So, you want a nice keyboard, but don’t know where to start. Fear not, as I am here to help! There are many different things that go into building a mechanical keyboard, and through this page I hope to get you acquainted with all the different things and have a general idea of what you want.
If you already know roughly what you want, go to the bottom of this page and fill out the form! If you already know exactly what you want, go here.
What Kind of Clack?
Arguably the most important thing for your mechanical keyboard is the switches. The switches will determine the main feel and sound of the keyboard, ranging from super smooth and quiet to ultra tactile and clicky. No matter what your situation, there is always a good switch for you.
All switches have a rated “weight”, or a required force to push the switch down. Ranging from 35gf at the lightest, to over 100gf at the heaviest, there is always a good option for how heavy you type. Once you have narrowed down the type of switch you want, I recommend looking up reviews for different switches in those categories to gain an understanding of what you might like.
Clicky switches are the main switch type that people not familiar with keyboards have heard of. When you press down, there is noticeable tactility right before a “click” sound is heard. This “click” is produced either through a “click jacket” as seen above, or through a “click bar” in some more specialty switches. Click jacket switches are more echoey and rattley, while click bar switches have a very sharp and pronounced click.
Examples of clicky switches are as follows:
- Cherry MX Blue
- Cherry MX Green
- Gateron Ink Blue
- Kailh Box White
- Kailh x Novelkeys Thick Clicks Box Jade
- Kailh x Novelkeys Box Heavy Pale Blue
Linear switches are the opposite end of the spectrum compared to clicky switches. They are much quieter, only making a satisfying “Thock” sound from bottoming out, and a similar, but less deep sound when the slider returns to the top. There is no feeling over the travel, with everything just being a smooth glide to the bottom.
If you want something that is super fast and easy to press, linears might be the choice for you. If you find feedback annoying, and just wish typing to be as smooth as butter, linears are definitely for you.
Linears are the switch that most benefit from lubing, and it can be tricky to lube them correctly. I strongly recommend this service for linear switches, as the overall sound and smoothness will really increase with a bit of lube.
Linear switch examples:
- Cherry MX Red
- Cherry MX Linear Grey
- Gateron Ink V2 Yellow
- Gateron Ink V2 Black
- Novelkeys Cream
- Kailh x Novelkeys Box Heavy Yellow
- ZealPC Tealio V2
- C³EQUALZ X TKC Tangerine Switches
- Kailh Box Red
- Durock Alpaca
- JWK Lilac
Tactile switches are the middle ground between linear switches and clicky switches. A lot of the noise is gone, giving them a similar sound profile to that of the linears, but a clear tactile bump to provide you with the feedback you may so desperately need. Tactiles switches are probably the most produced type of switch, with the “king” of switches, the Holy Pandas, being a tactile switch.
While they don’t benefit from it as much, I still recommend getting this service for tactile switches to improve your experience.
Tactile switch examples:
- Cherry MX Tactile Grey
- Gazzew Boba U4T
- Novelkeys Box Royal
- Novelkeys Blueberry
- Kailh x Novelkeys Box Heavy Burnt Orange
- Kailh Polia Switches
- Yok “Holy” Panda
- Drop Halo True
- Drop Holy Panda
- Glorious Panda
- ZealPC Zealio™
“Hey wait a minute!” a more experienced reader might announce. “Where are Cherry MX Browns?”, to which I say Do not buy Cherry MX Browns. If I am building you a keyboard, I will not build with Cherry MX Browns, and here is why.
With the combination of low spring weight and a very shallow tactile bump, Cherry MX Browns don’t actually feel tactile (compared to a real tactile switch). Instead, they end up feeling more akin to a scratchy linear switch, which is why they have earned the name “Cherry MX Scratchy Reds” in the mechanical keyboard community.
For many linear and tactile switches, there exists a second version of the switch that has small silicone pads at the top and bottom of the stem. This results in a soft bottom out, along with an overall quiet switch. For someone who is really conscious about noise, silent switches are a really good option.
Silent switch examples:
- Outemu Silent Sky
- ZealPC Zilent™
- Kailh Box Silent Brown
- Gazzew Boba U4
- Gateron Ink V2 Black Silent
- ZealPC Healio™
- ZealPC Sakurio™ / Rosélio™
- Durock Silent Alpaca
- Durock Dolphin
What are your favourites?
Well, I wish that I had more switches to test with, but I definitely have some favourites:
Fave Clicky: Kailh Box Jade
Fave Linear: Kineticlabs Hippo (Lubed with Krytox 205G0)
Fave Tactile: Holy Sheißio (Mentioned in Frankenswtiches)
Fave Silent Linear: ZealPC Rosélio™ (Lubed with Krytox 205G0)
Fave Silent Tactile: Gazzew Boba U4 (Lubed with Trybosis 3203)
Mechanical keyboards come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from the tiny 40% keyboards to the overkill 120% chonkers. Those two formats are abnormal and harder to come by though, so I will go over some of the more commonly known keyboard sizes. If you want me to build you a keyboard, starting with a desired size is necessary.
Please keep in mind that most layouts here are variable in terms of shape, and all key layouts are completely editable, so you can have any key wherever you want.
Full Size (100%)
No better place to start than with the classic, Full Size keyboard, also known as a “100%”. If you are to go to a store, this is what you would probably be able to grab off a shelf.
Although the 100% might be standard in the normal world, that is not the case in the custom keyboard scene. With the availability of multiple layers on your keyboard, most enthusiasts never get a keyboard this big. If you really can’t get rid of that number pad, don’t worry, they are still accessible if you want something high quality, but you might have to wait a bit longer than normal.
Ten-Keyless (TKL, 80%)
The Ten-Keyless format is almost always shortened to TKL, and is sometimes even called 80%. It’s what you get when you just chop off that bulky number pad. This format is actually my personal favourite, as it keeps a key for everything I use on a frequent basis!
TKLs actually come in two formats, standard and WinKeyLess (WKL). WKL keyboards do not have the “super” key, as the format is from before that key even existed! Some people really like that style, and if you are interested in it just let me know!
To the standard eye, a 75% layout is one of the wackier ones out there. Its hyper condensed, but keeps the function row unlike a 65%. A good choice if you really like your function keys.
65% is one of the newer layouts on the market, and it is all the rage in custom mechanical keyboards. Many of the high end, limited run chassis produced nowadays are 65%. If you must have your dedicated arrow keys, but want to minimize everything else, 65% is the keyboard for you
Ol’ Reliable. Up until recently, 60% keyboards were pretty much the only high end keyboards consistently made. perfect minimalism with the ability to do pretty much anything you could want with layers.
40% is where you start really getting into layers. Without a number row, layers are a must have for a 40% keyboard. Many also have split space bars, which allow for even more crazy combinations of keys!
Keycaps are how you round out a build. They are the main thing you will be seeing and by gods is there a lot of options. If you have a theme, let me know in your message and I will look around for keycaps that will match it.
Even Further Beyond
Let’s say you have… a LOT of free cash, and you want a really nice keyboard. Well I’ll let you in on something not-so-secret. Geekhack. This is the big hub for mechanical keyboards. Not that silly subreddit, it’s the website that looks like it was made in the early 2000s. This is where you will be able to find people running group buys for limited run keyboards, keycaps, and even switches.
If you want to get super custom, you have to get something through Geekhack. Here’s the good news though, I am on there every day. If you have an idea, and you really want something cool, tell me. I can tell you what is active on Geekhack, and I can watch out for you to see if I find something that fits your wants / needs. Do be wary though, as group buys can take a very long time to deliver, so you might be waiting quite a while for your “perfect keyboard”.
Editor’s note: The perfect keyboard does not exist.
Ready to Talk?
Think you know what you are interested in? Send me a message and I will get back to you with some ideas for what you might be interested in.