Hand Wired Custom Keyboard

After purchasing a Pok3r I realised that I wanted to customise the layout more than the programmability allowed, and I also missed the arrow keys of a normal sized keyboard. So I went on an adventure of creating my own keyboard. This won’t be a guide, as there are others out there that I would just be repeating. I will however link you to a tool which did most of the heavy work, that is the Swillkb Plate & Case Builder. Through that website I generated the files to have my keyboard layout laser cut.

Keyboard plate showing the layout

I went with a 65% keyboard and added an extra column of macro keys on the left. I decided to call it at 65+5% keyboard layout. The plate is made of 1.5mm stainless steel and was laser cut by a local company. This was probably the most expensive part of the build but it does make the keyboard feel solid, so ultimately worth it.

Gateron Brown switches

The switches are Gateron browns, I purchased them from Hong Kong via eBay. The base and sides of the keyboard is transparent acrylic that I later frosted. I also had a wood version cut but the wood was a bit too flimsy. Hopefully soon I will receive Zealio 65g switches and I will replace the Gaterons. The browns are very smooth but I think I will prefer the extra bump of the Zealio switches.

Finished keyboard with DSA Dolch keycaps with rainbow macro keys

Soldering the matrix took quite a few hours, it went quite smoothly with just one or two spots where I had to redo the joint. I had already programmed my keyboard layout with QMK firmware in advance and it also worked correctly once the Teensy was wired up and firmware flashed.

I also added some WS2812B RGB led strips to the case. At first Just around the edges.

Before the acrylic was frosted

It looked quite good, but the glare was a bit much so I purchased some spray to frost the acrylic which diffuses the light slightly.

Frosted acrylic

Then I decided, why not more? So I put in a strip of RGB LEDs for each row of keys. I don’t recommend this as it is probably too much power to draw for the USB port but it seems to work fine. This also meant I could program the firmware to assign each LED to a key and light up when the key is pressed. Another feature I added is that when Caps Lock is activated the whole keyboard changes colour and returns to normal when it is deactivated.

It is rather basic right now but I will update it soon to make the light fade out after it has been pressed.

There is also a rainbow mode plus a few others that are available with the QMK firmware. I think the Zealio keys should allow more light to transfer through as they are completely transparent. That will be interesting to try out on keycaps with backlit legends.

The wiring I tried to keep as tidy as possible, although it is hard to see past the LED strips. The Teensy 2 controller is located under the space bar and I have a USB cable running under the matrix wires out of the keyboard. I couldn’t figure out a better way to do it without making the case thicker. Currently there is 9mm of room to work with between the plate and the bottom layer.

I think if I create another keyboard I may attempt creating a PCB for it as I think that would allow me to take an extra 3mm off the overall height and also result in a more professional build. Another way to reduce the height would be to swap the bottom transparent acrylic layer for1mm stainless steel reducing an extra 2mm.

I’m currently using the keyboard as shown in the first image of this post, with green/white keycaps. I would like to try GMK keycaps on it, I think this would be possible with some of the group buys offering 1.75u Shift keys.

The overall process was quite easy, it just took a bit of time waiting for things to arrive from China and also putting it all together.

Wooden bottom that I didn’t use

Update: I have purchased some new key caps and thought I would update this with the photos.

EnjoyPBT Keycaps