Father's Day

How to build dad the perfect mechanical keyboard for under $250

Save your dad from the doldrums of dull office work.

How to build dad the perfect mechanical keyboard for under $250
Drop

Chances are, like everyone else, your dad spends a lot of time on a computer. And chances are, the computer setup they're using is pretty standard — it might even be downright boring. But it doesn’t have to be that way so long as they upgrade their keyboard.

There aren’t many things more satisfying than typing on a high-quality mechanical keyboard, especially when you’re stuck at a desk for hours every day. Much like a high-quality fountain pen in the past, a premium keyboard can make filling out paperwork, writing up reports, and pretty much anything else done at a desktop computer a bit more enjoyable. Plus, the right kind of keyboard can even bring out some nostalgia, harking back to the days when mechanical keyboards were the standard, IBM was a household name, and “Apple actually thought different,” as my dad would say.

For this Father's Day, gift your dad not just a better keyboard, but the satisfaction of building a mechanical one. The best part: You don't need to spend a fortune on the keyboard parts with the build we've got here.

Input may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article. We only include products that have been independently selected by Input's editorial team.

Case

Novelkeys’ NK87 Aluminum Edition is a hot-swappable tenkeyless keyboard with a full aluminum case. The NK87 is a great entry-level keyboard; it's affordable, easy to build, and has a fairly standard layout. Also, it has a soft, muted sound signature that’s satisfying without being too loud. There are multiple color options available, ranging from black to neon pink, but what we’re looking at is the fantastically vintage “universal beige” and “E-white” colorways reminiscent of classic Apple keyboards.

The NK87 comes fitted with PCB-mount stabilizers and a coiled USB-C cable, components which are usually sold separately. In addition, it also uses hot-swap sockets, meaning the stabilizers and switches can be removed for lubing without any desoldering. We highly recommend lubing your stabilizers — it’s key to getting a smooth and consistent typing experience.

The keyboard’s mounting system is a standard tray mount; the plate and PCB are attached to the bottom half of the case. The kit includes multiple sound-dampening materials (check out our guide to make a mechanical keyboard quieter) to improve the keyboard’s typing sound, and the standoffs that hold up the PCB and plate can be removed. With this, the keyboard will rest on top of the foam, similar to the premium “stack mount” used in Mode’s SixtyFive keyboard — a keyboard that both feels fantastic to type on and sounds great.

In addition, the NK87 is compatible with Via, open-source software for Mac, Windows, and Linux that allows for on-the-fly reprogramming of any key on the keyboard.

While the NK87’s aluminum model would normally cost over $200 on its own, Novelkeys has discounted the first batch to make room for the second, which has a different selection of colors and includes washers for the stabilizers. As a result, the first batch of the Aluminum Edition is the same price as the second batch’s polycarbonate Entry Edition, and the first batch of the Entry Edition is only $75 (although the only colors left in stock really aren’t the best).

Switches

Durock and JWK are probably two of the best “budget” names in mechanical keyboards right now. Both companies offer premium-feeling switches that come lubed from the factory at a price point lower than Cherry MX switches. And because these switches come lubed, dad won’t need to spend additional time and money lubing switches by hand in pursuit of the best typing experience possible.

The Durock linears are made from nylon, POM, and polycarbonate; they’ll have a deeper sound signature and a sturdy typing feel. Along with that, the factory lubing and tight production tolerances mean that the switches will feel smooth without having too much stem wobble.

The JWK tactiles are made from nylon and POM, resulting in a similarly deep typing sound. They have a relatively strong tactile bump when compared to MX Browns, but one that isn’t anywhere near as strong as switches like Zealios. While the strength of a tactile bump is ultimately down to preference, a medium-strength tactility is generally a good starting point when building a keyboard.

Note: You’re gonna need 90 switches (five packs of 18) to fill out the NK87.

Keycaps

Continuing the vintage theme from the white and beige NK87, Drop’s white-on-black Artifact Bloom keycaps are a set of Cherry-profile keycaps reminiscent of classic office keyboards with a more minimalist monochrome color scheme. The font is Helvetica-esque like the ones used on OEM Cherry keyboards; the Cherry-style profile is familiar and comfortable to type on.

The keycaps are made from dye-sublimated PBT, which means the legends on the keycaps will last for a long time and not fade quickly. The keycaps themselves are far less likely to shine with use when compared to keycaps made from ABS.

In addition, the simple color scheme pairs well with some of the more colorful NK87 options.

Extras: Cable & Lube

The NK87 may come with a standard rubber cable, but that doesn’t mean dad should be stuck using it. If they want something that looks and feels better, there are countless USB cable options including a higher-quality braided cable that can elevate a keyboard build to the next level.

Asceny’s coiled USB-C cable brings a lot to the table: a tough, braided exterior; high-quality plastic housings on either end; a stretchy coil that looks great; and most importantly, color options that pair with any of the NK87’s different cases.

While the right components are the most important part of any keyboard build, dad won’t get the most out of them unless they take the time to fine-tune. While the switches recommended here come pre-lubed to a satisfactory level, most people say that the stabilizers on the NK87 aren’t quite up to par. Luckily, it’s fairly easy to get them sounding better — we have a guide on how to best lube switches that lists out all the necessary components and details how to do it properly.

Total cost

You can always spend more on a keyboard (pre-built or custom), but anywhere between $200 to $250 is the sweet spot for one that won't break the bank and will (hopefully) last a lifetime.

In total, our keyboard build (keyboard, keycaps, and switches) comes out to between $210 and $250, depending on the switches. A USB cable and lube cost extra. All prices and availability are as listed at the time of publishing and subject to change.