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Building my first 60% mechanical keyboard: DZ60


This is my first mechanical keyboard build. I might be wrong or do some weird choices, but eventually this helps people that are like me and feel a bit lost in the information overflow on that topic. Generally, all the advice is somehow related to the DZ60 PCB from KBDfans.

The goal

... is to end up with a working 60% mechanical keyboard. This consists of choosing matching components:

  • PCB (printed circuit board): the brain of your keyboard, could have RGB lighting
  • Stabilizers: they balance key presses along wider key caps like Backspace, Caps Lock etc.
  • Plate (optional): sits on top of the PCB and supports the switches while changing the sound and feel
  • Switches: They are soldered to the PCB and define how resistant the switch is on a keypress
  • Keycaps: well, those are the plastic thingies you're typing on
  • Case: houses all the other components
  • USB cable: a plus when building your own keyboard is, that the USB cable is detachable

A good place covering the details is the Deskthority wiki. More information on the individual components below.

Components

PCB

My main reasons to buy a DZ60 are:

  • Versatility: many layouts to choose from (I love the split space option)
  • RGB underglow. I'll probably use it to indicate layers and special keys like Caps Lock etc.
  • Open source firmware: QMK
  • USB Type-C: I'm a bit paranoid of damaging the PCB connector, so USB Type-C lowers that risk in my opinion

Stabilizers

One can choose between PCB- or plate-mounted stabilizers of various brands. If you get a universal plate, usually you need PCB-mounted stabilizers. If you plan to use a split space bar, you need to order additional 2u stabilizers (see section "Bill of materials").

According to broad agreement on the interwebs, original stabilizers from e.g. Cherry seem to have stable build quality where other clone brands vary in quality.

Plate

Plates come in at least 4 different materials: Aluminium, steel, brass or carbon fiber. Brass ones are the most expensive amongst those. I don't know anything about the differences or if you can even feel any. Also important: the plate in combination with the PCB dictate what layout options you have (e.g. split space bar/backspace/shift).

Switches

Cherry switches can be mounted by two methods: either plate-mount or PCB-mount. The difference is visible here: wasdkeyboards.com. Plate-mounted ones have a firmer typing feel, while PCB-mounted switches feel bouncier and have more flex.

You can reuse PCB-mount switches on a plate by cutting the two guide pins at the bottom.

Keycaps

Choose whatever you like. Using keyboard-layout-editor.com helps you with decisions regarding the layout, required key caps/switches etc.

Case

It seems the DZ60 fits any standard 60% case.

USB cable

Obviously you can simply choose a standard USB cable. If you're building your own keyboard, chances are, that you might want a pretty cable. I know Pexon and Clark Kable that assemble cables to your needs.

Some important bits of information

These bits we're quite hard to find, as I either found no or inconsistent information on the internet.

  • DZ60: The stabilizers are PCB-mounted, not plate-mounted
  • DZ60: Plate layout A is for a 2u left Shift, layout B has a 2.25u left Shift

Bill of materials

Note that by being in Europe, some parts can be hard to come by and/or shipping fees are more expensive than the ordered components themselves. Here's a list of the shops I bought my stuff from.

Part Count Europe North America Asia Note
DZ60 PCB 1 - - KBDfans KBDfans is also on AliExpress
Stabilizers (PCB) 5 The Keyboard Company (no wires!) 1upkeyboards KBDfans I need 5x 2u b/c split space
Plate 1 - - KBDfans steel plate w/ layout A
Cherry MX clear switches 68 - - KBDfans
Keycaps 64 - - KBDfans
Extra keycaps b/c split space 3 - pimpmykeyboard.com 1.25u, 2.25u, 2.75u - 1x 1.25u, 1x 2.25u, 1x 2.75u
Case 1 - - KBDfans
Cable 1 Pexon - - Coiled, Paracord 550

Build log

Test the PCB

It's recommended to test PCB functionality before soldering anything. This helps to rule out PCB errors if you encounter errors after soldering.

  1. Plug your PCB into your computer
  2. Go to keyboardtester.com
  3. Hit the two pads for each switch with tweezers (use something conductive)
  4. Repeat for each key and make sure all contacts are registering

Mounting stabilizers and the "band-aid mod"

First, make sure you have enough stabilizers: you need one for any key ≥ 2u. So in my case with the split space bar layout:

  • 1 for Backspace
  • 1 for Shift
  • 1 for Enter
  • 2 for split space bars

Make sure to mount the stabilizers correctly. The wire points to the bigger holes:

Stabilizer orientation

It seems one can reduce wobbling by adding band-aid or some other dampening and sticky tape between the PCB and stabilizers.

Applying band-aid to the PCB

Source: Reddit

Adding the plate

After you've placed all stabilizers, mount the plate over it. It should align with the stabilizers nicely.

Add some switches

Important: Make sure you know the exact position for every switch, as the location can vary depending on the chosen layout. If unsure, just mount all the switches before soldering.

Switches & soldering

  1. Set your soldering iron to a temperature between 350-370 ° (exact temperature can vary)
  2. Plug some switches at the corners and the center of your plate
  3. If the plate is not flush with the switches: gently clamp the edges down with some kind of spring clamps
  4. Don't keep the iron on the solder spots any longer than necessary
  5. Solder the first few switches
  6. When done, add the rest of the switches and solder

Flashing

I prefer to use QMK Toolbox

Programming

I learned my lesson after flashing my faulty layout too early. That's how it went:

I flashed a generic QMK firmware for DZ60 from qmkeyboard.cn. That was not a bad idea. But I got a bit impatient, as the layout was shifted and I halfway prepared my own QMK keymap. So I flashed that one and noticed that the "g" and "b" key did not work because of cold solder joints. No big deal? Well, you're out of luck when you forgot to add a "reset" key as one cannot flash firmware anymore. Bottom line: the following procedure helped me get back to a usable state:

  • Remove the faulty solder and resolder
  • Reset the DZ60 by shorting the two pins called "RESET" (near the ATmega32U4 controller/near the rev1 reset switch)
  • Flash a working firmware
  • Make sure your next firmware has a reachable "b" and/or reset button

Please read the QMK documentation - it's detailed and explains almost any step required to create your own layout.

I made a custom layout - please see the README for details: github.com/qmk/qmk_firmware. The hardest part for me was to realize that your layout obviously needs to base on a physical wiring configuration. See github.com/qmk_firmware and select the layout that matches your desired setup.

Final photo

the final setup

Useful links: