Winkeyless 22mini-B Keyboard Build
Last year I did my first custom mechanical keyboard build which I never got around to doing a write-up for until now (mostly because I’m lazy 😉). Since I already had a few mechanical keyboards at that point in time, I figured it was finally time to do a custom build to take my hobby to the next level. Overall it was a neat little project that I had a lot of fun doing - I picked up soldering in the process, learned quite a bit on how keyboards are built, and ended up with my new main keyboard that I now use at home!
The specifications I had in mind for my custom keyboard build were the following:
- A 65% Layout
- Switches with a topre-like profile (<3 topre)
- RGB underglow for some fancy colors and lighting
- An aesthetic set of keycaps
And the final items that I actually ended up using for the build:
- Winkeyless 22mini-B PCB
- Winkeyless Bold Case - 22mini
- Hako Clear Switches
- EnjoyPBT Hiragana Keycaps + some extras
Disclaimer: Winkeyless has unfortunately ceased operations at the time of this post so their store is no longer available. RIP.
In terms of layouts I really enjoy the compact and symmetric aesthetics of 60% keyboards but also wanted the practicality of an arrow cluster and navigation keys in 65% keyboards, so after much research I decided to go with the 22mini-B PCB from Winkeyless. Winkeyless’ PCBs come with RGB LEDs for underglow and they also sell clear acrylic cases, so I was able to grab both the PCB, a fitted plate for it, and the case altogether from Winkeyless.
For switches I’ve tried out a wide range of switches in the past (including the Cherry MX & clones gamut, Zealios, etc) and have found Topre switches to offer the most comfortable and enjoyable typing experience (which is why I also use them for work ❤️). Unfortunately Topre switches are proprietary and require a non-compatible kind of PCB, so you can’t really do a custom build with them. I opted for the Hako Clears instead which have a profile similar to Topre switches and have been described as a “union” between Topre and Cherry MX Clears.
For the keycaps I had my eyes set on the EnjoyPBT Hiragana set (w/ sushi 🍣🍣🍣) whose aesthetics really caught my eye. I also had some additional keycaps lying around that I felt really complemented the set, so it was a no-brainer to pick up that set and use it for the build.
To start I gathered everything needed for the build together on a quick work mat setup I made. Aside from the main parts I listed in the previous section, the PCB came with additional parts such as key stabilizers and in-switch LEDs and the case came with screws and pads for assembly. It also came with the controllers, resistors, diodes, and USB connector pre-soldered which means I’ll only have to focus on soldering the switches later on.
With everything in place and ready for assembly, I started off first by installing the stabilizers onto the PCB.
The PCB that I ordered specifically only supports Cherry-style stabilizers. My impression of Cherry stabilizers was that they were rather annoying to install - they required a lot force to fully insert into the PCB, and on some occasions the stabilizer inserts would be dislodged from their bars when removing keycaps after the plate has been installed which meant several frustrating episodes of trying to gently nudge inserts back into their correct positions while working with the limited amount of room the plate exposes.
After the stabilizers were done, I decided to test the PCB first to make sure nothing was wrong with it before moving on to actually soldering the switches to it.
Per the Winkeyless guide, the PCB’s bootloader mode can be enabled by jumping a set of points on it (which I used a handy paper clip for). After confirming that the PCB was indeed functional (and also very colorful) I went ahead and installed the firmware (ps2avrGB specifically) for it as well so that I could later configure the LEDs and key mappings on it.
As the PCB was now confirmed to be working as expected, I moved on to the most exciting part of the build yet: soldering the switches onto the PCB!
As I mentioned above earlier, this was my first time doing any kind of soldering. Per the common recommendations I picked up a Hakko soldering iron and a tin/lead combination wire solder to get started with. Going with Hakko was definitely a pricey choice for a beginner, but the quality of their soldering iron was great and I didn’t have any issues using it whatsoever. After some quick guides and a few attempts later, I managed to get the hang of soldering and was able to quickly solder all of the switches onto the PCB without much difficulty.
In terms of mistakes and issues with my soldering, I found out later on during testing that some of my joints actually didn’t have enough solder applied which led to some chattering switches. These issues were easily fixed however when I revisited the switches and applied some extra solder, so all in all the entire process went by relatively painlessly without any major difficulties. Nice!
With all of the switches soldered, the remaining work left in terms of soldering was the in-switch LEDs.
The in-switch LEDs were fairly straightforward to install - they’ve got two long pins that slide right through the top of a switch and onto the back of the PCB, each with a different polarity (+/-) that should be placed on the correct location on the PCB. I ended up bending the pins after fitting the LEDs through the PCB to keep them stabilized in place before soldering them. After soldering them, I clipped the extra length on the pins so that they would still fit properly after I install the case for the keyboard.
Whew, soldering all done and complete! The only thing left now at this point is to assemble the case together and add in the keycaps. Keycaps are obvious enough and need no explanation, and assembling the case is nothing complicated - it’s a clear acrylic case that just needs to be screwed in to the plate (with some feet/pads that can be attached on the bottom).
And the final result after fully assembling the keyboard, installing the firmware, and configuring the LEDs:
This keyboard build was a lot of fun! As I mentioned earlier above, I actually built this keyboard last year in 2018 and have been using it at home ever since. During the process of building the keyboard I learned how to solder, picked up on a lot of the nuances involved in building keyboards, and overall had a great time throughout the entire experience.
Since the initial build I’ve opened up the keyboard a few times again mostly for cleaning and replacing a few in-switch LEDs that ended up dying over time, so maintenance of the keyboard really hasn’t been an issue. In terms of the Hako Clear switches that I used for the keyboard, my thoughts on them are that they’re a lot more closer to the feeling of Cherry MX Clears rather than Topre switches even though they were advertised as a hybrid of the two. They don’t quite match the smooth and natural feeling of bottoming out when using Topre switches, although the resistance is definitely there and more (using a 75g spring as opposed to Topre’s default variable actuation force of 45-55g) which means it’s easier to tire out after long sessions of typing. In any case they still do feel pretty good after a period of adjustment, and usability-wise they’re more or less competent enough when compared to other switches for typing:
In terms of any potential builds in the future, I’ll be keeping my eye out for anything new that catches my eye (custom topre boards and switches please!). In the meantime, I’ve become satisfied with this current keyboard and will most likely be sticking with it for use at home for the next several years.
Thanks for reading!