4 min read

Mechanical Keyboards

Mechanical Keyboards
“If it’s fun, it’s not frivolous” -- reddy2go

Every so often I get drawn into the madness that is the mechanical keyboard community.

In High School I gave a 12 minute presentation on the merits of Colemak, an alternative typing layout to the standard QWERTY.

In college I once skipped a party, opting instead to hunch over my desk, adding a small o-ring to each key on my keyboard for a ‘gentler’ feel. I hated it. I undid it the next morning.

Why do people care so much about keyboards? Why do I care so much about keyboards?

My most recent foray saw me spending $310.55 on an ‘entry level enthusiast’ board. I am embarrassed to type that number. It’s all because I stumbled upon a video of some guy meticulously lubricating 104 keyboard switches with a tiny paintbrush.

On YouTube there's an entire world of mechanical keyboard enthusiasts. Faceless fingers, thocking away at keyboards, microphones precisely placed to capture the experience of using one of these finely tuned devices. It’s beautiful.

After my college o-ring modification exploration phase I had largely forgotten about mechanical keyboards. But the internet hadn’t forgotten.

While I wasn’t looking, the mechanical keyboard community exploded in popularity.

Now, specialty keyboard boutiques sell switches, keycaps, pcbs, brass backplates, lube.

photo of keyboard from Paul Esch-Laurent

Keyboard nerds organize group buys with factories in China, spending upwards of $600 and waiting months in pursuit of their version of the holy grail.

Twitch streamer TaehaTypes quit his software engineering job to build keyboards. A custom built keyboard from Taeha starts at $1800.

Diving into this particular YouTube rabbit hole, a part of me had to know what I was missing. The other part of me said I was a doofus for spending so much time thinking about keyboards.

So I bought an ‘entry level’ board that was in stock, a GMMK Pro. I bought some switches (Gazzew U4 ‘Silent Tactile’). I bought some keycaps with Japanese on them to let everyone know I like to watch anime. The keyboard nerds all recommended getting different ‘stabilizers,’ but I wasn’t gonna go thaaat far. I just wanted to dip my toes in. That’s all.

A few weeks later I had received all the parts, and it was time to build.

Kachunk by satisfying kachunk I plugged in each switch. Plastic scratchy noise by less satisfying plastic scratchy noise I plugged in each keycap.

I connected the board to my computer and was greeted by a pulsating rgb rainbow.

I tweeted about how pretty it looked.

Screenshot of a tweet including a photo of a GMMK Pro keyboard

And then I tried typing on it. Each press of the key was met with the perfect amount of resistance. Oooh it was so satisfying!

Until I hit the shift key. It was sticky. And so was the enter key. And the backspace key. Everytime I pressed them the key would stick in the down position for a quarter of a second, just long enough to feel weird.

As I kept typing I repalizepd somethipng was wropng with my p key. It wouldp randomly inspert p’s all over pthe place!

I started calculating how much money this hunk of aluminum had cost me.

TaehaTypes had led me astray!

Disassembled GMMK Pro keyboard

Then I remembered that every review of this board had complained about the stabilizers, the small contraptions that help the larger keys travel smoothly. Rather than give up on the endeavor I placed an order for the best stabilizers money can buy, Durock V2s (PCB mount).

With the help of YouTube I totally disassembled my keyboard, balanced the spacebar, lubricated my new Durocks, replaced the ‘p’ switch, and put the whole thing back together.

I finally had the keyboard I never knew I wanted.

photo of my GMMK Pro keyboard

I love nerds. I love people who pay an ungodly amount of attention to things that “don’t matter.”  I love that people can build an entire career out of being a nerd.

Traditional productivity advice would say that spending 2 hours lubricating the stabilizer for your shift keys is not useful. You could have spent that time generating something of value. That’s true on paper. But for a little while, I was excited by my keyboard.

As I incorporate more things I love into my life, I'm starting to rediscover who I am. Is it stupid that a keyboard makes me happy? Will you deny me that joy because I could've typed this on a mushy $20 Dell keyboard?

In a world covered by touch screens, the keyboard is one of the few truly tactile devices we have left. For those chained to a computer, nice mechanical keyboards serve as a reminder that we do have senses beyond seeing and hearing.

The type of people who care enough to tinker with their keyboards are the same type of people who are going to drive the world forward.

Developing that kind of enthusiasm for one thing sets you up to develop enthusiasm for another. And another. And another.

And we could all use a little more enthusiasm.

Thanks to Sasha for telling me to post this.