Section 3 - Making the switch

The keyboard switch determines the typing experience - it controls the weight, feel, and sound of the typing for each key. Make sure to know the choices available.

 

What about the red, black, brown, and blue?

If coming from pre-built mechanical keyboards, you may recognize the typical choices available for Cherry MX switches - red lightweight linear, black heavyweight linear, brown tactile, and blue clicky. 

However, what if I told you that you have been tricked into seeing only four of 800+ switch variants in the world?

In the realm of custom keyboards, you are no longer constrained to just a few choices; choose freely based on preference, and mod them to your needs.

 

What’s this linear and tactile thing anyways?

If coming without mechanical keyboard experience, you may be bewildered by the descriptions of switches. 

To explain it very simply, these are the three realms of keyboard switches to pick from:

If you have absolutely no preference, I highly recommend giving linears a try. With enthusiast-grade smoothness and the correct weighting, they usually become the effortless, comfortable choice.

 

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Feel the rainbow

800 switch choices is a lot to choose from, and it’s simply overwhelming to pick as a first-time keyboard builder. To make the job very easy, I’ve organized a simple switch choice flowchart here. Simply follow along to end up at a proven choice.

 

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Beyond the colors

You may have heard rumors of customizing the switches even beyond the many variants. This indeed happens in the realm of custom keyboards, with each modification multiplying the possible switch combinations even further. 

These modifications have their own abundance of information, so I will not go into detail here. Just don’t forget that these choices exist, and don’t forget to apply them when building a truly custom keyboard.

 

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Moving the big keys

You may be curious about the large keys. Spacebars, enters, shifts, and backspaces - they are much larger than the basic alphanumeric keys, and one switch doesn’t seem like enough for any of them. This is where stabilizers come in - they are wire contraptions which pull down one end of the key when the other end is pressed, allowing the entire key to move down at once rather than seesawing and flying off the board. 

As much as the stabilizer solves problems, it also creates some of its own; the main problem with stabilizers is wire rattle. An untuned stabilizer may sound like a rattlesnake on keypress and ruin the entire board; it is highly recommended to use a thick lube to control the movement of the wire even on the lowest cost builds, and is an absolute necessity for anything higher. For a quick stabilizer tuning tutorial, check here.

One thing to note is that these larger keys are measured in keycap units (denoted U), where 1U is the width of a single-unit alphanumeric cap.