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Mechanical Keyboards for Beginners: Everything You Need to Know

Essential guide for beginners on mechanical keyboards. Learn about types, pros/cons, and key factors before your first purchase.

Mechanical Keyboards Beginner Guide

For most people, the keyboard that came with their computer or laptop was an afterthought. They likely didn't give much consideration to how it felt to type on, whether the keys made satisfying clicks, or if there were any customization options. But in recent years, a growing community of keyboard enthusiasts has shown there is much more possibility when it comes to input devices.

Mechanical keyboards, also referred to as mechanical key switches, are high-performance keyboards that provide benefits like:

  • Superior tactile feedback
  • Ability to customize sound, feel, and aesthetics
  • Improved speed, accuracy, and comfort for heavy typing
  • Durable construction that lasts for decades

Unlike the cheap, mushy rubber dome keyboards found on most consumer devices, mechanical keyboards use individual key switches under every key. These switches come in different types like linear, tactile, and clicky. Popular switch brands include Cherry MX, Gateron, and Kailh.

Beyond switches, you also have endless options when it comes to custom keycaps, keyboard sizes like 60% and full-size, and even completely bespoke DIY builds.

The world of mechanical keyboards may seem overwhelming for a beginner, but this guide aims to make it approachable and understandable. We'll cover topics like:

  • Mechanical keyboard basics - Key components, types of switches, layouts, etc.
  • Choosing your first mechanical keyboard - How to select the right keyboard for your needs and budget
  • Customizing and modding - Switches, keycaps, cables, acoustics, and more
  • Mechanical keyboard community - Where to connect with other enthusiasts
  • Maintenance and longevity - Keeping your keyboard in top shape

Whether you're a gamer looking to step up your play, a programmer trying to optimize workflow, or simply someone who types a lot and wants a better experience, the world of mechanical keyboards offers near endless possibilities. Read on to learn everything you need to know to find your perfect match!

The journey down the mechanical keyboard rabbit hole will reveal a passionate community of makers, tinkerers, and enthusiasts who treat keyboards as an artform. There are those who lovingly handcraft custom wood cases, meticulously lube switches to achieve fingertip-gliding perfection, and even design bespoke PCBs and controllers.

KBDfans Wooden Keyboard (Lubed Akko Vintage Whites)
KBDfans Wooden Keyboard (Lubed Akko Vintage Whites) | Source: Lixvisuals (Reddit)

While the most advanced modifications require skills like soldering and perhaps even programming. Beginners can start small with simple aesthetic upgrades like custom keycap sets, and keyboards with hot-swappable switches make it easy to experiment with different switch types by just popping them in and out.

Mechanical keyboards aren't just for coders and gamers either. Their reputation for boosting speed and reducing strain also appeals to writers, office workers, and anyone who spends many hours per day typing. And who wouldn't want a typing experience that is buttery smooth, sounds melodic, and looks stunning?

Read also: Mechanical Keyboards' Benefits and Drawbacks

So if you're curious what all the hype around mechanical keyboards is about, read on. We'll cover everything you need to know to dive into this fun, rewarding hobby in a way that is approachable even if you're a total beginner. Clack, clack - let's get clicking!

Mechanical Keyboard Basics

Alright, let's dive right into the good stuff. In this section I'll equip you with insider knowledge on all the key components of mechanical keyboards so you can talk shop with the best keyboard enthusiasts. Grab a tasty beverage and get comfy!

What Are Mechanical Keyboards?

Simply put, mechanical keyboards use individual mechanical switches under every single key instead of the cheap membrane sheets found in typical keyboards. These switches come in different types that determine the keyboard's sound, feel, and operation.

Most keyboards use the ubiquitous Cherry MX-style switches first introduced by the Cherry company in Germany during the 1980s. They proved so reliable that the patent expired long ago, allowing many clones to be made.

Cherry MX switches
Cherry MX switches

Cherry MX-style switches feature a plastic housing and stem along with a spring inside. As you press down, metal contacts get pushed together to complete the electrical circuit and register your keypress.

Mechanical switch components
Mechanical switch components | Source: KeyMouse®
  1. Stem - The plastic top part that allows mounting of the keycap and connection to the switch mechanism when pressed.
  2. Switch Housing - Holds all components in alignment and protects internals from environmental debris.
  3. Slider - Moves up and down to actuate the electrical contacts. Pushed by the spring on release.
  4. Metal Contact Leaves - Components that register keystrokes when they come into contact with each other.
  5. Spring - Coiled metal piece that provides tactile resistance and returns slider to resting position.

Mechanical key switches provide a truly superior typing experience compared to lifeless mushy membranes. And we're just getting started customizing!

Mechanical Keyboard Switch Types

There is a diverse range of key switches available in the market. However, switches come in three primary categories depending on their characteristics:

Linear Switches

These move straight up and down smoothly without any bumps or clicks. Popular choices:

  • Cherry MX Red - Light and responsive, often preferred by gamers
  • Gateron Black Ink - Smooth as butter - one of my personal favorite!

Tactile Switches

Tactile switches provide physical feedback halfway through the press via a light bump you can feel. Great for typing. Some top options:

  • Cherry MX Brown - Medium bump with decent audible click
  • Zealio V2 - More exaggerated bump and premium feel

Clicky Switches

Clicky switches combine the tactile bump with an audible click when actuating. Satisfying yet rather noisy:

  • Cherry MX Blue - Loud with a high pitch click
  • Kailh Box White - Lower toned click, less abrasive
Keyboard switch types
Keyboard switch types

When referring to the color, it'll usually be categorized as follows:

  • Linear: red, yellow, black
  • Tacticle: brown, clear/white
  • Clicky: blue, green

There are literally hundreds of switches to peruse. But these categories cover the most common types you'll encounter.

Anatomy of a Keyboard

Before we begin, it would be beneficial for you to grasp the anatomy of a keyboard.

Anatomy of a keyboard - ANSI layout
Anatomy of a keyboard - ANSI layout | Source: keyboard.university

Sizes and Layouts Galore

Most popular keyboard layouts
Most popular keyboard layouts | Source: goofyshnoofy (Reddit)

Beyond feel and sound, keyboards come in a variety sizes and carefully planned out key arrangements known as layouts:

Common Sizes

Mechanical keyboards come in a variety of sizes, ranging from compact 40% boards to full size 104-key keyboards. The size refers to the percentage of keys compared to a full size keyboard. Here are some of the most common sizes:

Full Size (100%)
  • The full size keyboard has between 104 to 108 total keys
  • Includes a number pad, function keys, navigation/edit keys, letter keys and modifiers
  • Standard for desktop computers but takes up a lot of desk space
80% / TKL (TenKeyLess)
  • Removes the number pad for more room & portability
  • Has between 87 to 88 total keys depending on layout
  • Retains function keys and arrows/editing keys unlike smaller boards
  • Good middle ground, popular with gamers who don't need a numpad
75%
  • A more compact version of a TKL keyboard
  • Can have keys grouped closer together with no spacing
  • Around 84 total keys depending on design
65%
  • Extremely compact and portable without sacrificing too many keys
  • Arrows, editing and function keys removed
  • Between 67-70 keys total (alphabet keys + modifiers)
  • Requires use of FN key to access some removed functions
60%
  • A very popular and standardized compact size
  • No dedicated arrow or navigation keys
  • Around 60-64 total keys
40%
  • As small as a mechanical keyboard gets while remaining usable
  • Drastically reduces number of regular keys, relies heavily on layers
  • Total keys ranging from 50 down to 42
  • Portable but difficult transition from larger sizes

The smaller the keyboard, the bigger the adaptation curve. But portability makes mini boards popular with coders, writers, and other frequent mobile typists. My favorite sizes are 80% and 65% 😀.

More Mechanical Keyboard Sizes

In addition to the core sizes covered already, there are some less common sizes that offer unique benefits:

1800 Compact Full Size
  • Like a full size board but with a more condensed layout
  • Gaps removed between key clusters to save horizontal space
  • Around 106 total keys depending on design
96%
  • Extremely efficient use of space to squash full size into smaller footprint
  • No gaps like 1800 but retains number pad
  • Has between 100-104 total keys
Left-Handed Numpad (LHN)
  • Leaves more desk space for mousing by placing numpad on left side
  • Ortholinear numpad layout to maximize ergonomics
  • Total keys depends on size of main block paired with numpad

Specialized Layouts

Beyond changes to size, some boards offer further optimized layouts:

Ortholinear
  • Keys arranged in vertical and horizontal rows like a grid
  • Intended to maximize natural hand positioning
  • Common on compact boards or ergonomic splits
Split Keyboards
  • Keyboards divided into separate left and right halves
  • Improves shoulder alignment and halves can be angled/"tented"
  • Attached by wire or wireless connectivity

There are even more obscure sizes, like 30% boards, but functionality starts becoming limited. Consider your workspace and portability needs when deciding on a size.

Layouts

ANSI, ISO, and JIS physical keyboard layouts comparison
ANSI, ISO, and JIS physical keyboard layouts comparison

There's also regional layouts like ANSI (American), ISO (European), and JIS (Japanese) that modify certain key placements to better accommodate the native language.

Keyboard Layout Country of Origin Number of Keys Enter Key Shape Backslash Key Location Additional Language Support
ANSI United States 104 Rectangular Located above the "Enter" key Limited support for special characters used in other languages
ISO Europe 105 L-shaped Dedicated key located next to the left shift key Wide range of language support, including special characters used in other languages
JIS Japan 109 Rectangular Located above the "Backspace" key Supports input of Japanese characters

And we can't forget ergonomic and split keyboards purposefully shaped to improve typing posture:

ErgoDox EZ features a split ergonomic design keyboard, equipped with a programmable PCB and hotswap PCB for enhanced customizatio
ErgoDox EZ is a programmable split ergonomic keyboard with hotswap PCB | Source: ErgoDox EZ

With so many form factors, you can surely find your perfect fit.

All About Keycaps

Now to the really fun part - pimping your keyboard with stylish keycaps! These plastic covers add panache and makeover the look.

You'll see terms like:

  • ABS vs PBT - Keycap material affects texture and durability
  • DSA vs Cherry profile - Profile defines the key shape
  • Dye-Sublimation - Print technique creates fade-resistant legends

Cheap pads use lasered legends that wear off. Go for crisp, long-lasting doubleshot or dye-sub keycaps. Dinosaurs like me will always love classic Cherry profile, but there's something for every taste - from retro typewriter-chic to sci-fi futuristic.

Different keycap profiles
Different keycap profiles | Source: Dwarf Factory

Apart from that, I also like ASA profile (this one is like my name, lol😄).

OEM vs ASA vs JDA vs OSA vs CHERRY
OEM vs ASA vs JDA vs OSA vs CHERRY | Source: rpiguy9907 (KeebTalk)

The options are endless, so dress your keyboard to impress! Just make sure your keycaps and keyboard are compatible before buying.

Plates, Cases, PCBs, Oh My!

We're nearing mechanical keyboard nirvana, just a few more parts to cover:

Plates

This thin layer sits underneath the keycaps to provide structure and can influence sound. Popular materials include aluminum, brass, and polycarbonate.

Aluminum keyboard plate
Keyboard plate | Source: KBDfans®

Cases

The external housing that contains all the components and connects to the integrated plate. Look for CNC'd aluminum or wooden cases for artisan builds.

Custom CNC 60% mechanical aluminum keyboard case
Custom CNC 60% mechanical aluminum keyboard case | Source: Nantong Yecheng Precision Parts Co., Ltd

PCBs

The printed circuit board serves as the keyboard's brain, registering your input. Consider solderable or hot-swappable PCBs. The latter makes swapping switches a breeze with no soldering iron required.

Keyboard internal components
Keyboard internal components | Source: Keychron

That covers the core elements that come together to produce typing magic! With so many combinations possible, you can build a Frankenstein worthy of mechanical legend.

Now that you know the anatomy of mechanical keyboards, let's move on to picking your perfect match...

Choosing Your First Mechanical Keyboard

You now grasp the core components that make mechanical keyboards so enticing. Let's explore how to select the perfect match for your needs and budget as a newcomer.

Determine Your Priorities

With so many options, it's important to decide what you value most before picking a board. Ask yourself:

  • What's my primary activity? Gaming demands fast response while typing calls for tactile feedback. Frequent Excel work might warrant a number pad.
  • Do I care about portability? 60%, 65%, and TKL keyboards take up little desk space and easily fit in bags. But compact layouts mean less dedicated keys.
  • What about appearance? RGB lighting offers endless visual flair but isn't critical. However, creativity can blossom with swappable keycaps.
  • Any ergonomic considerations? Split keyboards provide optimal wrist angles but force new typing habits. Tenting kits alter standard boards.
  • What pricing seems fair? Budget boards have limited frills while premium ones provide ultimate quality and customization.

With your activity, design tastes, workspace, and budget defined, suitable options come into focus.

You also can't go wrong test driving switches since feeling trumps hearing or reading about them. Time to get tactile!

Recommendations by Use Case

I'll offer some tailored picks for common needs as a jumping off point for your search. Remember to try or watch reviews before you buy!

Gaming

Gamers crave keyboards offering hyper response and durability during frenzied play. Optical switches register inputs faster than mechanical for ultimate edge. Consider:

Razer Huntsman V2
Razer Huntsman V2 | Source: Razer

Typing

Frequent typers shouldn't settle for the mushy membrane boards built into most laptops. Seek crisp feedback.

  • Das Keyboard 4 Professional - Gold standard for typing with Cherry MX Brown switches
  • Happy Hacking KB - Topre electrostatic switches offer sublime tactility
Das Keyboard 4 Professional custom mod
Das Keyboard 4 Professional custom mod | Source: himangshunits (Reddit)

Ergonomics

Repetitive stress injuries are no joke. Split designs open stronger wrist angles to prevent inflammation and discomfort:

  • Kinesis Freestyle Edge - Tilts and splits for maximum ergo benefits
  • Ultimate Hacking Keyboard - Open modular design fully customizable
Ultimate Hacking Keyboard 60 V2
Ultimate Hacking Keyboard 60 V2 | Source: ireakhavok (Reddit)

Wireless

Cut the cord for a tidy workspace. Latency has reduced to imperceptible levels in quality wireless models:

  • Logitech G915 Lightspeed - Low profile mechanical board with crisp RGB backlighting
  • Keychron K3 - Ultra-slim and swappable switch compatible
  • Dell Alienware Pro Wireless - Hot-swappable switches, 72-hour battery, RGB lighting, compact design. Perfect for gaming.
Keychron K3 Non-Backlight
Keychron K3 Non-Backlight | Source: Keychron

Budget

You needn't spend big bucks to enjoy mech life. These provide good bang for buck:

  • Redragon K552 - No frills board with responsive linear red switches
  • RK Royal Kludge - Hot-swappable switches and RGB lighting
  • Akko Black & Pink 3068B Plus - My personal favorite
Akko Black & Pink 3068B Plus
Akko Black & Pink 3068B Plus | Source: Akko

How to Choose Switches

We've covered the basics of the main switch types. But with hundreds of choices spanning sound, weight, feel, it helps to get hands-on before deciding.

Test Drive Switches

Spring for a switch tester like the GMMK with over 20 options. Or visit a specialty store offering various demo boards. Notice what force levels feel responsive vs fatiguing during longer typing sessions.

Compare Switch Specs

Narrow selections by vital statistics like operating force, travel distance, sound output. Know that lighter 45g switches can feel fast but require precision to avoid misfires while heavier 70g variants encourage full key presses with each strike.

Give Linear, Tactile, and Clicky a Shot

Try gaming with linear switches for easy double taps then swap to tactile ones to see if you enjoy the textured feedback when typing paragraphs. And hear for yourself whether clicky noises are satisfying or bothersome over time.

There are no absolutely "best" switches. But testing a diverse sample will reveal your personal preference!

North Facing vs South Facing Switches

When selecting a mechanical keyboard PCB and plate, you may come across the terms north facing and south facing switches. This refers to the orientation of the switch pins and LED cutouts relative to the keyboard user.

North Facing Switches
  • Pins and LED hole face towards the user/top of the keyboard
  • Tend to have less compatibility with Cherry profile keycaps due to interference issues
  • Brighter illumination from underside LEDs
  • Possible interference with specific keycap profiles can lead to a "scratchy" feeling or sound, depending on the keycap used.
South Facing Switches
  • Pins and LED opening face away from user/bottom of keyboard
  • Wider keycap compatibility, including Cherry profile keycaps
  • RGB illumination may not shine through the keycap as well
  • Tend to have less LED brightness
Keycap Switch Interference
Keycap Switch Interference | Source: Stellaidoscope#0666

In summary, north-facing switches are known for better RGB shine, while south-facing switches offer wider keycap compatibility and a better typing experience. The choice between the two depends on individual preferences for RGB lighting and keycap compatibility.

Considering the advantages and disadvantages of both options, opting for south-facing switches in your keyboard is likely the better choice.

With south-facing switches, you can use any keycap type without interference, resulting in an improved sound and feel for your keyboard. Many prebuilts are often fixed, so check switch and keycap combos for conflicts.

Keycap Material Comparison

While we're talking tactility, let's explore primary the keycap materials - ABS and PBT:

ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)

  • Most common factory keycap material
  • Smooth, slightly slippery texture
  • Prone to shining with heavy use
  • Broadest color and customization options
  • Cheaper to produce
  • Less durable than PBT

PBT (Polybutylene Terephthalate)

  • More textured, grainy surface
  • Resists shine better than ABS
  • Offered in more muted color schemes
  • Develops patina gracefully over time
  • More expensive than ABS
  • Poor light transmittance, making it harder to achieve the desired brightness and color saturation

Keycap material also influences sound. And newfangled blends aim to merge ABS customizability with PBT durability.

ABS keycaps are cheaper and smoother, but less durable than PBT keycaps.

PBT keycaps are more expensive, but more durable, wear-resistant, and resistant to oil and chemicals.

The choice between the two depends on individual preferences for durability, texture, and price.

No right or wrong here - just personal taste mixed with aesthetic goals. Will you embrace a weathered keyboard with character or keep yours pristinely polished?

Whichever route you choose, replacing keycaps is a cinch down the road thanks to the prevalent MX cross stem mount.

Getting Hands-on with Mechanical Keyboards

Reading reviews only gets you so far. To truly know if a switch, layout, or keyboard is right for you, nothing substitutes first-hand tactile testing. These tips will acquaint your fingertips with a breadth of enticing boards beyond the display models at big box stores:

Visit an Enthusiast Meetup

SFxMK - 2024 Winter Meetup
SFxMK - 2024 Winter Meetup | Source: Nikko Bautista (SFxMK)

Keyboard groups frequently host informal social meetups or larger conventions. Members haul troves of keyboards to share and you'll see customs rarely spotted in the wild.

Mechanical Keyboard Meetups
Looking for meetups in your area? Here are all the upcoming mechanical keyboard meetups in one place -- and archive ones too.

Ask questions, exchange skepticism for enthusiasm, and politely request some hands-on time to discover which switch nuances delight you and confirm the ideal size. Don't be shy - the community passionately welcomes newcomers. Walk the walk before you buy!

Schedule Store Demos

Specialty electronics outlets stock sampler keyboards from top brands for in-store demos. Make appointments with attentive salespeople ready to indulge your every switch, click, clack and tap.

Note which actuation forces alleviate or strain your tendons and listen for acoustics suiting your work environment. Granular details make all the difference for 40+ hour-per-week use.

Order Switch Testers

Can't make local meetups? Switch testers like the Glorious Mechanical Switch Sample Pack for ~$9.99 ship an array of options to twist, poke, and prod.

When the loud clicky ones make you smile or lighter actuation points match your reflexes, shortlist the winners.

Try Hot-Swappable Keyboards

Many custom boards boast hot-swappable PCBs so you can install or remove switches with no soldering. Give 10 the trials then order your faves. Hot-swappable lets you decisively finalize preferences before a soldered commitment.

Think you best type fast on linears but your Zoom calls demand something quieter? Swap at will on a hot-swappable board!

Hands-on always hastens harmony with an input device so intertwined with how you work. Test often so your end configuration delights rather than disappoints!

Customizing and Modding Mechanical Keyboards

When your mechanical keyboard emerges from the box it likely serves you well enough. But a little customization unlocks superior speed, comfort and an interface perfected to your peculiar preferences. Welcome to the slippery slope of endlessly modding for keyboard perfection!

Lubing and Filming Switches

Lubricating the sliding surfaces in switches enhances smoothness and deepens acoustic properties. Expect faster lines of code, effortless gaming combos and ASMR for your ears.

Lube Grades - Thinner lubes (205g0) shine in linears while thicker variants (Tribosys 3204) tame tactile wobble

Application - A tiny brush deposits a pinhead drop on the stem and housing. Don't overdo it!

Filming - Adhesive strips between the switch tops and bottoms further reduce rattle.

Properly lubed and filmed switches will feel reborn. Just mind the time investment - 100+ switches await your delicate attention.

Switch Swaps

Crafting your perfect keyboard is a journey. Changing tastes might leave you longing for lighter keys with more feedback, or a deeper sound profile.

Rather than a totally new board, hot-swappable PCBs now ease experiments with new switches. Pull old, push new, no soldering iron required!

Boards like the Glorious Modular Mechanical Keyboard series or Keychron K10 offer this flexibility.

Hot-swapping liberates your options should you crave redder, bluer, or emerging orange and green switch flavors.

Keycaps - Material and Profile

Beyond switches, replacing keycaps wholly transforms typing feel and aesthetics. Sets come in varying:

  • Material - ABS, PBT, POM each wear and sound uniquely
  • Profile - SA, OEM, and Cherry sculpt keys differently
  • Theme - Lego, Anime, Synthwave, the options are visually limitless

Just ensure your chosen profile and layout accommodates your keyboard's size.

While $500+ GMK keycap group buys might induce sticker shock, enjoyables exist at every price point.

Case and Plate Swaps

Hankering for more heft or a totally fresh look? Swappable cases and plates offer new tactile sensations and appearances.

Plate Materials - Brass, aluminum, polycarb, FR4 each impart unique acoustics and rigidity

Case Materials - Metal, wood, plastic - make it a showpiece!

Full disassembly is required for case swaps but result pays off the elbow grease for accompanying visual transformation.

Community-Driven Innovation

Beyond mixing and matching existing components, hobbyists mod their own custom PCBs, 3D print exotic cases, hand wire boards, and push manufacturers to constantly improve. Join forums and Discord groups to admire their skills!

GitHub - Keycapsss/awesome-mechanical-keyboard: ⌨️ A curated list of Open Source Mechanical Keyboard resources.
⌨️ A curated list of Open Source Mechanical Keyboard resources. - GitHub - Keycapsss/awesome-mechanical-keyboard: ⌨️ A curated list of Open Source Mechanical Keyboard resources.

These tricks only hint at possibilities. Cables, lighting, acoustics offer ever more avenues for personalization. How will you make your mechanical board uniquely yours?

Mechanical Keyboard Culture and Community

Thus far we've explored the functional bits that comprise these amazing input devices. But surrounding the gears and grease thrives a vibrant community brimming with makers, tinkerers, typists, programmers, and gamers who've made mechanical keyboards their passion.

Hubs of Shared Enthusiasm

Seeking advice for your first custom build? Have a tricky firmware flashing issue? Or just want to gawk at photos of stunning bespoke keyboards on machined copper plates with hand-painted keycaps? Numerous online havens offer camaraderie:

  • Subreddits - r/MechanicalKeyboards - The main event with over 1.3 million members
  • Discords - MechKeys - Help channels for troubleshooting builds plus lively social rooms
  • Forums - GeekHack - Group buys, classifieds and wiki knowledge

Regional Meetups

Beyond online, groups host regional meetups to commune in-person. Members haul troves of their latest keyboard creations to share while manufacturers demo new switches and keysets.

These gatherings offer perfect opportunities to trial boards firsthand, cement switch preferences and make new friends. Don't be shy striking up conversations!

Group Buys and Limited Runs

Fostered by this community, limited group buys offer specialty keyed-up collaborations with coveted keycap designers, switches engineered to exacting specs, and other unique creations.

Miss the buy window and you'll pay dearly aftermarket. But participation secures artisan goods not possible via mass production.

Innovators and Influencers

Certain keyboard devotees have ascended to celebrity status within this niche. Renowned designers like Ai03 push custom PCB innovations while prominent YouTube builders like TaehaTypes flaunt machining mastery.

Pass It On

However you participate, the community roots run deep. Friends turn colleagues onto superior keyfeel who in turn recommend custom cables and keycaps to new initiates.

So pay it forward! Spread the mechanical word and together let's turn mass manufactured mashers into cherished instruments.

Advanced Mechanical Keyboard Modifications

Think lubing switches and swapping keycaps fully unleashes your keyboard potential? Fasten your seatbelts, things start getting more hands-on as we explore hardcore mods for the ultra obsessed.

Custom CNC'd Cases

Dremel and drill skills plus CAD software empower machining metal and wood to achieve stunning one-of-a-kind cases. Start with an existing case template or manifest imaginations into 3D models for hassle-free CNC fabrication.

The lux Iron180 case mates stainless steel, brass, and aluminum across two finishes while the Satisfaction75 stuns in its 6063 Aluminum avatar.

Exotic Plate Materials

Far beyond pedestrian plastic and aluminum, audiophile plates employ materials like sealed brass, polycarbonate, POM and FR4 fiberglass normally reserved for high end audio gear. The resonance and acoustics astound.

Integrated plates within the case up the ante but ensure proper PCB support if floating freely.

Extreme Switch Mods

Obsess deeper by swapping switch springs to fine tune weight precisely to your fingers, mixing switch parts from different models for total customization, and lubing to the extreme with viscosity-optimized greases.

You might sink weeks of tinkering but will ultimately type on frankenswitches unattainable elsewhere leveraging your elite mods.

Complete DIY Builds

Only off-the-shelf leaves you wanting more? Venture completing entire builds straight from code and PCB design using QMK Firmware then soldering each meticulously lubed switch by hand.

This climax of customization requires steadfast commitment but wraps a unique personality and purpose around an object you'll interface with perpetually.

Have we tempted you to soldering iron mastery? Dive down more rabbit holes with kindred hobbyists but be warned - stock boards forever feel flimsy once you've typed on your own mechanical masterpiece!

Until then - happy clicking!

Maintenance and Longevity

We've covered a ton of ground exploring the mechanics, merits and methods for customizing keyboards. But longevity necessitates proper cleaning and care as constant use batters even the heartiest boards. Let's review best practices for keeping your plank pristine.

Keeping Keys Clean

First line of defense is regularly wiping keycaps and the board top with isopropyl alcohol to dissolve oils, Cheetos dust, etc before accumulation wrecks havoc:

  • Keycaps - Dampen a soft cloth then rub the tops and sides. Be gentle on more delicate material like PBT.
  • Case - Lightly scrub the exposed frame with another damp cloth concentrating on nooks.

For deeper cleans use qtips around edges and a can of compressed air to dislodge gunk.

Lubricating Switches

Frequent use slowly flattens lube inside switches increasing wobble and stripping that buttery smoothness. Reapplication every 6-12 months renews glide depending on daily duration:

  • Stabilizers - Apply grease like Dielectric to the wire guide inserts using a small brush
  • Switches - Use oils for linears and thicker lubes for tactile/clickys on the slider rails and spring

Take care not to overdo it! Thin coats allow optimal operation.

Preventing Physical Damage

Transporting keyboards risks dings, components jostling loose or broken switch pins. Be ginger when travelling:

  • Pack snugly in a hard case
  • Remove keycaps if checking as luggage
  • Don't stack heavy items on top

At home keep away from direct sunlight, liquids and use a protective cover if in a dusty environment.

Battery Care

Wireless boards operate on rechargeable lithium batteries with finite life spans. Extend by:

  • Fully draining then charging monthly
  • Storing at 40% charge when unused for weeks
  • Charging fully once then topping off instead of 0-100% cycles

Expect a few years but replace promptly when holding less charge.

Don't let grime or slipping switches sabotage your investment! Dedicate some TLC and your mechanical companion will deliver smiles for years.

Conclusion

My fingers ache in solidarity just imagining the hours of research ahead scouring niche forums for group buys, opening dozens of test switch packs to confirm preferences, and basking in the glow of finally finding endgame keycap GMK 8008.

But hopefully this beginner's guide conveyed how profoundly keyboards color productivity and leisure while unveiling avenues for personalization beyond expectations.

We explored critical specifications like switch types, materials, layouts and essential modifications like lubing, filming, case swapping and even dipped our toes into emerging custom PCB design paired with lovingly hand wired matrices.

I aimed overlaying crucial foundation before profiling avenues for incremental improvements until these tools mold to your hands and workflow.

Remember perfection comes through long term iterations driven by community so don't rush the journey!

Now eyes peeled for ortholinear GMK Dreamscape extras and springs fragile enough for 35g featherlight actuation... just heard of a Korean custom switch maker promising extreme tactility via proprietary leaf geometry... maybe time to finally design a PCB packing Those Thocky Thangs...

Happy hovering search filters and clicking clacking away!

WATAFAQ

What’s the best switch for gaming?

For gaming tasks demanding rapid reaction times and precise input, linear switches feel most well suited for quicker double taps without inadvertent actuations. Linears like Cherry MX Reds and Gateron Inks offer lightweight responsive actuation without a distracting bump or click to confuse your frenzied fingers. Reds win widespread praise amongst combat-crazed clickers.

Why do mechanical keyboards cause wrist strain?

Thickness matters! Instead of low profile chiclet style keys more natural wrist angles come from angling keyboards via feet or tenting kits that split vertical columns for ergonomic benefit. Or choose boards inherently sculpted for comfort like the ErgoDox EZ. Tall SA keycaps profile can also overextend tendons so lower OEM profile may prove prudent.

Is it worth disassembling keyboard for cleaning?

If dust plagues your clacker consider removing switches to dust the case interior and plates then use compressed air around components prior to reassembly. For routine cleaning of keycaps and exposed frame disassembly overkill. Avoid submerging circuit boards in water! For the safety of electronics we suggest avoiding complete tear down just for tidying.

Why do gamers prefer mechanical keyboards?

Gamers favor mechanical keyboards because the individual switches offer precision input registration crucial for split second reaction times. Tactile or clicky switches also provide definitive feedback that a key actuated during frantic play without needing to glance down. Structural durability withstands aggressive button mashing as well.

What is the point of a mechanical keyboard?

Beyond basic typing input, mechanical keyboards impart superior tactile experience, greater accuracy and speed for repetitive keying tasks, extensive customization of sound, feel, and appearance, plus library of shortcuts at your fingertips via programmability.

What is the difference between a mechanical keyboard and a regular keyboard?

Mechanical keyboards utilize individual key switches often with pressurable springs and metal contact leaves underneath each key rather than one continuous membrane sheet like typical rubber dome keyboards. This permits more switch customization and feedback.

Are mechanical keyboards really better?

"Better" proves subjective but mechanical keyboards do feel more responsive, durable, and satisfying while encouraging accuracy through definitive actuation points. Tactility, sound, and aesthetics cater to personal taste. They cost more but please hands happiest when typed on daily.

Do mechanical keyboards last longer?

Properly maintained mechanical keyboards easily outlast rubber domes by years or decades due to replaceable switches rated for 50+ million keystrokes versus ~10 million on dome boards. Responsiveness degrades slower as well thanks to quality components.

Do all mechanical keyboards have removable switches?

No, many mass produced boards have switches permanently soldered. Seek "hotswap" models like the Keychron Q1, Glorious GMMK or Hexgears Gemini Dusk enabling easy switch swaps down the road. Or choose a kit ready for DIY assembly.

Which mechanical keyboard switches are quiet?

Tactile switches marketed as "silent" like Cherry MX Silent Reds have internal sound dampeners to reduce noise on keypresses and returns. Well lubed linear switches also operate very quietly while most clicky switches are inherently loud due to their audible click components.

Do mechanical keyboards make noise?

Yes, most mechanical keyboards generate notable noise levels dependent on switch choice - clicky models most of all. Sound dampening modifications like o-rings or foam can reduce reverb and loud clack on bottoming out. If a quiet typing experience is vital choose silent tactile or linear switches.

Are mechanical keyboard keycaps universal?

Not quite, you must match "stem" style. Most custom keysets support Cherry MX style stems prevalent on mechanical boards. Topre electrocapacitive boards require different shaped keycaps. Ensure stem & layout (ANSI, ISO, JIS, etc.) compatibility before buying keycap sets.

Can mechanical keyboards be quiet?

Yes, using silent tactile or linear switches combined with foam inserts to reduce hollow case echo along with o-rings to soften bottoming out appreciably diminishes noise to tolerable office levels. Avoid clicky switches and typing too aggressively if volume concerns you.

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Asa

Asa is a mononymous person and has been passionate about technology since in middle school. Asa has taken on the role of an editor at AFP1.
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