How to Customize Mechanical Keyboards with Clicky Switches

March 11, 2024

Do you know that you can easily replace the switches on your mechanical keyboard with clicky ones to give you a customized typing experience? Do you know you can replace stock keycaps with bespoke ones?

A mechanical keyboard is a great modding platform. You can easily customize your very own mechanical keyboard to suit your preferences and needs. With clicky switches, you'll enjoy a satisfying tactile response and a unique clicky sound with every key press.

Customizing an electronic device can seem overwhelming. But don't fret, I'm here to guide you. 

What Are Clicky Mechanical Switches And How They Work

Clicky switches are among the most common types of mechanical keyboard switches in the market. They create a distinct audible click sound when you press and release each key. This clicky sound provides users with tactile and audible feedback, which indicates that the keypress has been registered. Here's how clicky mechanical switches work:

  1. Actuation Mechanism: Clicky switches, like other mechanical switches, have an actuation mechanism that registers a keypress. When a key is pressed, two metal contacts touch each other. This completes an electrical circuit, which sends a signal to the computer. The computer then interprets the signal and displays it as a character---or an action---on the computer screen. 
  2. Tactile Mechanism: Clicky switches have a tactile mechanism called a leaf that creates a noticeable bump in the keypress. This mechanism provides tactile feedback to the user, allowing them to feel when the key has reached the actuation point.
  3. Click Mechanism: An additional leaf mechanism within the switch generates the clicking sound. This mechanism involves a small, spring-loaded component that produces an audible click during both the keypress and the key's return to its original position.
  4. Reset Point: After the keypress, the key returns to its original position for the switch to reset, ready for the next press.

Some popular examples of clicky switches include Cherry MX Blue, Cherry MX Green, Razer Green, and Outemu Blue.

Clicky switches are commonly used by typists who enjoy the sensory feedback and by individuals who like the satisfying audible click during when using the keyboard. However, the clicking sound may be disruptive in quiet environments or shared spaces.

Step-by-Step Guide to Installing Clicky Switches

a man removing keycaps from his mechanical keyboard

Are you ready to install clicky switches in your mechanical keyboard and experience a whole new world of feeling and sounds while you type? Here's a step-by-step guide. Note that this is a general guide. The process may vary depending on the specific keyboard design, brand, and switch model. 

You Would Need:

  • Clicky mechanical switches
  • Keycap puller
  • Screwdriver
  • Soldering iron and solder 
  • Desoldering pump or desoldering wick (if replacing existing switches)

Steps:

  1. Prepare Your Workspace: Find a clean and well-lit workspace with enough room to disassemble and work on your keyboard.
  2. Remove Keycaps: Use a keycap puller to remove the keycaps from the existing switches. Gently pull each keycap straight up to avoid damaging the keycap stems.
  3. Open the Keyboard Case: If your keyboard has a removable top plate or case, use a screwdriver to open it. Some keyboards may have screws hidden under rubber feet or labels, so check carefully.
  4. Identify Switches That Need To Be Replaced: Identify the switches that need replacing---whether it would be the entire set or just some switches. 
  5. Remove Existing Switches: Once the solder is removed, carefully use a soldering iron to desolder and remove the existing switches. Use a desoldering pump or desoldering wick to remove the solder from the switch's leads. Pull the switches out or use a desoldering tool. 

    Be careful when handling a soldering iron as mishandling can cause severe burns or can damage your keyboard. Take the proper safety precautions to avoid such mishaps.
  6. Prepare Clicky Switches: Insert the clicky into the switch holes on the keyboard PCB. Ensure that the pins align with the PCB holes.
  7. Solder Clicky Switches: Use a soldering iron to solder the new switches onto the PCB. Apply a small amount of solder to the switch leads to ensure a secure connection.
  8. Test the Switches: Before reassembling the keyboard, perform a quick test to ensure that the clicky switches are functioning correctly. Press each key to verify that it registers on your computer.
  9. Assemble the Keyboard: Reassemble the keyboard by closing the case or securing the top plate. Make sure all screws are tightened, and the keyboard is securely put together.
  10. Attach Keycaps: Place the keycaps back onto the switches. Ensure that each keycap is properly seated and aligned with the corresponding switch.
  11. Test the Keyboard: Test the entire keyboard thoroughly to ensure that all keys are registering correctly. Check for any issues with key presses or switches.

If you're unsure about the process, consider seeking assistance from a professional or someone experienced in keyboard modifications. 

Here Comes The Keycaps

a man removing keycaps from his mechanical keyboard

If you're installing clicky mechanical switches, you may also want to install new or existing keycaps. This is a more straightforward process than changing switches. 

  1. Inspect Keycap Layout: Check the layout of your keyboard and identify the size and shape of each keycap. Keycap sizes can vary, so make sure that you have the correct keycaps for your specific keyboard model.
  2. Organize Keycaps: Lay out the keycaps in a way that makes it easy to identify and match them with the corresponding keys on the keyboard. Some keycap sets may have labels on the keycaps to indicate their function.
  3. Start with the Bottom Row: Begin by installing the keycaps in the bottom row of the keyboard. Start from the left side and work your way to the right. Press each keycap straight down onto the switch stem.
  4. Use Keycap Puller: If your keycap set includes a keycap puller, you can use it to make it easier for you to remove and install keycaps. However, for most installations, keycaps can be pressed onto the switch stems without the need for a puller.
  5. Align the Keycap: Align the keycap stem with the switch stem on the keyboard. The stem on the keycap should fit snugly onto the switch stem.
  6. Press Down Firmly: Press down firmly on the center of the keycap until you hear or feel it click into place. Mechanical keycaps typically have a cross-shaped stem that fits onto the switch stem.
  7. Repeat for Each Row: Continue installing keycaps row by row, moving from the bottom row to the top row. Take your time to ensure that each keycap is properly aligned and securely attached.
  8. Specialty Keys (Enter, Spacebar, Shift, etc.): Some keys, such as the Enter key, Spacebar, and Shift keys, may have stabilizer bars. Make sure the stabilizer wires are properly aligned with the keycap before pressing down.
  9. Verify Installation: After installing all keycaps, verify that each keycap is securely in place. Press each key to confirm that it registers correctly.

Other Mechanical Keyboard Modding Ideas

You're not limited to installing clicky switches and keycaps. Oh no, sir! Mechanical keyboard modding, or modification, encompasses a lot! In fact, keyboard modding has become a hobby for many computer enthusiasts. Let's check out some ideas:

  1. Lubing Switches: Apply lubricant to the moving parts of switches to reduce friction and create a smoother keystroke. Lubing can enhance the feel of the switches and reduce any scratchiness.
  2. Sound Dampening Mods: Reduce the noise produced by the keyboard by applying dampening materials. This can include adding dampening o-rings to keycaps or applying foam inside the keyboard case.
  3. Stabilizer Mods: Modify or replace stabilizers for larger keys to reduce wobbling and improve key stability. Lubing stabilizers can also contribute to a quieter and smoother typing experience.
  4. LED Mods: Add or replace LED lighting to customize the keyboard's appearance. Some keyboards allow you to install custom LED lighting or create lighting effects.
  5. Case Mods: Modify or replace the keyboard case for a different aesthetic or to accommodate additional features. Some enthusiasts create custom cases using materials like wood or transparent acrylic.
  6. Artisan Keycaps: Enhance the keyboard's appearance with artisan keycaps. These are often handcrafted and come in unique designs, which add a personalized touch to your keyboard.
  7. Programming Macros: Customize the keyboard's functionality by programming macros or remapping keys. 
  8. Custom Keyboards: If you're up to the challenge, you can build a custom keyboard entirely from scratch by selecting individual components, such as a custom PCB, case, switches, and keycaps. This allows for a fully customized keyboard tailored to your preferences.
  9. DIY Wrist Rest: Create a custom wrist rest using materials like wood or foam. A well-designed wrist rest can add comfort and complement the overall aesthetics of the keyboard.

Popular Clicky Switches In the Market

an image of a keyboard with Cherry MX Blue switch

Here are some of the most well-known clicky switches that were well-regarded in the mechanical keyboard enthusiast community:

  1. Cherry MX Blue
    • Known for a tactile bump and an audible click.
    • Requires a moderate actuation force.
    • Widely used in many mechanical keyboards.
  2. Cherry MX Green
    • Similar to Cherry MX Blue but with a higher actuation force.
    • Offers a more pronounced tactile bump and click.
  3. Razer Green
    • Razer's clicky switch with a tactile bump and audible click.
    • Featured in Razer keyboards.
  4. Outemu Blue
    • Budget-friendly clicky switch option.
    • Offers tactile feedback and an audible click.
  5. Kailh Box White
    • Part of Kailh's Box series with a click bar design.
    • Known for durability and resistance to dust and moisture.
  6. Gateron Blue
    • Gateron's clicky switch alternative to Cherry MX Blue.
    • Features tactile feedback and an audible click.
  7. Romer-G (Clicky)
    • Logitech's proprietary switch with a tactile bump and audible click.
    • Featured in Logitech gaming keyboards.
  8. NovelKeys Box Jade and Navy
    • Part of the NovelKeys Box series, known for unique switches.
    • Jade is lighter with a click bar for tactile and clicky feedback.
    • Navy is similar but with a heavier actuation force.
  9. Hako Royal Clear
    • A collaboration between Input Club and NovelKeys.
    • Tactile and clicky switch with a unique feel.
  10. Ducky MX Blue
    • Ducky's version of the Cherry MX Blue switch.
    • Offers tactile feedback and an audible click.

Conclusion

Having a mechanical keyboard opens up new possibilities in customizing your setup. You can change clicky switches and keycaps. You can do mods that will make your keyboard truly unique---one that echoes your personality with each distinct sound it produces.

Chris Greiner, a Mechanical Keyboard specialist, boasts a solid educational background with dual bachelor's degrees in Computer Science and Business Management from Lewis University. His additional certification in Mechanical Keyboard Design showcases his dedication to staying on the forefront of keyboard technology. Chris primarily writes for keyboard enthusiasts and has been featured on platforms like Jestik, solidifying his reputation as a thought leader in the mechanical keyboard community.
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