You know sizes, shapes, switches, and keycaps. You've bought into the hype (maybe). It's time to actually get a mechanical keyboard!
When someone asks me, "Hey Cassidy, what should I buy?" here are the questions I ask:
• What's your budget?
• What size do you want?
• How custom do you want it to be?
• Do you want to build it yourself, or just configure it and buy it online?
There is a fairly wide range that mechanical keyboards can cost. I have friends who are delightfully happy with their $30 keyboard, and others who thrive on a gorgeous $2000 keyboard. I'd say to set a budget for what you want to spend, and then start researching from there based on the other questions.
We learned before that keyboards can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. You need to determine for yourself, do you need a numpad? Do you want arrow keys? Do you need certain function keys? Do you want it to be ergonomically shaped? This question alone will narrow your choices significantly!
On pretty much every board you buy, you will be able to customize the keycaps you put on it. That being said, as you know now, there's so many other ways to customize a board.
Do you want to choose the switches you put on the board? If so, then you'll want to either buy your board in parts, or look for something hot-swappable where you can take the switches out easily, or you have to be ready to desolder the existing switches on your board.
Do you want to be able to program your board? With certain boards you can customize what happens when you hit certain keys (for example, on my boards I love hitting Menu+M to mute my computer). This is a topic for another time, but if you think you want to program your keyboard to do something custom, you'll want to look for QMK or VIA compatibility (more on that later), or see in the description if the manufacturer has their own way of customizing the board's layers and keys.
Buy or DIY?
This is very similar to the previous question. How much work do you want to put into making this board fit what you want?
There is absolutely no shame in just buying a board that is already pre-built and fits everything you're looking for. You can buy a fully-functional, powerful, and long-lasting keyboard without having to lift your finger, and it'll look good too. Some of my favorite brands of pre-built boards are from Varmilo, Ducky, and Leopold. There's some sites too that let you get a pre-built board that you can customize online, like the Drop keyboard builder, and the ZSA Ergodox EZ, Moonlander, and Planck EZ boards.
That being said, if you want to build your board from scratch, there's a lot more options, as you can imagine. I can't actually list all of the options without making this email a tome rivaling War and Peace, but luckily, the nice folks over on the mechanical keyboards subreddit have a full wiki of all of the shops for parts you might want.
Remember: you don't have to solder, and you don't have to program it, if you don't want to!
We’ll touch on that a bit more in our last lesson in this series!