Tools You Must Have to Build Your Custom Mechanical Keyboard

March 22, 2024

You're excited about the fascinating hobby of custom mechanical keyboard assembly. You're not alone. Gamers and computer enthusiasts consider customizing their mechanical keyboards part of their passion.

To help you in building the keyboard you've always wanted, you need the right tools. From a simple keycap puller to a precise soldering iron, every tool has a role to play in this process. Let's break down this toolkit and understand why each item is important in taking your keyboard assembly experience a notch higher.

Why Is a Mechanical Keyboard Easy to Customize

Think of a stock mechanical keyboard as a blank slate, ready to be shaped according to your unique style. For gamers and computer enthusiasts, the ease, options, and wide degree of customization are some of the biggest come-ons of mechanical keyboards.

  1. Switch Variety: Mechanical keyboards have various switch options. Users can choose switches based on actuation force, tactile feedback, noise level, and other factors. Typing has a more personalized feel. 
  2. Hot-swappable Key Switches: Some mechanical keyboards feature hot-swappable key switches, allowing users to change switches without soldering. 
  3. Keycap Compatibility: Mechanical keyboards typically use standard keycap sizes and layouts. This standardization makes it easy for users to replace keycaps with custom ones. Keycap sets in various materials, colors, and profiles are widely available for customization.
  4. Open Design: Many mechanical keyboards have a more open and accessible design. Enthusiasts can disassemble and modify various components easily. This includes the ability to replace stabilizers, modify the case, or even build a custom keyboard from scratch.
  5. Programmability: Mechanical keyboards often have programmable features, allowing users to remap keys, create custom macros, and adjust other settings. This level of programmability enables users to tailor the keyboard's functionality to their specific needs.
  6. Community Support: There is a vibrant community of mechanical keyboard enthusiasts who share information, designs, and tutorials. This community support makes it easier for individuals to learn about customization, find compatible parts, and seek advice on modifications.
  7. DIY Options: For those who enjoy a hands-on approach, there are DIY mechanical keyboard kits available. These kits typically include all the necessary components, and users can assemble the keyboard. 
  8. Aftermarket Accessories: A wide range of aftermarket accessories, such as wrist rests, keycap sets, and custom cables, are available for mechanical keyboards. This allows users to enhance the aesthetics and ergonomics of their keyboards.

Tools for Building Your Very Own Keyboard

a man’s hand shown soldering a mechanical keyboard

If you're excited about building your custom mechanical keyboard, you'll need to arm yourself with the right tools. Building your own keyboard can be a rewarding experience, and having the right tools is crucial for a successful and enjoyable project. 

  1. Screwdrivers: Phillips and flat-head screwdrivers for assembling the case and securing components.
  2. Keycap Puller: Used to remove keycaps from switches without damaging them. There are various types, including wire pullers and plastic pullers.
  3. Switch Puller: Helps to remove switches from a hot-swappable keyboard or a switch tester. Not always necessary, especially if your keyboard doesn't have hot-swappable switches.
  4. Soldering Iron and Solder: If you are building a custom keyboard from scratch or modifying an existing one, you may need a soldering iron and solder to attach switches to the PCB (Printed Circuit Board).
  5. Desoldering Pump or Wick: Used to remove excess solder.
  6. PCB Holder or Third Hand: Keeps the PCB steady while soldering and allows for better precision.
  7. Tweezers: Handy for placing small components, such as diodes or resistors, onto the PCB.
  8. Multimeter: Useful for testing continuity, checking for shorts, and ensuring proper electrical connections.
  9. Anti-static Mat and Wrist Strap: Prevents electrostatic discharge (ESD) that could potentially damage electronic components.
  10. Case Opener or Pry Tool: Useful for opening up the keyboard case without causing damage.
  11. Keycap Sorting Trays or Organizers: Helpful for organizing and sorting keycaps during the assembly process.
  12. Magnifying Glass: Useful for inspecting small details and solder joints, especially if you're working with tiny SMD components.

Tools for Lubing and Modifying Switches

Lubing and modifying switches is a common practice among enthusiasts to improve keypress feel, reduce friction, and minimize noise. Use these tools for lubing and modifying switches:

  1. Lubricant: Choose a lubricant suitable for mechanical switches; popular options include Krytox, Tribosys, and Christo-Lube.
  2. Switch Opener: A switch opener allows you to easily access the internal components of a switch without damaging it. It makes the lubing process more efficient.
  3. Brushes or Applicators: Small brushes or applicators such as dental brushes or foam-tipped applicators are used to apply lubricant precisely to the switch parts, like the sliders and springs.
  4. Switch Films: Thin switch films reduce wobbliness and improve the consistency of keypresses. They are placed between the top and bottom housing of the switch.
  5. Tweezers: Tweezers are useful for holding small components, such as switch films, and for manipulating parts during the lubing process.
  6. Keycap Puller: Essential for removing keycaps to access the switches. Lubing is much easier when the keycaps are removed.
  7. Plate or PCB Mounting Tool: If you're disassembling the entire keyboard for lubing, a tool to help separate the plate or PCB from the case can be handy.
  8. Stabilizer Lubricant: Similar to switch lubricant, specialized stabilizer lubricants are available to reduce noise and improve the feel of stabilizer components.
  9. Q-tip or Cotton Swabs: Can be used to clean excess lubricant or apply it in hard-to-reach areas.

Tools for Mechanical Keyboard Maintenance

a man’s hand shown pulling out the mechanical keyboard keycaps

Congratulations! You finally created your custom mechanical keyboard. But wait! It isn't over yet. Maintaining your customized mechanical keyboard is important to ensure longevity, optimal performance, and a satisfying typing experience. Here are some tools commonly used for mechanical keyboard maintenance:

  1. Switch Puller (for hot-swappable keyboards): If your keyboard has hot-swappable switches, a switch puller allows you to easily replace or clean switches without soldering.
  2. Brush or Compressed Air: Useful for cleaning dust, crumbs, and debris from between the keycaps and the switch housing. A soft brush or compressed air can help maintain a clean keyboard.
  3. Isopropyl Alcohol and Cotton Swabs: Ideal for cleaning sticky or dirty keycaps and removing grime from the keyboard surface. Isopropyl alcohol evaporates quickly and leaves no residue.
  4. Microfiber Cloth: Perfect for wiping down the keyboard case, keycaps, and surface. It helps remove fingerprints and smudges without scratching.
  5. Keycap Cleaning Container or Ultrasonic Cleaner: For a deeper clean, you can soak keycaps in a container with soapy water. You can also use an ultrasonic cleaner to remove stubborn dirt that has caked on the keycaps for years. Let the keycaps dry thoroughly before reinstalling them.

Conclusion

The right tools can make any job easier, faster, safer, and more efficient. With the appropriate tools, you're one step closer to bringing your custom mechanical keyboard to life.

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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