Build a mechanical keyboard from scratch with 3D-printed components

Build a mechanical keyboard from scratch with 3D-printed components
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Mechanical keys have become a rage. It’s easy to see how–they offer the joy of hitting the keys, clicky sounds and can be highly customized.

If you want to improve your typing skills with one of these gadgets there are two options: Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, you can make one . It may not make a big difference in the price of your new peripheral .. There’s only one way to feel the satisfaction of a keyboard made just for you.

If you’re ready for an adventure, here’s how you can build your own 65-percent mechanical keyboard. A high-end peripheral can easily cost in excess of $100, so we designed this project to be generally affordable, and if you want to cut costs further, you can even 3D-print your case. Ordering your components will generally be more expensive, resulting in a final price tag of around $150. Making your own parts, on the other hand, can reduce that cost to less than $50.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have a printer at home. You can sign up for a membership to your localmaker space , where you will likely find machines and classes that you can attend. a guide to will help you make the right decision and purchase a 3D printer.

Stats

  • Assembly time (not including 3D printed case): 6 hours
  • Material cost: $50 to $166. 10
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Soldering iron
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Wirecutter

Instructions

1. Buy or print your case. The case is the main body of your keyboard and holds the switches and other electronic parts. You can either buy one or 3D-print your own.

If you’re looking for a case and are not able to find it in the local market, online retailers like Aliexpress and KBDFans have a wide selection of cases. While the Chinese online retailer offers more value for your money, it can take longer for orders to reach you. Amazon has keyboard components that are affordable, but they will take longer to arrive at your door.

You can choose to buy an aluminum case or a plastic one. Aluminum is more expensive but more durable and robust than plastic. This makes it a good choice for those who don’t like to move their keyboard around. Some people prefer plastic cases, which are usually less expensive. You can choose to have a case with an integrated plate or a fitting plate. You can choose the model, color, or material that you like best. Just make sure that the case has a mini USB slot for the control board.

For those who choose to 3D print their own case, I recommend using FedorSosnin’s SiCK-68 tada68 ‘thing’ from Thingiverse. It is well-designed, and the printing instructions are simple to follow. If you’re more advanced when it comes to 3D printing, you can alter the Thingiverse design or make one from scratch using the swillkb Plate & Case Builder resource. I personally went with the SiCK-68 build nice and compact, and you can print it in whatever colors you like, but I used silver PET-G filament for the bottom part of the case and white filament for the top. PET-G filament was my choice because it is durable and sturdy. However, you can also use PLA which will not require you to alter the default settings of Ultimater Cura.

When using the SiCK-68 template you’ll need to print some parts separately–the lower and upper case pieces (both left and right), the dowels (to join the pieces together), and the keycaps for the Alt, function, right shift, and CTRL or Command keys, if you buy a standard keycap set. These keycaps are slightly smaller than the Tada68 layout, so you’ll need to make your own to fit the case.

The printing process should be relatively similar for all 3D printers, but I used a Creality Ener-3 so I will explain the 3D printing process. To ensure the best results, make sure your printer has automatic bed leveling. Ultimater Cura was used for my slicing. Prusa Slicer is also an option. Below are the settings I used. You can use them as a starting point and then adjust them to your machine and filament. If you have problems with the settings, slowing down the speed will fix it.

Printer: Creality Ender-3

Filament type: PET-G

Print nozzle temperature: 235degC

Build plate temperature: 85degC

Print speed: 60mm/s

Initial layer speed: 10mm/s

Enable Retraction

Retraction distance: 9.5mm

Retraction speed: 40.0mm/s

Maximum retraction count: 10

Combing mode: Within infill

Enable print cooling

Fan speed 100.0%

Initial fan speed: 0.0

Build plate adhesion type: Brim

In total, the print took around 30 hours, and if you optimize the settings of your printer, you can just leave your machine to do its thing without much intervention.

If you print with a Brim, you will need to trim the excess material with a craft knife. You’ll also notice some leftover “strings”–these are normal when using PET-G filament, and you can easily remove them by blasting your prints at arm’s length with a heat gun at around 390 degrees F. You can also pluck them off.

2. Install the switches. Install your switches into the assembled top half of your keyboard case or plate. We went for the Akko CS Ocean Blue, as they are clicky and very affordable, but you can use whatever switches you like as long as they have three pins and are the same size.

To install them, ensure that all switches face in the same direction. Press them into place until they click – that’s how you will know they are secure.

Build a mechanical keyboard from scratch with 3D-printed components
When you finish installing the switches, it’ll look something like this.

3. Solder the switches to diodes. Now you need to start setting up your keyboard’s control system, which allows the signal of a pressed key to travel from the right switch to the control board. First, solder diodes to your switches’ pins.

Diodes usually come in sets of 100, but you’ll only need 68–one for each key. This gives you a lot of flexibility if you do need it. These delicate components ensure that current flows only in one direction, so there are no loops which could fry your keyboard or cause your machine to register the wrong key.

First, identify which end of the diode is the cathode. You can recognize it by the black band on the body. Use your wirecutter and trim the cathode to 1/2-inch. Then solder it to a switch’s left pin. Continue the process with all other switches, and trim the ends of the diodes down to 1/2-inch.

4. Connect each row with a wire. You’ll notice that there are five rows and 15 columns of switches connected to diodes. Measure, cut and strip five pieces each of solid core wire that is long enough to cover the length of each row.

Solder the ends of the diodes from the first row to one piece of the solid corewire, and then continue the process for the remaining rows. End the row by trimming any diodes that are still visible and putting electrical tape over each section of the solid core. This will prevent any shortages between rows and columns.

5. Connect each column of switches to a wire. Measure up, cut, and strip 15 shorter pieces of stripped solid core wire long enough to span the length of the columns of your keyboard. Connect one piece of wire to each switch in the first column. Repeat this process for all other columns.

6. Connect your rainbow wires with the row and column wiring. Take five wires from the rainbow wire spool and cut them off. Then solder them to the ends of each row. You can choose to place your Teensy in the bottom of the case at the left or right end of the row wires. If your wires are not properly routed, they can become tangled and not leave enough space for Teensy. The case may not close properly.

Continue by stripping the ends of a set of 15 wires from your rainbow wire spool and solder them onto the ends of each column wire.

At this point, your keyboard’s back should look like this.

Build a mechanical keyboard from scratch with 3D-printed components
It looks messy, but we swear it’s not as complicated as it seems.

7. Solder the rainbow wire to Teensy. Use this diagram. This diagram will make it easier to distinguish between rows and columns using the different colors of rainbow wire. Before you solder your wires, make sure to double-check them.

Pro tip: You can use an original Teensy if you want to, but it will likely be more expensive.

If you want a more theoretical understanding of how exactly this setup works, you can check out Matt3o.com where the author takes a deeper dive into the inner workings of this type of keyboard. Each key corresponds with a unique combination row and column numbers. This is how Teensy can tell which key you are pressing.

8. Programming the Teensy. It’s just a matter of following these steps:

  • Connect your Teensy to your computer with the mini-USB cable.
  • Download the SiCK-68_EasyAVR.zip file.
  • Extract the file to a convenient location and open the folder.
  • In the EasyAVR-master folder, find and run the easykeymap.exe file. This is the setup wizard to map the keyboard.
  • Go to the File menu on the main navigation bar at the top of your screen, and select New.
  • Select TAD68 and then click OK.
  • Close the software for now.
  • In a new File Explorer (or Finder window, if you’re on a Mac) go to C:SPB_Data.EasyAVRboards
  • Copy the SiCK-68.py file to this folder. This file is in the main folder from when you extracted the SiCK-68_EasyAVR.zip file.
  • Back at the EasyAVR-master folder, open easykeymap.exe again.
  • From File, choose New, select SiCK-68, and then click OK.
  • To create a function key layer (meaning, giving keys a function different from the original when you press the Fn key), select Layer 1, then the 1 key (next to Esc) in the window. Continue by selecting the Scancode option and then F1–this will give the number key the F1 function when you press it along with the Fn key. You can repeat the process with the rest of the number keys (and the minus and plus keys to the right of the row) to assign them up to the F12 function.
  • Select Build.
  • Save the resulting file.
  • From the main SiCK-68_EasyAVR folder, open the Fake Teensy Loader.exe file.
  • Press the button on your Teensy once to manually enter Program Mode.
  • Next, go to File and then Open HEX File, and select the document that you created in step 13.
  • Finally, select Program.
  • To finish, select Reboot from the Teensy Loader menu. The firmware should now be on your keyboard.

9. Slot in the stabilizers and the keycaps. Stabilizers will help, well, stabilize bigger keys, like the left shift key, the backspace, the spacebar, and the Enter keys. Once the stabilizers have been installed, you can attach the keycaps and switches to them. Simply line up the cross-shaped slot on the keycap and push it in place. In case you don’t remember where each keycap goes, you can use this layout as a reference.

10. The Teensy. Make sure everything works as it should, by going to the Keyboard Tester website and trying out your gadget. The platform should register each stroke you make when you hit the keys.

Any issues you encounter could be due to shorts. Perhaps you didn’t apply electrical tape correctly or it was damaged in certain places. This is a simple fix: visually inspect the tape and check for any problems. If the problem persists, it could be that something isn’t soldered correctly. Disconnect the keyboard and remove the tape. Reattach any pieces that may have become separated.

11. Close the case by tucking in all your components. Once you’ve verified everything’s running smoothly, it’s time to package everything up. The bottom half of your case has a slot for the Teensy. You can place it in the bottom half of the case. Make sure it is as far forward as you can to allow for easy access to your mini-USB cable.

Place the top half of your case on the bottom half. Make sure that no wires are protruding. Use your machine screws to attach everything.

12. Apply the rubber feet. Apply the rubber feet near or at the corners of the keyboard’s bottom.

I’ve been using this keyboard since I programmed the Teensy. It has been a great pleasure. It is the roughness of the keyboard, where I removed the extra material, custom keycaps and joints, that makes me love it more than any other keyboard I could have purchased. It’s my keyboard, and I made it.

You might not like the roughness of the switches (you can polish it early in the process), but the action and keycaps are quick and smooth, so the gadget’s performance isn’t affected by the texture. The Akko Ocean Blue switches are tactile and clicky which I love. However, there are other options if you need something quieter.

I am a new convert in mechanical keyboards and this build has made it so easy that I will never go back to a membrane keyboard. This is a very basic build, but you don’t need to stop there. You can make one for your home and one for your office. You can customize the keycaps with different colors and even add LEDs. The possibilities are endless.

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