In my last post I touched on some of the core features of the case, there is a lot to all the different components, too much to fit in that post. The main component that makes each keyboard unique by design is the case. The case is what defines the core design features of the keyboard, like typing angle, material, layout, weight and mounting option.
Typing angle is the angle in which the plate is on within the case, usually the back of the case is raised compared to the front. This angle ranges normally from 0 degrees which is entirely flat to around 10 degrees with 5-7 degrees being the most popular angles that boards are shipped with. Adding an angle to the keyboard can make it easier to type on but can add extra strain on your wrists when typing. However, there are some keyboards out there that allow for tenting in other directions also so you can customise the angle and type on a much more natural angle to reduce wrist strain.
Material has a huge impact on the keyboard. Not only does the case materials change the appearance of the keyboard, it also changes the weight and acoustics. The main materials that are used for cases are:
- Aluminum - the most common material on higher end keyboards, normally using 6061 grade aluminum that is CNC’d, sandblasted and anodized
- Poly carbonate - normally used on mid range boards or used to allow back light to shine through the case, normally with a frosted finish to diffuse light
- Brass - used mainly for weights or accent pieces to add a bit of flare to a board
- Stainless Steel - not a commonly used material and is mainly used in very high end boards
- 3d Printed - cheap and easily printed cases are common for low end custom boards
- Acrylic - stacked to create simple but clean cases
- Wood - not as common as the other materials and mainly created by individuals who like the wood style
Each of these materials carries their own properties when it comes to the keyboards design and feel. They allow the final product to appear, sound or feel different.
The case and PCB define the layout of the board. The layout is what makes or breaks the board for most people, everyone has a preference on what they’re favourite layout is. For more information on layouts and styles, check out my earlier blog Mechanical Keyboards - Sizes and Styles
The weight of a mechanical keyboard is often tied to quality of the materials (to an extent), heavier being better. Often the base of a case will have a separate piece that is made out of a heavier material like brass to add both additional weight and for aesthetic purposes. Even plastic boards will often have an optional brass weight in the design. With this reasoning, it is not uncommon to have keyboards weighing 5-6kg, however most are not that heavy.
There are multiple mounting variants that alter the feel and sound of each key press. Most of the time each keyboard will have a specific mount style in the design, however certain boards like the Constellation board from AEBoards has multiple in the design to allow you to try different mount styles with the same keyboard. For more information on mounting options, check out this Cheat Sheet.
Overall, the custom mechanical case design is a huge part of the scene and dictates the overall look and feel of the final product. All of the design features above change the case to suite different people and fill different requirements people look for in a keyboard design. As with most things in the custom keyboard community, these things are entirely personal preference and each design element can be changed to an individuals preference.
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