geekhack Projects > Making Stuff Together!

[Project] Custom 65% FROM SCRATCH


Two Rising College Freshman trying to make a keyboard from scratch
No prior experience

Details so far:

* Keyboard type - 65% Hotswap with badge/? (haven't decided)
* Back plate weight - Brass or Stainless Steel, rectangular, centered with design (debating at the moment)
* Case material - aluminum
* PCB plate material - polycarbonate
* Switch Cutout type - Cherry MX
Need to know:

* How to get this manufactured
* How to create the case so that the top case covers the bottom case
* How to put a design on the case itself
* Probably 1000 more
List will be updated when accomplished/necessary
We'd appreciate the help!!!
Through your replies, we decided it would be more reasonable to use a premade pcb as a base. (Thanks Altain)
We're currently trying to find a 65% hotswap pcb with a space for a badge at the top right, or even better,  includes a knob part.
If we can't find one of these, we would probably use the qk65 pcb or maybe even use the sun68 pcb
We also decided to extend this to a casual throughout college project and will use the free 3d printing service, after learning how to use, to make prototypes until we succeed then manufacture the real thing after.


Basic questions...
When do you need/want it?
How many are you wanting?
Is it for you and a buddy or is this for sale/group buy?
What's it made of (you only mention the plate)?

Any CAD experience?
Any electrical cad skills?
Any programming experience?
Any CNC or even 3d printing experience?
Any wiring or soldering skills?
Do you have access to a 3d printer, laser cutter, water jet or cnc?
Ever farm out work to a shop that does any of this work?

And most importantly how much are you actually willing to spend on this because it is not going to be cheap and it only gets more expensive (very quickly) the less you have from the technical side.

Keep in mind if it was remotely feasible, and even remotely easy, most people here would probably have a custom one-off board and yet I can count the aluminum one's I've seen on one hand. Even the number of 3d printed ones is surprisingly low.

Thanks for the input!
My friend says he wants the design done in 2 weeks, I'm more realistic and say two months since we have literally no experience going into this. However, in the end, both of us aren't really in a rush. The manufacturing part we can wait even longer for, 5 months maybe? We're thinking of selling if it grows traction and popularity or just making 2-5 for us and friends. We're thinking of aluminum top and bottom cases with polycarbonate pcb plates, and either brass or stainless steel weights.

I know the basics of java and python and both of us don't have a shred of CAD experience. I have a friend with cnc experience and more with 3d printing experience. My college has free-use 3d-printers so I could probably get the hang of it in about a week. Soldering is possible for us, and we have no experience in the manufacturing part of this what-so-ever. Basically a fever dream come to life.

Both he and I are willing to spend around $300 depending on how well it goes


I'm not trying to put you down or discourage you, this is just the reality of one-off manufacturing, it's difficult, time consuming and expensive.
This will come off as curt but it's not meant to be, it's just me trying to keep it as short as I can.

I had a whole mess here about how long CAD takes and or 3d printing takes... Bottom line, your time estimations are not remotely close.
Sure, you can learn to render a keyboard in 2 weeks, can you design a keyboard case in CAD and be ready to head to a CNC in that time and expect a product that will work, not a chance. Same for a 3d printer, sure you can pull one out of a box and press print, go to a library and let others figure out any problems but learning enough cad to make your own designs work takes time. These are complex tools not toys and they take time to master. 

Despite what so many seem to think, you're not going to beat a group buy price.
You don't have a group helping you point out issues and ways to trim little costs here and there, you don't have renders, certainly no cad files, no shops lined up, no skills, no equipment, no prototypes... And certainly not the benefit of bulk, which can literally cut the price in half.

If you had a large enough CNC mill at your disposal and the other necessary skills, sure, you could make it at that price and within a reasonable time frame, but that's literally the only way you could. Unless you're in China you guys are looking at closer to $800 (EACH) without a PCB or anodizing and that doesn't even guarantee you a fully functional case only something that resembles one (I aimed a bit high due to skill). You'll probably need 2 or 3 before it works, maybe a 3rd or 4th (all at full price) if you expect something like you would get from a $400 group buy. Only then can you get your two production ones at a slightly reduced price, maybe $600 or $700 (again that's for each one) after some optimizations and teeny bulk discount. After that you still need finish, hardware, PCB, electronics, soldering and more, so expect another $200 at bare minimum. With those numbers you can expect anywhere from $2000 to $3800 depending on how fickle you are and anywhere from 6-12 months. Honestly, even this may be optimistic and the faster you want it, the more expensive it will be. Keep in mind, the finish and some design elements could make it a lot higher or a bit lower. Little changes can have a huge price impact.

If you lengthen your time frame, say 12-24 months, you could buy a printer and digital caliper and take the time to truly figure out CAD and 3d printing, read up on optimizing your design for CNC, and in doing so you could cut all of this by maybe by 1/3rd, even after paying for a printer because you can verify your design before going to a cnc shop (fewer prototypes). However it's still going to be a mad dash to do in that time because there is just simply a lot to learn in multiple specialties. Your friends experience will help, but only so much, it's just simply going to be costly in multiple ways.

If you do go through with it though, good luck and keep us updated.

I know some people are going to say how that's way too much and how some other person did it for way less.  Remember this is for two keyboards, by two people with little to no skill who are outsourcing everything. It doesn't compare to a group buy where you split the R&D or your cousin who did it on his CNC at work in his spare time. Not to mention prices are up, shortages exist.

Hi, it's awesome to see someone venturing into creating their desired keyboard on their own!
However, based on what you described, time would not be the only factor you'd have to deal with in order to get things done properly.

I think you can overcome your zero CAD experience as long as 1) you are willing to learn the CAD basics, and 2) the design is very basic - keeping it simple, everything in square shape.
The more you minimalize and simplify your designs the better chance of maintain the integrity of your board whilst keeping the cost down as much.
On this part, I'd highly suggest you consult your designs with your friend with CNC knowledge. He'll give you ideas on what's hard to cut (thus more expensive) and what's not.

There are several very useful PCB design guidelines out there (such as ai03's guidelines on how to create PCB schematics).
So this won't be much of an issue for you, I guess - but if you'd like to cut your efforts down, choose a 65% PCBs that are readily accessible
You'll just have to fit your cases and plates on those PCBs; both size-wise and mount-wise.
For the Firmware I recommend QMK because it isn't a space science (at least for me, even with 0 coding knowledge!).
I bet you could see what others have done and do it on your own to make your PCB work, if you decide to make your own PCB.

Despite providing anything I know of that could be a help for you, in the end CNC Manufacturing ain't a cheap procedure that could be readily accessible.
As Leslieann pointed out, everyone would have their own customized one-off keyboard if it were that easy.
You might be wondering, "But there are so many chinese cnc factories that offer cheap samples!"
I've seen quite a handful of hobbyists down here in Korean Custom Community that have spent at least $650~800, depending on the design and materials,
for their one-off boards. Most of them had their CAD designs, both 2D and 3D, to remind you.
ALSO, the global crises have made materials price far more expensive that what it has been.
Based on your preference - top and bottom alu case and brass/stainless steel weights, I just don't see $300 budget for each board is anything in a feasible area.

Really sorry for you, but to add a cherry on top, there's no guarantee that your first design 1) actually works, and 2) suits your desires completely.
Even the most experienced GB runners may go through multiple samples to get things right, for him/her self as well as the possible GB participants.

Last advice -
I highly suggest you go watch Geon's past streams on Twitch where he does 3D CAD designs (He uses Autodesk Fusion360 for his designs and CADs) and get the hang of how to make your own.
If you know EXACTLY what you want, it'll speed up your processes more than the time you watch and learn.


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