plate materials

Hello,
I'd like to collect your DIYer's opinions about the different materials you so far experienced for the switch mounting plates since I read a lot about rigidity vs flexibility, sound and in general feel of it.
Of course a lot also depends on the cap or the case as well but most probably lesser.. ;)
I saw so far mostly steel to be used but how about plexiglass or aluminium? And what about their thickness? (I doubt for instance 1mm plexy could be enough..?) Maybe even wood?

Thanx,
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Unread post27 Jan 2016, 16:49

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From a builder's perspective (not a typist's):

Steel: strong, heavy and rigid. A pain to machine (file/drill) by hand.
Alu: a bit less strong, but lighter and can provide a somewhat softer typing feel. Much easier to machine by hand.
Acrylic: not rigid enough unless you go with something like 5 mm thick material. Not necessarily a bad choice if you have a strong case to provide support/rigidity but it may not provide the strength needed if you base your build around the plate (i.e top plate + standoffs + bottom plate). Brittle, so delicate to machine by hand.
Wood: same as acrylic (except it's generally not brittle unless you go with ebony), although strength and weight can vary wildly between woods.

Thickness: 1.5 mm is the norm for plate-mounting MX switches, 1.2 mm for Alps. You can use thicker materiel, but you'll have to machine it on the underside for switches to grip the plate properly (and for stab wires to fit), see Gon's 2 mm alu plates:

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So... What about stainless? Obviously more expensive than normal steel, but isn't it a bit softer?
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In the grand scheme of things, I am not sure there is much of a difference. Stainless does not rust in contact with humidity and should be a bit stiffer (and more brittle, but that's a concern for the manufacturer, not the end user), but I am not sure the difference with carbon/mild steel could be felt when typing.

Also, there are various grades of steel/stainless/aluminum, each with different properties, but here again I don't think that the difference between two types of alu (for instance) are as noticeable as the difference between alu and steel.
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thanks for the infos! in particular about the thickness with plexy (because I saw many projects with some 3 or 5mm plexy: they probably used some glue to fix the cherry mx since clipping should not have been possible as you explained) or maybe an idea could be to make two plexy plates, one 1mm and another 3mm to put below.. ;) would be interesting to test.. uhm..
otherwise I can imagine and agree that differences between metals should be neglectible still not sure about difference between acryl and metals.. is it just a matter of stiffness?

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Matt_, I'm not sure what kind of madmen you think we are. Nobody's going to hand machine a plate, not even from acrylic! :lol:

1.5mm polycarbonate plates are used sometimes on OTD customs. Even partial ones missing the whole alpha cluster. I have one on my 456GT and it's certainly structurally sound.
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I was really starting to think that somebody did indeed hand machine some plexy or alu plate with a dremel or similar... brrr.. could be really interesting hobby :) :)
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tentator wrote:could be really SUICIDAL hobby :) :)

Fixed that for you..
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You don't need to hand make a whole plate, just file some switch openings or drill a 3 mm hole for a LED and see what a pain 1.5 mm steel can be :) Likewise, it's easy to crack an acrylic plate when drilling it if you're not careful. But yeah, if you're ordering a plate and do not plan on modifying it, you don't need to worry about that.

(and actually I just finished hand-cutting wood plates for a 65% and a 60%, so —wait... am I the madman?)

And as you said, less rigid material (such as acrylic/PC) pose no problem if they are properly supported by the rest of the case (as opposed to being a structural component of the case).
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I've got one of Hasu's Alps 64 plates, and a nice set of blues to put into it. What plate should I get, for use with one of those Aliexpress Poker cases someone pointed me to?

I actually have a parts AEK II but hack sawing is enough to put me into a Jack Torrance headspace, if you know what I mean. And HzFaq rather fancies that plate anyway.

Sth is getting some acrylic Alps plates cut. But they're fairly expensive and acryl is acryl. These are blue Alps we're talking about, not just crummy MX blues. I should treat them with respect!

I'm thinking maybe laser cut some Alps 60% plates. There's a place my brother's used (for non keyboard work) in England. If there's enough interest here in Europe (and I can lay my hands on the cherished files) there is a possibility. Something like Matteo's group builds back in the day.
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It's easy enough to have a .dxf drawn and sent to any local lasercutter (or someone should have a good service to recommend in the UK), you'll just have to check the dimensions and location of mounting holes (if any) so that you can mount it in your case. For Alps, the consensus seems to be on 1.2mm steel or alu (not 1.5 mm).
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Wow wood plate?! That sounds interesting because I was thinkin' about wood for the case but would be curious about a plate.. so are you really dremel - ing the holes on wood or how? And what you da about the thickness and fixing the switches?
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How about brass? Didn't MassDrop do some kind of limited edition Planck run with a brass plate a while back?
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tentator wrote:Wow wood plate?! That sounds interesting because I was thinkin' about wood for the case but would be curious about a plate.. so are you really dremel - ing the holes on wood or how??

Yes, something like that:

Image

Using a 3 mm lasercut aluminum plate as a template and 4 mm wood. I am slightly cheating though — the wood I am using is balsa, a really light and soft wood so it's really easy to machine. So much that it's actually more practical to cut plates with a hobby knife (less noise, dust and tearing).

I'll be using maple and walnut for the final iterations, but balsa allows you to churn out prototypes quickly — I cut the two plates in the middle by hand in less than an hour:

Image

For a finished product, you could either have a wood plate CNC-cut or laser-cut, but you would have to machine the underside to allows switches to click into the plate (as shown on GON's plate earlier).
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caligo wrote:How about brass? Didn't MassDrop do some kind of limited edition Planck run with a brass plate a while back?

Brass is softer and less strong than steel and aluminum (not much of a structural material), but just like acrylic you can use it if you do not solely rely on it to provide strength to the keyboard case.
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Matt_ wrote:
caligo wrote:How about brass? Didn't MassDrop do some kind of limited edition Planck run with a brass plate a while back?

Brass is softer and less strong than steel and aluminum (not much of a structural material), but just like acrylic you can use it if you do not solely rely on it to provide strength to the keyboard case.

If nothing else, I guess it makes for a neat steam punk look. Plus it's fairly easy to machine. And it can't be that bad for structural support, seeing as it was used for things like camping stoves before aluminium came along. However, it would probably be more expensive than aluminium. Those brass Plancks sure look nice though.
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Matt_ wrote:
tentator wrote:Wow wood plate?! That sounds interesting because I was thinkin' about wood for the case but would be curious about a plate.. so are you really dremel - ing the holes on wood or how??

Yes, something like that:

Image

Using a 3 mm lasercut aluminum plate as a template and 4 mm wood. I am slightly cheating though — the wood I am using is balsa, a really light and soft wood so it's really easy to machine. So much that it's actually more practical to cut plates with a hobby knife (less noise, dust and tearing).

I'll be using maple and walnut for the final iterations, but balsa allows you to churn out prototypes quickly — I cut the two plates in the middle by hand in less than an hour:

Image

For a finished product, you could either have a wood plate CNC-cut or laser-cut, but you would have to machine the underside to allows switches to click into the plate (as shown on GON's plate earlier).


WOWOWOW!

and how is the "sound" of typing on it so far? :)

at the worst you could hot glue them to the wood (just kidding).. actually I was studying an idea of sandwiching two layers where the switches go: one 1mm thick that will allow them to "click" and another 3 or 5mm thick that just adds added "structure/rigidity" to the whole and then rest of usual sandwich or case.. should work IMHO.. probably there might be a small "air" gap between them that anyway the screws should keep at a minimum.. I wanted to make a test with plexy at first to see..


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caligo wrote:
Matt_ wrote:If nothing else, I guess it makes for a neat steam punk look. Plus it's fairly easy to machine. And it can't be that bad for structural support, seeing as it was used for things like camping stoves before aluminium came along. However, it would probably be more expensive than aluminium. Those brass Plancks sure look nice though.

Yeah, when I say that it's not quite a structural material, that's just the way it is generally considered when compared to aluminum and steel; it's definitely no cardboard either. For something as small as a Planck and with proper standoff spacing, I guess it's more than okay.
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tentator wrote:WOWOWOW!

and how is the "sound" of typing on it so far? :)

at the worst you could hot glue them to the wood (just kidding).. actually I was studying an idea of sandwiching two layers where the switches go: one 1mm thick that will allow them to "click" and another 3 or 5mm thick that just adds added "structure/rigidity" to the whole and then rest of usual sandwich or case.. should work IMHO.. probably there might be a small "air" gap between them that anyway the screws should keep at a minimum.. I wanted to make a test with plexy at first to see..


tent:wq

I will definitely not do that :) I've seen projects where this was done, but it's easy to add notches in wood with a small router. Perhaps it will be harder to make stabs fit but maple and walnut should be hard enough to withstand being thinned down to to 1.5 mm in those areas.

I have not tried typing on them yet — they're just physical mockups I'm making to get dimensions right, I'm waiting for PCBs to arrive before adding the aluminum bottom plate and feet and see how it feels. I'm expecting a soft, muted clack on bottom out, but we'll see how it turns out (I have a build thread in the workshop which I'll update once things get rolling).
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tentator wrote:I was really starting to think that somebody did indeed hand machine some plexy or alu plate with a dremel or similar... brrr.. could be really interesting hobby :) :)

I did do that on alu. I wouldn't consider it on a fullsize, and I won't recommend it for any size.
It takes way too long with a dremel and results are not perfect obviously. On the other side, how long would it have taken me to do the thing in CAD, when I have no experience in CAD?
Also, the first 10 holes were actually interesting and fun ;)
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caligo wrote:
Matt_ wrote:
caligo wrote:How about brass? Didn't MassDrop do some kind of limited edition Planck run with a brass plate a while back?

Brass is softer and less strong than steel and aluminum (not much of a structural material), but just like acrylic you can use it if you do not solely rely on it to provide strength to the keyboard case.

If nothing else, I guess it makes for a neat steam punk look. Plus it's fairly easy to machine. And it can't be that bad for structural support, seeing as it was used for things like camping stoves before aluminium came along. However, it would probably be more expensive than aluminium. Those brass Plancks sure look nice though.

Those planks are beautiful. Planning on doing the same on a 70% build. Does anyone know a good website to get that made? Big Blue Saw doesn't seem to have brass.
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Brass cannot be lasercut (supposedly too reflective, same for copper) so you'll have to find a waterjet or CNC cutting service for that. But Big Blue Saw does offer waterjet-cut copper though, so you could send them an email to inquire about cutting a brass plate.
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okay time to chime in.

The choice of material and plate thickness depends on so many factors.

So far I tried:

- Steel (by steel I mean stainless steel, nobody wants to use raw steel), believe it or not steel might be cheaper than aluminum. there are some very expensive aluminum alloys. it's very good for ballast, it's heavy and steady, but it's too stiff and tiring on the long run especially with light-spring switches. 1.5 thickness is the only sane option, thicker than that becomes really too heavy

- Acrylic. Acrylic is actually very good. It breaks before it bends but it still has some flexibility. Koreans love it (together with polycarb). It also comes in many colors. 1.5mm acrylic is pretty good already, you can have it thicker (like 4mm) but you lose flexibility. Also the switches don't clip to the plate with anything thicker than 1.6, so you most likely need a PCB or find a way to glue to switches in place.

- Polycarbonate. It bends before it breaks. It is lighter than acrylic and very flexible, making thicker plates a better option on PC than it is with other materials. Apart from that the same as acrylic applies.

- Titanium. Yes, some smart-ass decided that it was cool to make a plate out of titanium. I tried it and it's a terrible, terrible idea. Laser cut titanium is pretty rough and I destroyed my fingers with all those Ti splinters. That being said, it's uselessly stiff, expensive and rough.

- Wood is a very convenient material. It's easy to work and relatively cheap (even though there are some kind of woods that are very expensive). Stiffness varies depending on the typology, but with "workable" woods it is generally good. With higher thicknesses it becomes a bit too stiff for my palate. Raw wood also requires post-processing. People think that wood keyboards sound bad, but that's just a myth.

- 3D print plastic (usually ABS). This is very versatile because you go from 3d model to real object and you have complete creativity freedom. The drawback? Cost (and time to get the model done). That being said the material is good and works pretty well as a plate/case.

- Aluminum. To me this is the best option. Not all alus are the same, there are many typologies, some very stiff, some soft, some flexy. The right alloy can be easily machined and not just laser cut.

Copper and Brass CAN be laser cut (sorry Matt_ but it's actually totally feasible). With all the options we have I don't simply find necessary to use those materials.
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I'll trust you on the possibility to lasercut those materials :) I have no firsthand experience about that, it's just that the opinion that it's utterly unpractical for manufacturers seems pretty widespread. (sorry to contribute to that background noise)

Which kind of wood did you try? I remember you had something wood-related in the works but I don't remember seeing a thread about that. Also regarding woods, not all require finishing. Most common species do, but exotic (or generally oily) woods often don't (rosewood/wenge keyboard case anyone?).
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matt3o wrote:Copper and Brass CAN be laser cut (sorry Matt_ but it's actually totally feasible).

To expand on this reflective materials present many problems for CO2 lasers and some manufacturers have solved the reflection issues on their machines, but you'll almost always see a premium due to the extra difficulty.

Fiber lasers do not have this issue and are starting to get more commonplace, but are more expensive to operate.
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Agree that the steel is very bad for long run, it tire up your finger real fast. First impression on the other hand is very impressive, it provides a solid feel and absorbs all the down force, also no flexibility. Steel is something people who type with LED will like because of its capability of mirror finishing.

Aluminium is majority's favorites, easy to machine, have some flex, more solid than acrylic, softer than SS.

My favorite for now is carbon fiber plate, the only downside of it is its construction of weave layers, which made a large plate of CF inconsistent of thickness thus installing switches will be a bit harder at some positions
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Matt_ wrote:I'll trust you on the possibility to lasercut those materials :) I have no firsthand experience about that, it's just that the opinion that it's utterly unpractical for manufacturers seems pretty widespread. (sorry to contribute to that background noise)

I'm pretty sure about that because a service over here did it for me a while ago.
Matt_ wrote:Which kind of wood did you try?

I tried a lot of them (I have a CNC) to see which one works better. Cherry, poplar, chestnut... and others I can't remember right now :)
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Oh, of course, your CNC! I might have a little 60% sized Alps job for it, if you're interested?
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matt3o wrote:
Matt_ wrote:Which kind of wood did you try?

I tried a lot of them (I have a CNC) to see which one works better. Cherry, poplar, chestnut... and others I can't remember right now :)

I must admit that at some point I considered asking your help (and your CNC's) for my Slab project :mrgreen:

Regarding your experiments with woods, I'd love to read about your impressions if you ever find the time/desire to write more about this.
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I'll add that to my very long list of articles I have to write :)

I can tell you right now that the best woods I've tried for machining are poplar, maple and mahogany. but I'm not an expert by any means
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