Learning About Modding Mechanical Keyboards

Keychron K2 V2 and Rakk Pluma with custom PBT keycaps

After a couple of years of coveting, I recently got into custom mechanical keyboards, which I’ve avoided due to lack of funds. But now that things have opened up for me and I got some extra cash to spare, it was time to invest in my keyboard, which is the main tool of my trade. I work as a freelance writer, which means I type a whole lot. Therefore, it’s important for me to have a good keyboard that I enjoy typing with, especially since I’m trying to get better at it.

It turns out that a lot can be done to make a mechanical keyboard look, sound, and feel better. While that may seem subjective at best, keyboards are all about kinesthetics, so making it feel better to type on is significant. Also, making it look good doesn’t hurt either as it’ll make you want to use it more, and a well-used keyboard is a good keyboard.

Note: This is not the best keyboard modding guide you’ll find here on the Internet. I’m a beginner, and I wrote this blog post to document my learning process. Maybe seeing how I went about it can help you figure out what you should and should not do while getting into this hobby.

What Got Me Into Mechanical Keyboard Modding

I didn’t get into this in a vacuum. I’ve watched a ton of keebtuber content to reach this point. There’s the almighty Taeha Types, as well as Tae Keyboards, Glarses, Shoobs, Hipyo Tech, Switch and Click, Hamaji Neo, and so on. In particular, Glarses made me question my sanity and my daily driver, which was my Ducky Shine 2 with Cherry MX Brown switches.

The first time I really got exposed to the sheer variety of mechanical keyboard switches is the Linus Tech Tips video where they blind tested different switches. They didn’t just have Cherrys; they had Box Jades, Tangerines, Zealios, Holy Pandas, Halo Clears, and so on. I was intrigued by that diversity, like when I started reading about dinosaurs when I was a kid.

This slowly but surely corrupted my brain. I wanted to know more, see more, and experience more. I wanted to get into this world, but it’s not cheap. In the meantime, I browsed Shopee and took note of what I would buy. Not the healthiest habit, for sure.

Getting Into Mechanical Keyboard Modding

It’s a non-essential yet fascinating field. I’ve long held the belief that the custom mechanical keyboard hobby is the wine tasting of the tech world. They’re both expensive, full of snobs, and very subjective. What’s the difference between a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Merlot? What’s the difference between a Gateron Milky Yellow and a C3 Tangerine?

Those deep in either field of interest may try to persuade you of their objectivity, but most casuals wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Most wouldn’t be able to tell between wines from different regions and price points in a blind tasting, and most wouldn’t be able to tell apart two different switches of similar types and with close enough actuation force.

But it’s more than just about the switches, the main component that makes a mechanical keyboard. There’s also modifying the rest of the keyboard to manifest desirable characteristics like a “thocky” typing sound, pleasing aesthetics, and ergonomic comfort. If you’d build your computer with high-quality components, why not your keyboard as well?

Anyway, that’s what led me to this hobby. While I can continue to survive on a membrane keyboard or a run-in-the-mill mechanical from one of the big-name brands, I thought it was time for me to explore beyond what I’m also used to. It was time to have a better keyboard.

Modding Goals

My modding goals are simple — find out which switches I really like, make my keyboards feel and sound better, and see how far I’m willing to go to achieve those two goals.

Let’s just say I went overboard in some respects and haven’t done enough in others.

My Past Keyboards

Here’s my brief keyboard history. I used membrane keyboards right until. I had gotten obsessed with StarCraft II in 2010, which introduced me to the world of mechanical keyboards. In 2012, I bought my first mechanical keyboard, a CM Storm QuickFire Pro with Cherry MX Blue switches, for ₱4,000 from PCHub Gilmore.

At around 2018, I needed a quieter keyboard since I wanted to stream without my microphone picking up clicks from the blue switches, so I bought my friend’s old Ducky Shine 2 with Cherry MX Brown switches, which I then added o-rings to the keycaps to make them quieter. I used that keyboard as my daily driver until earlier in 2022 when I finally decided to make the change.

Actually, I accidentally spilled soup on the Ducky, and I then made the even dumber mistake of drying it with a hairdryer, which made the keycaps melt and curl in. That hastened my decision to buy a new keyboard.

Current Keyboards

After some deliberation, I decided on a Keychron K2 V2 with Gateron Brown switches, hotswappable board, and aluminum body for around ₱5,000. I uploaded an unboxing video, along with that of a new mouse, and I was happy for a while. But soon, I wanted more.

I later ordered a Rakk Pluma with Outemu Red switches for around ₱1,850 in Facebook Marketplace. The Rakk Pluma seems to be the same OEM model as the Ajazz K680T, but the only difference with the one I bought is a hotswappable board. While I’m more into tactile switches, I thought I should also give linear switches a shot.

Rakk Pluma

Also, I thought I needed a quiet keyboard for streaming. It turned out to not be that quiet, even with o-rings. I may change the switches to something quieter.

But fair warning, an Outemu hotswap board is not the same as a Kailh hotswap board, as I found out for myself. Those holes are of a different size and shape. You can still use non-Outemu switches on that board, but they’ll be a tight fit, making it prone to breaking contacts when you’re not careful in applying too much force.

Also, I don’t think linear switches are better for gaming. I haven’t fallen for that marketing. But I’ve always heard some people praise the smoothness of quality linear switches, so I wanted to experience that for myself.

I was also planning to get a Royal Kludge RK71 and put heavy clicky switches on it to serve as my typing practice keyboard. I thought that if I have a keyboard that requires lots of concentration and actuation force, I could use it to get better at typing.

Also, I do miss clicky switches every now and then, despite how most people would think about such noisy implements. But for now, I’ve put that plan on hold as I wait for more switch samplers and get used to my current keyboards.

Learning with Switch Testers

This is not the recommended way to learn about switches. I did this because I have money now and I’m not afraid to use it. But please, don’t do this if you have to pay your bills and rent. It’s not worth it. You can hit me up and pay a visit or schedule a meetup to try out my samplers.

The very first thing I did was look for switch samplers. I remember seeing switch testers back in the day when the Cherry patent was still up. Not much has changed since then as most people still think buying expensive keyboards is foolish, but there’s now a greater variety of switches to collect for testers.

I wanted one of every switch to try out so I can find out which ones I like best. I thought it was a prudent strategy, but it doesn’t account for the sheer number of switches that are available these days. That meant it got pretty expensive, especially since some switches are more expensive than others and they’d have markup to make it worth shipping them out individually.

While it will cost me a good chunk of money, I want to have a veritable library of switches that I can reference in order to learn which ones I like best. As of this writing, I have 39 individual switches placed on acrylic bases and topped off with transparent keycaps to study and compare them. I bought mostly tactile switches since they’re what I’m most interested in. Next, I’ll buy up linear switch samplers to see what all the fuss is about.

Switch Samplers

It’s a smorgasbord of plastics and metal springs, and differences between them can be quite minuscule. Maybe I need to do this long enough to learn the difference between a 50-gram spring and a 60-gram spring. Maybe some people are more sensitive to that than others.

But I definitely learned that tactility does vary. Tactility is that bump you feel when you press something like a Gateron Brown or Cherry MX Blue; that slight resistance before you press further down to “get over that bump”. What I was getting thus far with Cherry MX Brown and Gateron Brown switches wasn’t the truly tactile feel that’s available out there.

I really like tactility, but I haven’t truly experienced it until I got my first set of samplers, which were Akko CS switches. When I finally got a sense of true tactility, that’s when I realized that I needed that level of crunchiness in my life.

Cost of Switches

Akko CS switches are all the rage right now for being good-quality switches on a budget. Mechanical switches can get pretty expensive, especially if you need at least 60 of them to fill up an entire keyboard.

I personally go with 45 because that’s the 26 letters plus 10 numbers plus 9 punctuations and brackets; 46 if you include the spacebar. I’m fine with using the stock switches for the modifiers and function keys.

For instance, there’s the Zealios V2’s, which Glarses called “the Yeezys of the keyboard world.” They’re around $1.10, which converts to ₱50 to ₱60 or even ₱70 per switch. Multiply that by 45, you’re spending close to 3000 pesos to fill your keyboard with those switches.

You’ll have to choose between baby formula for your newborn child or Zealios V2’s for your keyboard. You deadbeat. (But seriously, feed your baby.)

On the other hand, Akko CS switches are around 600 for a box of 45 switches, and the Akko CS Jelly switches are around 750 per box. That’s around 13 to 17 pesos per switch — a far cry from 60 whole pesos, which is like a bowl of food per switch.

My final options were either Lavender Purple and Sponge or Jelly Blue for the Keychron K2 V2 and either Jelly Pink and Jelly White for the Rakk Pluma. I ended up with Jelly Blue for crunchy tactile and Jelly white for superlight linear.

My Initial Mods

Keycaps, switches, and sound dampening — these are mods worth getting into at first. I’m not doing the tedious ones that require special equipment like lubing and filming switches, spring-swapping, and so on. That’s for a lot later when I get really pissed with scratchy and mushy switches.

Foam for Sound Dampening

The first thing I tried was bubble wrap on the bottom because I had nothing else. I didn’t save PE foam from past packages, and I regret not doing so. But luckily, I live near a shop that sold rubber for shoes and stuff, so I bought a 4x8ft sheet of EVA foam for just ₱140.

Suffice to say, bubble wrap has no sound dampening qualities whatsoever. Let’s consider the bubble wrap a placeholder, and I used double-sided tape to hold it in place.

I bought plate foam from PMX.GG, which has custom plate foam for various keyboards. They even have cutouts for the screwholes, making it very convenient to install. They sell them for ₱450 each, so it’s a bit pricey. But for what you get, I say it’s pretty good value.

From what I now know, the plate foam serves to remove the hollowness from the plate. Both my Keychron and Pluma have aluminum plates. Meanwhile, if I use the right material for the body, I could make the sound deeper and creamier, which is what the EVA foam is for.

The keyboard modding community boiled sound dampening down to a handful of materials. Sorbothane, neoprene, ethylene vinyl acetate, and polyethylene foam.

Sorbothane is known for its vibration-absorbing qualities. Neoprene and EVA foam are fairly similar, although neoprene is more commonly used for making drysuits. EVA foam is commonly used for making shoes and sandals, and it’s a favorite material for cosplay as well. Polyethylene foam is commonly used for packaging.

But they say EVA foam isn’t that good for pure sound absorption in the keyboard body and that PE foam is better. I would like to test that for myself, so I’ll also have to acquire some PE foam.

Tempest Tape Mod

Another sound dampening mod was made public in mid-2021 by someone named TEMPE5T, who would put layers of painter’s tape on the back of the PCB. This became known as the Tempest tape mod, and it took the keyboard modding scene by storm.

Something so simple and cheap was found to have such a profound effect on the characteristics of the keyboard.

It turns out that painter’s tape, when applied sufficiently, can serve as a low pass filter, which absorbs higher frequency sounds and reflect lower frequency sounds, thus achieving more of that coveted thock sound profile.

Switches

I ordered switches from a guy in Facebook Marketplace. He didn’t have Lavender Purples in stock, so I ordered Jelly Blues, along with Jelly Whites for the Rakk Pluma. The Jelly Blues are similar to the Sponges, so choosing between them is all about which color I like better at the time for the particular keyboard in mind.

Box of 45 Akko CS Jelly Blue and White SwitchesThe Akko CS Jelly Blue switches were my choice since they were the most affordable tactile switches of such quality, comparable to Zealios V2 and Gazzew Boba U4T. I can say that perhaps the Boba U4T is better and smoother, while the Zealios V2 is better for RGB boards due to its clear top housing, but they’re way more expensive.

Mind you, there was nothing wrong with the Gateron Browns that came with the Keychron, but I wanted more crunch tactility in my life. I wanted every keypress to be like popping bubble wrap or pressing a light switch, but without the resistance of the boulder Sisyphus is forced to push up the hill every single day.

Keycaps

As cool as the Keychron K2 V2 looks, I had enough with dark keycaps at this point. I wanted more color on my keycaps at this point. I wanted white keycaps for the letters, numbers, punctuations, and spacebar. It’ll add more visual variety and spruce up my workspace. I bought a white mouse to start things off, and I need something else to match it.

Tecware PBT White and Grey Keycaps

There are plenty of PBT white keycaps out there, but I wanted something affordable. That’s when I saw Tecware PBT keycaps. My new mouse is a Tecware EXO L+, so they should match well. I bought the white and grey set for the Keychron and a white pudding set for maybe one of my older keyboards to bring it back to life.

Also, I tend to add o-rings to my keycaps, which can help dampen the sound of the keycap hitting the top of the switch. Not everyone likes this mod as it’s not always effective and some even think it makes the keys mushy, even making the mechanical keyboard feel like a membrane keyboard.

With the Akko CS Jelly Blue switches on most of the keys on my Keychron K2, I don’t expect any mushiness due to the tactility. The o-rings dampen the sound a bit, and I like the feeling of the rubber absorbing the impact of plastic hitting plastic, giving it a bit of bounce that combines with the tactility of the switches.

Stabilizer Mods

Stabilizers are essential for longer keys such as the Enter key, Shift key, Backspace key, and especially the Spacebar. Without stabilizers, those keys just see-saw on their switches. But the one problem with stabilizers (or stabs, for short) is the rattle. Once you that sound profile being from the metal wire hitting the board, you’ll notice it every time. That rattle must go.

Mind you, there used to be two problems, the other being that keyboards used to always come with this style of stabilizers — Costar stabilizers. My CM Storm QuickFire Pro has Costar stabilizers, and I’ve always hated dealing with them. They’re quite finicky to mount and are quire fragile. Once you break a Costar stab, it’s useless.

Fortunately, innovations in keyboard design have since paved the way to modern stabilizers, which come in two forms — plate-mounted and screw-in. Plate-mounted stabs are inserted in the appropriate holes on the plate. Screw-in stabilizers are, as indicated, screwed into the plate for a more secure fit.

There are two things you can do to eliminate stab rattle — lubing the stabs and the bandaid mod. I’m not getting into the first one now, that’s for the near future. Besides, the stabs on the Keychron K2 came pre-lubed, which is nice.

The bandaid mod is basically cutting a strip of a bandaid to put over the holes so the plate-mounted stabs will have a more snug fit. The use of bandaids in particular is due to its flexible quality that allows for the stabs to be squeezed through without too tight a fit and the slight vibration absorption.

Perhaps electrical tape can be used in the same way, but that tends to be too thick in most cases and the adhesive isn’t the right kind for this purpose. I’ve seen scotch tape used for this reason, so perhaps that’s a more viable solution. Meanwhile, the biodegradable adhesive on bandaids tends to get nasty over time, which is why the bandaid mod has been falling out of favor in recent years.

Conclusion

The next step after that is to learn the more tedious and meticulous hands-on modding like lubing switches and soldering them onto non-hotswap boards. The former will help me make better switches and even entirely new switches, while the latter will let me mod old keyboards like my CM Storm QuickFire Pro and Ducky Shine 2.

This is only the start of what could end up being a long journey. Perhaps I can get to the point of building custom keyboards as commissions or gifts. Then again, I should also open myself up to receiving commissions for PC builds as well while I’m at it. I don’t know if I have the capacity for that, but it would be a good way to monetize my hobbies.

But for now, I’m going to continue exploring at my own pace. I’m pretty satisfied with what I have for now, namely two keyboards with custom switches and keycaps. But maybe I’ll soon upgrade to something like a GMMK Pro or something even more expensive.

Got Feedback?

Have something to say? Do you agree or am I off-base? Did I miss a crucial detail or get something wrong? Please leave whatever reactions, questions, or suggestions you may have in the comment section below.

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