Custom Mechanical Keyboard: Part 2
This is the second part of my series about Custom Mechanical Keyboard. It will focus on one of the biggest misunderstandings of the hobby for the "non initiated": that mechanical keyboards are loud and annoying.
What are switches?
A mechanical keyboard has the name "mechanical" because of its switches being the mechanical type. There are several types of switches that I won't get into details, like optical, buckle spring, rubber domes, membrane, scissor, laser, hall effect and many others.
So switches are the mechanism that actuates electronically to close a circuit and send the signal of which key was pushed. Or, it is literally a button, simple as that. A button like the one you turn the lights on and off on your house, that rings a bell, on a calculator, on the lift etc.
Anatomy of a switch
A mechanical switch is composed by 5 parts:
- Top housing
- Bottom housing
Here's a photo to show an assembled switch, and an unassembled, where the parts appear as follows on the list above:
👆 Aliaz Silent switch
👆 Switch parts from top to bottom: top housing, stem, spring, leaf, bottom housing with the other half of the leaf
Another popular thing to do, is to mod (short for modify) the switches, lubricating them. There are several ways of lubricating a switch, but I will talk about it later, on a special chapter for Modifications.
Types of switches
As I'm not here to lecture anyone on history (at least, not for now), I'm going to cut the chip chat and jump right into each type of switch.
I will start with my current favourite switches, the linears.
As the name says, this is a kind of switch that requires a linear force for actuation and rebound. Also, in my personal opinion, it is easoer to notice modification (or mods, for short) that one can do on the switch, like lubricating it.
So, basically, imagine that from the moment you start pushing the key, to the moment it hits the bottom of the keyboard and comes back, there are no bumps, no variation on the force or sensation. Also, regarding to the acoustics, it is a more organic sound, with no variation added.
Nowadays the most popular linear switches are the MX Red and the Gateron Ink line. High quality switches for a reasonable price. They had issues with the leaf, but a retooling is on it's way (if not here already).
These are the switches I started with on the customs. My first switch was a tactile silent, the Zilents switches. I thought that what made a great keyboard was the bumpy feeling, almost like when you're pushing a key, there's a "dent" halfway down, something that feels like is activating the switch and making the input possible.
Truth is that this bump is artificial and added for feeling, just like they do with smartphones when it vibrates as you interact with the screen. It makes it feel more "real".
The most known tactile switches from my perspective, are the MX Brown,
Here we are. I started this series of posts to talk about these bad fellows here. Sort of :)
So, the Clicky switches are the responsible for people to think that mechanical keyboards are loud. Are responsible for summarising "Mechanical Keyboard" as loud annoying keyboards, used by nonsensical people on offices and so on. But I'm here to bring news to you: it isn't.
I mean, the switches are indeed loud. They have a "zing" sound, high pitched and metallic, that is also artificial, added for this sound feedback. And it is also ok to enjoy this switches, they have quite a big market. The so called "gaming keyboards" (that are nothing but colorful, noisy and club-like light globes) has perpetuated somehow this switches. You can see gaming streamers using them and, because they're a kind of influencer, they keep this vicious circle of making people go toward that direction.
The most known clicky switches are by far the MX Blues, but the Kailh Box White switches are the most used alternative for the hobbyists. Be aware though, because the stem of the Box switches might damage your keycaps' steam. I have no idea how's the current state of this but a year ago or so, if you wanted to use Box switches safely, you had to "shave" the switch's stem.
And here is the antidote for the previous switch type. These are to be as quiet as possible. They usually have a thin layer of a different material (more sound absorbing material in general), where there's friction between the inner switch parts. It is really good on dampening the sound and you should give it a try if the noise of a mechanical keyboard is preventing you to use one.
This switch usually is combined with a Linear or a Tactile switch. For instance, the Zilents I've mentioned before are silent and tactile. My current favourite silent switches are the Gateron Silent Black Ink, that are silent linears.
Switch modifications, or "mods"
I don't know many ways for modding a switch, I know only three ways, and one of them isn't really modding, but only replacing a part. But let's do it.
One way you can change how a switch reacts is changing the spring. If you like how a switch sounds like, or even the type of switch, but you feel it either too heavy to push, or to soft and light, you can change the down force by replacing it's spring.
There are many places you can find springs to replace like 1up Keyboards.
This is the most common mod. I must confess that in the beginning I thought that this was something like a elitist thing, something that doesn't make so much difference. But listen to me: it definitely does.
After trying a lubed switch, you just can't go back to vanilla. This makes the feeling so much smoother and completely different/improved experience when typing, also changes the sound quite significantly, removing any rattling from the friction of the switch inner parts.
Depending on the switch, you can lube the springs and specific parts of the stem. It only make sense to lube parts that has friction to other parts of the switch.
Be aware that it isn't any type of lubricant or grease that can be used for this. If you need help on this step, I recommend you hopping on the Mr. Keebs Discord and asking for help there. Everyone will be happy to answer any doubt you might have ;)
And even inside the switch lubing, you can lube using a brush, or even doing bag lubing for springs and stems.
Here's an educational video on bag lubing from Mr. Keebs:
Something that is growing a lot lately is adding films to switches. Some people feels that some switches have some sort of "wobble", and the film switch is basically a really thin layer of plastic that goes between the top and the bottom housing of the switch. This makes the mounting tighter and removes completely this wobble.
Again, for more help on this topic, join the Mr. Keebs Discord.
This post was written using a TMO50 Smoky PC, on a brass plate, with Everglide Turquoise switches lubricated with TryboSys 3204, wearing GMK White on Black keycaps. Directly on a Surface Pro X.