I Bought a Mechanical Keyboard.

"Clickitty, CLACK!", says my new mechanical keyboard.

My first experience with a non-rubber dome keyboard dates back to over 25 years ago. My father brought home an IBM PC. I can never remember the model number but I'll never forget the keyboard it came with.

The IBM Model M's buckling spring switches were such a delight to type on. It felt responsive and "springy" and made a hell of a lot of noise while typing. Of course, I would not appreciate this until almost a decade later.

As my interest for computers grew, keyboards were the last thing on my mind. I was too focused chatting, researching and browsing web sites I probably shouldn't have at such a young age.

Time progressed. Manufacturers found a cheaper way to produce keyboards. I was none the wiser. Sure, I did notice it felt different from the first keyboard I ever used. I was stupid and thought maybe this is better. Less noise from those rubber dome keyboards means I get to stay up later in my teenage years!

Battlestations?

Fast forward to just a month ago (I'm 34 now). I was recently inspired by Reddit's Battlestation thread. I wanted one of my own.

I set out to research what I needed to have a multi-monitor setup. Two monitors were just sitting in my closet begging to be used. I purchased a triple monitor mount, a power strip, zip ties and velcro tape. After some wire tucking and LED lights, I was done... At least I thought I was done.

My battlestation

With 3 monitors, there was no need to have my Macbook Pro laptop open for another monitor. I had enough screen real estate to house three Anna Kendrick wallpapers. Also, when my laptop is pushing 4 displays out, the keyboard gets hot to the touch. I needed a new external keyboard.

Fruity magic keyboard?

Initially, I thought I would keep it all Apple. So I did the research on the Apple Magic Keyboard. I thought I was sold. It's sleek looking and it has almost the same experience as typing on my laptop. I was used to typing on my laptop. I learned to like it resisting the urge to use my usual Microsoft Natural Ergonomic 4000 keyboard. Most of the iOS developers I follow on Twitter rave about the Apple Magic Keyboard.

In the end, it's a $100.00 keyboard that feels just like my laptop. That's how I saw it. There was no magic. There was no Patronus Charm. Nothing. There has to be something better out there for me.

A new discovered community

I knew there were niche communities out there on the Internets. What I didn't know was that there are so many people interested in mechanical keyboards and customizing them. These people just blew my mind in their passion for keycap sets and these so-called "artisan" keycaps.

Some people in these communities pay upwards of +$100 dollars for these "artisan" keycaps. It was crazy. Here are some examples of artisan keycaps from a Google image search.

The communities I found were:

Decisions, decisions

After doing a lot of research I had decided if I was going to spend ~$100 on a "magic" keyboard, it better be a keyboard that I think is worth that price tag.

I was not going to get another rubber dome keyboard. Hell no. I wanted something different. I wanted to get that satisfaction I had years ago when typing on my dad's Model M.

I had to decide on whether I really want a buckling spring keyboard or a mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX switches. Going with a buckling spring would restrict me to certain models, some of them not really Mac friendly due to the layout. Plus, I wanted the option to swap different profile keycaps if I wanted to. Massdrop's Carbon SA profile keycaps are just too gorgeous to not consider it.

Carbon SA keycaps on a Novatouch

It was settled, I wanted a Cherry MX mechanical keyboard. All of the keycap sets I may want in the future are Cherry MX compatible.

What switches do I want? Well, crap. I had no way of testing what switches I want. My gamer friends had been using mechanical keyboards for years but they were scattered all over the USA. I knew I wanted something with a little feedback and something noisy to bring me back to the good ol' days.

I ordered a Cherry MX Switch Tester from WASD Keyboards through Amazon. This switch tester comes with 6 colored switches (blue, red, black, green, clear). It was a little pricey but I figure if I was going to buy a mechanical keyboard that costs greater than $100.00 I better be sure I like the switches it came with.

Biting the bullet

In the end, I ended up picking up a
WASD V2 87-Key Custom Mechanical Keyboard
with blue switches and a custom printed layout. At the time of purchase it was $145.00. Not bad for a custom mechanical keyboard. For +$45 more than the Apple Magic Keyboard I get to custom the keycap color and printing? Yes, please.

Since it was "custom" I decided to have a little fun with it. I downloaded an Illustrator file and customized some symbols of the modifier keys, the font of my keycaps, and... other stuff.

Here is the final product:
Full keyboard Modifiers Misc keys Spacebar

So how is it? Well, it is the best keyboard I have ever owned. This thing is solid. There is no flex to this keyboard and it stays put on my desk.

Having been used to typing on chiclet keyboards, the key travel took a little getting used to. The actuation point on Cherry MX switches are around 2mm. The keys actually travel farther than that. Compared to the chiclet keyboards I felt that the travel went as deep as the Grand Canyon... Okay, I'm exaggerating a little a lot.

The clack sounds from bottoming out the keys were little too loud for my liking so I bought some blue o-rings to reduce the clack noise and shorten the key travel by 0.4mm. Now, with these o-rings installed on the keycap stems, I was getting all the click but none of the clack. The travel reduction was just enough to be comfortable for me to type on.

If any of you are thinking of getting a new keyboard, I would suggest doing some research into a mechanical ones. I have not regretted it one bit.

Update

I recently had a chance to compare Razor's BlackWidow gaming mechanical keyboard with my WASD 87-key. The keys on the Razor feel VERY thin. I didn't like it at all. It felt like I was going to break the plastic on those keys when typing. I have made a good choice.