Author Topic: New to the hobby. Looking for help!  (Read 669 times)

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Offline SeanDDD

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New to the hobby. Looking for help!
« on: Mon, 18 May 2020, 04:57:31 »
Hey there everyone,

I have recently been introduced to the hobby of building custom mechanical keyboards. I was wondering if someone would be willing to point me in the right direction. As of now, I know the basics.

I want to build a keyboard but I am not sure how to really start.
As of now, I kind of know what I am looking for. I am looking to build a 65% keyboard with an ISO layout. In addition, I have chosen the keycap set that I am planning on buying (KAT Explosion). I am unsure as to which switches, PCB, and case I am planning on buying which is the real issue.
I have also set myself a budget around 350$.
Also, I am located in Switzerland, in case this is important.

Thank you for the help!

Offline Leslieann

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Re: New to the hobby. Looking for help!
« Reply #1 on: Mon, 18 May 2020, 07:43:47 »
Since you don't know what switch you want (which is extremely important actually), do not buy a $350 keyboard.

Buy a cheap board with Kailh hot swaps (not Outemu or pretty much anything else). I kind of like the GMMK but they don't make a 65%, Keychron has one due to release any day, both are, or should be around $60 USD or so.  With this you can order switches and pop them in.

Why cheap?
Hotswap offers more switch options and the ability to play but there are some serious downsides. Hot swap limits layout options so that could be an issue for you, but if it's just to find your switch it may be worth it to use short term before buying a nice board. On some cheaper keyboards, the switches are a huge cost of a keyboard and you can sometimes just about get the board free so why not, if it's a mainstream switch take the opportunity to try a new layout and keep it as a spare board. Only once you zero in on your preferred switch, THEN go all out on a nice board but you really need to figure out what you want from a switch beforehand as there is just so many options these days. Many of also us don't like recommending hot swap for long term use as it's just another fail point, great for playing though, so my advice is go cheap here then decide for yourself before you buy a nice board.

Speaking of, most nice boards are not hot swap, this is changing to a degree but I'm not sure it will become the norm any time soon for the reasons I mentioned, at least for now, the hobby needs time to sort out if it's the right way to go or not and you need to sort out what you need as well. Maybe by the time you find your switch the right board will also be waiting.

That $350 limit kind of puts you in an odd place, more than enough for a nice board like a Ducky but not enough for something really exotic. That doesn't mean zero options, just limited. You will probably be looking at a Chinese kit from somewhere like KBDfans or Krepublic, which is not bad thing at all. A bonus here is you can buy extra plates and PCBs pretty easily in case of a problem or just wanting a different switch. The only downside is ship times from China are SLOOOOOW right now. I do believe some airmail is shipping now but they are still really backed up on manufacturing, orders and shipping. There are a few other options but 65% only recently really seems to have caught on so options are a bit limited, it will be months before every manufacturer has an offering.
Filco MJ2 L.E. w/hand milled Vortex case, custom feet/paint/winkey blockoff plate, HID Liberator, stainless steel universal plate, 3d printed adapters, Type C, sound dampened,  Thick PBT caps (o-ringed), Cherry Jailhouse Blues w/lubed/clipped Cherry light springs | GMMK TKL | Magicforce 68 | YMDK75 | KBT Race S L.E. | Das Pro (Costar model) | GH60 | IBM Model M (x2)

Offline SeanDDD

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Re: New to the hobby. Looking for help!
« Reply #2 on: Mon, 18 May 2020, 08:26:16 »
Understood.

I am planning on buying a switch tester kit from KBDFANS once they have restocked it. After I have chosen my switch, do you really recommend I build a cheaper keyboard first?
If I end up building a cheaper keyboard first it will mean I won't be able to build a nicer one later as my budget might drop.

Also, what would be a good budget for a more exotic keyboard? You said 350$ is a weird middle stage so what would be high enough for a more exotic one?

I really appreciate your help. Thanks!

Offline Maledicted

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  • Location: Wisconsin, United States
Re: New to the hobby. Looking for help!
« Reply #3 on: Mon, 18 May 2020, 12:00:07 »
Understood.

I am planning on buying a switch tester kit from KBDFANS once they have restocked it. After I have chosen my switch, do you really recommend I build a cheaper keyboard first?
If I end up building a cheaper keyboard first it will mean I won't be able to build a nicer one later as my budget might drop.

Also, what would be a good budget for a more exotic keyboard? You said 350$ is a weird middle stage so what would be high enough for a more exotic one?

I really appreciate your help. Thanks!

How a switch feels and sounds in a tester will differ from how it feels and sounds in a real keyboard, and the sound will even differ from board to board based on plate and case material and thickness, internal volume, etc. I think Leslieann is recommending that you get a cheap hot swap board, try some switches in that, maybe use them as daily drivers for a while, then decide on where you want to go from there based on the conclusions that you've drawn about what you like and do not like.

Desoldering switches is time consuming, even with really nice equipment, and even if you make great choices early on, you may still end up with bags full of switches that you ordered and/or desoldered from a board that you'll never end up using again (which you could try to sell, of course).

The cheap hot swap approach may save you time and money in the long run.

I'm going to leave the budget/exotic thing alone, since I'm in no way conventional in this regard. Unless there's some serious amounts of metal in the case and/or it is a rare collectible, I can't justify spending more than a few hundred bucks on any keyboard myself.

Offline Leslieann

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Re: New to the hobby. Looking for help!
« Reply #4 on: Mon, 18 May 2020, 22:17:22 »
Also, what would be a good budget for a more exotic keyboard? You said 350$ is a weird middle stage so what would be high enough for a more exotic one?
I really appreciate your help. Thanks!
You're welcome

It's middle only in that there's very little in that price range, most keyboards are either a little less or a lot more, once you break past the high end and Chinese kits it's almost all limited edition, limited time, group buy stuff. You can wait months for something you like and then many more waiting for it to be made (if it gets made) or you brave the used market which is literally like buying fine art, you buy what someone is offering or make offers and hope (expect twice your budget), and like art, if it's damaged, there's almost no replacing it.

Despite how this place sounds at times most of the people here are using stuff you can buy from Amazon or a specialist shop (mechanicalkeyboards.com and such).


I think Leslieann is recommending that you get a cheap hot swap board, try some switches in that, maybe use them as daily drivers for a while, then decide on where you want to go from there based on the conclusions that you've drawn about what you like and do not like.

This.
Switch testers are nice but you won't spend any time with it, some switches need break in time (especially if lubed) and you won't know how they sound or feel with stabs or how the spacebar feels. Testers were better than nothing, which is what the alternative used to be, but I think hot swap is a much better option. A side benefit is that you can continue to use it while you look or save for a better keyboard.

This is a journey not a destination, there is no end game despite what some people claim. When you think you found the perfect setup something new will come along and spark your interest or you will just get bored and want to try something new.
Filco MJ2 L.E. w/hand milled Vortex case, custom feet/paint/winkey blockoff plate, HID Liberator, stainless steel universal plate, 3d printed adapters, Type C, sound dampened,  Thick PBT caps (o-ringed), Cherry Jailhouse Blues w/lubed/clipped Cherry light springs | GMMK TKL | Magicforce 68 | YMDK75 | KBT Race S L.E. | Das Pro (Costar model) | GH60 | IBM Model M (x2)