The third and final part of the wondrous journey through the land of custom mechanical keyboards provides concrete recommendations for the implementation of individually assembled and customized mechanical keyboards based on the expertise of the community. The main focus is on keyboards in ISO-DE formatting.
Table of contents
Part III: A crazy tea party
Recommendations for ISO-DE keyboard housing (barebones/fully)
Recommendations for keycaps
Recommendations for switches
Recommendations for modifications
Part III: A Crazy Teaparty
The wondrous and costly journey into the realm of custom mechanical Keyboards (individually assembled and customized mechanical keyboards) goes into the final round.
In front of the house stood a covered tea-table, at which sat the hare and the hatter; a marmot sat between them, fast asleep, and the other two used it as a pillow to rest their elbows on, and talked over its head. “Very uncomfortable for the marmot,” thought Alice; “Now that it's asleep it probably won't care.”
From Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
The first two parts of the “Into the rabbit hole” series have already provided an overview and explanation of the most important terms relating to custom mechanical keyboards.
Down the rabbit hole I: Custom Mechanical Keyboards – the beginning
Down the rabbit hole II: Custom Mechanical Keyboards – the eternal fall
Recommendations ISO-DE keyboard case (barebones/fully)
To get you started, the list below shows selected keyboards in various sizes that meet ISO formatting in the QWERTZ layout. An important prerequisite for this is the ability to be able to swap the switches quickly and easily in the future (“hot swap capability”). The list was created with the expertise and experiences of the community.
Many of the keyboards mentioned can also be found in the price comparison or regional online shops listed there, and it can be worth comparing them with purchases from (non-European) suppliers. Because when shopping outside the EU, you have to consider shipping costs, taxes and customs duties.
All keyboards mentioned are also available in ANSI format. For a custom mechanical keyboard in ISO-DE formatting, however, the wallet has to be looser. This is particularly important when selecting the keycaps, since (usually) additional costs are incurred for an additional international keycap set. It should also be mentioned that the selection of barebones and keycaps in ANSI format is simply a lot higher. This justifies the idea of going straight into ANSI-US formatting.
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However, the ISO market is getting more and more attention and many manufacturers are jumping on board. Keychron provides a great overview in this regard. In addition to ISO-DE, ISO formatting for Spain, France, Switzerland, the Nordic countries, Japan and Great Britain is also offered there.
ISO-DE collection on Keychron
Recommendations for keycaps
Keycaps round off the overall package and provide the necessary finishing touches. Visually there are almost no limits, but there are sometimes enormous differences in quality.
When putting together a custom mechanical keyboard, one goal is often to set yourself apart from the classic gaming keyboard market. A clear demarcation from cheap ABS keycaps – which become greasy and shiny after intensive use and are also used in higher-priced gaming keyboards – is prioritized and higher-quality ABS and PBT keycaps are the focus. To help get you down the rabbit hole, cheaper PBT keycap sets have also been added to the list. Some of the keycap sets only offer keys for standard layouts. Before buying, you should check whether the desired keycaps are also compatible with the desired keyboard and its layout.
Keygem is a good place to go for available keycap sets from for example PBTFans, DCS and more. A newcomer in this area can also be found in the list: WhackyDesks from Germany primarily supplies the ANSI/ISO-DE market with high-quality PBT keycaps. The first delivery of the Ozzy set did not meet the company's quality standards and was therefore passed on to the customer at a lower price. The quality defects were communicated transparently and openly to the customers in advance. However, other projects by WhackyDesk should be kept in mind. An open ear for the community, high quality standards and competent support speak for themselves to date. If you are looking for GMK keycaps, you are in good hands with Oblotzky. For extraordinary designs, we recommend checking out Drop.
A very important point of a custom mechanical keyboard is and remains the switches. They not only contribute to the soundscape, but also to the typing feel and the characteristics of a keyboard. An explanation of the various switches can be found in the first part of this series.
Some recommended switches are listed in the following overview. In addition, it should be said that the topic of switches involves a very subjective preference. There is a very large selection of different switches and this makes a recommendation difficult.
The switches can mostly be found on Keygem, Candykeys, splitkb.com, mykeyboard.eu and a small selection on WhackyDesks. Always consider the intended use and location when selecting the switch. If you are looking for cheap but good switches, you will be happy with the quality of Akko switches.
In order to improve the soundscape, to eliminate an existing “scratchy” typing feel or the reverberation of the switching springs, it is inevitable that the Lubricate the switches and oil the springs. If you want to save yourself the work, you can use pre-lubricated switches, which at least give a softer and more pleasant typing experience.
There is no clear recommendation for the “best” switch!
There is no clear recommendation for the “best” switch. Depending on the keyboard housing, the keyboard plate used (brass, aluminum, polycarbonate, fiberglass) and the keycaps used, the sound can vary greatly. Your own preferences can also vary greatly here and ultimately the modifications made to the keyboard also play a role.
Clicky switches tend to get little attention in the custom mechanical keyboard scene and are therefore not included in the list of recommendations. However, if you are looking for exactly such switches, you will find them in the Kailh Box (Jade, White, Navy), MX Blue/Green or Gateron Blue/Gold/Bronze.
An interplay of keycaps, switches, the plate used (brass, aluminum, polycarbonate, FR4 (mixture of epoxy resin and glass fiber fabric)) and keyboard housing ultimately result in the very individual soundscape of your keyboard. With a few modifications, the sound and the typing feel can also be changed to suit your own taste.
The following modifications are available for an aluminum housing.
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Polyfill (wadding) or soundproofing mat
The modifications aim to dampen an existing high pinging noise from the keyboard when it is pressed and to ensure a deeper soundscape. Here you can act freely according to taste in order to implement your own preferences and wishes in the best possible way.
As you can see in the picture, the PE-Foam-Mod uses a polyethylene foam and attaches it to the top of the PCB. If the optical RGB effects of a keyboard are important to someone, this modification is not recommended.
The biggest challenge is a clean-sounding spacebar. “Alexotos” offers perfect instructions for this on its YouTube channel, after which the stabilizers of the keyboard used in the article were modified.
If you are dissatisfied with the built-in stabilizers, the following alternatives are available:
Durock Stabilizer V2
C³ Equalz Stabilizer V3
AEBoards Staebies V2 Stabilizer
Then it appears a Keychron Q3 the modification tests. The following components were used: