Lubricating a keyboard ensures that you’ll have the smoothest experience possible
Keeping a keyboard in top form is one of the joys of the hobby, ensuring that each tap feels as satisfying as possible. The key to maintaining a delightful clack is regularly lubricating your hardware and using the right key switch for your tastes. Here’s how to change mechanical keyboard switches and lubricate them, so your keyboard can have a top-tier clack.
Jump to a section:
- How to change mechanical keyboard switches
- How to lube keyboard switches
- How to lube switches without desoldering
- Best lube for keyboard switches
You’ll need a small selection of tools before you can change your mechanical keyboard switches, namely a keycap puller and a switch pulling tool. Keep in mind they’re not interchangeable and use each tool for its intended task; using a switch puller on keycaps might scratch or even chip them, for example. Your keyboard likely came with a keycap puller, though neither tool is particularly expensive if you need a replacement, and they can be found as a 2-in-1 kit. It’s also possible to use tweezers, but it’s best to use a dedicated tool to mitigate the risk of damaging your key switch.
There are two types of key switches: hot-swappable and soldered. Hot-swappable key switches are relatively easy to change, but soldered switches require a bit more technique and preparation. Make sure you know which type of key switch you have before attempting to change them, otherwise you might damage your board.
Before changing keyboard switches, ensure you have all the necessary tools and replacement switches nearby to avoid losing anything. Once you’re ready, here’s what to do:
- Remove the key cap. Position the keycap puller’s two arms around the keycap, taking care not to scratch the key. Lift the keycap slowly but firmly. If the switch comes off with the keycap, use your tools to hold the switch in one hand and pull the keycap off with the other.
- Place your keycap off to the side. Take care to keep each one in order. This will save you some time if you're reusing the keycap with your new switches, as you won’t have to keep referencing a standard keyboard layout to know where it goes. Repeat this process for each key cap.
- Remove the switch. Once all the keycaps have been taken care of, pluck the keyboard switches out using your switch puller. Clip the tool around the top and bottom sides of the switch and pull gently. If the switch sticks, wiggle it gently. Never force a key from the board.
- Position the replacement switch. Align the switch with the slot, then push it into place. The switch should slide into the slot easily, so double-check for debris and proper alignment if it hits a snag.
- Replace the keycap. Push the keycap onto the new switch, and you’re all set!
Changing soldered keyboard switches Don’t try to change soldered keyboard switches without soldering experience, as you risk destroying your entire keyboard — not to mention the danger of burning yourself. The process of replacing soldered keyboard switches is similar to hot-swap keys, with the added steps of desoldering the old switches from the board before removing them and soldering the new ones into place.
First, remove the keyboard from its case entirely, exposing the PCB itself. Once that’s done, flip the PCB over, where you’ll see the small bumps of solder for each key switch. Desolder the switch, vacuuming up the excess with a desoldering pump. Add the new switch, then solder it into place.
Carve out an appropriate amount of time to change soldered keyboard switches. The time it takes to complete the task will depend on your skill with a soldering iron, but it will likely be a few hours to complete the entire process.
Did You Know?:The HHKB layout repositions the control key to make it easier to execute more time-saving commands without leaving the home row. Click here to learn more.
No matter which key switches you’re using, they’ll need to be lubricated from time to time to ensure that they feel and sound as delightful as possible. On top of the tools you need to remove a keyboard switch, you’ll need a switch opener or a small flathead screwdriver, lube (we cover your options a bit further down), and a small brush to lubricate your key switches.
There are some differences between lubricating tactile and linear switches, which will be noted in the following steps. Here’s what you need to do:
- Take apart the switch. Loosen the brackets around the key switch that hold the upper and lower casing together with a switch opener or a flathead screwdriver.
- Lube the bottom housing. Using a small amount of lube (you don’t want globs), carefully brush the rails of the bottom housing, which is the area that sees the most contact with the switch. Next, lube the bottom housing floor and the inside and outside of the center column. You can also lube the contact flaps if you have linear switches, but this should be avoided for tactile switches.
- Lube the spring. If you’re only doing one switch, lube it on its own using your brush. However, you can lube springs in batches if you’re doing a bunch of them. Add the springs and 5-7 drops of lubricant to a plastic sandwich bag, then shake the bag for a few minutes. Feel the springs to ensure they’ve been coated, and shake a bit more if they need a better coating.
- Lube the stem. The stem is the most important part of the switch, so take extra care here. Hold the cross portion of the switch, then lube the sides. Next, lube the feet unless you have tactile switches, which should be left alone. Lubing the feet of a tactile switch will dramatically reduce its tactility. Additionally, don’t over-apply lube to the stem, as it can result in air pockets forming.
- Lube the top housing. Evenly spread the lube between the four interior sides of the top housing, just as you did the bottom housing.
- Reassemble the switch. Now that everything is lubricated, put it back together, and you’re finished.
Did You Know?:Handy HHKB accessories such as a keyboard lid and adjustable stand help make the most of your board. Click here to learn more.
Lubricating a soldered keyboard without desoldering isn’t going to be as effective as fully removing the switches, but it’s still worthwhile maintenance. To lube your keyboard, you’ll need a lube syringe.
- Remove the keycaps. Taking off the keycaps will make applying switch lube to each key much easier.
- Press down on the stem. You don’t have to apply a lot of pressure, but you’ll need to expose a large space to insert your lube nozzle.
- Add lube. Squeeze a small amount of lube into the gap with your syringe, then click the switch a few times. Wipe away any excess lube from the keyboard.
- Replace the keycap. Poof, you’ve got a lubricated keyboard. Wipe down the keyboard of any excess lube, and you’re finished.
The options for mechanical keyboard switch lube are as diverse as key switches. When choosing a key switch lube for your build, the best option will depend on the type of switch you have.
Krytox 205g0 is a thin lubricant for linear key switches. It’s considered a go-to solution in the keyboard community thanks to its ability to improve a switch’s sound profile and feel.
TriboSys 3203 is a medium-viscosity lubricant for tactile switches. However, it can be used on linear switches in smaller quantities for those who want something similar to their keyboard’s stock sound and feel.
Then again, you could avoid this entire process by choosing a keyboard that’s silky smooth from the start. HHKB’s mechanical keyboards are designed to offer a satisfying typing experience. With premium switches and a unique layout designed for ultimate customizability, HHKB keyboards are a favorite of gamers, programmers, and typists of all backgrounds. To learn more, check out the full range of high-end keyboards from HHKB.