Building my first custom keyboard, can't decide (or even understand)

Hi!
So I’ve found this site during my rigorous search on cases, switches and pcbs.
I’m a “gaming mechanical keyboard” user for several years now, when I see Ducky One 2 Mini a whole new world opened up for me. That keyboard led me to dive into %60 keyboards. A few months ago, I was trying to decide between Ducky Mecha Mini or Durgod Hades. Then I saw Drop Alt, then I found out about custom keyboards…

I’m leaning towards a Tofu65 build. But can’t figure out which PCB should I get, I set my eyes on dz65rgb kit on kbdfans. Some say kbd67mk2 also fits. But I don’t know advantages or disadvantages of choosing one.

Or should I get Drop alt and mod it? What are your suggestions for %65 keebs?

1 Like

Hey welcome to the keeb community! It’s nice to see new people join the hobby.

So here’s my take. The hobby can be expensive if you let it be. It’s really easy to go down the rabbit hole.

There are several great resources out there like Keyboard University. You can also look under the Makers & Crafting category on twitch and ask questions in chat. There are also lots of discords to join where you can ask your questions.

Don’t rush into a decision and do realize that, depending on how picky you are, you may end up going through a few boards before finding your holy grail endgame board.

In my experience, I happen to join the hobby at a bad time (during COVID) so parts are pretty scarce. Because of this, my first board ended up being a HHKB Pro Classic which has Topre switches which I’m not super ecstatic about but some people swear by them. I recently ordered an ID80 case, some Durock stabilizers and pre-ordered the GMK Minimal 2 keycap set. I’m still undecided on what switch I want.

Generally speaking, you always want to clip/lube your stabs (stabilizers) and lube your switches. Certain lubes pair well with certain switch types. Some people do other mods like using foam sheets made of materials like sorbothane, polyeurothane to help dampen some of the echo you may see in some cases.

There are other aspects like gasket mounting and a leaf-spring plates in more premium boards like Keycult. It all depends on your budget and how patient you are to get what you want.

5 Likes

Since your coming form a gaming background, I’d highly recommend looking at what keys are used by your games, as a 65%,TKL, or left hand numpad board, might be better suited to your needs.

I personally run a Tex Shinobi, with a Goldtouch numpad.

The TEX Shinobi allows me to get the same room, that a 60% would, but retains all of the Keys’ that a TKL has. The Goldtouch Gives me the numb pad, when I need it, in most scenarios. Note: ALT codes, don’t really work, when using a separate numpad, as the signals are coming from two different keyboards. If you need a numpad, for ALT codes, maybe look into a keyboard, with a left hand numpad or one that you can map numpad scan codes to a alternative layer, if your trying to get more mousing space.

Edit: Big bonus for me on the Shinobi, is it’s inclusion of a TrackPoint mouse. Having multiple types of mice, at my disposal helps alleviate wrist pain, whe my RSI flairs up.

2 Likes

Drop ALT probably isn’t what you’re looking for if you really want to build something. What keyboard are you using now? Are you looking to get a second board for fun and general typing, or something to game on while being customizable? Do you feel the need for a hotswap board or do you okay with soldering?

Like Bren said, COVID has made parts and kits hard to find. I felt incredibly lucky to be able to pick up a kbd67 mkii v2. Every other kit seemed to be out of stock. If you’re worried about sourcing all the parts separately and having them not fit each other, keep in mind you can probably resell anything you don’t use without too much hassle. Whatever you do though, keep in mind you’re probably going to have to wait patiently for something, whether it be for your parts to ship, a kit to be stocked, etc.

1 Like

Welcome to the community!

There’s a kit with the correct PCB. I’m pretty sure that the kbd67mk2 will not work because of the right blocker. So you would have to work wait for the dz65 to come back into stock.

I’ve built a couple tofus and I think they’re a solid choice for a first custom board! I can’t recommend the Alt because no matter how much you tune it, it’s not going to sound like nice board. I recommend just saving up the money for switches and a set of nice keycaps.

If you’re state side and need help soldering, I can do it for free (just pay for shipping to and from) just feel free to PM me!

2 Likes

Hey there! I would recommend tofu65 with the dz65rgb pcb. It is like driving on automatic gears, easier with some challenge for someone starting out, but still really fun to build. Tofu65 has options for different plate materials too like polycarbonate, brass, and aluminium. Also by topping up 10 bucks for the case foam from kbdfans to silence the hollow sound. Overall, I think the tofu65 sounds really good too!

Drop alt, though the design looks cool initially but it is harder to modify around.

1 Like

Thanks for the replies. I decided to go with Tofu65 with brass plate + dz65rgb and foam. Also ordered 205g0 lubricant for the switches, switch films, lube station and switch opener. Also planing to get sorbothane just in case.

But haven’t decided for switches and keycaps yet. My thoughts on switches are constantly changing. Last week, I settled on Kailh Box Silent Browns but yesterday I changed my mind to silent linears. Today I was thinking should I go with normal linears… It’s crazy. I’ve been using linears switches for years. First Cherry MX Red on Corsair k70, than Romer G linears on G512 Carbon. Gaming with linears is amazing cause you can easily quick tab on keys just for millimeters. But I’m not happy with the typing experience. Everyone was saying tactiles are better for typing. I don’t know… Can’t decide.

Because of BadSeedTech’s video, Silent Alpacas is on my list. Also Zilents v2, Roselios and of course, recently hyped Glorious Holly Pandas is on my radar.
Keycaps… I really don’t know, open for suggestions. Some high profile keycaps looks good but everyone says it’s hard to type with them. Also rgb shine-through would be preferably and only PBT’s have it I guess.

What are your thoughts on switches and keycaps?

2 Likes

my thoughts are it doesn’t get better than tealios with high quality abs cherry profile caps (gmk, jtk, etc) but like im just some guy everyone has different prefs

2 Likes

I have lubed, filmed Gateron yellows in one board and NK Silk Blacks in another. I like both. They have their pluses and minuses. I’m a linear guy.

2 Likes

Hey there, I would actually recommend to also get another set of non-silent switches to play around! :stuck_out_tongue:

It will really be fun (IMO) to try out those because it’s really fun to hear the switches and keycaps clacking. Enjoy your build!

1 Like

+1 for the non-silent linears. That’s where the mx-style switches shine the most imho. Whatever reputable switch you go for, you’re not going to regret it, especially if you’re lubing with 205g0.

As for the gaming aspect, you don’t want to go super low on the actuation force so that you don’t get any accidental keypresses(go with a heavier spring on the spacebar :)) You’d want something that’s right up in the middle that’s easy to actuate fast, and rebounds back up fast as well so I’d recommend something in the 55-67g range.

For keycaps, just start off with a cherry profile, you can’t go wrong with that either. High profile sculpted keycaps like SA or MT3 are either hit or miss for people, so start off with something safe. If you’re not sure, get something like an enjoyPBT PBT set, because they have a great aftermarket price if you decide to sell them for something else later on. Their ABS sets are super well priced as well, but I’d imagine they wouldn’t hold price as well as their PBT sets.

3 Likes

If you haven’t pinned down your switch, you haven’t really thought hard enough about what you need to do.

I tried to go the fast way, had 2 fullsizes soldered with Zilents and then heavy Ergo Clears, didn’t work out. I hadn’t really tested them in daily use.

The best thing to do is get the cheapest hotswap keyboard you can possibly find, and try using a switch during your daily routine. Then, you’ll find out if it’s good or not. Do that before soldering an expensive custom, and you’ll save yourself some pain.

For gaming + typing, I’ve found medium-weight linears to be preferable. I put 65 gr TX springs in an Aliaz silent tactile [which is almost linear] and it is a great gaming switch. The heavier H1 switches [a Durock recolour with 78 g springs] were something I thought I’d have problems with, but they turned out to be great for platform gaming. Very definite keypresses for a linear. The 62 gr stock Alpacas turned out to be too light for me for any use, so I’m experimenting with 63.5 and 65 gr weights, including Progressive springs. 67 gr Tangerines are probably something you can type and game with right away.

I ordered Silent Alpacas, so we’ll see how that goes. I might build something with them instead of Alpacas.

MX tactiles are something of a disaster, because MX switches are linear at heart, as pointed out here. The Zealios/T1s/Pandas are all highly tactile by the old standard, and have a top-mounted tactile profile. [Unlike the classic Cherry designs with a mid-switch bump, involving pre-travel.] I started a thread where I’m talking about some of the more conventional Cherry-inspired tactiles:

And I also commented on Holy Pandas and “Brown Pandas” here:

Maybe if I have a little time in the new few weeks, I’ll be talking about the OUTEMU Sky, OUTEMU Silent Sky, and U4 Boba switches that are arriving soon.

Keycaps, as others have said, don’t start with something wild. Cherry / SS2 and OEM are the safest. Save DSA, SA and MT3 testing for later. Even DSS is probably more mainstream in feel than those three. KAT is less outrageous than SA, but still largely in GB phase. Best thing is go to some meetups after the pandemic is over. Unless you want to buy/sell keycaps on MechMarket for trial purposes. That’s safer in the interim.

There are a billion cheap PBT Cherry-profile keycap sets on AliExpress. There was just a summer sale, but there will be another one in the fall. Otherwise, if you are in the U.S. Novelkeys is offering those cheap but pretty good Cherry-profile PBT sets.

1 Like

Anyway, don’t get too fooled by my salty-sounding commentary on switch choosing.

It’s actually very fun, as you’ve noticed, but I don’t want you making costly mistakes. Trying out switches is very interesting, but I recommend that you don’t solder anything until you know what you want.

As far as cheap hotswap keyboards, someone asked the other day in another forum, and here is what was recommended:

1 Like

There are too many cluttered information out there that I really afraid of missing them. I have a constant feeling of forgetting something while gathering the pieces :D. This topic is really helpful, thanks for the advises.

Actually, I think I accidentally I bought wrong stabilizers.

I decided to go with ZealPC Pink Rosélios. While at it, I bought “Zeal Transparent Gold Plated PCB Mount Screw-in Stabilizers V2”. Than I thought I should have bought Plate mount ones… But still I’m not sure.

I decided to go with cherry profile keycaps but haven’t found a good, black, shine-through, double shot pbt keycaps yet. Also DSA or XDA profile looks tempting. Also I almost forgot to check %65 layout keys for r4 :D. TOO MANY THINGS TO CHECK. :D.

I’m still open for keycap ideas.

I think I should have gone that route, buying a cheap hot swap keeb first to test, then go big.

Which to get fully depends on the board they’re going in; most PCBs support the PCB-mount ones, but some don’t. Many plates don’t support plate-mount ones, but some do. Not a bad idea to have extras on hand since the stabs you might want down the road might be unavailable when you really want them.

If you wanted to go with Zeal stabs, though, those only come in PCB mount. I believe Zeal has (maybe still) sold plate-mount stabs in the past, but not ones made with the Zeal stabilizer design; just reselling Cherry/GMK plate-mount stabs. Plate-mount is usually a worse choice unless you absolutely have to use them.

The PCB I bought is this: https://kbdfans.com/collections/diy-kit/products/dz68rgb-customize-keyboard-diy-kit

Stabilizers are these: https://zealpc.net/collections/switches/products/zealstabilizers

I just read the comments on the PCB’s page, someone said screw-in stabilizers works. So fingers crossed. Is it me or kbdfans’ product descriptions is a bit lacking?

KBDFans descriptions can sometimes be a bit lacking, I think mostly due to translation issues. Those stabilizers will definitely work with that PCB! Screw-ins are generally recommended since they’re a bit more stable and don’t have a tendency of popping out of the board when you’re taking off the keycaps.

1 Like

Update on my build: Everything has arrived except keycaps, lubricant and sorbothane.
First I told myself “ok, lets wait till all the parts to arrive.” But now I want to make it with my old keyboards keycaps and without sound dampening till they arrive because IT LOOKS BEAUTIFUL.

Haven’t find a good set of keycaps for my liking yet so I ordered two cherry profile simble keycaps. I didn’t want to go bold and order DSA or XDA style keycaps which I think looks beautiful but have no clue about their typing experience. BUT Rama Kate looks fantastic and if they priced well, I think I’m going to try them first.

I have two silencing options by the way. 1.125" sorbothane sheet and DZ65’s extra foam layer which came with the set. Can I use them both? should I? Should I but any left over sorbothane in between brass plate and pcb?

You can definitely use them both if there is room in the case without putting pressure on the PCB.