When it comes to choosing the best keyboard or gaming keyboard, there are already a million options – surely there is something for everyone, right? Why would anyone go to the trouble, time and expense to build their own?
The answer to this question is not a one-part answer to "it's cheaper" because, unlike building your own PC, building a keyboard is generally no cheaper than buying a standard model – in fact, it is often (but not always) much more expensive, with plenty of examples making planks like Logitech's $ 250 G915 look like a bargain.
It's about the design and the journey of creating something that is unique to you. And unlike a lot of creative hobbies, creating a keyboard can be oddly convenient as you are essentially creating the perfect tool for your PC, be it for gaming, general internet surfing, office work, or programming.
Everything starts with the layout
When creating a custom keyboard, it all starts with the layout. One of the most popular reasons for building a keyboard is that you want a hallway with a certain layout and feature set, and what you're looking for just isn't out there – and a full-sized 104-key hallway is plenty with too many unused keys. For example, you might have come across this perfect layout 65% keyboard, but despise the switches on it.
There are several ways you can create a keyboard, however – and it comes down to choosing what you think is important, how much money you are willing to spend, and how much time you are willing to devote to the project.
It doesn't have to cost a fortune
Take, for example, this keyboard that a programmer friend made of mine. As a basic frame he reached for a Noppoo Nano 75-S keyboard with Noppoo Blue switches – a layout that he loved because of its compact but complete range of functions and a brilliant click switch. But he didn't like the plastic shell or the color or the keycaps.
So he tore off the cover to expose the metal back plate and create the "floating key" look, sanded and sprayed the case with a matte black finish, smeared the switches for a smoother operation, and replaced the keycaps with white extra concave ones Much higher quality keycaps. This isn't a huge keyboard construction, but it's a habit that suits him and he's used the keyboard for years – and the high quality keycaps make it hardly look or feel worse when you wear it.
The end result is a keyboard with an eye-catching look – with the exposed metal back plate and classic style keycaps, it certainly looks like a homemade kit – but it doesn't type that way.
In fact, this keyboard typed better than most keyboards I've ever got my hands on. This is partly due to the clicking and lubricated switches, but mostly due to the high-end SA “Ice Cap” keycaps. Their concave design hugs your fingertips, which feels brilliant. I enjoyed typing on this keyboard a lot more than most of the other planks that come through my office – I kind of want to keep them.
It doesn't have to end there
But as much as using a pre-built keyboard as a foundation is a digestible introduction to the world of keyboard construction, it doesn't have to end there. I've seen keyboards with custom circuit board designs by people with some electrical engineering skills who then built custom backplates, a custom frame, maybe some nice wood, built in a controller, soldered on their (modified) switches of their choice and hooked up premium switches, and last Cherry connected to the top of a hose cable in the color of your choice for connecting the system.
Do you need inspiration? Just check out the r / MechanicalKeyboards subreddit and you'll get lost in a sea of ideas.
And in these areas, the cost of things can add up – this is a hobby that can get expensive, but it doesn't have to be. Ultimately, however, the keyboard is the main tool that you use to interact with your PC on a daily basis. A more pleasant operation can, to a certain extent, be an investment to make your work as pleasant as possible more pleasant as well.