Soldering mechanical keyboard switches is a task that many enthusiasts and hobbyists undertake to customize their keyboards. Soldering is joining two metal components using a molten metal alloy that solidifies as it cools. In the case of keyboard switches, soldering is used to attach the electrical contacts of the switch to the printed circuit board (PCB) of the keyboard. This article will provide a step-by-step guide on how to solder mechanical keyboard switches.
What are mechanical keyboard switches?
Mechanical keyboard switches are the individual switches that sit beneath each keycap of a mechanical keyboard. Unlike membrane or rubber dome switches, mechanical switches are made of individual mechanical components that provide a more tactile and satisfying typing experience.
Each key on a mechanical keyboard has a switch that registers when the key is pressed, which sends an electrical signal to the computer to produce the corresponding letter or action. The type of switch used on a mechanical keyboard can significantly impact the feel and sound of typing.
Types of mechanical keyboard switches
There are many different types of mechanical keyboard switches, but they can be broadly categorized into three groups: linear, tactile, and clicky.
Linear switches have a smooth, consistent keystroke from top to bottom. They have no tactile feedback or audible click, require less force to actuate, and are quieter than other switches. This makes them popular among gamers who need to make fast, precise movements without the distraction of a loud click.
Cherry MX Red and Black switches are two of the most popular linear switches on the market. Cherry MX Red switches have a light 45g actuation force, making them easy to press down, while Cherry MX Black switches have a slightly higher 60g actuation force.
Tactile switches have a bump in the middle of the keystroke, providing tactile feedback to the user. This bump helps typists know when the switch has actuated and can lead to a more accurate typing experience. Tactile switches are generally quieter than clicky switches but still provide a satisfying sound and feel.
Cherry MX Brown and Clear switches are famous examples of tactile switches. Cherry MX Brown switches have a light 45g actuation force and a tactile bump in the middle of the keystroke, while Cherry MX Clear switches have a higher 65g actuation force and a more pronounced bump.
Clicky switches have an audible click that provides feedback when the switch is actuated. The click is produced by a small mechanism inside the switch that snaps into place when the key is pressed. Clicky switches are popular among typists who want a more tactile and audible typing experience.
Cherry MX Blue switches are the most popular clicky switches on the market. They have a light 50g actuation force and a loud click that can be heard and felt with every keystroke.
How do mechanical switches work?
Mechanical keyboard switches comprise several components, including a stem, spring, housing, and metal contacts. When a key is pressed, the stem moves down, compressing the spring and causing the metal contacts to touch, completing the circuit and sending an electrical signal to the computer.
The tactile bump in tactile switches is created by a small bump on the stem that pushes against a small metal leaf inside the switch housing. This leaf provides resistance and feedback to the user, creating a more tactile typing experience.
Clicky switches have an additional mechanism inside the switch housing that produces an audible click when the stem is pressed. This mechanism comprises a small plastic piece that snaps into place when the switch is actuated, creating a distinctive click sound.
Solder your mechanical keyboard switches
Step 1: Gather the necessary tools and components. Before you start soldering, you must gather the necessary tools and components. Here is a list of what you will need:
- Mechanical keyboard switches
- Printed circuit board (PCB)
- Soldering iron
- Soldering wire
- Soldering flux
- Wire cutters
- Desoldering pump or desoldering braid
- Safety glasses
- Heat-resistant mat or work surface
Step 2: Prepare the work surface. Soldering involves working with high temperatures, so preparing a safe and stable work surface is essential. A heat-resistant mat or work surface is recommended to prevent damage to your desk or table. Make sure to wear safety glasses to protect your eyes from sparks or debris that may fly off during the soldering process.
Step 3: Prepare the switches. Mechanical keyboard switches typically come with two metal pins that protrude from the bottom of the switch. These pins are what will be soldered to the PCB. Before you start soldering, you must prepare the switches by removing any excess material or debris that may interfere with the soldering process. Use a pair of wire cutters to trim the excess plastic from the pins and remove debris from the switch’s bottom. This will ensure that the switch sits flush against the PCB and makes a solid connection.
Step 4: Install the switches. Once you have prepared the switches, you can install them onto the PCB. Make sure to align the switches correctly with the holes on the PCB. The pins of the switch should go through the holes on the PCB and be flush with the surface of the PCB. If the pins are not straight, use a pair of tweezers to straighten them out.
Step 5: Apply flux. Before you start soldering, applying a small amount of soldering flux to the electrical contacts of the switch is essential. Flux helps clean the switch’s metal surfaces and PCB, allowing for better adhesion of the solder. Apply a small amount of flux to the electrical contacts of the switch using a toothpick or other small applicator.
Step 6: Heat the soldering iron. Next, you will need to heat the soldering iron. Make sure to use a soldering iron with a fine tip, making it easier to apply the solder precisely. Set the temperature of the soldering iron according to the specifications of the soldering wire you are using. Allow the soldering iron to heat up for a few minutes before moving on to the next step.
Step 7: Apply solder. Once the soldering iron is hot, you can start applying solder to the switch’s pins. Hold the soldering wire against the pin and the PCB and allow the soldering iron’s heat to melt the solder. The solder will flow around the pin, creating a solid connection between the switch and the PCB. Be careful not to apply too much solder, as this can cause the solder to flow onto other components on the PCB and cause a short circuit.
Mechanical keyboard switches are the critical component making mechanical keyboard popular among gamers, programmers, and typists. Their durability, tactile feedback, and responsiveness provide a satisfying typing experience that can improve productivity and accuracy.