Author Topic: First time to DIY keyboards [Need help, PCB questions]  (Read 668 times)

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Offline vastcode

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First time to DIY keyboards [Need help, PCB questions]
« on: Wed, 21 February 2018, 09:45:32 »
Hello. I've lately stumbled upon some nice keycaps on aliexpress site, they're called Miami Night SA profile, however it is only keycaps not a keyboard. I've looked further into the store and found these kits and separate parts for making DIY keyboard, later googled this and it caught my interest. However I'm left with several question at the moment and the current guides doesn't answer everything for me.

Firstly I'd like to know if all PCBs are programmable. I've found a TKL kit and the seller told me that the PCB is non-programmable. Is that a good or a bad thing?
Also, does this mean putting in those switches will make it work once i plug it in?
The next thing I'm mostly worried for is soldering. What's soldering for and do all PCBs require it? Currently I have no soldering tools nor skills for using them.

That would be all.

Anyway there is extra question if you can answer it: Will these Gateron switches fit this TKL kit?

Switches: https://www.aliexpress.com/store/product/Mechanical-keyboard-original-cherry-mx-brown-switch-RGB-cherry-mx-red-ducky-filco-mx-brown-blue/818123_32735786710.html?spm=2114.12010612.0.0.2040e819tbjBEd

TKL Kit: https://www.aliexpress.com/store/product/DIY-KIT-keycool-mechanical-keyboards-cherry-mx-compatible-tkl-87-PCB-keycool-84-compact-keyboard/818123_32844894887.html?spm=2114.12010612.0.0.7f5e1c7cAIUOxf

P.S I found same TKL kits on Taobao for cheaper (35$-50$) however I do not understand chinese.

Offline noSatellite

  • Posts: 45
  • perpetual n00b
Re: First time to DIY keyboards [Need help, PCB questions]
« Reply #1 on: Wed, 21 February 2018, 10:32:38 »
There's kind of a lot to unpack in your post, so I will tackle some of it and try to get to some of the other stuff, but a lot will have to wait for someone with more experience than me for a firm answer.

First, the caps and the switches - there are several types of keycaps: MX-compatible, Topre-compatible, and a some other stuff that I am not too familiar with. The "MX-compatible" refers to the switch type - in this case a Cherry MX switch. If you look at the switches in the first link you posted, you can see the cherry logo embossed on the switch - this is the company that has manufactured the switch. The stem - the part poking out of the top of the switch - is in the shape of a cross. This shape determines which caps can fit on the switch itself. So, as long as the switches are "Cherry MX-compatible" they should fit the switches you have linked to.

The "SA profile" of the caps refers to the general shape of the keycap itself - take a look at this link for a good comparison:

https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=83853.0

In my understanding (this is one of the things that someone with a better understanding of things will hopefully have a better answer for), the SA profile is owned by Signature Plastics. So, the capset you are looking at is likely(?) a knock-off. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, just something I thought you might like to be aware of.

On to the soldering: soldering makes the electrical connections between the various parts of the keyboard and the PCB. And, unless the keyboard is pre-assembled, you will have to solder the switches to the keyboard. If you take a close look at the picture in the second like you posted, there are two small, offset holes in each of the spaces for the switches in the PCB (the square holes are the spaces for the switches). There are two "posts" (not sure of the correct term here) coming out of the bottom of the switch - these extend through the holes in the PCB, and are then soldered in place.

As for the soldering - that's something (I think) most of us have to learn. Take a look at this thread for a bit more info:

https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=42824.0

You can also Google around, it shouldn't be hard to find tutorial videos and such. You can even find keyboard-specific tutorials for soldering. You can jump in to soldering for a fairly reasonable price (you have to purchase a soldering iron and some other equipment), but if you are willing and able, there are lots of people on this forum willing and able to provide help and guidance along the way.

In your post, you mention Gateron switches - but you have linked to Cherry switches. Either should fit the linked PCB, the caveat here is that some switches are made to be mounted directly to the PCB and other have been made to mount on a plate - between the switch and the PCB. You should check to be sure you have the right kit/switch combination.

As for the programming - I haven't done any programming yet. I do know that it will let you configure the layout to your personal specifications - so, if you want to change the position of the backspace key on the keyboard, or specify macro keys, this is how you would do it.

Again, there are some good resources in this forum, and a number of people willing to help you out here too.
What I lack in time, resources, and knowledge I make up for in passion, enthusiasm and ignorance.

Offline vastcode

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  • Posts: 9
Re: First time to DIY keyboards [Need help, PCB questions]
« Reply #2 on: Wed, 21 February 2018, 10:48:24 »
First, the caps and the switches - there are several types of keycaps: MX-compatible, Topre-compatible, and a some other stuff that I am not too familiar with. The "MX-compatible" refers to the switch type - in this case a Cherry MX switch. If you look at the switches in the first link you posted, you can see the cherry logo embossed on the switch - this is the company that has manufactured the switch. The stem - the part poking out of the top of the switch - is in the shape of a cross. This shape determines which caps can fit on the switch itself. So, as long as the switches are "Cherry MX-compatible" they should fit the switches you have linked to.

The "SA profile" of the caps refers to the general shape of the keycap itself - take a look at this link for a good comparison:

https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=83853.0

I'm surprised. I just learned something new. Didn't know there were so many caps shape types.

Also, that cross shape stem, it can't fit with all caps?


On to the soldering: soldering makes the electrical connections between the various parts of the keyboard and the PCB. And, unless the keyboard is pre-assembled, you will have to solder the switches to the keyboard. If you take a close look at the picture in the second like you posted, there are two small, offset holes in each of the spaces for the switches in the PCB (the square holes are the spaces for the switches). There are two "posts" (not sure of the correct term here) coming out of the bottom of the switch - these extend through the holes in the PCB, and are then soldered in place.

As for the soldering - that's something (I think) most of us have to learn. Take a look at this thread for a bit more info:

https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=42824.0

Soldering is the part I'm most afraid of. This whole DIY project is quite expensive and I don't want to break the PCB...
To be sure: Do I have to solder every single switch on PCB? (87 keys)


In your post, you mention Gateron switches - but you have linked to Cherry switches. Either should fit the linked PCB, the caveat here is that some switches are made to be mounted directly to the PCB and other have been made to mount on a plate - between the switch and the PCB. You should check to be sure you have the right kit/switch combination.

Ah, I messed up. I intended to link those: https://www.aliexpress.com/store/product/gateron-switches-3pin-5pin-blue-red-black-brown-green-white-white-green-for-custom-mechnical-keyboard/3034003_32815810102.html?spm=2114.12010610.0.0.1b116c8aBlrcKR

Offline noSatellite

  • Posts: 45
  • perpetual n00b
Re: First time to DIY keyboards [Need help, PCB questions]
« Reply #3 on: Wed, 21 February 2018, 11:46:25 »

I'm surprised. I just learned something new. Didn't know there were so many caps shape types.

Also, that cross shape stem, it can't fit with all caps?


Correct - however, the vast majority of caps will be MX-compatible, so they will fit that switch.


Soldering is the part I'm most afraid of. This whole DIY project is quite expensive and I don't want to break the PCB...
To be sure: Do I have to solder every single switch on PCB? (87 keys)


Heat is the biggest factor in soldering PCBs. The two most-recommended soldering irons are the Weller WLC100 40-Watt Soldering Station (~$40.00):

https://smile.amazon.com/dp/B000AS28UC/_encoding=UTF8?coliid=I31B0K4Y6LGOBX&colid=1XX9QLCPVDYRV&psc=1

And the Hakko FX888D-23BY (~$100.00):

https://smile.amazon.com/dp/B00ANZRT4M/_encoding=UTF8?coliid=I5HWVHTWZFDFG&colid=1Z588QSI3LNSJ&psc=0

Like I said, both are highly recommended - I just grabbed a $15.00 iron off Amazon, and started soldering PCBs out of old keyboards I had laying around, just to learn.


Ah, I messed up. I intended to link those: https://www.aliexpress.com/store/product/gateron-switches-3pin-5pin-blue-red-black-brown-green-white-white-green-for-custom-mechnical-keyboard/3034003_32815810102.html?spm=2114.12010610.0.0.1b116c8aBlrcKR


I will let someone else that knows more about switches guide you here - like I said, you will need to make sure you have the correct switch: plate mount versus PCB mount. In addition, the switches you linked to can be used with RGB lighting - that's what the SMD in the name is referring to.

Good luck, and be sure to keep us updated!
What I lack in time, resources, and knowledge I make up for in passion, enthusiasm and ignorance.

Offline Worthless_Owl

  • Posts: 11
Re: First time to DIY keyboards [Need help, PCB questions]
« Reply #4 on: Wed, 21 February 2018, 13:24:57 »
I'm using my phone to type this, im sorry for the lack of fromatting.

https://www.reddit.com/r/MechanicalKeyboards/comments/4q7c2y/keycool_84_kit_build_log/

Someone has already built the 84 key variant of that kit. You should see his/her build log.

- The pcb being non-programmable shouldn't be a problem. You can access all the function you'll ever need, minus the numpad, with TKL layout. Most TKLs in the market are also non-programmable (filco, KUL, etc.) and most of their user are fine with it. Programmability is an extra feature for a board that size. For 60% and under though, it's almost a necessity because you lost 20+ keys compared to a TKL, and one layout might not suit everyone's taste(hhkb diamond arrow cluster isn't for everyone for example, dont worry about this too much though :p).

- Yes, you have to solder all switches in. The electricity cant flow properly without it. But there are hot swappable pcb out there like the GK64* where you just push the switches into the holes and it just work. If you have a local keyboard community there's a chance that someone might be able to solder your board for you for a price.

*https://kbdfans.myshopify.com/products/gk64-rgb-60-64keys-hot-swap-pcb

- I think most switches on the market will fit that board. Just stay away from outemu**. They are shaped differently from most cherry clones and is known to have compatibility issues, where an outemu board can't fit other switches. not sure about the other way around. Make sure to get the plate mount variant, not the pcb mount. If you get the wrong ones though, you can just clip the plastic legs with a flush cutter.

*** aHR0cDovL21lZGlhLmJlc3RvZm1pY3JvLmNvbS9MLzYvNjMxOTE0L29yaWdpbmFsL291dGVtdS1ibHVlLXN3aXRjaC5QTkc=.webp (8.17 kB - downloaded 30 times.)

- about the keycaps. You should read this***. Right now I think 80-90% of keycaps in the market are MX compatible. Just look for the cross shaped hole and you're all good. Other less common but still sold in the market are ALPS mount and Topre mount keycaps. Just compare the shape in the link i attached, it should be pretty straightforward.

***https://deskthority.net/wiki/Keycap_mount

- the keyset you're referring is made by Maxkey, they're a reputable company that made some great set(lime and ashen are great). I'm not sure about the rights to make SA caps, so i can't comment on that, but Maxkey's products aren't bad. Just know that SA caps are taller than most set that comes with most board. They are also sculpted more aggressively and are "spherical"****. It's not for everyone so i suggest that you try them out at a meetup or something first. You should read more about SA profile before buying it. If you're new to keyboards, i suggest going with OEM or Cherry profile first.

****https://deskthority.net/wiki/Spherical_keycap

Offline rich1051414

  • Posts: 351
  • Location: Decaturville, TN
Re: First time to DIY keyboards [Need help, PCB questions]
« Reply #5 on: Wed, 21 February 2018, 14:32:13 »

TKL Kit: https://www.aliexpress.com/store/product/DIY-KIT-keycool-mechanical-keyboards-cherry-mx-compatible-tkl-87-PCB-keycool-84-compact-keyboard/818123_32844894887.html?spm=2114.12010612.0.0.7f5e1c7cAIUOxf

I can vouch for the 75% version of this kit. It works wonderfully, and i was easily able to remap it. The 75% (84 key) version is an eepw84(otherwise known as XD84). However, I have no idea what the tkl would be.
« Last Edit: Wed, 21 February 2018, 14:39:22 by rich1051414 »
Siig Minitouch with Orange Alps, Whitefox 60% Zealios 67g, Realforce 87U 55g Topre, LFK SMK/Alps TKL With SMK 2nd Gen Cherry MX mount switches, NEC APC-H412 NEC Blue Ovals, Unicomp Model-M Spacesaver, XMIT Hall Effect, WASD Code Cherry MX Clear, KBDFans75 Lubed Gateron Greens, Azio MGK L80 Kailh Brown, XD84 Pale Blue Box Kailh, NIB Pingmaster TMK Converted, KPrepublic XD96 Blue aluminum case with Jade Box Kailh

Offline vastcode

  • Thread Starter
  • Posts: 9
Re: First time to DIY keyboards [Need help, PCB questions]
« Reply #6 on: Wed, 21 February 2018, 14:36:48 »
https://www.reddit.com/r/MechanicalKeyboards/comments/4q7c2y/keycool_84_kit_build_log/

Someone has already built the 84 key variant of that kit. You should see his/her build log.

This is very useful, thank you. That person built almost identical keyboard to what I am looking forward to. The build log made me feel safer buying that kit since it has pretty much everything ready and soldered, also the Gateron switches works for it then it's perfect.


- The pcb being non-programmable shouldn't be a problem. You can access all the function you'll ever need, minus the numpad, with TKL layout. Most TKLs in the market are also non-programmable (filco, KUL, etc.) and most of their user are fine with it. Programmability is an extra feature for a board that size. For 60% and under though, it's almost a necessity because you lost 20+ keys compared to a TKL, and one layout might not suit everyone's taste(hhkb diamond arrow cluster isn't for everyone for example, dont worry about this too much though :p).

It's a relief it works without any programming, then it's easier to build.


- Yes, you have to solder all switches in. The electricity cant flow properly without it. But there are hot swappable pcb out there like the GK64* where you just push the switches into the holes and it just work. If you have a local keyboard community there's a chance that someone might be able to solder your board for you for a price.

I'll just try to learn soldering. I don't expect to succeed from the first time, however I still hope it goes okay.

I've checked pretty much everything, the kit, the switches and keycaps all should fit together nicely.


~Thank you everyone for replies, this helped me a lot  :)