In a first post, I went through the content of the kit. Taking pictures of all the parts was nice, but assembling the keyboard is even more fun! Again, I took quite a few pictures, I hope it’ll be useful somehow.
This is the second article of a 3 articles series:
- XD87 Kit content
- XD87 assembly (this article)
- XD87 firmware/layout customization
- XD87 firmware extra: QMK instead of TMG
The first is to make sure you have everything you need to assemble the keyboard. Let’s make a quick list of the keyboard parts needed. Make sure you have all you need before beginning, it’s always annoying to start and realize you have something missing and having to wait for it to be delivered.
- steel plate
- USB module or female USB connector
- RGB SMD LEDs (optional)
- 2 pins LEDs (optional) / SIP sockets (optional)
- case (optional)
And now, the tools!
- soldering iron with a pointed tip
- small screwdriver (for the case)
- DSLR camera (hm, well, that depends on if you want to share your work or not)
The soldering iron I have is nothing fancy. I bought it for $20, it has a small pointed tip which makes it easy to do through-hole soldering, but is also thin enough to solder those damn SMD LEDs.
SMD RGB LEDs for underglow
Talking about those, they are optional. The case included in the kit doesn’t have anything to show the underglow lighting. I decided to solder them anyway, because I like the challenge (and also because RGB underglow is kind of sexy). They are really small and the soldering pads are tiny tiny.
First, make sure to align the LED properly. One of the corners has a cut, and needs to be aligned with the “triangle” shape on the LED schematic on the PCB. The technique I used was to add a bit of solder on 1 of the 4 pads but not too much (there’s already a bit of solder on them, but I wasn’t sure if it was enough…). Then place the SMD LED properly on top of the 4 pads. It’ll be slightly off balance because of the solder you added previously. Push it down slightly (make sure it stays aligned with the pads on the PCB) while melting the solder on the pad. The LED should slightly go down into the melted solder. Remove the soldering iron, wait 1 or 2 seconds for the solder to solidify and there you go. The LED should be properly in place and won’t move anymore.
Soldering the other pads is not easy, but doable. Just add a bit of solder between the LED pad and the PCB pad, where they join, on the side of the LED. I know it’s not the proper way of doing it, but it works fine, as long as you don’t overheat the LED, they are quite sensible (I burned one because I left my soldering iron tip on one of the pads for too long). Try to do it in 1 or 2 seconds.
If you want to test if the LEDs are working or not, make sure you solder them in order (RGB 1, RGB 2…). They won’t light up otherwise. My keyboard always have the LEDs turned on but default when I plug it in (it was like this when it arrived). Every time I soldered a LED, I plugged in the PCB and checked if it was working properly or not. As I said, I burned one with my soldering iron, and it was a pain to remove. Another one burned down because I didn’t pay attention to its orientation when soldering it. I had to buy some new ones (WS2812 or SK6812).
This is the result, without the case on, obviously.
Preparing switches for SIP sockets
Now that I got that out of the way, on to the next boring step. The keyboard has regular backlighting LEDs that you have to solder. In order to easily change the color of the LEDs (meaning, changing the LEDs), I bought some SIP sockets. SIP sockets are soldered in lieu of the LEDs, and you just have to plug the LED into the socket and you’re done. The fun part is that the sockets need to be installed inside the switch. And to do that, you have to disassemble the switch. So yeah, I did that, 87 times. All of this is optional. If you don’t need backlighting, you can ignore this altogether. If you don’t mind not being able to change the color of the LEDs easily, you can solder them directly, no need to disassemble the switches.
Last preparation step: adding the stabilizers. Please don’t repeat the same error I did, add the stabs before soldering switches. Otherwise you’re gonna have to de-solder everything, and that’s even less fun than installing sockets into switches.
The stabs need to be installed in a certain way. First, the stabilizer stem need to be inserted into the stabilizer base (make sure to respect the direction). The stab has 2 pins, a big one and a smaller one. The big one goes first, into the bigger hole on the PCB, smaller one goes after. You’ll have to push a bit and make sure the stab correctly clips into the PCB. It needs to sit flush.
Then you need to install the bars. Insert the bar into the stem, and push the bar down to clip it into the stab base. Mine required a good amount of force to go in.
Soldering the switches
Switches ready, PCB ready, steel plate ready, onto the main soldering part. Fortunately, this is fairly easy. Place the steel plate on the PCB, its bent edges facing upwards. Then place the switches. Switches need to be flush with the PCB, and they clip into the steel plate. I suggest to put at least 4 switches first, one on each corner, and then solder them. That way, the steel plate won’t move and it’ll be easier to insert the other switches.
Soldering the switches is easy, it’s just standard through-hole soldering. The pads and switches connectors are quite big, I think it’s a good way to train yourself to use a soldering iron. Soldering LEDs or SIP sockets is a bit more difficult as the connectors and solder pads are smaller. Take your time, make sure to have good lighting, use a magnifying glass if needed. You’ll get there eventually.
As you can see on the second picture, there’s a little slot on the left side, on the left of a switch. That slot is for a capslock LED. It’s actually pretty neat, it lights up when capslock is on, as you might expect. I’ve used a 3mm LED but I think there’s enough space for a 5mm one.
When you’re finally done, or even from time to time after soldering 5 or 10 switches, you can test the keyboard using software, or even websites. I recommend Aqua’S KeyTest. It’s a software running on Windows only. Using a website is fine but you might trigger unwanted actions when pressing keys, while the software “catches” everything.
Well, there’s not much left. We make sure to connect the USB module first, and then install the entire PCB/plate/switches contraption into the bottom part of the case.
Inserting the top part of the case can be a bit tricky as the fitment is tight. I had to put a bit of force into pushing the top part until it clips properly on the bottom part. Once it’s done though, the keyboard is super sturdy; nothing moves, nothing bends.
Now, the finishing touch: keycaps! Not a lot to say about it. I like to put o-rings on my keycaps to attenuate the sound and feel when the key are bottoming out. But that’s optional. They keycap set I chose is a copy of Godspeed keycap set, the keycaps are DSA profile. I really like them, they have their own style, they’re not boring, DSA profile is really nice and they fit well with the creamy white case.
That’s it! Honestly, I’d like to build more of those but there’s no point of having 3 times the same keyboard, right? 😅 It was a fun built and the keyboard is just perfect for me.