Custom mechanical keyboards are rising in popularity for their superior typing experience compared to mainstream keyboards. The process may seem intimidating at first, but with the right guidance, even beginners can assemble their own keyboard on a budget.
Pick Switches for Desired Feel and Sound
The first step is selecting the right mechanical switches. The most common types are linear, tactile and clicky. Linears have a smooth press from top to bottom, while tactiles and clicky provide feedback.
Many enthusiasts prefer linear switches for their quiet, smooth feel and potential to produce “thocky” sounds – a deep, resonant tone on the downstroke. Clicky and tactile switches can distract from this desired acoustic profile.
Testing different switch samples can help identify preferences before purchasing enough for a full keyboard.
Hotswap for Quick and Easy Assembly
Soldering isn’t required for beginner builds. Opting for a hotswap keyboard lets you securely snap switches into the PCB without any equipment or expertise.
Foam between the PCB and plate enhances flex and reduces hollowness for better sound. Plate material like polycarbonate can also tweak the auditory experience.
Choose Layout, Stabilizers and Keycaps
Layout comes down to personal needs and aesthetics. Some prefer compact keyboards, but full sizes with numpads retain convenience for data entry.
Lubed and clipped stabilizers are essential on larger keys like spacebars to eliminate rattle and instability. Poor stabilizer implementation can negatively impact the typing quality.
Personal taste rules for keycaps, but material, sculpting and font can also influence the look, feel and sound. Durable PBT or thick ABS keycaps offer a premium typing experience.
Complete Build in Under 2 Hours
With the right components and guidance, assembling a custom mechanical keyboard for the first time can be completed in under 2 hours.
After adding foam, plate, stabilizers, switches and keycaps, the keyboard will be fully functional and ready to use. Adding custom coiled cables or artisan keycaps can further personalize the board.
Type Test for Night and Day Difference
After completing their build, the new keyboard owner should type test against their previous keyboard. The differences in smoothness, sound, flex, and overall quality will be dramatically apparent.
With the right components and a logical process, beginners can build a budget custom mechanical keyboard that meets their preferences. The investment pays dividends in terms of typing enjoyment and personalization.
Join Online Communities for Guidance
While the process seems straightforward, beginners will benefit from tips and recommendations from experienced community members. Online keyboard forums and Discord groups offer support for first-time builders.
These communities can advise on optimal layouts, components, vendors, build techniques, customization options, and more. Their guidance can prove invaluable for avoiding rookie mistakes on your inaugural custom keyboard project.
Consider Entry-Level Kits to Simplify First Build
For an even easier introduction, new builders can select an entry-level kit that bundles the essential components like case, PCB, plate, and stabilizers. Budget kits reduce decision fatigue.
Starting with a 75% Keyboard or 65% Keyboard form factor minimizes the number of keys and stabilizers to install. Tenkeyless (80%) strikes a balance between compact and full-size.
Entry kits with foam, coiled cables and basic keycap sets provide everything required for a straightforward initial build. As skills improve, more advanced customization can commence.