How to Design and Make a TKL Keyboard

Hi Everyone,

First time poster here but I’ve been around the Keeb space for a while now.

I’m really interested in designing and making my own keyboard. I’ve built a few of my own by gathering pieces from different sites but now I want to take the next step in that process.

I know how I want the keyboard to look and what materials I want everything to be made from. My issue right now is where to start.

Do I start with designing a case and have a PCB made to fit in that case or visa versa?

Are there manufacturers that can make multiple parts of the keyboard or would I need to deal with each part separately?

Maybe I’m not even asking the right starting question?

There are a lot of questions when it comes to this because there are so many moving parts but I figure I’d just get this post up so I can get some sort of direction.

I know this is a long process but this is a challenge I’m really excited to take on and see to completion.

Any info or guides on this would be greatly appreciated!

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@rondg could probably help here. He’s designed some of his own boards.

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Hey there!
I’m not an expert on this and this is just me telling how I did things :sweat_smile:

For designing a case, I started by modifying an open source case. I downloaded and modified the hell out of it. I found an open sourced project called the Toad v2, downloaded it and played around with it.

Usually, the keyboard case can be done by one manufacturer. It’s actually better that way because they can test fit every part (or at least that’s what I think the advantage of having everything made by one manu)

As for the pcb, I go for JLCPCB. Inexpensive and they can source the parts. For TKLs, I believe there are some open source PCBs available. Maybe they have the 3d model included or you can generate it yourself in KiCAD and use it when designing the case.

I also reached out to people who already designed boards.
@Rico have some great boards posted here in keebtalk and are also open source!

There is a lot to learn but it’s fun.

I’m not sure if this reply is of any help but I hope it is :grimacing:


Thanks for the reply!

I like the idea of modifying an existing project. That’ll help since I wont have to start from square one. Do you know if there is a repo for open source projects or I would have to manually search and find one?

Also, for case manufacturers, is there an “go-to” list of manufacturers for making boards that are good quality? I’m looking for ideally an aluminum case or one made from a hard plastic.

I will look into JLCPCB and see what the offerings are and how I can use them for my project.

Edit ** I’ve done some initial mock sourcing on Alibaba and other similar China based plants but I have a gut feeling the quality wont be what I’m looking for.

Ty for the heads-up @rondg !

As for the PCB, if you don’t want to design and/or manufacture (and yes JLCPCB is a good and the cheapest place to go) PCB, another solution would be to buy a commercial one.
As you want to make a TKL, you’ll have several options, for example the great HineyBush PCBs available in stock at NovelKeys: Hiney PCBs – NovelKeys LLC

But as said @rondg, designing custom keyboards are a lot of fun in term of what you learn in the process, so you may be interested to design everything yourself in the end, case and PCB.

As for CNC manufacturer I don’t have experience with Chinese ones, and used exclusively EU manufacturers up until now (Weerg for my first project, and Xometry EU for the second and third project I made).

I will do some research on the intricacies of PCB design and make a decision from there. I should have mentioned earlier, but I’m looking for a Hot-Swap TKL PCB. I’m assuming that will significantly reduce my in-stock chances since I’ve had trouble in the past finding one on my own :sweat_smile:

I’ll look into the 2 EU based companies you mentioned but I’m based in the US so that might be a better option for me shipping wise because I know overseas shipping is a huge pain right now.

In case of hotswap, yes you will have less choices for PCBs.

There is still Xometry in the US (Xometry EU is younger).
And you can ask other people for good Chinese manufacturers, it may be cheaper in the end, even considering the high overseas costs.

Oh I’m sure there are some decent and reputable Chinese manus out there, problem I’m having is that they all seem to “peddle the same product” and promise the world but come up short in final production (at least that’s what I’ve seen in my experience. I currently work for a company that makes products in China and the quality is not great).

If anyone reading this knows good manus in China, I’ll gladly give them a look into and see if their services work for me.