I was just curious what your process is when building a keyboard? I try and follow an order of operations that prevents having to do scuffy redos if something doesn’t go per usual. For example, you’d want to test your solderable PCB before installing switches – stuff like that. Everyone has a different way of doing things and I think that’s cool.
I thought this might help the hobby’s old timers refine their own ways of doing things while laying down some foundation for the newcomers.
This all starts after all the parts have been sourced, purchased, and delivered. In my case, this is for a hotswap so I can piecemeal the stab installation.
Flash PCB with latest firmware
L/F enough switches for all stabs needed; usually four or five
Install a single stab, switch and keycap, then test
If good, remove switch and keycap, and install the remaining stabs
Test stabs with switches and keycaps
If good, remove switches and keycaps
Reinstall stab switches and keycaps with plate, then test
If good, key test stab keys
If good, L/F remaining switches and install
Key test all switches
If good, retighten stabs
Install PCB into case
Install remaining keycaps
Do a few typing tests and tune any rogues switches
I usually never need to redo much if anything by following these steps, but time will tell.
Lay out all the pieces and confirm I have everything I need
Balance wires and lube stabilizers
Assemble switches, plate, and PCB
^^ I’m usually zoned out at this point, so I make a note of any adjustments and tune/fix them later. But usually it’s pretty good the first time around. I’ve only ever used Durock/Everglide V2s** for stabilizers, and I’ve never had to redo or troubleshoot them . I don’t bother testing them before soldering because syringes .
Put all the switches in (not soldered, just a “dry run” as I call it)
decide I don’t like the sound and put another set of switches in the alphas
decide I don’t like those switches either
day is over so I put the build back in the closet
walk over to the keyboard every few hours thinking “I know… THIS switch.”
insert 1 or 2 of said switches, decide it sounds nice but now realize I need to lube them
put off the build for a day or two b/c I don’t want to lube switches
install switches and solder
monkeytype for hours as I find every single thing I don’t like about the board
realize I don’t hate the switches but they’re not that special
make note of switches that need work
use keyboard for a day or two and then swap it out for something else that grabs my attention
rinse and repeat!
Note: For variation, I often insert a few weeks to a month of the unbuilt keyboard sitting in the closet while I wait for the next “perfect” switch to arrive. That switch never works out, but it’s part of the process.
For those who prefer soldering over hotswap, what’s the attraction there?
I totally get that soldering lets you rebuild and/or mod just about any board as well as pick your own key layout, but with PCB’s like the Cascade offering options like split backspace and the availability of top-shelf in stock hotswap kits, is there still a reasonable return on investment with soldering?
I’m only asking because I’d like to learn to solder, but continue convincing myself it’s not worth it. I’m sure I’m mistaken …
Honestly, I view each build as a snapshot of my hobby at the time. I like the relative permanence of the build choices. I like that it feels like a more involved build. I like soldering. I also use it as an excuse to buy and mod fewer switches, as that is far and away my least favorite part.
But it’s all preference. Unless you have specialty use cases that necessitates solder vs hot swap (half plates and flexy builds for example), it just comes down to what you prefer.
First off, I love soldering. I find it super relaxing and I learned to solder when I was very young, so it just comes naturally to me. More importantly for me though, is the issues I often have with hotswap. When installing switches I frequently bend pins and sometimes have to remove / reinstall switches several times before getting them to work. I have never experienced this issue with a non-hotswap pcb.
The other reason has only happened to me a few times, but it is extremely frustrating. Sometimes if a plate is slightly warped or if the hotswap sockets are loose, the pcb will pull away from the switches after a short time of general use. This typically happens with switches on the outside of the board and I will often notice first that they occasionally disconnect before they just simply do not work at all. This means I need to open the keyboard up and re install everything.
Ultimately I would rather have something ridgid that I know will not come apart as opposed to switches randomly popping out / disconnecting when I do not intend for them to.
Don’t get me wrong though, there have been times where I really wished I used a hotswap, especially when trying a unique switch. De-soldering is not fun. Even with a de-soldering gun I can’t stand taking switches out.
Soldering is easy peasy and one of the quickest steps in the build process. I’ll find the KT thread with old PACE training videos: More than you need for keyboard soldering, but enjoyable and educational.
Soldering is satisfying, a useful skill generally, and personally it feels good when I make clean joints and the board looks 10/10 on the pinside .