I know when the majority of people hear the words mechanical keyboard they think of the rainbow led gamer-bro click clack stuff from Razer or HyperX etc. Or maybe they have the sense to think of the more sensible versions from Das Keyboard or WASD. But those keyboards come fresh out of the box fully assembled with switches, caps, and all. I ask you, what is the fun in that?
Soldering 85+ switches and led’s to a bare pcb is not for everyone, I understand that (It’s not my cup of tea either). But what is fun is being able to pick and choose different flavors of switches and keycaps to suit your own personal typing tastes. If you think about it your keyboard is one of the most important parts of your computer interface. People spend forever picking exactly the right mouse or rollerball to move the cursor around the screen then turn around and use a $20 keyboard for their $4000 gaming rig.
Anyway, after a few years of playing around with different keyboard setups and profiles I discovered a switch type and keycap profile I really find enjoyable to type on. Split keyboards and sub 75 key formats are fun and all but I really didn’t find the constant mod/function use to get to my ` and ~ or arrow keys to be efficient. While I don’t need the numpad (If I were doing more spreadsheet/number entry work I’d totally opt for that.) to write or code with I do need the function keys and home/end at the ready.
My very first mechanical was a Razer Blackwidow. It didn’t light up and it came with those infamous blue clicky switches people associate with the loud sound of a mechanical keyboard. I broke a few keycaps on it and a few of the switches died at some point. It served me well enough for about four years or so. The main issue with it of course was the sound of bacon frying when I would type on it. This sound didn’t bother me but it did cause issues for my husband who couldn’t hear himself think while I was using it. I installed O-rings but they didn’t really help. Then I upgraded to the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard which came with tactile browns and were much quieter but still loud with my heavy typing. I used that for a good year before attempting to replace the switches with Holy Pandas only to ruin on side of the board in the process. I also tried to build a Corne keyboard with Cherry clears but just couldn’t get the thing to work properly. That’s when I just said, you know what? Let’s try a cheap GK64 hotswap board and see where that leads me. Sure enough I was able to easily swap out switches to find what I really liked typing on. I went from a set of Halo Trues to Holy Pandas and then finally resting on a set of Tangerines. The tangies were my first linear switch and as of this week I’ve sold off all but one set of my tactile switches in favor of linear ones. (Thank goodness these parts all hold value.)
So like I said, I got a new keyboard. This time I went and sold off all the switch sets I wasn’t using, and a set of keycaps I realized I didn’t care for. (SA keycaps are too tall for me.) With the funds from selling that I went and ordered a barebones GMMK TKL, a set of Gateron Milky Yellows, and a set of Milk and Honey XDA profile caps. Now, I could have gone with a set of Gateron Inks but I would have to clip the extra legs and the Milky Yellows were the right price to do this with because the GMMK hot swap is 3 pin.
This was the first time I had used a switch opener or lubed and filmed a switch. What that means is that I opened each and every one of the switches and inserted a little rubber gasket between the housing pieces, then applied a lubricant to the switch stem and internal housing. The difference between a lubed switch and a dry one is what you would expect: the stock switches could be scratchy or feel scrapey as you push down because the plastic legs are dragging directly across the metal contacts.
Once lubed there is no ping from the springs, no scraping from the stem on the contacts, the only sound you hear is the keycaps tapping against the top of the switch housing. So what does that mean for me when typing? I can now type as hard and as fast as I want without waking up the neighbors. This is also good news for office environments. Now, yes, I could just buy a premade keyboard with reds or silent whatevers, but it feels so much better to have modified the switches myself, and a premade board would not be as quiet or smooth as this one.
Here it is completed, you’ll notice both the old keyboard and the new one have the XDA profile caps on them. I like this type because every key is the same shape/size and has a very shallow face, nearly flat. This makes it much easier to hit the keys easily without accidentally hitting the side of one of the upper rows like I would with the SA profile caps. Because this board uses milky yellows I figured a milk and honey themed keycap set was in order. Yes they are cheap amazon caps but I don’t have 6 months to wait for a group buy to finish.
But yeah, it was fun to spend a few nights just brushing grease on bits of plastic. It was also nice that the old keyboard parts fully funded the new one which totaled around $170 (that includes the lube station, film, and krytox, without those it would be closer to $140) which is not bad for a custom keyboard. Some higher end stuff can start at $200 just for the pcb and housing, those gateron inks would have been $65 alone (I paid that much for my tangerines), and keycap set group buys run $100+ easily. This stuff isn’t exactly cheap but it’s a major high use input device for a computer that costs significantly more.