Having some work done: my new old DIY keyboard
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Having some work done: my new old DIY keyboard

Kevin Hofer
Zurich, on 12.04.2021
Translation: Patrik Stainbrook
After more than two years, I'm giving my first DIY keyboard a facelift. The switches are already lubricated. Now there are more modifications to come, many of which I missed the first time around.

Sure, I love my DIY keyboard. The strange 75 per cent layout, including a numeric keypad yet lacking dedicated dot and comma keys totally suits me – I like it weird. But after little more than two years, the tinkering bug has gripped me, and I'm looking to renew my creation. I've already exchanged my Cherry MX Blue Clicky Switches for the new Immoral Panda ones. Gone are switches with palpable and audible feedback, it's all about tactile feedback now. Next up, stabilisers.

Why you should *lube** your switches
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Why you should lube your switches

Less clattering, please

In my last article, I stated that clicky switches are the biggest mistake you can make in a DIY keyboard. But even if you choose those kinds of buttons, there's one graver sin: not lubing the stabilisers. Stabilisers – or stabs for short – are components that stabilise your longer keys. Metal rods connect to plastic holders, which in turn join with the PCB of your keyboard and the keycaps. This creates quite a bit of friction – even more than the switches themselves. Which is why they often rattle and clatter quite a bit.

Listen for yourself, I can hardly bear the Logitech G915:

I hardly noticed it before. But since I've got more into DIY keyboards, I can't «unhear» it. I won't even touch the G915 now. As with the switches, I'll need a brush and some lubricant for rod modding. This time, I'll also require a side cutter and some plasters. Yes, you read that right. Plasters. I'm modifying not only the stabs themselves, but also the attachment point on the PCB. In the mechanical keyboard community, plaster mods haven't been trending lately as their keystrokes feel slightly too soft when pressed through. I decided to do it anyway because my GMK stabilisers still rattled badly when I tested them without the patches. And a bit of impact protection for tactile keys never hurt anyone.

An unmodded stabiliser.
An unmodded stabiliser.

Stabilisers consist of three components: the metal connector, an outer plastic part that's screwed to the PCB in my build, and a plastic bit onto which the keycaps are placed that moves up and down. I separate the three components first, only lubricating the insides of the outer plastic bit and the wire. I won't bore you with the details now. Though I did base my build on the following YouTube video. Lacking the same lubricant as shown in the video, I used G-Lube instead.

The most important steps:

  • The so-called clipping process. Feet which protrude from the inner plastic bit are removed using a side cutter.
  • Make sure to lubricate the interior of the outer plastic bit.
  • Lubricate the wire ends as well. After this is complete, all potential contact points with the plastic housing will be well lubricated, including any bent bits.
The feet must be removed.
The feet must be removed.

After that, I cut up another plaster and stuck it to the stabiliser attachment point. I then applied some lubricant before mounting the rods over them.

There's still some lube missing on the patch.
There's still some lube missing on the patch.

You can find a sound test below. As for now: I was able to eliminate some of the clatter using this mod, but unfortunately it wasn't quite enough, no matter how much lube I used. I'd probably need other stabs for that. My GMK stabilisers don't have the best reputation. Durock v2 are currently the ones to beat.

Some insulation, please

An aluminium cavity like the one on my KBD75 V1 aluminium case creates reverb. With Clicky Switches, this amplifies their characteristic sound. I decided against insulation in my original build as I enjoyed this feature. But in retrospect, I realised I really should have included at least some. Now having treated myself to some insulating foam, I have found that my keyboard sounds richer and clearer than ever before. I placed it between the lower part of the housing and the PCB. In addition, I could have placed insulating material between the aluminium cover plate and the PCB. I might do that on my next build.

The insulating foam provides a fuller and clearer sound.
The insulating foam provides a fuller and clearer sound.

Some colour, please

I really should've lubed the switches, modded the stabilisers and used dampening material on my first keyboard build. At the time, I also didn't really have a concept in terms of colour and overall look either. Since I replaced the keycaps anyway, I decided to spray the case too. For the keycaps, I went for a retro look in beige, light blue and orange – or as my colleague Phil puts it: yellowed. Since only a few of the caps are orange, I decided to spray-paint the case in a similar pastel tone.

A few more words about spraying keyboard cases for all my newbies out there. If you're already experienced, feel free to correct or add to my points in the comments. Here's what you should watch out for:

  • Sanding, priming, painting and coating. Spraying is a lengthy process. First, you should sand your workpiece, preferably with 400 grit sandpaper. After that, it is important that you carefully remove any dust. Even the best primer spray will be useless if the surface is greasy or dusty. Primers, colours and coats of paint should be applied in several layers. I did three coats for the primer, four coats for the colour, and two coats for the finish.
  • Don't skimp on the primer. I first used a cheap primer spray that created unsightly streaks. I then tried spraying the paint on, which only resulted in me having to sand it all off again. Which also brings me to my third point.
  • Take your time. Nothing is more harmful than rushing when spraying. If you try to apply too much paint at once, it can cause dripping. You should also allow primers, paint and the top coat enough time to dry. If anything comes out unsightly, it's better to sand it down again, as it won't get any better if you just spray it over.

Unfortunately, my case didn't turn out perfect either. Some of the details still bother me. Maybe I'll remove everything soon and take another run at it.

A typing test, please

Now, without further ado, the typing test.

In my opinion, the keyboard sounds richer and rattles less. I like the tone, and actually typing using the Immoral Pandas is pleasant. Simultaneously, the keys actually feel tactile. The cap feels long and round.

However, the sound of the space bar bothers me. It's too loud, and the sound is too shrill. Thankfully, I know a little trick. I'll need some Tesa neoprene foam sealing tape. Chloroprene rubber, in addition to scuba diving, is also suitable for reducing sound. The adhesive sealing tape fits perfectly inside the space bar. Since my board is open below the space bar, I also glued something to the PCB.

My neoprene modded space bar and keyboard.
My neoprene modded space bar and keyboard.

I like the sound much better this way. It appears more subdued and clear.

Verdict: my DIY interface is simply unmatched

It's a real shame that I couldn't get rid of the stabiliser rattle completely. Nevertheless, the keyboard sounds and feels better than anything you can buy ready-made. At least in my experience, and I've been allowed to test quite a few keyboards from famous and less well-known manufacturers in my time. Its greatest advantage remains the almost infinite personalisation options – even the QMK firmware, where you can freely programme your keys via x-layer. Thus, even my peculiar 75 per cent layout without dedicated dot and comma keys is perfectly usable after some time.

But was it all worth the effort? Definitely, my keyboard now feels and sounds much better than before. For me, the DIY sector remains untouched. Especially since keyboard building is now also a hobby. I'm happy to make the effort, and it's fun. If you want to read more about DIY keyboards, why not take part in the survey or write your review in the comments.

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Kevin Hofer
Kevin Hofer
Editor, Zurich
From big data to big brother, Cyborgs to Sci-Fi. All aspects of technology and society fascinate me.

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