Making a Mechanical Keyboard
In our All About Keyboards article, we hinted at the mystery of mechanical keyboards. In our All About Mechanical Keyboards article, we discovered the joy of the mechanical click. And now, we find Meaning. The Meaning of Making a Mechanical Keyboard.

It all began when our co-founder Ken noticed cool keyboards on customers’ desk setups. The more he researched, the more it drew him in. Then through a series of fortunate events involving the owner of a keyboard company and an enthusiastic customer, Ken found himself with a fresh machined-aluminum keyboard case and a sudden need to build a keyboard.

He ordered parts, Christopher jumped in to help construct it, and many mistakes later they had their final product.
Case: Single-piece machined aluminum, from Keycult
Switches: Gateron Brown - Tactile | 4.0mm travel | 55g Actuation
Stabilizers: Screw-in stabilizers from Prime Keyboards
Keycaps: Skidolcha from Originative Co.

Let’s find out a little more, beginning with:

Ken, why did you decide to make a mechanical keyboard?

Our lead designer Sean and I were looking at pictures of our customers' desk setups, and we noticed a lot of people have these cool mechanical keyboards. I didn't know anything about it, so we started investigating. When I was talking to some friends about it, one of my buddies, Kevin Lynagh, who’s in the DIY programmer community was like, "Oh, my friend owns a keyboard company." So I got connected to Zac from Keycult, and that was the catalyst.


At the same time, by pure coincidence, one of our customers had emailed our inbox saying, "Hey, you guys should make mechanical keyboards." I got on the phone with him for over an hour and had him explain the whole genre to me.

Between those two guys I got a lot of tips on how the field works, how the whole market operates, and how the community works. They gave me tips on building my own, and that’s what gave me the confidence. I was basically just following their instructions on how to build one.

And, Chris, why were you down to join in and take part with Ken?

Ken was passing around the keyboard case that he got from Keycult. It was amazing just to see. I wanted to take part in building it so I could see how everything was put together. Then we started to learn about the community side of it, and all of that was really interesting to me too.

We’re into keyboards because we really love desk setups and workspaces. Check out our Home Office Guide.
Going Through The (E)motions

Could each of you describe the emotional arc of your experience of making the keyboard?

Zac said he'd send me one of his keyboard cases. So the first step was actually receiving that, and it was amazing.

We’d had no exposure to keyboard components of this caliber. It’s pure machined aluminum. It weighs, like, 10 pounds probably. Super heavy. What, Christopher, like 10 times as heavy as a normal keyboard?

Oh, for sure.

So that first step was exciting, but then it was like, "Oh, what now?" You have to do a lot of work to get to a functioning keyboard. So, for me, the first emotion was excitement, and then overwhelmed.

Great Mistakes

Could you tell me about some of them, and then what you did to fix them?

I think the first mistake that we ran into was figuring out the stabilizers for the keys. We didn't know how to put them together, how to actually make them work properly, and how to put them in order when building it. So figuring that out was...pretty interesting. We were trying to find YouTube videos on how to do it, but we eventually just messed around with it and figured it out.

Stabilizers are pieces placed under the larger keys (space bar, backspace, shift) to keep the keys from shaking, rattling, and tilting while typing. (Source)

Curious to learn more about stabilizers and switches? Check out our Mechanical Keyboard Guide.

Yeah, those stabilizers were killing us! But that was the least intuitive part of the process. And some of the switches we had to unsolder and re-do.


You don't know which spot each switch goes into on the circuit board. And then, the stabilizers require some assembly, and there are little plastic parts, and there are a lot of different variables, like which way you orient them.

So getting all those in the right spot was really challenging. We didn't know what right was! Christopher and I would try something and say "Is this working?" And then we'd be like..."Yeah I don't know."


There wasn't a resource on any of the companies' pages? Or is it that you’re choosing from so many providers that there’s no one way of doing it?

I think that, yes. Zac and Keycult had a really good, detailed tutorial video about assembling their case. But as far as putting all the individual parts together, you’re left with amateur YouTube videos because all the parts are made by different brands. One person’s video might use the same switches but not the exact same stabilizers we had, for example. So we had to make the connections ourselves.

But it was fun! It was partly frustrating, but really it was fun. We were snooping, like detectives trying to figure out this puzzle.

Yeah, because it was such a new thing to us, it was an interesting journey to try to put it together.

At any point did you want to give up?

"It was partly frustrating, but really it was fun. We were snooping, like detectives trying to figure out this puzzle."


I don't think we ever wanted to give up on it. It was definitely something that was so high quality, we wanted to get it done and see the result.

I was overwhelmed most by figuring out what parts to buy. That wasn't as exciting to me as actually building it. Once all the parts were there, there was a lot of motivation to get it working.

The Part About Picking Parts

You said Zac and Cory helped you a lot with choosing those parts, but what else went into your decision? How did you choose?

Yeah, I relied a lot on Zac and Cory's advice. Like what kind of switches I should look into, where to look for key caps and stabilizers. They were both very helpful, but it was still a paradox of choice, where there were so many good options, and I didn’t know what to do from lack of experience.

Our engineer’s (Ben) brother Joel is a programmer and keyboard guy. He sent me this testing pad with nine switches on it, with keys, so you can feel out the different switches and see which one you like.

Mechanical keyboards are pretty niche, but we also care about membrane keyboards and ergonomic keyboards and, well, all keyboards. So much that we wrote an entire guide to them.


The clicking ones were the most novel, and the business center style satisfying.

But Zac was steering me away from the clicky. I think most hardcore keyboard people don't go for a full click. It's really annoying for your neighbors, too.

But as I agonized, I was like, "I kind of like this feeling." But, "Do I want the click, even though it's annoying?"

In the end? We went with tactile.

Assessments (Part 1)

If each of you graded yourself on your project, what grade would you get?

I mean... it's pretty solid. I feel like we did a great job. I think the soldering was a little iffy at first, when we were learning how to do it. But I would say probably a B+.

I think we really struggled on this one, and the next one is going to be so much easier. That's kind of the way it works. Once you see how it works, it's pretty intuitive. You know?

For sure.

The first one is 10 times as hard, 20 times as hard. So I'm actually looking forward to another keyboard build. I think it will be a lot more fun. The first one was hard.

Don’t worry, we get Ken to give a grade in the end!
Delayed Gratification, and Purpose

Did you feel accomplished after doing it?

Oh yeah, for sure. Mostly because it was so hard to do. We struggled with it over multiple days. How many days do you think we worked on this, Christopher?

Probably three or four.

Yeah. We’d have a setback, so once we finally got it to work it was major high-five time!

Especially when we actually plugged it in to see if it would work.


Yeah. And it worked!

The soldering is one of the last steps. You push the switches in, and they kind of click in. A satisfying CLICK. After all that work, to end with that click, is really satisfying.

Dixie was there on the last day with us, and we were basically fighting over who gets to solder the most. We were supposed to be taking turns, but one of us would just keep going. And we'd be like, "Hey, hey, can I solder?"

All in all, it’s a lot of waiting and a lot of hard work. What would you say the point of constructing your own mechanical keyboard is?

I think it's to get exactly what you want, something that's unique to you. Most electronics are not fully customized like that. So, you know, for the right person that's exciting.

Yeah. It's a very satisfying experience when you can build something that you're going to use every day, and you know that it's super good quality, and up to par with how you build things, and super customized to how things are on your desk.

Assessments (Part 2)

That’s compelling! Oh, Ken, I'd asked if you could give yourself a grade on the project. Do you not want to give yourself—

Because it's so bad! I'd give myself a C.


Well, it depends on your reference point. We didn't know what we were doing, and we delivered. So...


Maybe that's a "B."

Okay. I would give you guys a really great grade, but I must measure things a little differently. Anyway, now that you’ve done it, let’s talk about favorites.

And that’s it! Ken and Chris made this keyboard because they couldn’t help themselves. The Keycult case was too perfect; the keyboard community, too alluring; the challenge, too tantalizing. With the possibility of keyboard bliss just a few soldering mishaps away, how could they say no?

Now they can say they’ve done it. They have the keyboard to prove it, and the sense of accomplishment. Accomplished, yes. Satisfied? No. Ken and Chris had their first taste and they’re ready for more. So, until next time, we’re clicking out!

Further Reading