Computers & Electronics

Custom Built Keyboard Thread

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  • Sep 20th, 2021 1:13 pm
[OP]
Deal Fanatic
Apr 5, 2016
5506 posts
3927 upvotes
Calgary/Vancouver

Custom Built Keyboard Thread

I am looking to get at least a base frame keyboard to get into this hobby. Most likely going to get a GMMK Pro with Glorious Panda switches and their Aura keycaps for now.

I tried to do some research on this, but there's just too much information and different makers.

So I am creating this thread for all you crazies out there with $1000+ keyboards so post up your build!

Partly also to give me an idea of what to get haha.
17 replies
Sr. Member
Nov 6, 2014
910 posts
1567 upvotes
Woodbridge, ON
I just learned something new.... $1000+ keyboards!
Member
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Mar 2, 2017
234 posts
216 upvotes
I've lurked around the scene for a few years and sparsely contributed from time to time. I'm far from an expert, but I can offer a bit of advice and a recollection of how I got to where I am.

My biggest single piece of advice is to take it slow and try new things. You can ask questions like you're doing, read reviews, watch videos and do all kinds of research, but nothing beats using a keyboard with a specific switch or layout for a few weeks or months before you can really get a feel for it. Before you throw $1K at a new keyboard, make sure you're confident on all the different aspects.

As for my experiences, I started with Cherry brown switches. Ok, but I thought I'd like lighter springs and linear. So I tried Cherry red. Nope, definitely not. Then I moved on to Cherry black. Ok, but I missed the tactile bump. So I tried Cherry clear and I was pretty happy with that. There are lots of new options now that the Cherry patents have expired, but I haven't had a strong urge to try anything different. Maybe some Zealios if the opportunity arises.

I tried an Ergodox shortly after it came out. I think I got it on the 2nd (?) group buy from Massdrop circa 2013. Still have it and get it out once in a while, but just couldn't learn to love it.

I tried 60% with a separate number pad. Loved the separate number pad as I could put my mouse (trackball actually) between the keyboard and number pad and use the mouse in a more natural arm position. In general I liked the 60% layout, but I needed the arrow keys. I tried making arrows as a function with the capslock key as the function key and the arrows as WASD and later ESDF. Tried SpaceFn. Just didn't work.

I tried a 65%. Don't really use the 4 keys on the right, but it solved the arrow key problem.

I tried the HHKB style backspace key. Instantly sold on that one. Now I also need the split backspace key to better use that spot.

I have both ABS and PBT keycaps. Not a strong feeling either way, but I think I like the feel of ABS a bit more while PBT stand up longer.

I tried thick o-rings and later thinner o-rings. Eventually moved on to GMK silencing clips.


In the end, a fully programmable 60% with arrows, Cherry clear switches, HHKB style backspace, ABS keycaps and silencing clips is my end game. Or at least close enough that I'm content to just roll with that. But it was a bit of a winding road to get there. Make sure you've found your end game layout and options before you go all in on your end game keyboard.

And if you have any other questions, ask away!
Deal Expert
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Aug 6, 2001
15537 posts
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Stuck in a Box
fordmaple wrote: I just learned something new.... $1000+ keyboards!
Dont do what I did during my first covid summer, stumbled upon reddit.com/mechanicalkeyboards :)

And Mechanical Pens.. lol
Member
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Aug 28, 2005
374 posts
94 upvotes
coriolis wrote: I have been looking at an Ergodox ( https://ergodox-ez.com/pages/customize ) for a while, any recommendations on similar type of keyboards?
For more ideas on split ergonomic keyboards, you could browse the r/olkb subreddit (https://www.reddit.com/r/olkb/).

I personally didn't go fully ergonomic and went with a split 75% layout from Keeb.io. They also have a smaller split ergo keyboard called the Iris, but I haven't tried that one myself.
Deal Fanatic
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May 11, 2009
6142 posts
2669 upvotes
Debtario
Never built my own, but after thinking about it I could have had a really fancy one with all the money I've spent on keyboards over the years.

Saitek Eclipse
Logitech G15 v1 (still use this!)
Apple bluetooth keyboard
CM QFR
2x XG mechanical keyboards from the source
Ducky one 2 mini
HyperX alloy FPS pro

This is trending towards becoming as chronic as my watch habit.
"I possess a device, in my pocket, capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man. I use it to look at pictures of cats and get in arguments with strangers"
Deal Addict
Jan 19, 2018
1056 posts
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After months of research, I am finally started building my first custom mechanical keyboard (still in progress). I also looked at the GMMK Pro, which is by all measures, a very good entry point into the custom keyboard hobby. But I decided against the 75% form factor and decided to go with 65% instead. In the custom keyboard scene, sourcing parts tends to be a problem because of how niche it is. This means many parts (switches, keycaps, DIY kits, etc) are sold in the form of group buys that have months or even a year of lead time, often with delays. If you miss the group buy, you have to either buy it from the secondary market (/r/mechmarket) which can have insane markups, where a $130 keycap set ends up selling for $300+ or wait for re-runs which may never come. Particularly for keycaps, a lot of people just resort to buying clones from AliExpress for a fraction of the original price if they missed the group buys and can't/don't want to pay inflated secondary market prices. For keycaps, the most esteemed manufacturers are GMK (German company) for ABS keycaps and EnjoyPBT/EPBT (Chinese company) for PBT keycaps. Cherry profile keycaps are the most popular these days.

A few of manufacturers have stepped up to offer readily available "in stock" parts/kits, namely Drop, Keychron, Glorious (GMMK Pro), and KBDFans. I am personally building a Tofu65 right now just because I didn't want to drop $1k on my first custom keyboard and the parts were more readily available. This build will cost me around $450 - $500 including all parts, and tools. Personally, I sourced all of my parts from Canadian vendors, and Amazon. If you're ok with 60% layout, the Freebird60 looks very interesting. For less than $200, the kit comes with almost everything you need. You just have to get switches and keycaps.

A lot of the talk is happening on /r/mechanicalkeyboards and Discord these days. Here are some of my recommended resources:

General info:
/r/mechanicalkeyboards
/r/customkeyboards
Geekhack
Canadian Mechanical Keyboards Discord

Group buys:
/r/mechmarket
https://www.mechgroupbuys.com

Global Keyboard vendor list:
https://www.alexotos.com/keyboard-vendor-list/
https://keebmap.xyz/

Most vendors will have their own Discord server that you can join and chat about custom keyboards. They're generally pretty helpful.
Member
Aug 17, 2012
495 posts
402 upvotes
COQUITLAM
I've custom built two keyboards now, the KBD67 mk2 and the KBD67 Lite.

The Lite is just a budget board but feels great.

Got Gateron Ink Black switches, lubed them with Krytox 205g0 along with Durock v2 Stabs.

Feels way better typing on this thing than any of my previous boards from Ducky / Razer / Logitech / Kemove Snowfox.

Just waiting for a polycarbonate case to come out for it and for my epbt keycaps to come in.

Took my KBD67 mk2 apart. I didn't like it compared to the Lite despite having an aluminum case / brass plate. The polycarbonate plate + gasket mounting system of the Lite is way better,
Deal Addict
Dec 17, 2011
2083 posts
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Montreal
I'm currently on a GMMK Pro with Boba U4 switches and MT3 keycaps. Very happy with this keyboard.

As far as my keyboard history goes, I've modified stock keyboards (swapping switches, lubing stabilizers). I've built some ortholinear/split keyboards, but could never get used to the layout so I'm sticking to staggered.

Before the GMMK Pro, I had been using a HHKB with Hasu controller and Topre 9009 keycaps from KBDfans.
ddot98 wrote:

I have both ABS and PBT keycaps. Not a strong feeling either way, but I think I like the feel of ABS a bit more while PBT stand up longer.

I tried thick o-rings and later thinner o-rings. Eventually moved on to GMK silencing clips.
Yes, there is nothing wrong with ABS keycaps. I feel like a lot of the time, when people think of ABS keycaps, they think of the thin ABS keycaps that come stock on keyboards at BestBuy or something. Whereas there are high quality ABS keycaps as well - from GMK, EnjoyPBT have made some ABS sets, MT3, etc.

I'm not sure if your keyboard is hotswap or not, but you should consider silent switches if you like a silent keyboard. I haven't tried silencing clips, but I've been very impressed with Boba U4 switches. Very nice tactile feel as well, if you like tactile switches.
Deal Fanatic
May 31, 2006
5862 posts
382 upvotes
Toronto
Best place to start is layout as that narrows down some of your options. GMMK is a good entry point into the hobby. I have a couple of friends that got them. Lots of people like the tofu or other offerings from kbdfans. I recently joined a groupbuy for a 65% board that won't ship until next year.
[OP]
Deal Fanatic
Apr 5, 2016
5506 posts
3927 upvotes
Calgary/Vancouver
Joined the preorder for Mode65. Be here January 2022. Key caps I ordered is Q3 2022 Loudly Crying Face might just get some normal caps for now from Amazon. Now switches are so confusing lol. Gonna join the linear gang. What would you guys suggest?
Deal Addict
Jan 19, 2018
1056 posts
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bomber17 wrote: Joined the preorder for Mode65. Be here January 2022. Key caps I ordered is Q3 2022 Loudly Crying Face might just get some normal caps for now from Amazon. Now switches are so confusing lol. Gonna join the linear gang. What would you guys suggest?
Can't really go wrong with Alpacas/Durock Linear 62g.
Deal Addict
Jan 19, 2018
1056 posts
683 upvotes
Havo wrote: Best place to start is layout as that narrows down some of your options. GMMK is a good entry point into the hobby. I have a couple of friends that got them. Lots of people like the tofu or other offerings from kbdfans. I recently joined a groupbuy for a 65% board that won't ship until next year.
Which one?
Member
Aug 17, 2012
495 posts
402 upvotes
COQUITLAM
bobohobo2kx wrote: Can't really go wrong with Alpacas/Durock Linear 62g.
Just note that while Alphacas / Durock are extremely smooth switches and price efficient for what you get, they do have a higher pitched sound profile. I had to go back to Ink Blacks because the higher pitched sound was hurting my ears, though it might just be me.

And nothing wrong with ABS keycaps. The ones from GMK are really high quality, nothing compared to the cheap ones you find on pre-builds. Just note that they're still ABS so depending on how oily your fingers are, they can shine within weeks / months of use VS PBT which will likely last longer than your keyboard.
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Feb 19, 2004
7495 posts
363 upvotes
BC
Keychron q1 started shipping, and is receiving good reviews.. If I didn't already have three keyboards, I'd probably go for it.

I have a TKL, 75% and 60%. All are budget mechanical keyboards, nothing fancy.

TKL is best for work.
60% for gaming
75% is in the middle
insert witty comment
Member
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Mar 2, 2017
234 posts
216 upvotes
clee290 wrote: Yes, there is nothing wrong with ABS keycaps. I feel like a lot of the time, when people think of ABS keycaps, they think of the thin ABS keycaps that come stock on keyboards at BestBuy or something. Whereas there are high quality ABS keycaps as well - from GMK, EnjoyPBT have made some ABS sets, MT3, etc.
I had been thinking "premium" ABS vs "premium" PBT, although I didn't really say it. OEM type ABS really aren't even on my radar anymore. I'll also throw in a plug for JTK's ABS keycaps. I've picked up 2 sets for <$100 along the way. Legends definitely aren't as crisp as something like GMK (although my 2nd set was better than my first and presumably they've continued to get better over time), but they're thick and great to type on. I enjoy typing on them just as much as I do my GMKs.
clee290 wrote: I'm not sure if your keyboard is hotswap or not, but you should consider silent switches if you like a silent keyboard. I haven't tried silencing clips, but I've been very impressed with Boba U4 switches. Very nice tactile feel as well, if you like tactile switches.
The last notable custom I added to my collection was a Whitefox in late 2016. Hot swap sockets would have still been in their infancy around then and definitely weren't mainstream like they are today. It would also have been too early for dampened switches. The first dampened tactile switches that I know of were ZealPC's Zealios and those go back to late 2017. Thanks for the idea, but some of those newer innovations will have to wait for my next board, whenever that may be.

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