For a long time now custom keyboard videos have been recommended to me on YouTube and other media platforms. For the most part I have thought, well that’s pretty cool but what’s the point in spending the time and money? Especially, thes days, if I can just buy a good gaming keyboard at a fraction of the cost. Was I looking at it all wrong?! Yeah sure, you end up with a cool gaming keyboard, but could it actually be the process of building, learning and perfecting that is causing this hobby to fascinate everyone from avid typists to gamers?
This holiday the custom keyboard bug finally bit me. I had a desire to go for it, to build a keyboard just for me, my colors, my style, and most importantly a KNOB. If you know you know, I’m looking at you, r/MechanicalKeyboards. Between Reddit and YouTube I had been prepared, it was time to order everything I needed.
Choosing the Keyboard Housing
I knew I wanted something heavy, likely metal for the keyboard housing and I had always liked the look of the GMMK Pro from Glorious. I made sure to do my research and for the price at the time of $130 for the barebones kit it really couldn’t be beat. A huge factor for me was that I didn’t want to deal with a group buy situation. The custom scene is still small, therefore many of the companies entering the market have been going the group buy route. This means they don’t create the product until all of the orders all come in. You will usually have to wait months to receive your order as well. Keychron is one of the few new smaller enthusiast companies to get past this phase and consistently have keyboards in stock to ship. Even so, with Glorious being a larger brand in the PC gaming space, they are able to afford stocking keyboards and can be found via retailers such as Best Buy and Amazon. I decided I preferred the Glorious kit in the end, and did I mention it has a KNOB!
Picking the Key Switches
This part is entirely a preference thing. I would suggest doing some research if you are looking for something specific. The basic choices are, clicky (loudest), tactile (actuation point you can feel), linear (smooth press to bottom out). If you don’t know what all of that means, take a drive down to Best Buy and play with a couple of the gaming keyboards to get an idea. They usually have a label saying which type of switch is in each of the keyboards on display. After some research of my own I decided to go with a switch from Epomaker known as their budgerigar switch. This is a tactile switch and I ordered them pre lubed to save a little time. I'm still not committed enough to take time opening and lubing every switch.
This is one of the places to really make the keyboard yours! I knew going into this, I wanted a dark purple theme to fit my setup, stream, and channel colors. I also wanted thicker keycaps to help with the deeper sound when typing also known as “THOCK.” There are typically two kinds of plastics used for these, ABS and PBT. I lean towards PBT as it deals with hand oils better over the long term. Epomaker wins again with their “Space Travel PBT dye sublimation keycap set.” It has the purple and black color scheme I was hoping for along with some really fun space themed keycaps. Make sure when picking out your key caps they come with all of the correct layouts for the region you are in or and the keyboard you ordered.
I did get a few extra tidbits along the way. First off, Durock V2 stabilizers; though stabilizers always come installed in the Glorious barebones kit, some reviewers didn’t like how over lubed and sticky they were. I just decided to nip it in the bud up front and replace them. I also grabbed a custom purple coiled cable with a fancy aviation connector, this is purely aesthetic and if anything, it increases latency, but form over function I guess… sometimes. Lastly I picked up a keyboard tool kit, just something basic from Amazon, with a keycap and switch puller, a switch opener, some lube, and a brush. One of these kits is a necessity when building a keyboard.
Putting this all together was very simple, especially not having to worry about lubing all of the switches. The most time consuming and slightly tedious part was switching out the stabilizers as I had to disassemble the Glorious GMMK Pro to get to the PCB. Lubing the new stabilizers and installing them onto the PCB was a breeze. After that I screwed everything back together and installed the switches and keycaps. If you think of pushing a bunch of Lego bricks down onto a flat Lego base, you really wouldn’t be far off. The result though was fantastic especially for my first attempt. I did make one mistake; slightly over lubing the new stabilizers resulting in a similar yet not as annoying stickiness to the originals.
In the end I finally see the appeal of custom building a keyboard. The mistake I made only makes me want to dive deeper into the hobby and give it another go. The fun isn’t just the keyboard you end up with. Every build is a chance to try something different and learn something new, a chance to challenge yourself to build something even better!
...Plus it’s a bit of a flex in the PC and gaming communities.