New to Custom Keyboards?

Are you interested in custom keyboards? 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.

WARNING

THIS IS AN EXPENSIVE AND TIME CONSUMING HOBBY.

  • 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!

Consider Prebuilts

Custom keyboards 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 have never tried a mechanical keyboard before, we highly recommend you look into prebuilt mechanical keyboards, which come fully assembled and with keycaps, from the following brands:

  • Leopold
  • Filco
  • Varmilo
  • Durgod
  • Vortex

There are also other brands available for purchase. We are recommending these ones since we have had positive personal experiences with them.

Some of these brands are difficult to find within Canada. We recommend that you check out Deskhero and their selection of prebuilt keyboards!

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.

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!
  • What colours do I like?
  • Do I want backlighting? Per key RGB?
  • 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?
  • 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.)?

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 :)

In the custom realm, we're usually talking about integrated plate and tray mount builds from vendors such as YMDK, KBDfans, and IDOBAO; and injection molded plastic options such as the NK65 Entry Edition from NovelKeys, the TKC Portico, RAMA's KARA, and KBDfan's KBD67 Lite. 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.

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?

Basics:

To lubricate switches:

To solder:

  • 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!