Mechanical Keyboards: The Obsession You Don't Know You Have

Here at Ergo Depot we spend a lot of time thinking about how we interact with our work space. The tools, devices and equipment we surround ourselves with can play a huge role in the way we feel, ranging from specific physical effects to our overall energy level and enthusiasm for whatever task we are setting out to accomplish. Well, there are few places I can think of that embody this appreciation more than r/MechanicalKeyboards. As you may have noticed in my previous post about r/battlestations, there were pretty fancy keyboards in some of those setups. So, this subreddit is where you go to learn about them and there is a lot to learn.

A Vortex Pok3r with Taihao Sunset keycaps, courtesy of u/YabbaDabaDo. A Vortex Pok3r with Taihao Sunset keycaps, courtesy of u/YabbaDabaDo.

There is more than I could possibly hope to summarize encompassed by the term “mechanical keyboard”, but here’s the gist: a mechanical keyboard is any keyboard that uses switches instead of a membrane. Most keyboards are membrane keyboards which, as the name indicates, have layers of rubber membrane with little domes under each key. These keyboards don’t lend themselves to customization very well, but a mechanical keyboard is just the opposite. The modularity of having a single switch beneath each key means you can build a keyboard in a range of shapes and sizes. The myriad variety of switch types also means you can customize the feel and experience of typing as well. Red Cherry Mx switches, for example, are very different from Green Cherry Mx switches and not just from a chromatic perspective. They have different resistance (how hard you have to push down) and different feed back (one has a click, the other is smooth), so they each lead to a pretty different user experience.

This opportunity for customization has spawned quite an enthusiastic community. Indeed, over just the few weeks while I was researching for this post I saw the subreddit add about three thousand members, bringing up to 122k total. It’s pretty inspiring seeing the level of enthusiasm that drives people to spend hundreds of dollars, participate in group buys at, and track down hard to acquire imports and even manufacture their own components just to get the board of their dreams. Yes, you read that right; people are assembling keyboards from the circuit board up to get that perfect build. Some are even making their own cables and utilizing 3D printers to create novel ergonomic solutions.

So while the passion is easy to see, it may not be immediately evident what fuels it. I admit, I also was skeptical at first, but once you have tried a mechanical keyboard you may find yourself with a new appreciation for this niche hobby. Having a keyboard that just feels good to type on and that fits in aesthetically with the rest of your carefully thought out workspace is a very cool thing.  Personally, the seed for my own interest was the commonly repeated refrain: “The keyboard is one of two primary ways you interact with your computer, why wouldn’t you be interested in maximizing it’s potential?”

And just a few more that are just downright pretty:

See how u/nurupism's backlight board was built from the thread here.

But then there's aww-worthy gifs of u/wootpatoot’s keyboard:

keyboard 1 keyboard 2

And finally, I want to share a few more shots from the guy who built the keyboard in the very first image. His project embodies so much of what makes r/MechanicalKeyboards cool. He started with a felled maple tree in his cousin’s yard and handcrafted it into a beautiful piece of equipment. Truly a personal work of art.

This is a very much abridged version of u/mszy52’s original post, but it gets the idea across:

So if you’re finding yourself intrigued, check out r/mechanicalkeyboards. I strongly recommend the wiki on the sidebar as there is a lot to learn about all the tech available. If you are feeling a bit daunted by the DIY route, rest assured there are plenty of “off the shelf” mechanical keyboards. At the very least, though, it’s worth learning about some of the differences of the switch types and if you have the opportunity to try out a switch before you buy, you definitely should. After all, you’ve probably put a lot of consideration into the other aspects of your desk setup, so why not spare a moment to consider your keyboard?


Build on,
Brian H.