Soemarko Ridwan

iOS & Web Developer ⟡ Coffee Addict ⟡ Scuba Diver

Quick Intro to Custom Mechanical Keyboards


As I write this, I'm waist deep in the custom mechanical keyboard rabbit hole. The space mouse project made me thinking that the ideal input is a trackball. Looking into DIY trackball led me to ergonomics keyboard, guessed what keyboards most of these ergo nerds use? A custom mechanical keyboard.

The word custom is the key here. Mechanical keyboards, technically, are nothing new. They’re just keyboards with Cherry MX mechanical switches. Back in early 00's, Ducky and Topre were considered the endgame keyboard. And not long after that, Jeff Atwood of Stack Overflow partnered with WASD and created the Code Keyboard. Which I considered my endgame keyboard, a well thought out keyboard. Bought it in 2015, liked it, use it whenever I'm home never thought about mechanical keyboard again...

... until now. The word "custom" here has quite a large gamut. Ranging from the very buying each part (think of it like building your own PC — buy motherboard, RAM, CPU, etc. and put it together at home), to design their own PCB and have it fab by jlpcb or oshpark, or 3D print the enclosure and hand solder each pins with wires. Guess where I fall in the ranges there?

Even buying each parts aren't as simple as buying motherboards or case for your PC, no, members of the community design these keyboards, or just a part of a keyboard, then they organized these group buys, where if enough people pre-purchased it, then it can go into a small scale production. It means that these people spent their money and need to wait at least 6-12 months (sometimes even longer) before getting anything in the mail.

On the flip side, if the group buy turns out to be awesome and you missed the group buy, tough luck, you have to pay premium from others who are willing to part with theirs, or hope for another revision of another group buy. Even then, the good ones will sold out within seconds of the launch. Example: Satisfaction75 fiasco. Which is why keyboards youtube videos are more like show and tell rather than reviews. For context: there are people who are willing to buy one of the earliest group buy keyboard for $8000. An $8k keyboard.

This is the most passionate and patience community I've ever come across. They are both elitist and kind / welcoming at the same time. So here I am, printing the case for a Dactyl Manuform Mini while browsing for which key switch and caps I want to use for my next keeb.

Links if you want to dig a little bit deeper: