A Budget Build w/ Full Assembly
This build was both budget focused, and experimental as I was looking for an option that required full assembly and soldering, I went with the Southpaw75, a 60% layout with a left hand (southpaw) numpad.
|Case+PCB||Southpaw75 60% + Numpad (80pc)||$38.00||https://southpaw75.com/|
|Stabilizer||GOLD SCREW-IN STABILIZERS||$8.00||https://kbdfans.com/collections/keyboard-stabilizer/products/gold-plated-screw-stabilizer?variant=3379000999949|
|Switches||Cherry MX Blacks 5-pin - 80pc||$36.00||https://kbdfans.com/collections/cherry-switches/products/cherry-mx-swtich?variant=36019543885|
|Key Caps||PBT DYE-SUBBED KEYCAP||
|USB Plug||5V 16MHz Micro USB||$5.32||https://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B07FXCTVQP/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o02_s01?ie=UTF8&psc=1|
|Cable||UGREEN Micro USB Cable Nylon Braided||$6.84||https://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B01NCJE1RE/ref=crt_ewc_img_dp_2?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=AKXVBT49GGF3B|
$123.16 USD -
You could opt to spend less depending on your region and the parts you choose, but you would likely remain in the $90-100USD range on the low end, custom mechanical keyboard parts are a bit of a premium.
For $50CAD this is cheap for a custom keeb (cheap but good, making this a rare find), and while you will require more parts, this remains good value for what it is.
Why I bought this:
My initial reason for wanting this was to try the left-hand Numpad, I had seen some comments about it on Reddit, and after finding the site I was bummed to see that it was sold out. However, after mentioning so on this very thread I was elated to learn that our very own @kelvinhall05 is the seller! I messaged him and was lucky enough to be able to purchase two. Purchase and shipping was easy and straight forward, I was provided with email updates and the process was uneventful.
My second reason for wanting a budget option like this was due to the fact that I have not soldered in many years. So on the off chance that I was going to f#ck up, this was the board to do it on. If I made an irreversible mistake it would not feel as significant of a loss as it would be if I messed up and ruined the PCB for my upcoming Tofu96 build. But to be clear, I was not intending on throwing this away, but you get the idea, I wanted a board to ‘practice’ on.
In my opinion, the Southpaw75 is not for a first-time mechanical keyboard purchaser, it requires full assembly and soldering, so unless you have that equipment this is likely not the first option for you. I see this more for a custom keyboard enthusiast looking for a unique layout without breaking the bank. And for that I highly recommend it.
My thoughts on the Southpaw75:
While I do like this layout in the ideal world I would have this as a 65% layout. The lack of arrows and 'delete' in particular are very hard for me to adjust to not having. The benefit is you can add layers via QMK so I have done so, but again, these are keys I use very often so it has been an adjustment process.
As for the southpaw numpad, again this is also an adjustment process, I often reach for the right-hand side, however, a left side numpad seems almost more logical in my opinion. I feel as though a right side numpad is there for your mouse hand to use, but when I am working I rarely touch my mouse and the left numpad feels.... well, natural in a sense, despite me being right-handed. Hard to explain this is, one of those things where you just have to experience it for yourself.
Now the material quality, the FR4 composite construction and PCB actually seem really solid. I will not pretend like I know a lot about custom keeb PCB's, but compared to what I have had hands-on experience with this seems like no lesser of quality, while a fraction of the price. Once assembled there is minimal / almost no deck flex, well within an acceptable tolerance level.
There are clear cost-saving measures like the requirement to solder in the diodes (included) and the pro micro or elite C (not included), but this is all clearly stated when purchasing so there were no surprises. Another "nice to have" for this build would be a fully enclosed case, but again, for the price, this is not so much a complaint of mine, more of an "ideal". I am more than aware that doing so would significantly raise the cost of the keyboard, so while I am okay with this because it was only $50, it is something to keep in mind.
I personally would not use this as my one weapon keyboard just because of the eventual dust build-up to the back of the PCB. But as low-cost option in this special form factor, it is a great option for any keeb collection.
That said the casing could be an interesting 3D print project for me....
FR4 PCB pics:
Luckily all went well with the assembly! As it was my first time soldering in a very long time I double watched some tutorials and because of this, I was slow, especially with my first few. Ultimately it's like riding a bike, if you have done it in the past, it is easy to pick up the skill again. Definitely not as daunting of a task as some make it out to be.
I ended up soldering 3 diodes incorrectly, and forgetting to solder in the two diodes beneath my Pro Micro. But this was my fault as I did not fully read through the VERY clear instructions for the diode soldering step. Luckily this was an easy fix as I had the correct equipment and otherwise, everything went perfectly. As long as you follow the instructions there should be no issues.
Mounting the diodes in, once done you solder, then snip them.
Diodes soldered in.
Stabs lubed and mounted to the PCB.
Placing my first few switches and aligning the faceplate.
MX Blacks in.
Switches soldered in! This was my first time in many moons, I think I went a little light on the solder for some sockets but all switches are firmly held in.
Some cheap caps from KBD fans, although seemingly good quality. I have been very happy with these, especially considering the price of $29.00
How she sits.
As you can see the casing is open, and the back of the PCB is fully exposed to open air.
Switch of choice?:
In an interesting turn I went with Cherry MX Blacks, testing out the Gat Blacks I got with my GMMK has completely revised my opinion on linear switches. I feel as though MX Reds really soured my taste for linear switches many years ago. I get why they make sense for gaming (quick actuation with little force required), but for someone who primarily uses keyboards for typing they are a terrible switch for my use case.
While I still prefer tactile switches, in my opinion, a heavy linear compensates for the lack of the tactile bump. So the switch (pun intended) to a heavy linear was not a difficult or unsatisfactory adjustment to make. For this build I decided on MX Blacks because the 5-pin version was very well priced and I do not own a set of MX Blacks, so I wanted to give them a go!
So here I am typing on my new Southpaw75, I am extremely happy with the end product. For those looking to add to your existing keyboard collection I feel like this is a unique, and relatively inexpensive piece to spruce up the collection. I would definitely recommend this to someone who is looking for a different layout! These are now sold out but @kelvinhall05 has similar budget FR4 DIY keeb kits in the pipeline, so if interested reach out to him!
Not to mention the building process was very rewarding and I really enjoyed it, I am excited to move ahead with my Tofu96 build as I now have the soldering confidence to tackle Mount Everest! (Or whatever skill equivalent soldering allows me to do)