Keyboard workshop

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Intro

LMGTFY

There are many good sites full of information, how to build your own keyboard. In this wiki you can find a lot of links and most important information only.

It is strongly advised to check at least some of these blog posts and articles.

How big?

The first thing before ordering any components or start building, is to decide what should it look like. There are separate components or kits available for most popular layouts. Building everything form scratch could be expensive and is usually time consuming but then there is no limits on what it will be. Still, it is suggested to build at least one keyboard using details from professional manufactures before jumping to fully custom handmade setup.

Most popular sizes
Full size keyboard full size.jpeg keyboard full size2.jpeg keyboard full size3.jpeg keyboard full size4.jpeg keyboard full size5.png "normal" keyboard, 104 or 104+4 keys, (modified) vintage or should have some other reason do diy
TKL (Tenkeyless), 80% keyboard tkl.jpeg keyboard tkl2.jpeg keyboard tkl3.jpeg keyboard tkl4.jpeg keyboard tkl5.png without numpad, 87/88 keys, works exactly like a full size keyboard, easy to start using, kits available
75%, 68, 66, 65% keyboard 75.jpeg keyboard 75 2.jpeg keyboard 75 3.jpeg keyboard 75 4.jpeg keyboard 75 5.jpeg without F row and navigation cluster but has arrow keys (makes them more usable) but not so widespread (choose TKL if navigation keys are important)
60% keyboard 60.jpeg keyboard 60 2.jpeg keyboard 60 3.jpeg keyboard 60 4.jpeg keyboard 60 5.jpeg without arrow keys i.e. only letters, numbers and modifiers, may have arrow keys instead of some right side modifiers, most popular keyboard for diy
50% or less keyboard 50.jpeg keyboard 50 2.jpeg keyboard 50 3.jpeg keyboard 50 4.jpeg keyboard 50 5.png no number row - these are kind of extreme but small footprint is an advantage
Split keyboard split.jpeg keyboard split2.jpeg keyboard split3.jpeg keyboard split4.jpeg keyboard split5.jpeg ergonomic split keyboards, could be just normal layouts spilted or have special keys for thumbs
Ortholinear keyboard ortho.jpeg keyboard ortho2.jpeg keyboard ortho3.jpeg keyboard ortho4.jpeg keyboard ortho5.jpeg easy to build, some say that these are more ergonomic than normal layouts but takes time to get used
Custom matrix keyboard numpad.jpeg keyboard numpad2.jpeg keyboard numpad3.jpeg keyboard numpad4.jpeg keyboard numpad5.jpeg can be used as a separate numpad, gamepad or additional macro keyboard, often built around a switch tester
More custom layouts keyboard special.jpeg keyboard special2.jpeg keyboard special3.jpeg keyboard special4.jpeg keyboard special5.jpeg use your imagination and just build something small and cheap but still usable or funny

Here is a very good guide of all common layouts.

You can easily try out different layouts using keyboard-layout-editor. In case of standard layouts, make sure which one you like to use, ANSI (US) or ISO (Europe).

Switches

Switches are most important part of the keyboard. There are no right or wrong switches. A lot depends on personal preferences and the keyboard use (for example gamers vs typists).

Switches can be divided into three main category:

Switch types
Linear key red.gif the keystroke is consistent and smooth, good for FPS and other "speed" gamers, useful for modifier keys too
Tactile key brown.gif a bump in the middle of travel, good feedback for typing, could be quite silent
Clicky key blue.gif a bump in the middle of travel accompanied by a sharp “click” sound, best for typing but are annoying for other people around

In every category there can be also "silent switches" and switches with different actuation distance (1.2 mm - 2.2 mm), travel distance (up to 4.0 mm) and actuation force (45 cN - 60 cN). For instance Cherry MX Red is 2 mm and 45 cN while Cherry MX Blue is 2.2 mm and 55 cN. The heaviest of Cherry's linear MX is Linear Grey MX with actuation force of 80 cN!

There are many brands to choose between. Here are some most popular switches with Cherry MX stem (compatible with Cherry MX keycaps).

Popular brands
Cherry MX CherryMX blue.png Original, still most used, expensive, very good quality
Gateron Gateron blue.jpg Some say that these are even better than Cherry switches, transparent shells make them usable for backlight
Kailh/Kaihua Kailh box white.jpg Chinese clones of Cherry MX, cheaper, additional in-house designs available including transparent switches (BOX)

It is highly recommended to try different switches using a switch tester before ordering hundreds of switches.

Keycaps

Keycaps can have very different profiles. Usually the profile also depends on the row but there are some profiles where all rows are equal. For some more information, click here.

keycap profiles.jpg

Keycaps could be made of different plastics, usually ABS or PBT. Symbols could be "molded in" (doubleshot), pad printed or laser engraved or dye sublimated. Here are great photos of double shot keys compared with other "print" methods.

Cherry MX keycap widths use units of 19.05mm or 0.75" and are between 1x (square) and 7x (long spacebar - look at this wiki page) in 0.25x increments.

keycap widths.jpg

Make sure that all sizes are correct and Enter key is right one (ANSI or ISO).

Here you can find tons of links and information about keycaps.