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Home » How I Spent $ 700 to Build a “Life Aquatic” Mechanical Keyboard

How I Spent $ 700 to Build a “Life Aquatic” Mechanical Keyboard

Mechanical keyboards are increasingly popular. In the few years since I built my first custom map (the WhiteFox), a lot of gamers, programmers, and other entry-level enthusiasts have taken to mechs. This is good for the community, but not so good for the price or the delivery time. I recently waited about a year and a half for my Aquatic life project to get together, and the total cost was around $ 700. I know what you are thinking: “How? Why? Are you crazy? ”Let me explain.

It’s a waiting game

The community of high-end mechanical keyboards relies primarily on group buying. It’s kind of like pre-ordering a game, but the thing you’re buying doesn’t even exist yet. Your money just guarantees you a manufacturing niche because there isn’t enough demand (or capacity in the case of keycaps) to continuously produce these products on a large scale. This means long waiting times. Sometimes bulk buying is handled by companies like Drop, and other times it’s a small group of keyboard nerds on a bulletin board. No matter who does it, delays are common and get worseas more and more people get drawn into this hobby. For example, if you ordered the GMK key set that I used in this version right now, you would be lucky to get it early 2023.

I have a lot of keyboards in my collection more than anyone needs. These days I only undertake new construction when I think I can do something special. Aquatic life with Steve Zissou is a movie that I really like, and a major part of my affinity is the lovely design and colors. So when Drop launched the GMK Belafonte key set in Spring 2020, I jumped on it. GMK is a German company which bought the original tooling from Cherry Corp a few years ago. and still use it to make Cherry profile keycaps. In my opinion, these are the best keycaps the money can buy thanks to the thick ABS plastic, crisp double-hit captions and fantastic colorways, but the costs and wait times are going crazy. This key set shipped a year after the bulk purchase opened on Drop, and it’s without any delays – a year would be a thankfully short wait if you ordered one now. The manufacturing queue is no joke.

The Belafonte colourway is so distinct that it was wrong to slap it on a boring black or silver board.I needed to look for something special, maybe a little over the top, and didn’t have to look for long. Shortly after the key set launched, I spotted the Decent65 bundle purchase. It was available with a light blue cerakote (ceramic coating) on ​​an aluminum frame, which seemed preferable to anodizing or painting due to its unique look and high quality finish, which in my opinion , would be perfect for the keys. The card was supposed to ship before the keys, but it doesn’t.Unfortunately, estimated dates are rarely accurate for custom keyboards. There are many components that need to be assembled before the board is ready, and no complaint with the seller will make a CNC machine in China run faster. It was about 18 months from purchase to delivery.

The rest of the parts, like stabilizers (the wires that go under long keys) and switches, were relatively easy to find in stock at specialty mechanical retailers. I used real GMK PCB mount stabilizers, and the switches are Kailh Box Pinks, which are light but noisy click switches. This seemed the most appropriate given the nature of the project.

a Dear Patience game

It’s an expensive hobby, and it gets more and more expensive over time. The key set that I put on this project started at $ 155, but that was just the basic kit, which includes the alphas, mods, and other keys you would need for a keyboard layout. standard. I wanted all the fun novelty touches and a few more spacebar options, which pushed the price up to $ 200. Yes, two Benjamins for the keys, but this is the type of keyboard that I plan to use for the rest of my life, so the expense is not this scandalous. There are original keycaps from Cherry Corp. still in use today and dating back several decades, and I have enough kits to cover almost any other keyboards I might want to outfit with these caps in the future.

The keyboard kit (the case, plate, PCB, screws, and other minor parts) was the biggest expense at $ 430 including taxes and shipping. I wish I could say this is an unusual amount of money for a keyboard kit, but it’s only a little higher than average for limited edition cards. The Decent65 lacks some features compared to boards launched in 2021, but 2020 was a different era, and baby blue cerakote isn’t a common finish on cheaper boards.

Switches were easier to acquire. I just had to wait a few weeks for them to be in stock as they are moderately rare. You’ll never find Box Pinks in a retail board, but a 70 bag only costs around $ 45. The rest of the budget went to stabilizers (around $ 12), a new solder spool, PTFE lubricant, and other junk.

The climax

After giving up seven invoices and waiting over a year, I finally had what I needed to put it all together. As I mentioned, the Decent65 lacks some of the cool features of the decks that went on sale last year. For example, you cannot hot swap switches, so each switch must be soldered to the PCB. There is no LED, no soundproofing foam and no gasket mounting. It’s just an old, simple top mount case made from a piece of aluminum.

The rear PCB, partially soldered. Also visible: the screws that hold the backspace and enter the stabilizers in place.

The first step, as always, is to test the PCB. It is not optional when working with a soldered keyboard. Desoldering because you found a flaw when construction is complete will ruin your day – maybe many days because desoldering takes much longer. After checking that the PCB was working by pricking it with tweezers, I installed the stabilizers so that the longer keys like gap and offset line up. This should always happen before soldering. Otherwise, you have to unsolder the board and start over. I also did what’s called the Band-Aid mod: Thin strips of fabric band-aids go under the stabilizers to reduce the noise of the plastic hitting the PCB.

The assembly was surprisingly smooth. With its simple design, the biggest time-consuming was the 130 solder points for the switches. Then I had to use a dozen screws, mainly to secure the plate to the upper case, and the board was finished. Finally, it was time for the fun part – installing the keys. Fortunately, they were just as fantastic as I had hoped. I was happy with the sound too. There is no rattling or rattling coming from the housing / plate. It’s just the quick, piercing click of those switches (see the keystroke test below).

These things are difficult to match. You’re lucky to get Pantone codes in the case of key sets, but keyboard cases are another story. Most of these won’t be manufactured for months after you order, and the end product may look quite different than you expected due to the inherent variables introduced by the finishing process. That said, I can generally get pretty close in terms of key and case color matching. With this board, I had hoped for a closer match with the lighter alpha keys, but the cerakote nuances a little more “tiffany”. Having said that, I think it’s a good backdrop to show off Belafonte’s caps.

It’s a very noisy keyboard. While I generally prefer the quieter touch switches, I clicked this time because, as I mentioned earlier, I felt like it was a good match for the “sharp” aesthetic. Plus, there’s no quiet hardware inside the Decent65, so if it doesn’t have to be easily silenced, I figured I might as well do it loud. And boy, is it.

Now for the question that probably concerns you; Iis it worth $ 700? Technically, yes. The value of all the parts has gone up since I ordered them, so overall it’s probably worth more than a big one if I sold it to another huge keyboard nerd. I’m not going to do this, however, because I like it.

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