Finding the right key: the method behind custom keyboards
Spencer Yu, Photo Editor
Nowadays, if there is something out there it will be customised. Custom cars, bikes, guitars and pianos are some of these examples. However, a more recent trend that has been taking social media by storm is the appearance of customisable computer keyboards. A trend that appeared a few years ago has everyone wanting a custom keyboard and it has become so popular that it’s inspired a few Calgarians to start an official Calgary Keyboard meet and an official keyboard vendor.
So why custom keyboards? There are a variety of reasons people get into this hobby. But for the most part, people get into it for three reasons: the sound, the aesthetics and the typing feel. The sound is the reason I see most prominent in the keyboard scene as many people are chasing the typing sound that most resonates with them. As silly as that may be,there is a huge market with different types of switches and keyboards that can create all types of sounds from a more high frequency “click” or “clack” or a deeper one most often described as a “thock.”
Aesthetics is another key factor as well, with a variety of artisan keycap sets and keyboard cases that appeal to all tastes. Typing feel is also very important to keyboard enthusiasts as some prefer a more smooth and linear typing experience whereas some prefer a typing experience with more tactile feedback.
A paramount key aspect of the keyboard building hobby is the community itself. Matthew Lau has been hosting keyboard meets in Calgary over the last year and he believes that the people that are participating in this hobby are what truly drive it forward.
“Community is what really drives me to keep going in this. If I had a $1,000 keyboard I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it without being able to talk with others about it,” said Lau.
The initial meet-ups happened throughout various parks in the city, Lau describes the early keyboard meetups as a space where enthusiasts were able to talk with others about this hobby that they are so passionate about.
“I feel like a lot of people after our first couple of meets saw that there are other people in this community that also share the same kind of interests. I think they all thought it was a comfortable zone where they can actually come out and talk about what they like,” said Lau.
The latest meet was the community’s largest so far with over 50 people in attendance and hosted at the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Calgary. With many newcomers to the hobby Lau shares some advice to get the most out of this hobby.
“Don’t fall into the trap of, ‘my keyboard is more expensive therefore it’s better.’ Just find what you enjoy and what you are comfortable buying and just make your own keyboard,” said Lau.
The massive increase in popularity for custom mechanical keyboards has also inspired some Calgarians to sell their own keyboard related products. Andrew Dokdor, an engineer, takes time away from his job to run his keyboard store called RNDKBD, where he offers customized 3D printed keyboards and other keyboard related products.
“I would go to work for eight hours and then I’d come home and work another eight hours doing orders. It was getting to the point where I had to pick one and I really liked doing keyboards so it was a really easy step to take,” said Dokdor.
Most notable of Dokdor’s products is a line of pre-broken-in switches that offer the smoothest typing sensation right out of the gate.
“I’ve been doing those switches in a couple thousand switches in a batch, so it’s pretty serious stuff,” said Dokdor.
Dokdor also collaborates with other members of the keyboard community to offer some quality benefits that are often missing when buying custom keyboard parts via traditional means.
“Sometimes when you’re buying from overseas they don’t have the rigorous quality control that keyboard people desire. So having someone produce it within the keyboard community allowed for my high standard of quality,” said Dokdor.
With the massive increase in popularity in the keyboard scene in Alberta, as a whole, the hobby is becoming more and more accessible for all. Within the next few years the hobby might grow exponentially, putting Alberta on the map in the custom keyboard scene.