Hello, I am Wakuchi, a new staff member at Yushakobo.
This entry is a step-by-step log on how I built my first keyboard, so please bear with me.
For those who are interested but have never built one, it would be amazing if my entry prompted you to actually build one.
For those who have already done so, or even those who have been designing their own, please don't be too harsh on me.
1. First Things First
For me, DIY keyboard is all about splits and I believe many enthusiasts built splits as their first one. I wanted to build an ergonomic split keyboard, so I chose the ErgoDash mini, a smaller version of the ErgoDash. This series is nice because 1) they're easy to build even for beginners, 2) the number of thumb keys can is customizable, and 3) they are compatible with LED backlights or underglow. It is also the default kit in the Beginner's Kit, mentioned in a previous entry, so please take a look if you've never built one but are interested!
DIY Keyboard Kit for Beginners
Kit: ErgoDash Mini with no extra thumb key
Switches: Kailh Box Brown
Keycaps: XDA PBT Keycaps
(Also a TRRS cable and a micro USB cable)
Kailh Box Browns are very popular, not to mention they're on the cheaper side and therefore nicer to the wallet. Tactile switches have a bump when pressing down that's not too different from membrane keyboards.
For keycaps, I chose a set with dye-sublimation legends because they felt a little bit retro, and the muted colors won't distract me too much.
(The entry is getting long, so I decided to skip the part on flashing firmware.)
I checked to make sure I had everything first:
3 types of acrylic plates, 2 each
2 Pro Micros
Bag of screws
(The kit is available from Yushakobo. Please contact us if parts are missing.)
After checking the contents, it's time to solder the diodes. I also removed the extra thumb key by breaking off that part of the PCB because I don't need it.
Many of you are probably thinking, "I have not soldered anything since middle school." It's actually not too bad once you get back into it. Googling also helps!
For DIY keyboards, the majority of the assembly is spent soldering the diodes and the same number of switches. ErgoDash has at least 52 keys, so you could become a soldering experts by the end of this!
Bend the legs according to the distance between the holes, stick the diode through, then hold them in place with a piece of tape on the back. The legs can also be bent to keep them in place if you don't have tape.
A quick note - good solder joints should look like Mt. Fuji.
Repeat this on the second PCB, but remember that they should be symmetrical.
3.3 Pro Micro
The Pro Micro is the brain of the keyboard, and is attached to the PCB by pins called a "spring header" that only needs to be soldered on the Pro Micro side and simply pushed in on the PCB side. This way, the Pro Micro can be easily swapped out if it malfunctions. The spring headers must be in a certain orientation, so please consult the manual, which is included in the kit, before soldering.
[Note: This requires the Pro Micro footprint to have smaller holes. The western enthusiasts have tried the spring headers with a standard Pro Micro footprint and they did not work.]
The micro USB connector on the Pro Micro also breaks off easily, and has become a meme among the enthusiasts. This can be countered with a magnetic USB cable, or by reinforcing the USB connector with glue. I went for the latter option and used an epoxy. Please be careful not to get any adhesive inside the connector.
The ErgoDash series has 2 add-on LED options: per-key LED backlight or underglow LEDs. I decided to use the WS2812B LEDs for the underglow option.
Make sure the LED lies flat on the PCB before soldering.
Using a clothespin to hold the LED in place
Remember to also bridge the pads on the PCB to use underglow. The two halves will need to be bridged differently depending on which side is connected to the computer with a USB cable.
3.5 TRRS jack and reset switch
Then I soldered the TRRS jack and the reset switch. The reset switch sits between Pro Micro holes that are NOT inside a rectangular box.
Attach stabilizers for 2U keys before soldering the switches. Stabilizers enable the large keys to be pressed down fully, no matter where users press on the keys. They also reduce rattling and wear and tear between the keycap and the switch.
Lay out the plastic parts in the same direction as in the picture below (clear in the picture, but currently we carry the black version)
Then put them together.
Insert the metal...
Then snap the metal into the larger component.
Then attached the assembled stabilizers to the PCB.
First, insert the switches into the acrylic plate. Make sure not to get any fingerprints on the acrylic! Also, pay attention to the direction of the switch footprint on the PCB and snap them into the plate accordingly. The photo has all the switches attached, but it might be easier to start with the corners. The middle switch of the bottom row can be placed two ways depending on your preference, and you can choose whether to have a single 2U key or 2 1U keys for the thumb.
When soldering switches, make sure there is no gap between the switch and the PCB.
This is what it looks like after soldering all the switches. Almost all done with the hardware!
After soldering the switches, use the screws to put all the plates together. Just follow the build guide and you will be fine.
Put on keycaps and voila! It took about 5-6 hours. But this is just the beginning, because now you get to customize keymaps and try out other keycaps, make your own cables, accessories, or even keycaps! This is why this hobby is so much fun!
Yushakobo, a DIY keyboard shop