Building my first mechanical keyboard

– There's this recurring joke in the mechanical keyboard
community about endgame. (keyboard clacking) Even though you know
that the right keyboard could last you pretty
much an entire lifetime, actually finding that keyboard
is another matter entirely. I've tried everything from
traditional keyboards, to really retro keyboards, I've even tried some
more eccentric designs. But they're not quite endgame. And so today, I'm gonna try
building one from scratch. (techno music) So, I've swapped out
switches, key-caps, cases, one time I switched out
a PCB microcontroller, which was a whole thing, but I've never actually
built one from scratch. And really what I'm looking for is just something that's
completely unique to me. I want it to be compact, I
want it to be hard-wearing, and I want it to be
absolutely amazing to type on. So the main components of the keyboard are a PCB, or circuit-board, got some key-switches,
key-caps, stabilizers, we got a mounting plate, although this one's technically optional, USB cable to plug
everything into a computer, and then a case, for everything to sit in. So a keyboard isn't made
up of too many parts, but actually getting your hands on those parts is another matter entirely. They're not really something you can just go into a store and buy, and to be honest, even Amazon might be a bit of a stretch. The Chinese retailer AliExpress has a huge selection, but it can feel like a bit of a wild west, so
what I found really helpful is using popular
mechanical keyboards forums like the Mechanical Keyboard subreddit, GeekHack, DeskThority and
find their recommendations. Tools-wise, also pretty straightforward. We've got: screwdriver, soldering iron, plus a couple of soldering
iron accessories, and of course, the solder itself. Oh, and I'm gonna say
solder rather than sah-der, because, well, you get it. Keyboards come in all
different shapes and sizes, but there are two main types. You've got full-sized keyboards, which include pretty much
all the keys you'd expect, and then ten-kilos keyboards,
which omit the numpad. But there are also some
more esoteric options which you can go for if you don't mind having to deal with occasionally some weirdly sized key-caps. These are tend to be
described in percentages. And the higher the percentage,
the bigger the board. So common types include 60%, 65%, and 75%. We're gonna be building a 75% board, which I think strikes
a really nice balance between compactness and functionality. Also, for me, it's really
similar to a lot of laptop-style keyboards,
so it feels very familiar. Step one: we're gonna wanna test the PCB. It's a good idea to test
that your PCB is working before you solder anything to it. In order to test it, you wanna just use anything that's metallic, that can connect the contact points and act like a switch will eventually. There are online keyboard
testers that work great here, so just plug your PCB in and test each switch position one by one. Once we know that it's working, we're gonna install the
stabilizers into the PCB. Now any key that's the equivalent of two letter-keys or wider,
like this backspace-key, needs a stabilizer to stop
it from wobbling around. We're using Cherry stabilizers. We just clip them together, slot them in to the PCB, making sure we use the right holes, because this PCB supports
different layouts. Costa stabilizers are
another popular option, but I found that they can
be a little bit fiddly to attach key-caps to. Personally, I think both feel fine, but there are plenty of
other opinions out there. Some people like to
modify their stabilizers to make them feel less mushy and you can also lubricate them to reduce any stiffness or squeaking, if you're so inclined. So I'm not going to lie guys, this bit is a lot more fiddly than I thought it was gonna be. Not only are there quite a
few more holes in the board, but also just getting all the right pieces and parts of the stabilizer together before clipping them together
is a little bit tricky. So we're actually building
a U.K., or iso layout, because I'm in the U.K. and I
mean, also it's just better. But what that means for the
purposes of the stabilizers is the enter stabilizer is gonna be vertical
rather than horizontal and we're also not gonna
have a left-shift stabilizer cause our shift key just
that little bit shorter. We're also not gonna have
a right-shift stabilizer because that key is going to be shorter to accommodate an up-arrow
key to the right of it. So next we have the switches, which I think are the most
fun part of the keyboard. I mean they're literally the thing that makes it a mechanical keyboard. It's the thing that defines
how it feels and sounds, and there are so many different kinds. I mean, there's Buckling Spring, there's Alps, and there's Topre. But, Cherry MX are
probably the most common and they're what most DIY
kits are designed to use. They each take different
amounts of pressure to press and they actuate in different ways. It's what gives them their
different sound and feel. Now I think Cherry's
website does a great job of explaining the differences between their official switches, but the great news, although, maybe not if you're Cherry, is that their patent has expired. So now loads of other
companies and hobbyists are making their own takes
on Cherry's iconic design. One such company is Zeal PC, who manufacture their Zealio switches in partnership with Gateron. We're gonna be using a set of their 65 gram Zealio switches, which I've been using on
one of my other boards for a little while now. It's got this really
nice tactile bump to it, kind of like a Cherry MX clear, but without the
scratchiness and stiffness. It's a little bit more
of a bump than a brown, but there's less of a click
like you get with a blue. I think the slightly in-betweeny design gives them a really great feel, and it means that they're perfect for whether you're typing or gaming. So actually installing your
switches is fairly simple, but because this is my
first build, I'm gonna take little bit more time to
make sure I get it right. Remember, this PCB
supports multiple layouts, so what I'm gonna do is, I'm gonna test each
position of the switches with key-caps before I commit to getting solder on them and everything. So if you find your PCB
doesn't have little holes needed for these plastic legs, then the internet says it's
probably fine to snip them off, unless, of course, you
don't have a mounting plate, in which case you should really have a PCB that does support them. It's finally done! Now it's time to flip it
over and get to soldering. I'm kind of terrified, I'm no soldering expert by any stretch and I'm not gonna pretend to be. I've linked a video
down in the description which I've personally
found really helpful, but, for your benefit, here
are the general rules I found. Apply heat evenly to both the switch's pin and the electrical contact, and then apply solder
so it connects the two. We're looking for a nice, neat cone. Don't use so much that
it turns into a dome, but use enough to get
a good solid connection between the two. And take your time. If the solder isn't flowing properly, than don't continue to
apply loads of heat, because you could break something. Take a moment to let things
cool down, re-adjust, and try again. You got this. Next we're gonna put it in it's case. Cases come in all
different shapes and sizes, but generally you'll find they'll either be made of aluminium or, sorry, aluminum, or acrylic. This case is kind of
a best of both worlds. It's part aluminum, which
means that its nice and sturdy, but it's also got this
transparent acrylic layer, which is great, because
this PCB has lights, baby! Which of course, I'll be turning off, because I work in an office, with adults. Anyways, now we place
the PCB and the acrylic inside the case, screw the PCB to the case, and finally just screw
the whole thing together. (deep sigh) So finally it's time to actually put some key-caps onto these switches. Now, when it comes to key-caps, if you thought we had a lot of choice when it came to switches, then you are gonna lose your mind at the amount of options here. You can even spend hundreds on
individual artisan key-caps, but for this build, I'm going to keep it on more
on the understated side. I've got a set of EnjoyPBT 9009, or nine thousand nine key-caps, which I just love the retro look of. Now assembling them is quite easy, you just put them onto
the switch and push down. Now these key-caps are
made of PBT plastic, which is slightly more resilient than cheaper ABS plastic and the lettering is printed on using a dye sublimation process. That's not quite as good
as double-shot key-caps that ensure the lettering will literally never rub off over time, but it's a lot better than
cheaper laser-etching, where lettering can wear
away in less than a year. But what's important for our build is that this kit came with plenty of non-standard key-cap options, which will fit our weird 75% layout. Now that everything's assembled, we can just plug it into a computer and test that everything's working. If we were being extra, we could maybe buy a
custom braided USB cable, but, to be honest, for our purposes, any old mini USB cable will do just fine. We can plug it into a computer, and use that same keyboard testing tool that we used in the beginning of the build to make sure that
everything's still working. And then, fortunately if
anything's not working, which, you'll have to open it up and re-solder those switches once you know which one's the problem. (keyboard clacking) Good keyboard design is timeless, and, I mean, if you can resist the lure of becoming a bonafide keyboard collector, buying the right model can
last you the rest of your life. So this is my first build, and I know there are some things that I could have done better, but I want to hear your thoughts. What's your advice to
firsttime builders like me? How do you build a keyboard first time and make sure that everything works? Let me know in the comments below.

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