How to Create Your Own Custom Keyboard (pt. 1)

Did you know that with a little bit of common sense, Fusion 360 or Adobe Illustrator, and your local craft shop, you can make your own keyboard case? In this post we will explain to you how to make simple layers for a keyboard in Fusion 360 as well as a variety of online resources. In the end, you can laser cut these layers (including a plate), screw them together, and then throw in your PCB, keycaps, and switches of choice. This is a great quarantine mini-project that will end in a product that is actually useful. In this article, we will show you how you can create your own custom keyboard.


We created this keyboard.

The main idea for this keyboard is that there will be multiple 3mm layers of wood or acrylic, that stack up with appropriate holes in the middle to allow space for the PCB (here's a beginner-friendly 60% PCB we recommend). You will also have to cut a plate, and we'll show you a useful tool you can use to do that.


Note: we will not be designing the PCB. If you want to design your own ai03 has some excellent keyboard PCB KiCad footprints to help you.


Note 2: this example will be using the 60% layout. It should be pretty easy to translate to other layouts.


Material List

- Fusion 360 (free), or Adobe Illustrator, or Inkscape. Must be able to edit vectors.

- A PCB for your desired layout.

- Switches, PCB-mount stabilizers, and keycaps of your choice.

- 4 M3 Screws and nuts

- Some extra money to pay for laser cutting.

- Computer with internet

- Soldering iron and solder


Step 1

Think about how you want the keyboard to turn out and look. We recommend a 60% form factor because it is easy to plan around and get PCBs and keycaps for. However, if you can find a PCB for a different size (such as the KBD75 for a 75%), you can do that as well. Important Note: because that plate-mounted stabilizers do not pfit 3mm plates, you must pick a PCB with holes for PCB-mount stabilizers. We are using a 3mm plate for durability reasons.


Step 2

First, pick your PCB. We'll pick a pretty affordable and versatile PCB in the XD60. Although it has an older USB-mini connection, I managed to get one for $15, which is a great price (most PCBs are $35-60). As you can see from the picture, it supports a multitude of layouts. Another thing that interested us about this PCB is the RGB underglow. As you can see in the first picture, we used these LEDs to give our keyboard a cool look.


Next, you must make your plate. Design your layout. Go to the pertinently named Keyboard Layout Editor. Select "preset", and then 60%. From there, you can edit the layout, using key lengths and moving keys around, until you get the layout you want, while also fitting your PCB (The letters on the keys don't matter).

I made the 64-key layout, a 60% with arrow keys. It is supported by the XD60.

Now to make the plate files. An excellent plate generator comes from the renowned ai03. Go to kbplate.ai03.com. Paste everything from the "raw data" tab in KLE into the plate generator. Keep all settings at default, or copy mine. Click "generate plate" and download the dxf file.



Step 3

Now, open the ever-dependable Fusion 360, and open a new design. Choose the "insert" option from the top bar, and then bring in the dxf file you just created. Put it on the bottom plane, and make sure the units are set to mm. Afterwards, it should look like this. Fusion 360 tip: use shift mouse3 to orbit, and mouse3 to pan.

Edit the sketch (the icon at the bottom left, it is cut off in the screenshot) by right clicking on it and clicking "edit sketch". Press D for dimension tool, and click on the border lines to see the dimensions. Write these down, they may be useful later.

If you have studied the first photo carefully, you'll see that there are screws on the edges. However, there is not enough space on the edges of the plate. To fix this, we will increase the border of the plate. Select all four edges of the plate, by shift clicking them, and then press O for offset. Personally I'd recommend 10mm. Then, delete the old border by selecting the lines and delete (not backspace). Good job! You just gave your plate the necessary bezels for the keyboard.


Before

After connections

The next step is to enlarge the stabilizer cutouts. Because stabilizers are designed for 1.5mm plates, the wire will interfere with the thicker 3mm plate. We must widen the cutouts a little bit. All you have to do is use the line tool and connect/enlargen the cutouts as shown.

After cutting inner lines with trim tool (t)

Use the trim tool to cut out the inner lines. It will automatically detect inner lines, just hover your mouse over the segment and it will highlight in red.


Now do this for all you stabilizers. Important note: some PCBs will have the spacebar stabilizer flipped the other way. Check which way your PCB's spacebar stabilizer faces.

We will use the fillet tool to round the corners of the plate, which is the curved line on the hotbar. However, if you'd like, you can leave the corners unrounded or only slightly rounded for a different aesthetic.


Lastly, let's add holes for the nuts. Press C to access the center circle tool. Drag it out a little bit for a 3.1mm circle. Put it somewhere near a corner. Now, make three more circles, and put one by each corner.

As you can see, the holes are near the corners, but not symmetrical across the plate

Now, let's make all the holes have uniform position. Zoom in using the scroll wheel, and use the dimension tool (D) and select the point in the middle of the circle, and the side line, as shown. Once you have the two things selected, click while still controlling the dimension to access the dimension. You should see a white box with the current dimension is. Change that to 5.

Now do this with the other side line, so that the circle is 5mm away from each side.

Good job. You have spaced the hole correctly. Now do this for the other three holes. When you are finished, your plate file should look like this:


Once this is done, press the green checkmark at the top right to finish the sketch, and do ctrl s to save. Name it whatever you'd like. Remember to save whenever you do something important!


That concludes the first part of our custom keyboard guide. You have learned how to design a keyboard plate using online tools and fusion 360. You have also done the high-level thinking required for your mechanical keyboard. Well done! In the next parts of this guide, we will teach you how to design the middle layers, pulling data from PCB files. In addition, we'll think about how this keyboard will be designed vertically, and pick out the required parts from amazon. Lastly, we'll show you how to use the files you've been designing to laser cut the parts of the keyboard.

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