From Crappy to Clicky : A Keyboard Salvation Story, Part 1

Way back in the day, say around 2016, I was mooching around Fry’s Electronics with my wife.


Oh, nonono my friend, that is precisely the wrong question. The correct (and only) question with which to answer that statement is “WHY NOT?!” Anybody who’s ever been into a Fry’s Electronics store knows what I’m talking about. It’s like, you know how you walk into a Best Buy and it just feels like something is wrong; something is missing? Fry’s didn’t have that problem. They had everything.

If you remember Radio Shack and missed those shopping trips for this-and-that electronics components, you could satisfy the craving there. Same goes for computers and computer components and accessories. Even if you weren’t actually looking to buy anything, it was still fun to look at what’s new, especially with the insane selection they maintained. Walmart will have six or seven mice; Fry’s had dozens. Look, I could wax poetic about that place for hours, but PC Magazine did it better.

For me, the draw was keyboards. Specifically, mechanical keyboards.

You see, even farther back in the day, I splurged on what I thought was a cream of the crop keyboard: The Logitech G15. The blue one, with the little flip-up LCD screen. I used to think that thing was the endgame in gaming keyboards, with its media console and many programmable keys. Then one day I noticed the legend on one of the keys starting to flake off. I realized that the keycaps were clear plastic, likely painted black with the legend simply stenciled in to give that shine-through effect from the backlighting. Of course, this was a membrane keyboard, so there was pretty much zero change of replacing those keys. Also, while I was quite at home rummaging around in the depths of a PC case, at the time, I didn’t really know about mechanical boards all that much, and there certainly wasn’t a huge market for them yet. At the time, if you couldn’t buy it, you were not likely to be able to make it instead, so this unit was obviously doomed.

Anyway, the Logitech slowly died from there. The backlights died out one-by-one. The LCD screen stopped showing anything, and then eventually its backlight, too, died. The magic was gone, and the thing just felt like a big anchor after that. Even the typing action degraded, with the keys taking on a shine and waggling badly if they weren’t struck just so. It was less than a year after I’d purchased it, and all that hard-earned money I spent on it was pretty much tossed in the trash bin. From that point on, I stuck with cheap-o membrane boards, usually the Dell OEM ones, or some interesting (but cheap) concept I wanted to try out. Rather than deal with the depression and disappointment with these blinky carnival gamer keyboards, I would fall back to looking at them as the commodity they’d become for most users: simple, functional, disposable.

Then I moved to Las Vegas, and eventually discovered Fry’s Electronics. I’d heard of the place, but they never made it back east where I was from, so this was quite the new experience for me. It didn’t take long to discover their keyboard aisles. You read that right: aisles. One for the varied and saturated membranes, and one for the fledgling but rapidly-exploding mechanicals. I was nearly overwhelmed with it all. I mean with the membrane keyboards, the differences were all on the outside. They had all kinds of different gimmicks and features, but inside, they were all the same. Inside, they were all heartless, mushy, unimaginative bricks of mass-produced commercial crap. Also, each was unique, meaning when something broke; anything broke, that was it. The whole thing was trashed.

But with mechanicals, the whole game was changed. Components could be swapped out, updated, or just simply changed for artistic reasons! With these things, if a key suddenly stopped working, you weren’t out a keyboard, you could just swap out the switch. Better yet, you could even realistically repair the failing switch if you desired, instead. The different components that went into building a computer keyboard had become standardized and modularized. The builder and tinkerer in me was endlessly intrigued by these things, but once again, the boutique nature of them meant they commanded ridiculous prices, and I’d already been burned expensively once. I simply couldn’t overcome the reluctance to drop that kind of coin on a keyboard again.

Then I found The Cart. You know the one: sitting in the middle of everything, yet just slightly out of the way to almost escape notice if you aren’t watching, full of random stuff and obviously placed there as an ad-hoc clearance bin, a fluorescent orange or green sign taped on the front screaming “CLEARANCE!”, maybe inside one of those energetic splat speech balloons if the artist was feeling mildly creative. Inside the cart, the usual suspects of electronics Retail Rejects: an open-box ink cartridge for a printer that hasn’t been sold since last year. A generic, unbranded mouse, it’s cord unceremoniously bunched up and secured with a decrepit, sixth-hand rubber band. A graphics tablet, out of its box and missing all of its accessories, including the pen which costs as much as the tablet did new to replace. An unmarked box. Oblong, relatively thin and heavy, obviously meant to have been inside a printed sleeve with all the pictures and marketing hype on it (of course now disappeared to parts unknown).

I opened that box, curious at the weight of it, so incongruous among its cart-mates. After all, computer bits are usually so lightweight these days, having been built as cheaply as possible, designed to last long enough to get you to buy it, but not long enough to keep you from having to replace it in a few months.

Inside the box: Gold. Paydirt. Winner winner, chicken dinner! An honest-to-goodness, proper mechanical keyboard! This thing was HUGE too, and this was at a time when most manufacturers were still entranced with mimicking the OEM soulless rectangle 104 key designs. It was a Roccat Ryos MK. That meant little to me, but that was fine; the market was bulging with new manufacturers nobody had heard of; all I cared about was that this beast was untouched, placed in this last gasp Cart O’ Savings simply because somebody probably tore off and discarded the outer packaging in an attempt to get a look at the contents. The best part was the price. $89.

…Okay, yeah I heard that needle scratch all the way over here. Lemme explain, okay? Yes, this was priced at $89, which I had said was firmly in the realm of “Ridiculous-ville” for keyboard prices. However, that was for membrane keyboards, and I had developed a fascination for these mechanical ones who, by their very design, could be actually repaired and refurbished as they wore down, meaning I could treat such a peripheral as an actual investment and tool again. A Snap-On wrench, as opposed to the unbranded free-with-purchase screwdriver on the checkout counter at Harbor Freight (Canadian Tire to our friends up in Canuckistan). Brand new, these things sold for $149, and remember, this was simply missing the outer box sleeve; the keyboard itself was untouched; brand new. Sold!

Then I got it home and realized it really is a monster, and sadly, was difficult to make space for on my then-small desk. I liked it well enough, I simply didn’t have room for it. I wasn’t able to keep it on the desk long enough to use it often enough to get accustomed to the difference with mechanical switches. It went into a storage bin, and there it stayed for a few years, burning in the back of my mind as yet another example of the larger lesson: being picky about keyboards makes me a keyboard fanatic, which inevitably makes me a keyboard collector, and that is not usually a particularly-cheap hobby..

Fast-forward to now, and I’ve expanded my knowledge and experience with mechanical boards substantially. I’ve run the gamut from full-height to ultra-low profile. From annoyingly-loud clicky-clacky blue switches, to dang-near silent lubed linear low profile reds. In fact, I’ve gotten enough experience to realize that the Roccat board, my first foray into the world of mechanical keyboards, was actually a bit crap. You see, the marketing materials crow about the board’s Cherry switches, but if these are Cherrys, then my grandmother is a beagle. Cherry would never put out switches that have the loose travel that these do, which makes the typing experience feel cheap and grainy. Also, the keycaps are the standard classic Cherry profile and they’re made with cheaper plastic, so they feel bad, sound bad, and quickly wear out. First they get super shiny, then they fade or flake.

Now that I’ve expanded my hobby space, and can accommodate a monster keyboard like this once again, it’s time to bring it forth, back into the light, and explore the possibilities for its redemption.


I gathered up the bits and pieces of mechboard knowledge I’d accumulated over the years, and looked around at what’s available to help me upgrade this behemoth, without going overboard in price. If you’re following along with this journey yourself, feel free to select the components that call out to your preferences. As long as your switches and caps match what you’re replacing (in my case, Cherry/Gateron compatible), you’ll be just fine. Personally, I settled on the following:

Key switches

Akko Rose Red

Apparently Akko doesn't offer these any longer, but Akko produce great quality, so don't let the color nonsense get in the way.  Focus on the main specs and you can find another model that matches up:
  • Mounting
    • 3 pin
  • Travel type
    • Linear (no click, no bump)
  • Actuation force
    • 43gf (grams of force required to move, higher is stiffer, this model is light to medium)

Key caps

Dagaladoo XVX

Another aspect that has a wide variety of specifications possible, but the salient points are:
  • Profile
    • XVX (kind of a mix of Cherry and SA profiles. Think low and chunky with spherical tops instead of cylindrical. More comfy to type with, IMO.
  • Process
    • Double-shot. This means the key labels are a different color plastic embedded in the key, not paint or ink. They’ll never wear off
  • Plastic
    • PBT. More durable and thicker than the more common ABS. Less prone to shine up, and sounds more “chonky” when using


CuXiu Black Pink Plate Mount

Again, plenty of options here too, but I went a little cheap here.  There are some ludicrous prices out there for stabilizers, depending on where you get them from

Tools and Supplies

One thing I learned about this madness is that if you’re willing to put in the time and effort yourself, you can do some additional modifications to enhance the experience even further. One such step is lubing. Now, there are plenty of dedicated tools and materials for this, but the only three you’ll really want are the following:

Switch opener

Aluminum switch opener

Each keyboard switch has little lock tabs to keep the switch bodies in one piece.  Pressing a switch into the opener causes the opener's teeth to slide under those lock tabs and release them, allowing the switch body to separate.  Getting an aluminum one means far less likelihood of the opener itself breaking during your process.

Fine brush

Any very fine paint brush will do.  You want something with a small tip so you can lubricate some of those teensy part surfaces.


Most keyboard enthusiasts swear by Krytox, but that's one of those compounds that is now extremely expensive for what it's doing and what it actually is.  
My favorite is Lube Tube. This stuff was made for pool equipment o-rings but the important ingredient is PTFE, which is really slippery and great for use in very small moving parts like this. The 1oz tubes are more than enough for this purpose.

Grabber tool

If you're clumsy with tweezers, you can get some cheap and simple grabbers to help keep those switch plungers under control while you're trying to lube them.

On to Part 2

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