A Beginner's Guide to DIY Keyboards

There are plenty of reasons why people look into building their own keyboards. You don't need to be a keyboard enthusiast, but it helps to learn more about customizations when you can't find the perfect fit anywhere else.

We've created the perfect beginner's guide so you can enjoy the experience of a DIY keyboard while learning the ins and outs of the process.

1. Figure Out Your Preferred Keyboard Size

Finding the most comfortable keyboard size is essential in order to get started with your project. First, consider what you'll most likely be using this keyboard for. Here's a quick rundown on the different sizes:

Full-size:Comes with standard keys you may need for gaming, work, or simply browsing the internet. It's the largest size keyboard you can attain as it offers a number pad, function and arrow keys, and home cluster. Ideal for data entry due to it being the only one with a number pad.

Tenkeyless (TKL):Compact but still offers functionality with arrow keys, function keys, and home cluster. Comfortable for both typing and gaming.

75%:More compact than a TKL while allowing space for arrow keys and home cluster next to each other. It is tightly packed and takes just a little bit of getting used to placement of keys to be comfortable enough for gaming and typing.

65%:Much more compact and doesn't offer the function row, though some layouts may still offer the home cluster. The smallest keyboard size that still has arrow keys.

60%:The most common size for custom builds, and it's easier to find parts for your DIY. This keyboard size doesn't have the function row, arrow keys, and home cluster.

40%:The smallest keyboard you can use. It takes a lot of getting used to because of the missing numbers and special symbols row.

2. Know What Parts You'll Need For Your Ideal Keyboard

There will be parts that you may need to choose wisely before getting started with this DIY. Make sure all parts are compatible with one another. The main components required include:

Keyboard Case:Decide on the material of your case. After all, this will be the main frame that protects the interior! Typically, there are five different materials used for keyboards: plastic, aluminum, acrylic, polycarbonate, and wood. Of course, prices will vary, but so will the sturdiness of each one, as well as how much beauty it can show.

Printed Circuit Board (PCB):Motherboard that sends signals from your keyboard to your computer via USB. Make sure it is compatible to fit your case. The safe and easier to work with option is a hot-swappable PCB. It allows you to attach and detach your switches, should you ever need to change them. A non-hot-swappable requires soldering switches, meaning it may be permanent.  While it is possible to reverse the soldering, it would mean have to take your keyboard apart, thus more work.

Plate:Optional component that can be made of different materials but definitely adds sturdiness to the overall build. It helps keep everything secured. Highly recommend!

Stabilizers:Additional support for the larger keys like your space bar, enter and shift keys. Each keyboard size has different stabilizer needs. Screw-in stabilizers are recommended for less rattling noises when typing. Compared to plate-mounted or snap-in stabilizers. Keep your keyboard size in mind when purchasing these!

Switches: What connects your keycap to the PCB and triggers key activation. There are three types of mechanical switches that will differentiate by feel and noise: linear, tactile, and clicky. Now, each type will have its own benefits. Just make sure you know what you prefer and still consider what you'll mainly be using the keyboard for. Click here to get to know your switches and make the right choice!

Keycaps: Personally, looking for keycaps is fun when shopping for any component of your DIY keyboard. Of course that's because it's what you're seeing when looking down at your keyboard. Think about the material--PBT is more durable and expensive, while ABS may be cheaper but still offers a smooth feel. Deciding the profile of your keycaps give you options of different heights and/or angles (again, this is up to your comfortability!) Of course the colors of your keycaps will either define your style or aesthetic of your computer setup.

3. Gather The Tools You Will Absolutely Need

Have all the keyboard parts? Are you feeling ready and excited? You should! Let's dive in.

You're going to need the following:
• a soldering iron (only if you have chosen a non-hot-swappable PCB)
• a small screwdriver
• a switch puller (most switches come with this but make sure you have one in hand or purchase it online for cheap)
• a keycap puller.

These tools may not be mandatory, but depending on the kind of keyboard build you have decided on, gather them anyway:
• a switch opener (for lubing certain switches)
• switch lube
• small paintbrush (for lube)
• tweezers (always handy when handling small objects)
• fabric band-aids (to protect your PCB from stabilizers, more info later)
• sound dampening foam (to prevent echoes inside your keyboard).

4. Let's Get To Building Your DIY Keyboard

Step 1.)First and foremost, take time to test your PCB using this free tool, a necessary step to ensure you're not putting a defected product in your keyboard. With your PCB plugged into your computer by a USB, get tweezers to test each key and check they are all registering before going into the next part.

Step 2.)Stabilizers will be next before your switches. Take out the fabric band-aids and cut them into tiny pieces. These will work to prevent your stabilizers from hitting the PCB, as well as dampening the sound when you click a key. So make sure to place them where it might hit. Placing band-aids can be skipped if you find your stabilizers don't touch your PCB. Then, lube up the inside surfaces of the stabilizer housing with a small paintbrush. We recommend watching some online videos to really absorb what you may be unsure of during this process.

Step 3.)Install your stabilizers onto the PCB by screwing or snapping (depending on the type you got!) into their designated places. Again, these stabilizers are to support the larger keys in your keyboard.

Step 4.)Install your switches after proper modding of lubing, or any way you prefer. Though it may be optional, doing so will promote less friction in the inside parts of each switch. It's recommended for a smoother typing experience. However, for clicky switches, you can skip this part. Lubing is tends to be tedious as it involves disassembling each one to lube the bottom housing, spring, and stem, then of course reassembling each switch.

Step 5.)As mentioned, soldering is necessary only if you have chosen a non-hot-swappable PCB. You'll start by aligning the plate and PCB, it doesn't have to be too perfect. Without bending any pins, carefully insert the switches into the plate with the pins going into the PCB. Now onto the soldering! Make sure you're comfortable doing this by having experience or just watching video tutorials. Take your time so you don't have to fix any mistakes!

Step 6.)Install the optional sound dampening foam to reduce any echo or sounds of "hollowness" inside the keyboard. You can either place it between the case and PCB or between the PCB and plate.

Step 7.)You're going to conclude this DIY project by installing every internal component you have into the case. You may need to line everything up and screw everything together. And of course, the simplest part is saved for last--pressing your keycaps onto their designated switches.

Step 8.)This part may require you to revisit the free tool we provided earlier. It is just to make sure that everything is working internally.

5. Take A Step Back And Applaud Yourself

Good job! You took on a challenge that expanded your experiences and tackled it 'til the last step. Building your own keyboard may be overwhelming, but you learn a lot throughout the processes. It's ok--go show it off to your family, friends, and even social media! Will this be a start to your journey as a keyboard builder?

The Cascade Series is designed to be the perfect entry level keyboard for those interested in getting into custom keyboards. With two models available in Slim and Standard heights and endless keycap theme customizations, you can create the keyboard made for you. The models come with hot-swappable switches to customize your typing experience and sound dampers for the best feedback. 

Explore Cascade Series