When Auckland went into lock-down in August 2021, I decided to get myself a custom keyboard after being suckered in by various videos by Glarses and Hipyo Tech.

I spend so much time at my computer for work and personal projects I thought it’d be a worthwhile endeavour to make something I could enjoy 12+ hours a day.

This post will primarily serve two purposes. I’m writing about it just for my record, and the second is to help any other would-be entrant to the hobby to outline my key learnings and share things I would’ve wanted to know before I started.

My Keyboard

My keyboard itself is what I’d call “semi-finished”. I purchased a lot of stuff currently sitting at the office. As I’m not allowed to return to work until the pandemic dies down a bit, I had to reorder some parts to use the keyboard in the short term. The postal service (NZ Post) also managed to make my life a living hell during this lockdown by actually losing my GMMK pro and delaying every package by weeks at a time.

Ahh, there it is.

At the time of writing, this is my setup:

I’m waiting on some MT3 keycaps and some other neat stuff to bolt on this keyboard, once I eventually receive those, I’ll likely make another post.

Why Make a Custom Mechanical Keyboard?

Suppose you ever accidentally get suggested a custom mechanical keyboard video on YouTube. In that case, your immediate reaction will probably be something along the lines of “What the hell is this person talking about”. The hobby looks at assembling and modifying custom keyboard components to achieve a fantastic aesthetic look and sound.

A custom mechanical keyboard is like any other luxury item; they are ultimately pointless. Just like buying a fancy watch, you get it because the aesthetics and feel of the product feel better despite having the same function as a membrane keyboard. Building a custom mechanical keyboard lets you tailor your keyboard to exactly your taste and preferences, which I think is pretty cool.

The Summary

I ran into a few massive hurdles straight away that made entry into the hobby a little more challenging than I expected.

  1. The first one was the steep learning curve of the hobby.
  2. Being located in New Zealand meant that everything was insanely expensive or a pain in the ass to get.
  3. Lastly, anytime I watched a video, I instantly got buyers regret, cancelled my order and ordered an upgraded version of whatever I was purchasing.

One of the barriers to this hobby is the culture, vocabulary, and knowledge built around the subject. As an outsider looking in, it was pretty challenging to get a base understanding of what was going on and discussed.

My initial reaction to the custom mechanical keyboard community is that it’s apparent that everyone who partakes in the community has a zeal about mechanical keyboards, which is very admirable. However, there is pretty abundant and conspicuous elitism in the community, which may be off-putting for some.However, the good news is that as you dive a bit deeper into the community, you find that the elitism is over represented. There have been multiple times where I’ve asked for help or advice, and I received beneficial and friendly counsel each time.

Once you get your head around the terminology, the mechanics of assembling and modifying a keyboard is straightforward. If you purchase a hot-swappable keyboard like me, the only thing you’ll need to learn is how to lubricate switches and stabilisers.

The Lingo

To cut things short, as a newbie to the subject, here are some of the key phrases that you need to know

Lubricating & Filming Switches

Calm before the storm.

Lubricating and filming a switch improves the smoothness and the sound of the switch. The entire process took me approximately four hours; it was an incredibly tedious process, and honestly, I hated it.

I won’t detail how to lubricate a switch as there are already some great online resources that go into these in-depth. Here is my viewing recommendation.

Switches successfully lubed.

The Takeaway

Rather than explain how to lube a switch, I thought I’d share my key learnings from lubing all my switches:

Tuning the Stabilisers

Stabilisers in disarray on my desk.

Replacing the stabilisers on my GMMK Pro was honestly a bit of a nightmare. If you’ve done some pre-order reading, you’ll see many people recommend replacing the subpar factory GOAT stabilisers with Durock v2 stabilisers or something similar. You may also read that the plate doesn’t fit well when you have these stabilisers in.

“Doesn’t fit well” is a vast understatement of how much of a pain in the ass it is to reassemble the GMMK pro with non-factory stabilisers. Frankly, the plate will not fit at all without a gentle amount of “sweaty forcing the plate onto the PCB”.

Even looking at the screws in the picture gives me anxiety

The Takeaway

So my advice to those who’ve purchased a GMMK Pro and decided to replace the factory stabilisers:

In regards to lubing and tuning the stabilisers, I’d recommend this great video.

Flashing QMK onto GMMK Pro on Linux

There isn’t many guides on how to use QMK with Linux so I thought I’d do a quick write up on how to do it.

pip3 install qmk
qmk setup

Set up will create a folder at ~/qmk_firmware. This will download all required dependencies and other things that qmk needs.

sudo cp /home/andryo/qmk_firmware/util/udev/50-qmk.rules /etc/udev/rules.d/ ## reboot after this
qmk config user.keyboard=gmmk/pro/ansi
qmk new-keymap
vim ~/qmk_firmware/keyboards/gmmk/pro/ansi/keymaps/<name>/keymap.c

At this point, you’ll see something like this:

Once you’ve modified your keybinds to your preference, load the keyboard into bootloader mode and then run the following:

qmk flash

Closing Thoughts

That’s all the salient thoughts I had jotted down in regards to my first custom keyboard build. Overall, I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to do it again. My wife wants a custom keyboard now so I have the excuse to build another fairly soon.

I hope for those who stumble across this post, I hope the information provided has been useful.

Good luck!

Forbidden candy.