Don’t let the high prices of mechanical keyboards discourage you. With our guide, you can create a cheap mechanical keyboard that meets all your needs and fits your budget.
Mechanical keyboards have become increasingly popular due to their tactile feedback, durability, and customization options. However, they can also be expensive, with some high-end models costing hundreds of dollars. If you’re on a budget but yet want the benefits of a mechanical keyboard, fear not! In this blog, we’ll show you how to build a cheap mechanical keyboard that will meet all your needs without breaking the bank.
Understanding Mechanical Keyboards
Before we dive into building a cheap mechanical keyboard, let’s first understand what makes mechanical keyboards different from traditional membrane keyboards.
Membrane vs Mechanical Keyboards
Membrane keyboards are the most common type of keyboard and are typically the cheapest. They use a rubber dome beneath each key that pushes against a circuit board to register keystrokes. The downside of membrane keyboards is that they lack tactile feedback and are generally less durable.
On the other hand, mechanical keyboards use individual switches for each key. When pressed, these switches provide a tactile response and are generally more durable than membrane keyboards. They also offer customization options, such as changing the keycaps and switch types.
Different Types of Mechanical Switches
Several types of mechanical switches are available, each with its unique characteristics.
- Cherry MX: The most common type of switch, Cherry MX switches come in several colours, each with a different tactile feedback and actuation force.
- Gateron: Similar to Cherry MX switches, but often cheaper and with a smoother keystroke.
- Kailh: Another Cherry MX clone, Kailh switches are known for their clicky sound and tactile feedback.
- Outemu: Budget-friendly switches with a tactile bump and clicky sound.
Choosing Your Components
Now that we understand the basics of mechanical keyboards let’s start building one on a budget.
The Keyboard Case
The keyboard case is the outer shell that holds all the components together. You can purchase a pre-made case, but these can be pretty expensive. Alternatively, you can build your case using 3D printing or other DIY methods. This can save you significant money while also allowing for customization.
The Keyboard PCB
The keyboard PCB (printed circuit board) is the circuit that connects all the switches and allows them to communicate with your computer. You can purchase a pre-made PCB, but these can also be expensive. Alternatively, you can use a DIY kit or create your own PCB using a software program like KiCad.
As we discussed earlier, there are several mechanical switches to choose from. The kind of switch you pick will depend on your personal preference and budget. For a budget-friendly option, Outemu switches are a great choice.
Keycaps are the plastic elements that cover each key on your keyboard. Like switches, keycaps come in various shapes, sizes, and colours. You can purchase pre-made keycap sets, but these can be expensive. Alternatively, you can 3D print your keycaps or purchase blank ones and customize them yourself.
Putting It All Together
Before assembling your keyboard, you must solder the switches onto the PCB. Soldering can be intimidating for beginners, but it’s a relatively simple process once you get the hang of it. You’ll need a soldering iron, solder, and a steady hand.
Once your switches are soldered onto the PCB, it’s time to assemble the keyboard. Start by placing the PCB into the case and securing it with screws. Then, attach the switches to the keycaps and place them into the case. Finally, connect the keyboard to your computer via USB and test it!
One of the best things about building your mechanical keyboard is the ability to customize it to your liking. You can change the keycaps, switch types, and even add custom lighting or other features. This is where the real fun begins!
Tips and Tricks for Building a Cheap Mechanical Keyboard
Building a cheap mechanical keyboard can be a rewarding and fun experience, but there are a few recommendations and tricks to keep in mind to ensure success.
Before you start building, ensure you have a clear plan. This includes choosing your components, creating a budget, and deciding on customization options.
Don’t Skimp on Quality
While you want to save money, don’t sacrifice quality for a lower price. Choosing high-quality components will ensure that your keyboard is durable and functions correctly.
If you’re new to soldering, practising on a spare PCB or switching before diving into your keyboard build is a good idea. This will help you get the hang of it and prevent costly mistakes.
Troubleshooting Common Issues with Your Mechanical Keyboard
Building your mechanical keyboard can be a satisfying experience, but like any DIY project, there are bound to be a few bumps. Here are some common issues you may encounter when building a mechanical keyboard and how to troubleshoot them.
Switches Not Registering
If you find that some of your switches are not registering when you press them, there may be a few causes. First, make sure that the switches are properly soldered onto the PCB. If they are not, reflow the solder and try again.
If the switches are correctly soldered, the PCB may be faulty. Try testing the PCB with a multimeter to see any shorts or other issues. You may need to replace the PCB if you find any problems.
If you hear a rattling noise when you press specific keys, the stabilizers are likely not correctly installed. Check that the stabilizers are correctly seated in their sockets and lubricated. Adding a bit of lubricant to the stabilizers can help reduce the noise.
Critical chatter occurs when a key registers multiple times with a single press. Several issues, including dirty switches or a faulty PCB, can cause this. Try cleaning the switches with compressed air or a contact cleaner. If the problem continues, you may need to replace the switches or PCB.
If some of your keys are completely unresponsive, it’s possible that the switches are faulty or that the soldering is incorrect. Test the switches with a multimeter to see if they are working correctly. If they are not, you may need to replace them. If the switches are okay, check that the soldering is correct and that there are no shorts or other issues with the PCB.
If you’ve added custom lighting to your mechanical keyboard and it’s not working correctly, there may be a few causes. Check that the LEDs are correctly installed and soldered onto the PCB. Make sure that the correct resistors are in place for each LED. If the issue continues, you may need to replace the LEDs or the PCB.
Building a cheap mechanical keyboard is a fun and rewarding experience that can save you money while providing all the benefits of a mechanical keyboard. With some planning and DIY skills, you can create your dream keyboard without breaking the bank. Remember to choose high-quality components, practice soldering, and have fun customizing your keyboard to make it truly unique. Happy building!
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