Build vs. Buy Custom Mechanical Keyboard: Which is Right?


Updated: 03/10/2023

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Image of a Mechanical keyboard

Custom mechanical keyboards are all the rage these days, and for good reason. Customizing a keyboard is choosing and installing the components that make up a keyboard, such as the case, plate, switches, keycaps, and stabilizers. They offer a superior typing experience with a wide range of customization options. Whether you’re a gamer, typist, or just someone who appreciates a well-made keyboard, a custom mechanical keyboard is a great option.
In this article, we’ll discuss what custom mechanical keyboards are, why people choose to build or buy them, and the pros and cons of each approach. We’ll also provide a comprehensive guide to building your custom mechanical keyboard, from choosing the right components to soldering the switches to the PCB.

What are Custom Mechanical Keyboards?

A close-up of a custom mechanical keyboard with blue lights on the keys. The keyboard is sitting on a dark wooden table.

Custom mechanical keyboards have been assembled and customized by the user. This means you can choose every keyboard component, from the case and plate to the switches and keycaps. This gives you much control over your keyboard’s look, feel, and performance.

Why Do People Choose to Build or Buy Custom Mechanical Keyboards?

There are many reasons why people choose to build or buy custom mechanical keyboards. Some people do it to build their keyboard from the ground up. Others do it because they want a keyboard that is perfectly tailored to their needs. Still, others do it because they appreciate custom mechanical keyboards’ superior typing experience.

Pros and Cons of Building a Custom Mechanical Keyboard

Pros
  • One of the main benefits of building your keyboard is that you can customize it to your liking.
  • You can choose every keyboard component to customize your needs perfectly, like customizable keys.
  • It is a fun and rewarding experience to build your keyboard.
  • You can learn a lot about keyboards and how they work.
Cons
  • It can be time-consuming and expensive to build a custom mechanical keyboard.
  • It can be challenging to solder the switches to the PCB.
  • You may need to purchase specialized tools

Pros and Cons of Buying a Custom Mechanical Keyboard

Pros
  • It is quick and easy to buy a custom mechanical keyboard.
  • You can get a high-quality keyboard that experienced professionals build.
  • There is a wide range of custom mechanical keyboards to choose from, so you can find one that fits your budget and needs.
Cons
  • You may not be able to get a keyboard that is perfectly tailored to your needs.
  • Custom mechanical keyboards can be expensive.

Which Option Is Right for You?

Whether you should build or buy a custom mechanical keyboard depends on your budget, needs, and skills. If you are on a tight budget or do not have any experience with soldering, then buying a custom mechanical keyboard is the best option. However, if you have the budget and are willing to learn how to solder, then building your custom mechanical keyboard can be a rewarding experience.

Building a Custom Mechanical Keyboard

Two mechanical keyboards with black and white keycaps. The keyboards are sitting on a black surface.

In this section, you will learn everything you need to know to build your custom mechanical keyboard, from the basics of keyboard components to the step-by-step assembly process.

What Components Do You Need to Build a Custom Mechanical Keyboard?

A black keyboard on a black background.

To build a custom mechanical keyboard, you will need the following components:

  • Case: 
A purple aluminum case for a 60% mechanical keyboard.

The case is the outer shell of the keyboard. It protects the internal components and provides a mounting surface for the keycaps.

  •  Plate: 
A gold keyboard plate made of anodized aluminum. The plate has a standard ANSI layout and supports Costar stabilizers.

The plate is a metal or plastic sheet that mounts between the case and the PCB. It provides support for the switches and helps to prevent them from wobbling.

  •  Switch: 
A close-up of a Gateron KS-9 G PRO mechanical switch with a clear housing and green stem.

Switches are the components that register keystrokes. They come in various types, with characteristics such as actuation force, travel distance, and sound profile.

  •  Keycaps: 
A set of white and purple keycaps with a Japanese Hiragana sublegends. The keycaps are made of PBT material and have a Cherry profile.

Keycaps are the plastic or ABS caps at the switches. They come in a variety of colors, styles, and materials.

  •  Stabilizers: 
A set of clear mechanical stabilizers with gold-plated wires and PCB mount screws.

Stabilizers stabilize larger keys, such as the spacebar, shift keys, and enter keys. They prevent these keys from wobbling and help ensure they register keystrokes accurately.

  •  PCB: 
A close-up of a green printed circuit board (PCB) for a 60% mechanical keyboard. The PCB has a standard ANSI layout and supports Hot Swap switches.

The PCB is the printed circuit board that connects all components. It also contains a microcontroller that controls the keyboard.

How to Choose the Right Components for Your Needs?

The first step in building a keyboard is choosing the components you want to use. When choosing components for your custom mechanical keyboard, it is important to consider your needs and budget.

  • Case: Cases come in various materials, such as aluminum, plastic, and wood. Aluminum cases are more durable and have a better sound profile but are more expensive. Plastic cases are less expensive but not as durable and may have a less desirable sound profile. Wood cases are unique and stylish but are more expensive and difficult to work with.
  • Plate: Plates come in various materials, such as aluminum, brass, and steel. Aluminum plates are lightweight and have a bright sound profile. Brass plates are heavier and have a deeper sound profile. Steel plates are the heaviest and have the deepest sound profile.
  • Switches: Switches come in various types, with characteristics such as actuation force, travel distance, and sound profile. Actuation force is the pressure required to press a switch down and register a keystroke. Travel distance is the distance that the switch travels from its resting position to its fully depressed position. The sound profile is the sound the switch makes when pressed.
  • Keycaps: Keycaps come in various colors, styles, and materials. Material options include ABS plastic, PBT plastic, and POM plastic. ABS plastic keycaps are the most common type of keycap and the least expensive. PBT plastic keycaps are more durable and have a better texture, but are also more expensive. POM plastic keycaps are the most expensive type but are also the most durable and have the best texture.

How to Build a Custom Mechanical Keyboard Step-by-Step?

Once you have chosen all the components for your custom mechanical keyboard, you can start building it. Here is a step-by-step guide:

  1. Install the switches into the plate. Most switches will snap into the plate, but some may require soldering.
  2. Install the plate into the case. Most cases will have screws or clips that hold the plate in place.
  3. Install the stabilizers. Stabilizers are typically screwed into the plate.
  4. Install the PCB into the case. Most cases will have screws or clips that hold the PCB in place.
  5. Solder the switches to the PCB. If you are not comfortable soldering, you can buy a pre-soldered PCB.
  6. Install the keycaps. Keycaps are typically pressed onto the switches.

Your custom mechanical keyboard will be complete once you complete all these steps.

Here are some additional tips for building a custom mechanical keyboard:

  • Make sure that all of your components are compatible with each other.
  • Be careful not to overtighten any screws, which can damage the components.
  • If you are soldering, be careful not to bridge any of the solder pads.
  • Test the keyboard after each step to ensure everything is working properly.

Building a custom mechanical keyboard can be a rewarding experience. By choosing the right components and following the steps above, you can create a keyboard that is perfectly tailored to your needs.

Buying a Custom Mechanical Keyboard

If you’re not interested in building your custom mechanical keyboard, there are many places where you can buy one. Here are a few popular options:

  • Online retailers: Many retailers, such as NovelKeys and Kono, sell custom mechanical keyboards: store and Vala Supply.
  • Keyboard makers: Many independent keyboard makers sell their custom keyboards. You can find them on platforms like Etsy and Reddit.
  • Mechanical keyboard meetups: Mechanical keyboard meetups are a great place to try different custom keyboards and talk to the people who built them. You can also often buy custom keyboards directly from the makers at meetups.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Custom Mechanical Keyboard

When choosing a custom mechanical keyboard, there are a few factors you should consider:

  • Layout: The layout of the keyboard is the arrangement of the keys. Many different layouts are available, so choose one that is comfortable to type.
  • Switches: Switches are the components that register keystrokes. They come in various types, with characteristics such as actuation force, travel distance, and sound profile. Choose switches that feel and sound good to you.
  • Keycaps: Keycaps are the plastic or ABS caps at the switches. They come in a variety of colors, styles, and materials. Choose keycaps that match your aesthetic and typing style.
  • Case: The case is the outer shell of the keyboard. Cases come in various materials, such as aluminum, plastic, and wood. Choose a case that is durable and looks good to you.

Tips for Getting the Best Deal on a Custom Mechanical Keyboard

A mechanical keyboard with a purple aluminum case, white and purple keycaps, and clear mechanical switches with green stems.

If you’re on a budget, there are a few things you can do to get the best deal on a custom mechanical keyboard:

  • Buy used: Many people sell their used custom mechanical keyboards online and at meetups. You can often find great deals on used keyboards.
  • Wait for sales:¬†Many online retailers and keyboard makers offer sales yearly. You can often find a good deal on a custom mechanical keyboard if you’re patient.
  • Build your own: If you’re handy with tools, you can save a lot of money by building your custom mechanical keyboard. There are many resources available online that can teach you how to build a custom keyboard.

No matter where you choose to buy your custom mechanical keyboard, be sure to research and read reviews before purchasing. Many great custom mechanical keyboards are on the market, but some are not worth the money.

Conclusion:

Customizing mechanical keyboards is a great way to create a perfectly tailored keyboard to your needs and preferences. Whether you build or buy a custom mechanical keyboard depends on your needs and preferences. Buying is the best option if you’re on a budget or short on time. If you want a more personalized experience and have the skills and time, the building is the best option. Either way, you’ll enjoy the benefits of a custom mechanical keyboard.

If you’re ready to build your custom keyboard, I recommend using a custom keyboard builder. A custom keyboard builder is a great way to understand how your keyboard will look and feel before you start building it.

Should I buy or build a mechanical keyboard?

Whether you should buy or build a mechanical keyboard depends on your budget, needs, and preferences.

Buying a mechanical keyboard is easier and more convenient than building your own. There are also many pre-built mechanical keyboards to choose from, so you can find one that fits your needs and budget.

Building a mechanical keyboard allows you to customize it to your exact liking. You can choose the switch type, keycaps, layout, and case. Building a mechanical keyboard can also be a fun and rewarding experience.

Is custom keyboards worth it?

Whether or not a custom keyboard is worth it depends on your preferences. If you’re happy with the features and performance of your pre-built keyboard, then there’s no need to spend money on a custom keyboard. However, a custom keyboard may be worth the investment if you’re looking for a perfectly tailored to your needs and preferences.

Why do people build custom mechanical keyboards?

People build custom mechanical keyboards for a variety of reasons. Some people do it because they want a perfectly tailored keyboard to their needs and preferences. Others do it because they enjoy the challenge of building their keyboard. Still, others do it because they want a unique keyboard that stands out.

Is it better to build your own mechanical keyboard?

Whether or not it’s better to build your mechanical keyboard depends on your circumstances. A pre-built keyboard is probably the best option if you’re on a tight budget. However, if you’re willing to invest the time and money, then building your keyboard can be a rewarding experience.

Is building a mechanical keyboard expensive?

Building a mechanical keyboard can be expensive, especially if you want to use high-end components. However, there are also many budget-friendly options available. If you’re on a tight budget, you can start with a basic kit and upgrade your keyboard over time.

Who makes best custom keyboards?

Many companies make custom mechanical keyboards. Some of the most popular brands include:

  • Keychron
  • Glorious PC Gaming Race
  • NovelKeys
  • Konoha Lab
  • CannonKeys
What is the fastest custom mechanical keyboard?

The fastest custom mechanical keyboard is the one that has the shortest actuation point and travel distance. Some of the most popular switches for fast typing include Cherry MX Speed Silver, Kailh Speed Silver, and Gateron Speed Silver.

What are the best sounding mechanical keyboards?

The best-sounding mechanical keyboards are subjective, but some of the most popular options include:

  • Keyboards with linear switches, such as Cherry MX Red or Gateron Yellow
  • Keyboards with tactile switches, such as Cherry MX Brown or Kailh Box Brown
  • Keyboards with clicky switches, such as Cherry MX Blue or Gateron Blue
Is it cheaper to build your own mechanical kb?

Building your mechanical keyboard can be cheaper than buying a pre-built keyboard, especially if you’re willing to use budget-friendly components. However, it’s important to factor in the cost of all necessary components, including the PCB, plate, switches, keycaps, and case.

How much does a custom keyboard cost?

The cost of a custom mechanical keyboard can vary depending on your chosen components. However, you can expect to spend at least $100 on a basic kit. If you want high-end components, the cost can easily exceed $500.


Shifa Tariq

Shifa Tariq

Hi, I'm Shifa, the CEO and Co-founder of Best Keyboard Tester, the go-to website for comprehensive keyboard guides, in-depth reviews, and top recommendations. As a huge keyboard enthusiast and tech lover, I created this website to help everyone find the perfect keyboard, whether you're a casual typist or a hardcore gamer. Our unique online keyboard tester tool lets you virtually try different switches and layouts before buying. I'm passionate about helping people discover the joy of an excellent keyboard and always looking for ways to improve our website.

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