When people think about mechanical keyboards, you might stereotypically think of a loud keyboard that is CLACK CLACK CLACKing in the office, annoying people on calls, and interrupting gameplay. But that's not always the case! It all depends on the kinds of switches you have.
The Switch Types
Switches come in one of three main categories:
• Tactile switches have a bump in the keypress before bottoming out
• Linear switches travel smoothly up and down before bottoming out
• Clicky switches are the stereotypical loud and clicky switches
Now, when I say "bottoming out" while typing, that is just a term for pressing a key all the way down to its full depth. Often, mechanical switches actuate (as in, make the connection with the PCB and trigger their keypress) before bottoming out, meaning it's possible to type faster than you would need to with rubber domes (which you'll recall we talked about in the first lesson).
Switches can have different weights, or actuation forces. The lightest you'll usually see is around 35g, and the heaviest you'll see is around 90g. To give you an idea, 35g is so light that you can breathe heavily on it and it'll actuate (okay that's an exaggeration, but it's pretty dang light), and 90g will give your fingers biceps. It's all a matter of personal preference (for what it's worth, I personally prefer heavier switches around 75g).
Anyway, whether they're tactile, linear, or clicky, they will almost always be Cherry MX-style switches. They have a little plus (+) sign at the top where your keycaps go (the stem), inside of the housing that holds it together. There's a German company called Cherry that designed these in the 1980s. These style of switches are so standard that almost all PCBs and keycaps will work with them. Cherry actually does make their own switches, and ones you might recognize: Cherry MX Browns (tactile), Cherry MX Red (linear), and Cherry MX Blues (clicky), and a few other colors.
There are other types of switches, like Alps and Matias switches, but you will rarely, if ever, run into them. The only kind of "alternate" switch that you might see other than these are Topre switches. They are actually an electrocapacitive switch, but much more high quality and long-lasting than a typical rubber dome. If you do ever want to try any of these other switch types, they are available, just less common!
Back to the Cherry-style switches, there's other manufacturers of them besides Cherry themselves, like Gateron, NovelKeys, Kailh, and ZealPC. There's even more than this list, there's so many that you honestly don't need to worry about keeping up with all of them, because the list grows all the time. I'd recommend finding some kind of switch-tester if you want to test them out before committing to any, but overall, you can't go wrong with any mechanical switch type because it is guaranteed to last a very long time!
When you put your switches on a board, for the wide keys (like the space bar or the enter key), you'll also have stabilizers on the board (lovingly referred to as "stabs" on occasion, like the knifey kind). They will also have the little Cherry MX-style stems, but they don't have any weight to them or anything. Their only purpose is to make sure your keycaps are level on the switches.
Customizing your switches
Now, if you want your switches to be extra custom to you, you can modify them! You can take the housing of one and the stem from another and swap them out, you can put in heavier or lighter springs, and you can add a switch lubricant to make them buttery smooth. This can be tedious (or calming, depends on your personality), but is often worth the effort for a really awesome sound and feel. You can similarly modify your stabilizers. Here's a video on how to mod your switches, and one for stabs as well!
What do I use?
Personally, I used to really like super heavy tactile and clicky switches. BOX Navy switches and heavy Zealios switches were my jam. And sometimes, they still are!
I definitely prefer switches more than 55g. But, especially in an increasingly remote world, you're on microphones a lot, and those switch noises are magnified to everyone on the call.
I've started trying out more quiet switches, like Zilents switches and lubed NovelKeys Creams, and I've been really happy with them.
Experimenting is a part of all the fun! I still use my mega-loud switches while gaming and coding, but I also swap out my boards for quieter ones on calls.
Phew, that was a lot, but we made it through! Next up is keycaps. Let's boogie.