Through Hole PCB keyboards – what’s the deal with them?

The world of mechanical keyboards is vast and full of variety, and among them, through-hole keyboards have been gaining traction recently. Named for their distinct construction, these keyboards use a PCB (Printed Circuit Board) that differs from the ones found in standard custom or pre-built keyboards.

When a key is pressed on a keyboard, it’s the PCB that transmits this information to the computer. Regardless of the type of mechanical keyboard, all PCBs perform this essential function: transforming the physical act of pressing a key into an electrical signal sent to your computer.

What is a Through-hole keyboard?

The uniqueness of a through-hole keyboard lies in its type of PCB, which employs Through-Hole technology. In this method, pin-through hole (PTH) components are inserted through holes drilled into the PCB, and their ends, or leads, are soldered to pads on the opposite side of the board. This is a marked departure from earlier electronics assembly techniques such as point-to-point construction.

Through-Hole technology

Through-Hole technology was the standard from the 1950s until the advent of Surface Mount Technology (SMT) in the late 1980s. While the latter became predominant due to less soldering requirements and therefore lower production costs, through-hole mounting offered stronger mechanical bonds. Its downside was that it required more space, reducing the routing area available for signal traces on multilayer PCBs.

Why bother with Through-hole keyboards?

Mechanical keyboard enthusiasts view through-hole keyboards as an intriguing facet of the hobby. Despite their intricate and time-consuming assembly process, these keyboards offer a unique level of satisfaction, particularly for those new to soldering. Currently, no pre-built through-hole keyboards are available in the market. The options are to solder the PCB yourself or to pay a keyboard builder to do the job.

New:   PC Cases with Screen on front (it can display Windows!)

In terms of complexity, through-hole keyboards require more soldering than regular custom keyboards. The latter only necessitate soldering the switches, while through-hole keyboards also require fusing the leads along with the mechanical switches.

A through-hole keyboard kit typically includes signal diodes, resistors, capacitors, bolts and nuts, a microcontroller, port expanders, sockets, main PCB, bottom PCB, and a plate. Optional parts might include the keyboard case or a Flexi glass cover.

To assemble a through-hole keyboard, one will need a variety of tools such as a soldering iron, wire cutter, soldering flux, soldering sucker, soldering iron tip cleaning sponge, tweezers, soldering wick, and protective gear. Though the list may seem daunting, there are numerous video tutorials and manuals available to guide you through the process.

Through Hole keyboard kits

Through-hole PCBs are usually only compatible with the kit they came with. Some through-hole keyboards are sold bare, displaying the quality of the soldering work. Cases for these bare through-hole keyboards can be purchased from shops like Amazon.com or P3Dstore.com. Here are some good examples of through-hole keyboard kits to buy:

Bestseller No. 1
nullbits USB Nibble 65% 72 Key Programmable QMK Mechanical Keyboard Kit (White)
  • The NIBBLE is a high-quality 65% keyboard kit with tons of room for customization
  • Built around a Pro Micro, rather than a discrete microcontroller. This saves assembly time, and also reduces the build difficulty
  • The NIBBLE has more programmable keys than a standard 65%, and allow for multiple layouts
  • All required parts (diodes, caps, and ICs) are through-hole, meaning they’re easy and forgiving to solder
  • RGB underglow ready: 10x optional bottom-mounted SMT LEDs shine nicely through the acrylic support material. RGB underglow is supported natively in QMK, allowing for easy programming and configuration
Bestseller No. 2
nullbits SNAP 75% Mechanical Keyboard Kit (White)
  • The SNAP is a high-quality split 75% keyboard kit with tons of room for customization
  • Use the SNAP together, or separate! It snaps together for a traditional 75% layout or pulls apart for use as a split board
  • Built around a Pro Micro, rather than a discrete microcontroller. This saves assembly time, and also reduces the build difficulty
  • All required parts (diodes, caps, and ICs) are through-hole, meaning they’re easy and forgiving to solder
  • RGB underglow ready: 10x optional bottom-mounted SMT LEDs shine nicely through the acrylic support material. RGB underglow is supported natively in QMK, allowing for easy programming and configuration
SaleBestseller No. 3
Tidbit 19 Key Programmable QMK Mechanical Numpad Kit (White)
  • The TIDBIT is a high-quality 19-key numpad kit with tons of room for customization
  • Built around a Pro Micro, rather than a discrete microcontroller. This saves assembly time, and also reduces the build difficulty
  • The TIDBIT has more programmable keys than a standard 12-key numpad, and allows for multiple layouts
  • All required parts (diodes, caps, and ICs) are through-hole, meaning they’re easy and forgiving to solder
  • 8x optional bottom-mounted SMT LEDs shine nicely through the acrylic support material. RGB underglow is supported natively in QMK, allowing for easy programming and configuration

It’s important to note that these types of PCBs are larger than those found in standard keyboards, requiring more room. For instance, a 60% through-hole keyboard will occupy more space than a regular 60% keyboard.

New:   My PS5 Dualsense Controller is moving by itself

Given the complexities and skills required, beginners in the world of mechanical keyboards are often advised against starting with through-hole keyboards. That being said, the price for embarking on this adventure can be as low as $70.00. Although Through-Hole technology isn’t a necessity in keyboard-building, it offers a unique experience for those seeking a specific type of keyboard project.

Leave a Comment