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.

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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
Computer Keyboard Wired, Plug Play USB Keyboard, Low Profile Chiclet Keys, Large Number Pad, Caps Indicators, Foldable Stands, Spill-Resistant, Anti-Wear Letters for Windows Mac PC Laptop, 2 PACKS
  • 2Pcs Keyboard – There are 2 full size keyboard in the package.
  • 【Easy, Ultra-Fast to Play】CL206 wired computer keyboard is super easy to use, it works instantly with any USB devices, no driver needed, no need to worry about interference that breaks your connection, no charging or battery consumption.
  • 【Responsive Low-Profile Chiclet Keys】Provide optimized responsiveness and effortless tactile feedback that remind you the key has been hit. You can type with confidence with shorter keystroke travel so it’s decent to type on for long periods.
  • 【Slim, Modern Design】Own your style with a slim computer keyboard with premium matte finish, and you can easily carry it when you work from home. This keyboard is compact and doesn’t take up a lot of real estate on the desk, great if you have a small office workspace.
  • 【Optimize Your Productivity】Boost your workflow and simply how you use your computer with a large number pad, 3 indicator lights and 12 multimedia shortcuts, including video, volume, surfing, email control etc.
Bestseller No. 3
60% Mechanical Gaming Keyboard,Mixed Color Keycaps Gaming Keyboard with Red Switches, Detachable Type-C Cable Mini Keyboard with Blue LED Light for PC/Laptop
  • ✅ [ N-Key Rollover ] All keys non-conflict. This mechanical gaming keyboards allows multiple keys to work with high speed. Let you enjoy games with fast response
  • ✅ [ Linear Red Switches ] Quiet click sound, fast action with small resistance without a tactile bump feel, gamers often prefer Red switches because they are not as springy, and easier to push down faster
  • ✅ [ Ergonomic & Durable ] Smooth lines,comfortable feeling and reduce your hand fatigue. Two-Color injection keycaps make this keyboard more durable and lasting
  • ✅ [ 61 Keys Compact with Blue Light ] Small size with 61 keys, save more space for your desk. And this mini gaming keyboard have 19 blue LED light effects to choose
  • ✅ [ Detachable Type-C Cable ] Plugging the keyboard in works straight away without any software installed, you can use it as easy as plug and play. And this USB port wired gaming keyboard is wide compatibilty, it adapt to Win2000/ 7 / 8 / 10

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.

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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.

Marcus Richardson
Editor-in-chief

I love testing and writing about new tech. I'm also a gamer and an engineer. Check out my Twitter for keyboard stuff.

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