Cost-effective Ways to Build a Mechanical Keyboard

March 27, 2024

Do you want to build your own keyboard that is tailored to your specific needs and preferences? Yes? Then great! Welcome to the club of keyboard modders.

But wait! With all those fancy components and extra features, wouldn't building your keyboard cost you a lot? 

Well, not exactly as long as you do it the budget-friendly way. In this article, let's tackle the specific details: acquiring cost-effective yet high-performing parts, contemplating whether a DIY or preassembled kit suits you best, and determining where you can economize and where it's worth spending more.

Is it Worth Spending Money on Building a Mechanical Keyboard?

Some people think that building a mechanical keyboard is a waste of money. After all, it's just a keyboard. There are many simpler keyboards out there that can do the same job as a mechanical keyboard. And why build one? There are hundreds of stock mechanical keyboards out there.

But let me tell you, building or customizing your own is worth it for a couple of reasons.  

  1. Customization: Building a mechanical keyboard allows for a high level of customization. You can choose the type of switches, keycaps, case, and other components to tailor the keyboard to your specific preferences. 
  2. Quality: Mechanical keyboards are durable. They have higher quality compared to standard membrane keyboards. By selecting high-quality components and assembling them yourself, you can potentially create a keyboard that lasts longer and performs better than off-the-shelf options.
  3. Typing Experience: Mechanical keyboards offer a different typing experience compared to membrane keyboards. The type of switches you choose can impact the feel and sound of the keyboard. The tactile or auditory feedback (or both) provides a better and more precise typing experience because you can feel and hear each keypress. 
  4. Cost: Building a mechanical keyboard can be more expensive than purchasing a pre-built one, especially if you opt for premium components or custom keycaps. However, it's also possible to build a budget-friendly mechanical keyboard by choosing more affordable components. 
  5. Hobbyist Interest: For some people, building a mechanical keyboard is a hobby in itself. If you enjoy tinkering with electronics, assembling components, and customizing gadgets, then building a keyboard can be rewarding and enjoyable, making it worth the investment of time and money.
  6. Productivity and Comfort: A keyboard is a tool you likely use every day. Investing in a keyboard that provides comfort and enhances your productivity can be worthwhile in the long run.

Cost-Effective Ways to Build a Mechanical Keyboard

an image of a mechanical keyboard

Is it cheaper to build your own mechanical keyboard? Yes, it could be if you're mindful of your choices and prioritize value for money. 

  1. Choose Budget-Friendly Components: There are many budget-friendly options available for switches, keycaps, PCBs, and cases. You may sacrifice some features or premium materials, but you can still achieve a functional and satisfying keyboard.
  2. Select Standard Layouts: Custom or non-standard layouts are more expensive due to limited availability and specialized manufacturing. Choosing a standard layout such as a tenkeyless (TKL) or full-size layout can help you save money on keycaps and compatible cases.
  3. Consider DIY Kits: DIY kits typically include all the necessary components for building a keyboard including the PCB, case, switches, and keycaps. These kits are usually cheaper compared to purchasing individual components separately. 
  4. Buy Used or Refurbished Parts: You can often find used or refurbished mechanical keyboard parts at a lower cost than new ones. Check online marketplaces, forums, or local classifieds for deals on switches, keycaps, and other components. However, make sure the parts are in good condition and function properly before purchasing.
  5. Participate in Group Buys: Group buys allow you to purchase components at a discounted price by pooling orders with other buyers. Keep an eye on group buy listings on forums and social media platforms for opportunities to save money on switches, keycaps, PCBs, and other components.
  6. DIY Switch Lubing and Modding: Lubing switches and performing other modifications can save you money compared to purchasing pre-lubed or modified switches. Note that this does require some time and effort.
  7. Reuse Parts from Old Keyboards: If you have old mechanical keyboards lying around, consider salvaging components such as switches, stabilizers, and keycaps for your new build. This can help reduce costs and make use of parts that would otherwise go to waste.

Budget Components for Building Your First Custom Keyboard

If you're watching your wallet closely as you start building your keyboard, you would want to look for affordable parts. Here are some budget-friendly suggestions that we recommend for building your first custom mechanical keyboard:

  1. Switches
    • Gateron switches: Gateron switches are smooth and affordable. They come in various options such as Gateron Red, Black, Brown, and Blue, catering to different typing preferences.
    • Outemu switches: Outemu switches are another budget-friendly option that offers decent performance. They are available in various tactile and linear options.
  2. Keycaps
    • OEM profile keycaps: OEM profile keycaps are some of the most common and affordable options available. They typically have a slightly curved shape to provide a comfortable typing experience.
    • PBT plastic keycaps: Polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) keycaps are more durable than ABS plastic keycaps. Look for budget-friendly PBT keycap sets available in various colors and profiles.
  3. PCB (Printed Circuit Board)
    • DZ60 PCB: The DZ60 is a popular budget-friendly PCB option that supports a variety of layouts including ANSI, ISO, and split spacebar configurations. It's compatible with most standard case designs and offers programmability through QMK firmware.
    • GK61 PCB: The GK61 is another affordable PCB option known for its compact size and hot-swappable switches. With hot-swappable switches, you can easily change or replace switches without soldering.
  4. Case
    • Plastic case: Plastic cases are often more affordable than metal cases and come in various colors and styles. Look for budget-friendly plastic case options with good build quality and compatibility with your chosen PCB.
    • Aluminum alloy case: While aluminum cases may be slightly more expensive than plastic ones, you can still find budget-friendly options that provide durability and a premium look and feel.
  5. Stabilizers
    • Cherry-style plate-mounted stabilizers: Cherry-style stabilizers are widely compatible and offer good performance at an affordable price.
  6. Miscellaneous:
    • USB cable: You can find budget-friendly USB cables in various colors and lengths to connect your keyboard to your computer.
    • Switch puller and keycap puller: These tools are essential for installing switches and keycaps on your keyboard. Look for affordable options that provide good quality and functionality.

Conclusion

Building your own mechanical keyboard can be exciting and fun without breaking the bank. With the right components and some patience, you can construct your dream keyboard without excessive spending.

Chris Greiner, a Mechanical Keyboard specialist, boasts a solid educational background with dual bachelor's degrees in Computer Science and Business Management from Lewis University. His additional certification in Mechanical Keyboard Design showcases his dedication to staying on the forefront of keyboard technology. Chris primarily writes for keyboard enthusiasts and has been featured on platforms like Jestik, solidifying his reputation as a thought leader in the mechanical keyboard community.
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