

Additionally, explore the available options for building the case of your custom keyboard. The case provides structural support and protects the internal components. Depending on your design goals, you can opt for DIY case construction or repurpose an existing keyboard case. Evaluate the materials, tools, and techniques required for your chosen approach to ensure that you can create a custom keyboard case that meets your needs.

Assessing the feasibility of your custom keyboard design ensures that you embark on a project that aligns with your preferences and goals. By considering the custom keyboard layout, keycaps availability, and switch compatibility, you can design a custom keyboard that delivers a unique and satisfying typing experience.

Selecting Keycaps and Switches for Your Custom Keyboard

When it comes to building a custom keyboard, the selection of keycaps and switches can greatly impact the overall typing experience. Keycaps are the individual keys that you press, while switches are the mechanisms beneath them that register your keystrokes. Let’s explore the keycap options and switch availability to help you make informed decisions for your custom keyboard.

Keycap Options

Keycaps come in various materials, profiles, and designs, allowing you to customize the look and feel of your keyboard. Some popular keycap materials include ABS plastic and PBT plastic, each offering different textures and durability. Profiles determine the shape of the keycaps, with common options such as OEM, Cherry, and SA profiles. Additionally, you can find keycaps with unique designs, colors, and patterns to add a personal touch to your keyboard.

It’s important to note that keycap availability can vary depending on the type of switches you choose. While MX switches have a wide range of compatible keycap options readily available in the market, other switch types, such as Alps switches, may require sourcing keycaps from other keyboards or specialized vendors.

Switch Availability: Alps vs MX Switches

When it comes to switches, the two main contenders are Alps and MX switches. Alps switches are known for their tactile feel and distinctive sound, and they were popular in vintage keyboards. However, due to their limited availability, sourcing Alps switches and compatible keycaps can be more challenging.

On the other hand, MX switches, particularly those produced by Cherry, are widely used and offer a wide variety of switch options including linear, tactile, and clicky switches. This availability makes it easier to find both the switches and compatible keycaps that suit your preferences. Many keycap sets in the market are specifically designed for MX switches, offering more flexibility in customization.


Having an understanding of keycap options and switch availability is crucial in designing a custom keyboard that aligns with your preferences. Whether you opt for the vast selection of MX switches or choose to venture into the unique realm of Alps switches, conducting thorough research and exploring available options will ensure you find the perfect combination of keycaps and switches for your personalized typing experience.

Building the Case for Your Custom Keyboard

When it comes to building a custom keyboard, the case plays a crucial role in providing structural integrity and housing all the internal components. The case not only serves as a protective shell but also contributes to the overall aesthetics of your keyboard.

If you’re up for a challenge and want complete customization, building your own case from scratch is an option worth considering. This approach allows you to design a case that perfectly matches your desired layout and dimensions. However, keep in mind that building a case requires specific measurements and materials, which may require additional research and planning.

Alternatively, if you prefer a more convenient option, you can repurpose an existing keyboard case. This allows you to save time and effort while still retaining some level of customization. However, it’s important to note that using an existing case may limit your options and may not perfectly align with your desired layout.

Consider the various custom case options available and weigh them against your skills and preferences. If you enjoy building things from scratch and have the necessary tools and resources, creating your own case can be a rewarding experience. On the other hand, if convenience and time-saving are your priorities, using an existing case might be the way to go.

Whichever option you choose, it’s important to ensure that the case provides adequate protection and stability for your custom keyboard. Aim for a design that not only meets your functional needs but also enhances the overall aesthetic appeal of your personalized typing experience.

DIY Keyboard Cases

If you decide to build your own case, there are several DIY keyboard case options to consider. Some popular choices include:

  • Acrylic cases: Acrylic is a versatile material that allows for unique and customizable designs. With acrylic, you can experiment with different colors, textures, and even transparency levels. This option is ideal for those who want to showcase the internal components of their keyboard.
  • Wooden cases: Wood offers a timeless and natural look, adding a touch of elegance to your custom keyboard. From walnut to bamboo, there are various wood types to choose from, each with its own unique grain pattern and finish.
  • Metal cases: For a sleek and industrial aesthetic, metal cases are a popular choice. Aluminum is a common material used for its durability and lightweight properties. Metal cases often come in a range of colors and finishes, adding a touch of sophistication to your keyboard.

Using Existing Keyboard Cases

If you opt to repurpose an existing keyboard case, you can explore a range of options available in the market. Keep in mind that compatibility with your custom layout and keycap set should be carefully considered. Research and verify that the existing case can accommodate the necessary modifications to meet your needs.

Remember, whether you choose to build your own case or use an existing one, the ultimate goal is to create a custom keyboard that not only functions flawlessly but also reflects your personal style and preferences.

Hand Wiring vs PCB for Custom Keyboards

Building a custom keyboard offers the opportunity to tailor every aspect of your typing experience to your liking. When it comes to the construction of your keyboard, there are two main options to consider: hand wiring the switches or using a printed circuit board (PCB).

Hand Wiring Keyboards

Hand wiring provides a high level of flexibility and customization for your custom keyboard. With hand wiring, you have complete control over the placement of each switch, allowing you to create unique layouts or incorporate specialized keys. This method is ideal for enthusiasts who prefer a more personalized approach to their typing experience.

However, hand wiring requires meticulous soldering and wiring skills. Each switch needs to be individually soldered to a matrix or row-column wiring system, which can be time-consuming and challenging for beginners. It also means that any changes or modifications to the layout may require significant rewiring.

The Advantages of PCB

On the other hand, using a PCB offers several advantages for building custom keyboards. A PCB is a pre-designed circuit board that simplifies the assembly process by providing pre-set electrical connections for each switch. This allows for faster and easier installation of the switches.

Using a PCB also offers a more professional finish to your custom keyboard. The design and manufacturing of PCBs are precise and ensure reliable connections between the switches and controller. Additionally, PCBs often come with extra features like LED backlighting and programmability, enhancing the overall functionality of your keyboard.

Ease of Soldering

One key consideration when deciding between hand wiring and a PCB is the ease of soldering. Hand wiring requires precise soldering of each switch individually, which can be a challenge for those without experience or advanced soldering skills.

Using a PCB simplifies the soldering process as the switches are mounted on the board and only need to be soldered to the designated pads. This reduces the risk of damaging the switches or the circuitry and makes assembly more user-friendly.

Getting Started with Building a Custom Keyboard

When it comes to building a custom keyboard, having the right tools and software is essential. To ensure a smooth building process, there are a few key items you’ll need to have on hand. First and foremost, a soldering iron or station is necessary for soldering the various components together. Additionally, you’ll need soldering wire and soldering paste (optional but recommended) to ensure secure connections.

In addition to soldering equipment, electric wires and diodes are crucial for connecting the switches and controller. Speaking of controllers, popular choices include the Teensy 2 or Teensy 2++, which serve as the brain of the keyboard. These controllers allow for easy customization and programming, providing a tailored typing experience.

When it comes to the design phase, software plays a crucial role. Layout design software like Inkscape allows you to create and visualize your desired keyboard layout, ensuring that every key is in the right place. For designing the case, software like DraftSight can be utilized to create precise measurements and plans for manufacturing or DIY purposes.

Before you begin your custom keyboard journey, make sure you have all the necessary tools and software at your disposal. This will minimize any delays or interruptions during the building process and help you achieve the personalized typing experience you desire.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *