Most people don’t give a lot of thought to their keyboards, but for me (and increasingly many more of us), my keyboard is the primary tool I use to do my job and interact with a great many of my friends. Any professional that uses tools to do their job generally considers quality and comfort when choosing their tools… but for office workers and creatives, keyboards are often not considered, which is wild to me. Often we just use whatever is handed to us by IT or whatever comes with our computers or is built-in. That’s sad because having a good keyboard can make a huge difference, and having a keyboard you actually enjoy using and looking at is just icing on the cake.
I’m a mechanical keyboard fan. The difference between mechanical and “membrane” keyboards is very obvious the moment you use a mechanical keyboard. On a mechanical keyboard, the switches that register your keypresses are made of springs and levers, and have a very noticeable click feel to them. Most keyboards are “membrane” keyboards which presents a small rubber or plastic dome that makes contact with a circuit board beneath the keys, and generally feels “mushy” to mechanical users.
The world of mechanical keyboards goes deep, and is far beyond my ability to describe. It’s an entire hobby, with collectors, markets, connoisseurs, experts, artisans, and celebrities. I’m not joking. I wouldn’t consider myself a “hobbyist”, but I can appreciate why people get into it.
Regardless, I like mechanical keyboards. I fell in love with them in Taipei in 2012 when I was at Computex, the largest computer and technology trade show in Asia. I visited a booth on the show floor for a company named “Ducky“, and I knew I had to have a Ducky keyboard when I got back to the US.
I’m on my second Ducky since 2012, since they are very well-built, made with steel instead of plastic, and they use high-quality components. My original Ducky still works, but I’ve since upgraded to a Ducky One. My switches of choice are Cherry MX Blue (pretty clicky-clacky ones), and I recently decided to switch out my black keyset with a custom vaporwave-themed keyset of pink, cyan, and purple.
It’s not difficult, but it is time consuming. It took about an hour to disassemble and clean my old keys and thoroughly clean all the funk out of my keyboard before putting the new keys on (which, on a side note, is a very satisfying process).
The process is relatively simple: using a keycap puller (a little tool that comes with most good keyboards, or is available very cheaply online), simply pull all the old keys off. You’re left with the board itself, the switches laid bare. Some advanced hobbyists swap switches in addition to their keys, but I’m not that guy.
Once the keycaps are off, you can deep-clean the keyboard. No matter how clean you are, your keyboard gets funky inside; skin flakes, hair, dust, and pet dander all get in and settle underneath your keys. It’s disgusting but there’s no avoiding it. Sometimes you just need to clean under there.
I used isopropyl alcohol and Q-tips; it doesn’t actually take long, but it is kind of annoying to do. Once it’s clean and dry, you can put the new keycaps on.
The keycaps were shipped from MechanicalKeyboards.com, and they are made to fit most standard mechanical keyboards. They come laid out in a foam holder in the order that they go on the keyboard so it’s pretty easy to put it back together properly. I also just found a picture of the keyboard on the internet and put that on my phone to look at for reference if I needed it. You can also just take a picture of your keyboard before you disassemble it for reference if you need it.
My particular keyboard has blue LEDs underneath the keys; some have white, some have RGB, some have none. The thing I like about just having blue is that the blue LED plus the slightly translucent purple on the new keycaps leads to a very subtle blacklight effect. Sexy.
If you’ve never tried mechanical keyboards, you can test them out at some better computer retailers (like MicroCenter in my area), or you can order really inexpensive “testers” to actually get your hands on the various keys and switches to see what you like.
Be careful; it’s a fun distraction that can easily become a joy, then a hobby, then a passion. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!