Construct a mechanical keyboard from scratch with 3D-printed parts

Mechanical keyboards are all the craze and it’s simple to see why—there’s the pleasure of having the ability to actually hit the keys, the clicky sounds, and the truth that they are often extremely customizable. 

If you wish to improve your typing expertise with one in every of these devices, there are two methods to go about it: You possibly can at all times purchase one or, in case you’re up for the problem, put one collectively your self. Selecting one method or the opposite could not make an enormous distinction within the price ticket of your new peripheral. However there’s just one approach that provides you the satisfaction of getting made a keyboard that’s particularly made for you and by you. 

If you happen to’re prepared for an journey, right here’s how one can construct your individual 65-percent mechanical keyboard. A high-end peripheral can simply price in extra of $100, so we designed this venture to be typically inexpensive, and if you wish to minimize prices additional, you possibly can even 3D-print your case. Ordering your parts will typically be costlier, leading to a remaining price ticket of round $150. Making your individual components, then again, can scale back that price to lower than $50.

And don’t get deterred in case you don’t have a 3D printer at house—you possibly can at all times join a membership at your native maker house the place there’ll doubtless be machines you should utilize and even courses you possibly can attend. If you happen to actually need to make the leap and get your individual 3D printer, we’ve put collectively a information with all the things it’s essential know before you purchase one.


  • Meeting time (not together with 3D printed case):  6 hours 
  • Materials price: $50 to $166.10 
  • Issue: Average

If you happen to’re not 3D-printing your parts

  • Soldering iron
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Wirecutter


1. Purchase or print your case. The case is the physique of your mechanical keyboard, and it holds the switches and different digital parts. As we talked about earlier than, you should buy one or you possibly can 3D print your individual.

If you happen to select to hit the market in the hunt for a case, on-line retailers reminiscent of KBDFans and Aliexpress are good choices since they’ve a variety of instances. The Chinese language on-line retailer has the advantage of getting you extra bang in your buck, however with the downside that orders take longer to get to you. If you happen to’re impatient, Amazon additionally carries inexpensive keyboard parts, however you’ll find yourself paying a premium for having them at your step inside a few days. 

You possibly can select to purchase an aluminum case or a plastic one. Aluminum tends to be costlier, but it surely’s extra strong and hefty, which makes it a good selection in case you don’t have a tendency to maneuver your keyboard round. However, some folks favor the look of plastic instances, that are additionally often cheaper. Some instances include a becoming plate, which is the piece that holds the keyboard switches in place, however you can even simply search for a case that has an built-in plate. Decide the mannequin, coloration, and materials you want probably the most—simply be certain that the case has a mini-USB slot for the management board.

For individuals who select to 3D print their very own case, I like to recommend utilizing FedorSosnin’s SiCK-68 tada68 ‘factor’ from Thingiverse. It’s well-designed and the printing directions are simple to observe. If you happen to’re extra superior in relation to 3D printing, you possibly can alter the Thingiverse design or make one from scratch utilizing the swillkb Plate & Case Builder useful resource. I personally went with the SiCK-68 construct good and compact, and you may print it in no matter colours you want, however I used silver PET-G filament for the underside a part of the case and white filament for the highest. I selected PET-G filament as a result of it’s sturdy and sturdy, however you can even use PLA, which gained’t require you to alter the default settings on Ultimater Cura.

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When utilizing the SiCK-68 template you’ll have to print some components individually—the decrease and higher case items (each left and proper), the dowels (to affix the items collectively), and the keycaps for the Alt, perform, proper shift, and CTRL or Command keys, in case you purchase a normal keycap set. These keycaps are barely smaller than the Tada68 structure, so that you’ll have to make your individual to suit the case.

The printing course of must be pretty related for all 3D printers however I used a Creality Ender-3 so I’ll describe the 3D printing course of primarily based on that. If you’re utilizing a printer that doesn’t have computerized mattress leveling, begin by leveling your mattress earlier than printing to make sure that you get the very best outcomes. I used Ultimater Cura to do my slicing, however you should utilize one other slicer reminiscent of Prusa Slicer. You could find the related settings I used beneath—you should utilize them as a baseline and modify them to suit your particular machine and filament. If these settings lead to a messy-looking print, slowing down the pace ought to repair any points.

Printer: Creality Ender-3

Filament kind: PET-G

Print nozzle temperature: 235°C

Construct plate temperature: 85°C

Print pace: 60mm/s

Preliminary layer pace: 10mm/s

Allow Retraction

Retraction distance: 9.5mm

Retraction pace: 40.0mm/s

Most retraction depend: 10

Combing mode: Inside infill

Allow print cooling

Fan pace 100.0%

Preliminary fan pace: 0.0

Construct plate adhesion kind: Brim

In complete, the print took round 30 hours, and in case you optimize the settings of your printer, you possibly can simply depart your machine to do its factor with out a lot intervention.

If you happen to print with a brim, you’ll be aware that you’ll have to trim off the additional materials with a craft knife. You’ll additionally discover some leftover “strings”—these are regular when utilizing PET-G filament, and you may simply take away them by blasting your prints at arm’s size with a warmth gun at round 390 levels F. You may also pluck them off. 

2. Set up the switches. Set up your switches into the assembled high half of your keyboard case or plate. We went for the Akko CS Ocean Blue, as they’re clicky and really inexpensive, however you should utilize no matter switches you want so long as they’ve three pins and are the identical measurement. 

To put in them, be certain that all of the switches are dealing with in the identical route and press them into place till you hear a click on—that’s how you understand they’re secured.

If you end putting in the switches, it’ll look one thing like this.

3. Solder the switches to the diodes. Now it’s essential begin organising your keyboard’s management system, which permits the sign of a pressed key to journey from the precise change to the management board. Step one is to solder diodes to the pins of your switches. 

Diodes often are available units of 100, however you’ll solely want 68—one for every key. This can depart you with plenty of room for error in case you want it. These delicate parts be certain that present solely flows in a single route in order that there aren’t any loops that may find yourself frying your keyboard or inflicting your machine to register the improper key. 

Begin off by figuring out which finish is the cathode of the diode—you’ll acknowledge it by the black band painted on the physique. Use your wirecutter to trim the cathode right down to 1/2-inch and solder it to the left pin of a change. Repeat the method with all remaining switches and end up by trimming the remaining ends of the diodes to 1/2-inch.

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4. Join every row of switches with a wire. You’ll discover that there are 5 rows and 15 columns of switches linked to diodes. Measure up, minimize, and strip 5 items of strong core wire lengthy sufficient to run for your complete size of every row of switches. 

Solder the remaining ends of the diodes within the first row to one of many items of the strong core wire, and repeat the method for all of the remaining rows. End the row up by trimming the ends of the diodes which are nonetheless poking up, and putting electrical tape over each bit of the strong core wire. This can forestall shortages from taking place between the rows and columns.

5. Join every column of switches with a wire. Measure up, minimize, and strip 15 shorter items of stripped strong core wire lengthy sufficient to span the size of the columns of your keyboard. Solder one piece of wire to the precise pin of every change within the first column and repeat for all columns.

6. Join your rainbow wires to the row and column wires. Strip the ends of 5 wires out of your rainbow wire spool, and solder them onto the ends of every row of wire. You possibly can select the precise or left finish of the row wires, however no matter you do, be certain that your Teensy is ready to slot into its spot within the backside half of the case with out situation. If you happen to don’t router your wires correctly, they may bunch up and never depart sufficient house for the Teensy and the case won’t even have the ability to shut up correctly. 

Proceed by stripping the ends of a set of 15 wires out of your rainbow wire spool and solder them onto the ends of every column wire. 

At this level, the again of your keyboard ought to look one thing like this. 

Build a mechanical keyboard from scratch with 3D-printed components
It seems to be messy, however we swear it’s not as sophisticated because it appears.

7. Solder the rainbow wire to the Teensy. Use this diagram. The totally different colours of the rainbow wire will allow you to inform the distinction between every row and column, making the job a bit of simpler. Make sure that to double-check your wires earlier than you solder them. 

Professional tip: You should use an authentic Teensy if you wish to, however it should doubtless be costlier.

In order for you a extra theoretical understanding of how precisely this setup works, you possibly can take a look at the place the writer takes a deeper dive into the internal workings of any such keyboard. However to sum up, every key corresponds to a singular mixture of row and column numbers. That is how the Teensy is aware of which key you’re urgent.

8. Program the Teensy. It’s only a matter of following these steps:

  • Join your Teensy to your pc with the mini-USB cable.
  • Obtain the file.
  • Extract the file to a handy location and open the folder.
  • Within the EasyAVR-master folder, discover and run the easykeymap.exe file. That is the setup wizard for the keyboard mapping course of.
  • Go to the File menu on the principle navigation bar on the high of your display screen, and choose New.
  • Choose TAD68 after which click on OK.
  • Shut the software program for now. 
  • In a brand new File Explorer (or Finder window, in case you’re on a Mac) go to C:SPB_Data.EasyAVRboards
  • Copy the file to this folder. This file is in the principle folder from once you extracted the file.
  • Again on the EasyAVR-master folder, open easykeymap.exe once more.
  • From File, select New, choose SiCK-68, after which click on OK.
  • To create a perform key layer (that means, giving keys a perform totally different from the unique once you press the Fn key), choose Layer 1, then the 1 key (subsequent to Esc) within the window. Proceed by deciding on the Scancode possibility after which F1—it will give the quantity key the F1 perform once you press it together with the Fn key. You possibly can repeat the method with the remainder of the quantity keys (and the minus and plus keys to the precise of the row) to assign them as much as the F12 perform. 
  • Choose Construct.
  • Save the ensuing file.
  • From the principle SiCK-68_EasyAVR folder, open the Pretend Teensy Loader.exe file.
  • Press the button in your Teensy as soon as to manually enter Program Mode. 
  • Subsequent, go to File after which Open HEX File, and choose the doc that you simply created in step 13.
  • Lastly, choose Program.
  • To complete, choose Reboot from the Teensy Loader menu. Your keyboard ought to now have the firmware on it.
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9. Slot within the stabilizers and the keycaps. Stabilizers will assist, nicely, stabilize greater keys, just like the left shift key, the backspace, the spacebar, and the Enter keys. As soon as the stabilizers are in place, you possibly can connect the keycaps to the switches—simply line up the cross-shaped slot within the keycap and push it into place. In case you don’t keep in mind the place every keycap goes, you should utilize this structure as a reference.

10. Check the Teensy. Make sure that all the things works because it ought to, by going to the Keyboard Tester web site and attempting out your gadget. It’s best to see the platform registering every stroke as you hit the keys. 

Any points you run into could also be on account of shorts—possibly you didn’t apply {the electrical} tape correctly, or it might have been broken in some locations. That is a simple repair: visually examine the tape to see if there are any points. If issues persist, then it would imply one thing isn’t soldered accurately. Disconnect the keyboard, take away the tape, and rejoin something which may have separated. 

11. Tuck in your parts and shut the case. When you’ve verified all the things’s working easily, it’s time to package deal all the things up. There’s a slot within the backside half of the case for the Teensy. Go forward and tuck it in there, ensuring that it’s as far ahead as potential and you could simply plug in your mini-USB cable. 

Put the highest half of the case onto the underside half, ensuring there aren’t any wires protruding. Screw all the things collectively together with your machine screws.

12. Apply the rubber ft. Do that close to or on the 4 corners of the underside of the keyboard. 

I’ve been utilizing this keyboard ever since I completed programming the Teensy and it has been an actual pleasure. There’s something in regards to the roughness of it—the place I minimize off the additional materials, the customized keycaps, and the joints—that makes me love this keyboard greater than anybody I may have purchased. It’s my keyboard and I constructed it. 

You won’t just like the roughness as a lot as I do (you possibly can simply polish that early on within the course of), however the motion of the switches and keycaps is fast and polished, so the feel doesn’t compromise the gadget’s efficiency. The Akko CS Ocean Blue switches are very tactile and clicky, which I personally love, however if you’d like one thing quieter, then there are different choices on the market.

I’m a brand new convert to mechanical keyboards and because of this construct there’s no approach I’m going again to a membrane keyboard. This can be a fundamental construct however you don’t should cease right here. You possibly can construct one to make use of at house and one for the workplace. You possibly can add extra customizations like totally different coloured keycaps and you may even add LEDs. The sky’s the restrict.