Are you interested in mechanical keyboards? Do you want that delicious thock, the tasteful all-pink battlestation set up, or the satisfaction of having something made just for you, maybe with your own hands?
Welcome to the community! We're here to support you on your journey- whether you're in this because you enjoy building things, have an aesthetic eye, or are looking for an experience tailored to you.
- You will need to buy parts and kits separately and shipping costs money!
- Lubing switches takes a lot of time!
- Group buys have lead times of months to years!
- If you want customization beyond available parts (cerakoted colours, different plate materials, and more), expect to spend even more time and money!
Custom keyboards are all the rage over social media but they are not for everyone! They require a lot of time, money, and labour. Parts such as switches and keycaps are not included in custom kits and need to be purchased separately. if you're part of a group buy, it can seriously take forever and cost a ton- some group buys never reach completion or are completed with poor quality.
If you have never tried a mechanical keyboard before, we highly recommend you look into prebuilt mechanical keyboards, which come fully assembled, keycaps, switches, and all. As the custom scene has grown more popular, we've seen prebuilts get very good as well.
Here are some that we recommend:
- Leopold - high quality keycaps, good stabilizer tuning, modest foam inserted, and a good PCB.
- Filco - reliable, has a good PCB, but it uses costar stabilizers and low quality keycaps.
- Keychron - they have quite a wide range of keyboards with options for hot swap, aluminum cases, low profile builds, and wireless. Try to obtain a model with hot swap- we did not have fun with older soldered models.
- Varmilo - very nice and eye catching keycaps, reliable boards
- Durgod - good budget prebuilt boards
- Vortex - reliable boards, many options available, but PCB quality varies.
- Glorious PC - they also feature many options including hot swap. You can select parts and customize your board from them.
- Akko - many options with many eye-catching keycaps
- KBDFans - you may need to be a bit more savvy to evaluate their offerings, but they have very solid products and are true veterans in the custom keyboard world.
There are also other brands available for purchase. We are recommending these ones since we have had positive personal experiences with them.
We also recommend electro capacitive keyboards using Niz or Topre EC technologies. These keyboards may not be mechanical, but they are very comparable (some may say even better) to mechanical keyboards. The most popular Topre boards are the HKKB, Leopold FC660, and Realforce. EC boards are also customizable in that the sliders can be lubed and tuned, and domes can be replaced. They make great office keyboards.
What does "custom" mean?
When we say "custom", we don't mean every component of your keyboard can be completely custom-made. "Custom" means your typing experience can be tailored to your taste. This means you can choose from a wide variety of keyboard parts. And it means you can customize your key bindings programmatically through software.
What can be customized?
- keyboard cases (in many layouts and designs)
- layouts (reduce clutter on your desk with smaller layouts)
- switches (feel, sound, and colour!)
- plates (from a variety of materials)
- keycaps (from a wide range of designs)
- case dampeners (optimize the way your board sounds)
Not everything is possible with every configuration. But the options available are plentiful.
How do I get started?
Explore and determine your preferences! You'll want to know:
- What's my budget? Keyboards can go anywhere from $100 to the moon depending on your soldering skills and the build specifics!
- Will I be able to build it myself? If you lack soldering skills or are concerned about the building experience, try a prebuilt! But if you prefer the custom route (maybe there is a case you really like), we offer build services to help you.
- What colours do I like? It sounds trivial, but considering how much is available in keycaps, deskmats, cases, and switches, colour helps you narrow things down.
- Do I want backlighting? Per key RGB? Some boards do not offer any lighting at all, some only offer backlighting.
- What kind of layout do I need at a minimum for the things I do with a keyboard in my life? Layouts go beyond form factor (60%, 40%, 75%, TKL, ortholinear, etc.). What kind of bottom row do you want? Do you want a split backspace and split right shift? Do you want stepped caps lock or regular capslock? With prebuilts, you may also be stuck with software and options that aren't able to provide you with the options you need, but are easier to use than QMK. You might need to look for VIA supported keyboards and PCBs to get a balance between layout customization and ease of use.
- Do I prefer more feedback from each keypress or little feedback (tactility) for my switches?
- Do I want lower profile, flatter keycaps or higher profile and more sculpted keycaps?
- What kind of materials do I want from my plate and case (aluminum, brass, polycarbonate, ABS, etc.)? Every part of your keyboard and the material it is made of affects the acoustics and your typing experience!
The more you know about your preferences, the easier it will be to narrow your search down.
Wait- $100?? There are budget options?!
If you are reasonably confident in your soldering skills and have the tools to do it, you can desolder and rebuild a perfectly fine prebuilt mechanical keyboard. While your customization options are more limited, this is one way to obtain a custom experience with little cash :)
Note this is at your own risk- a large majority of prebuilt keyboards are not designed to be fully desoldered- their PCBs are often lower quality. If you intend to desolder your keyboard, you must accept the risk that traces may be torn and the PCB may not function post-desoldering.
In the custom realm, budget options usually feature integrated plate and tray mount builds and are often made of injection molded ABS. These keyboard kits are often available for under $200 USD.
Can I build one myself?
If you have a DIY spirit, you've probably already started diving in. For beginners with butterfingers, hotswap (sometimes written as "hot swap") PCBs have become more and more prevalent and make assembly much easier.
The downside to hotswap is the lack of layout customizability. ISO layout support is uncommon among hot swap offerings. Some custom kits also do not offer hot swap PCBs in order to serve a wider range of community members.
Finally, as a word of caution, hot swap may not be feasible for your build if your build benefits from secure connections between the plate, switches, and PCB. This is the case with many o-ring mounted boards. Additionally, for many builds, it may be best to disassemble your board in order to swap your switches as you will be able to visually see and make adjustments to anything problematic (such as bent pins) as needed prior to reassembly.
For our customers who require assistance with assembly, we offer build services to help you bring your premium typing experience to your desk.
What will I need to complete my build?
- Stabilizers compatible with your PCB and layout
- A lubricant for stabilizers (like dielectric grease or XHT-BDZ)
- A wire keycap puller to remove keycaps
- A switch puller to remove unsoldered switches
- A pair of tweezers to test your PCB with
To lubricate switches:
- Soldering iron at 300 degrees C
- Desoldering pump
- Soldering wick for small solder clean-ups
- Solder wire (60/40 tin:lead composition, 0.8mm)
- Wet sponge or brass wire sponge to clean your iron tips
Where do I find keyboard parts? Everything is sold out.
This is a major challenge for newcomers to the hobby! vendors in our community struggle with keeping products in stock because of limited financial resources, supplier delays, and to avoid the risk of low turnover.
For many years, KBDfans has been the international go-to place for reliable keyboard parts and supplies. Canadian vendors like us have a long way to go before we reach this size!
Limited run group buy products may only be available for purchase during a group buy period, or in the used market.
What is a group buy? I missed one- will another happen?
Many products in our hobby aren't actively manufactured since many vendors are small businesses (like us!) and it isn't feasible for us to purchase the MOQ (minimum order quality) required to produce a product. Because of this, we rely on our vendor partners to help us meet MOQ numbers to get products made.
For many products, there isn't enough interest in the community to meet the MOQ a second time for a second round of orders. While we don't know if certain products will ever come back, feel free to discuss the product in our Discord server to help drum up more interest- hopefully, we'll see a second round happen from that!
Hope this helps you as you start out on your keyboard journey!