Mechanical keyboard modifications: Everything you need to know
Mechanical keyboards are not just reliable, but are often more customizable when compared to regular keyboards. With some modifications, you can improve the performance and overall experience of your mechanical keyboard. In most cases, this is also more cost-effective than spending money on a brand new keyboard. As a bonus, it’s fun, especially if you are someone like me who loves to tinker around with tech.
If you own a mechanical keyboard and are interested in taking things to the next level, then modding is the way to go. Here are some of your options.
The easiest keyboard modification is replacing your keycaps. If your keycaps start to look old or lose their paint job, it’s time to get some new ones. They’re super easy to replace and while you can technically pull them out with your hands, using a keycap remover is more convenient. You can grab one online for a really low price, in case it wasn’t bundled with your keyboard or keycap set.
If you have a relatively old mechanical keyboard or one that uses ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) keycaps, I recommend you go for double-shot PBT (Polybutylene Terephthalate) keycaps. They come at a higher cost but are much better in terms of quality. The biggest advantage of PBT keycaps is that they don’t come with printed letters; rather, they are formed by fusing two separate layers of plastic; so the letters are permanent and never fade or scratch.
If you have RGB lighting on your mechanical keyboard, try on some pudding keycaps. They look absolutely gorgeous as they diffuse the harsh LED lights giving off a nice uniform hue. Some really interesting custom artisan keycaps can be made to order, but those can cost you a fortune, especially if you want them with unique colors, shapes, and designs.
Key switches are the most important part of the keyboard. It’s the mechanism underneath each key that includes the housing, stem, spring, and metal contact leaves. While certain mechanical keyboards have the option of hot-swappable switches, others have the switches embedded onto the keyboard’s circuit board.
The latter is tricky if you want to replace the switches as you need to de-solder the existing ones and then solder the new ones. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
You can try different types of switches, broadly available in three categories: clicky, tactile, and linear. Cherry MX are the most popular key switches available in different colors, each depicting how they feel and sound when you type on them. Other popular switches include Kailh and Gateron. You can read more about mechanical keyboard switches here.
A word of caution, be careful when dealing with a keyboard that has key switches soldered onto the circuit board. They need special attention, and one wrong move could end up in a completely dead keyboard. Keyboard switches can also get expensive, especially if you plan on changing every single switch on your keyboard, where you could end up spending as much as the keyboard itself.
Alternatively, if you want to try different key switches for a particular purpose, say gaming, maybe swap out the ones you use the most, like the WASD or arrow keys. You also need to make sure you get the right set of switches for your particular keyboard, as one size doesn’t fit all.
Stabilizers give support to the keys allowing you to control the amount of jiggle on them. They also help in reducing unwanted clacky sounds during keystrokes. You’ll primarily see stabilizers for the spacebar or enter keys, but you can essentially use them on almost any key if you feel they’re too wobbly. Stabilizers are placed over the key switch and under the keycap to help keep it steady.
You can either clamp them between individual switches or under the keycaps, depending on the provisions. If there are no grooves or any sort of assembly to attach the stabilizers, you can use hot glue or some tape. Just make sure you don’t go overboard with the glue.
Key switch films
These have a similar purpose to a stabilizer but are cheaper and can be used on all the keys. Switch films are a thin piece of plastic that sits between the switch top and the switch bottom. These can be used to remove any sort of wobble effect caused by the stem of the switch and stabilizes them, thereby bringing a change in the overall sound.
An easy solution to dampen or make your keystrokes softer, o-rings are fairly cheap and easy to install. These are small rubber rings placed inside the keycaps. Once installed, these o-rings act as a buffer between the top of the key switch and the top of the keycap, thereby removing any friction and clack sounds caused by the two plastics coming into contact with each other.
There are numerous guides online to upgrade and customize your keyboard cable. Most full-size keyboards come with a cable connected directly to the PCB board. If you’re planning to upgrade the cable to maybe a stronger braided one, you’ll need to open up the keyboard and use a soldering iron, which again isn’t an easy job. Smaller TKL and compact keyboards come with a detachable cable. These are easier to replace as you can get higher quality or even colored ones. There are also some really good-looking coiled cables, but those can get really expensive and are meant for keyboards with detachable cables.
If you’re ambitious, you can even go ahead and replace the USB connector on your keyboard with a Bluetooth receiver to convert it into a wireless keyboard. Of course, that modification isn’t a walk in the park.
These are some of the most common keyboard modifications, but the sky’s the limit if we’re honest. We’ve seen some crazy modifications online, from custom casing to artisan keycaps. One of the latest trends in the keyboard modification world is modular keyboard kits. These are different parts of the keyboard that you can order and assemble on your own. The benefit here is you have the liberty to choose the casing, the switches, and the keycaps. The Glorious GMMK is one of the many custom modular keyboard kits you can try.