While customized keyboards are all the rage, seeing a surge of popularity in the US, Europe and elsewhere, it’s surprisingly hard to find parts or kits. Especially in Europe. Mind you, I’m not talking about just mechanical keyboards here, not the branded keyboards by – for instance – Das Keyboard. Rather I’m talking about keyboards that you build yourself – where you source case, switches and keycaps. Where you mix and match, where you design and make.
For enthusiast in the EU looking to make something really special, things aren’t exactly great. We have a few problems to solve before we can get our hands on compatible parts. Let’s start with the two most glaring difficulties.
To begin with, most custom keyboards are designed for the US market. The ANSI layout reigns supreme, while European keyboards usually use the ISO layout. This might affect the number of keys available on the PCB, most often impacts the design of the case’s top plate, and is just a hassle to work around.
Most annoying is that it makes any set of keycaps very expensive for European buyers. You have to buy the “base kit”, including all keys in an American set. You probably need “mods”, and to make a Norweigian keyboard, or Swedish, German, French or even Brittish you will need an extra kit called “NorDeUk”, “International” or something like that. And those include keys for every language supported – you buy keys you wont need! Let’s just say it keeps prizes high for the European market.
You’re going to need a printed circuit board (PCB). And you probably need one that supports ISO layout. It’ll probably be a PCB that supports multiple layouts, made in China. Or with some cable and a diode for every key you might hand solder your board togheter. Either way, you will need switches.
You also need to find a case suitable for that PCB, and perhaps a top plate that aligns with booth case and PCB. You’ll need a few screws, and spacers, and a USB cable.
By the way, do you have a soldering iron?
Things are not looking all that great for free trade right now. And maybe that’s good? Maybe we shouldn’t be sending parcels all over the world all of the time? Anyhow, as things stand right now, it’s expensive to buy parts from other continents for your endgame keyboard.
Even if you buy from a local supplier, you can bet on paying those import taxes anyway. The only thing that could seriously mitigate costs would be a local manufacturer. There are a couple of those, but for some reason, their pretty hard to find online.