Keyboard modification is all about making a keyboard more to the user's liking, be it in key feel, looks or sound.
This page gives a topical overview of the possible modifications. For a list of all articles relating to mods, see the keyboard modding listing.
Keyboard modding has been around for as long as keyboards have. It can range anywhere from replacing your keycaps, to adding new switches, or changing the LEDs out.
- Keycap puller
- Soldering iron
- Desoldering gun
- Electronics pry
- Fine Sandpaper
- Small Sponge Brush
- Small Hair Brush
Most keyboards can be taken apart by unscrewing all of the visible screws, by going around the edge of the lower part of the keyboard case with an electronics pry, and prying up the tabs that hold the casing together. This can change depending on your style of keyboard, and it's recommended that you consult another source for your individual keyboard.
Altering switch sound
Switch sound can be altered by two methods: Add an 'O' ring to the bottom of your keycaps, or find a new keyswitch stem. In order to install the 'O' ring, all you need to do is lift the keycap off of the keyswitch, and slide the ring as far as you can onto the stem of the keycap. If you're looking to change your keyswitch stem, you'll need to take apart each individual keyswitch that you want to change the feel/sound of. If your keyboard is plate-mount, you'll need to desolder all of your keyswitches to take the switches apart. However, if your keyswitches are PCB mount, it's quite a lot easier to take them apart. Pull each of the tabs on the switches away from the actual switch, and slip a keyswitch prier underneath the gap between the top cover of the switch, and the base. Pry it apart, and lift the top off of it. Take the keyswitch stem out of the casing, and replace the stem with a new one, the one with the desired feel. If you're having a difficult time deciding which keyswitch delivers the performance you want, buy a taster kit online. Also, if you'd like your metal chassis to ring less, pad the space underneath the PCB with soft foam or felt and reassemble the keyboard. It should resonate less with every keystroke.
Tweaking switch feel
If you're looking to tweak the feel of your switches, there are many things you can do. You can try a new textured keycap, you can replace your switches or switch stems, you can add an 'O' ring onto your keycap stems, you can change the spring weight in your keyswitches, as well. Replacing switch stems and 'O' rings has already been covered above, so there will only be descriptions of how to change the springs and switches, as well as replacing your keycaps.
Replacing your keycaps is the simplest way to change the finger-feel of typing on a keyboard. There are dedicated tools for prying up keycaps, and it's highly recommended that you invest in one, if you're really serious about keyboard modding. However, if you don't have one, some form of prying tool can work too. Slip the tool over the keycaps, and pull the keycap off of the keyswitch stems. It's also recommended that you add an 'O' ring to the stem of the keycap, while you have the cap off of the switch. Replace the keycaps with the desired set, once you've pulled all of your old keycaps off of the keyboard.
Lubricating your keyswitches is a little bit more difficult than replacing your keycaps, as you'll have to take keycaps, switch covers, and stems out. Take your lubricant and a fine paint or mascara brush,and apply it to the stem guide, and the keystem. Reassemble all of your keyswitches as you took them apart, and your keyswitch should be less resistant to your press. In addition to lubing your switches, you can modify your Cherry stabilizers to deliver a crisper bottom out, or actuate more smoothly. Apply lubricant to the contact points of your stabilizers, and only in the case of Cherry stabilizers, you can clip off the four pins that make the landing squishy.
Changing switch springs is of the same difficulty as lubricating your switches, and, fundamentally, requires the same steps of disassembly you remove and reinsert a spring with the compression force rating of your preference.
Replacing your keyswitches is a difficult custom tweak to pull off, and the tools can be expensive, depending on their quality. It's possible to do this, but not recommended for beginners, or people with no soldering experience. Take your keyboard apart, and remove the PCB, with all of the keyswitches still attached. Remove all keycaps, as well. Remove the solder from the pins on the switches, and remove the switch. Repeat, for as many solders there are on each individual switch. Then repeat for each individual switch that's on the keyboard PCB. Take your new keyswitches, and align the pins to solder with the holes in the PCB, and take your soldering iron, heat it up, and apply solder to each pin by pressing your solder into the soldering iron, and spread the desired amount of solder over the hole, so that the switch is held solidly to the PCB, and a good electrical connection is achieved. You can test this with a multi-meter, which is highly recommended, but not required. Reassemble your keyboard, after you've completed all of your switches.
In order to replace the springs of your switches, you'll need to follow the instructions listed above for replacing the stems above. Instead of pulling the stems out and replacing them, take the switch apart, and pull the spring out of the switch. Slip in your desired switch, and reassemble. This will make pressing your keys either easier or harder, depending on the gram weight of the springs. The author personally uses 25g (24.5 cN) springs, so that even a light brush will trip them. There is a range from 25g custom springs to 120g (117 cN) springs in the Cherry MX Super Black.
Painting is only limited by the your imagination and skill. The required tools are listed above, under 'Supplies'. The recommended process depends on what kind of painting you intend to do. There will be two descriptions of the processes to go through, for both detail painting, and cover painting.
If you want to completely repaint your keyboard, completely tear it apart, and save the PCB and attached switches, set them off to the side. Take the body panels, and sand them with the fine sandpaper, until they're fairly rough. Put down a base coat of white, grey, or black, depending on how you want the color to pop, with a small sponge brush. If you want the color to be a little brighter than normal, put down the white, and if you'd like it to be normally colored, lay down the grey. If you'd like a more matte and subdued color, put the black primer down. After you've coated as much of the sanded frame as possible, apply paint using the small sponge brush. Depending on how shiny you want it, do more than one coat. If you prefer the paint color to be matted, leave it with only one coat. Hang up/set down the painted frame to dry.
When you're only looking to detail some parts of your keyboard, sand the existing colour off of where you want to paint, and then take your paint on the small hair brush, and paint it on. It's recommended that you go over that design with lacquer, as well, if you'd like to make sure that the design can't be damaged. However, keep in mind that this will add some shine to the finish, and it may not match the rest of your build.
Key Layout Modification
When looking for a new keyswitch layout, a new PCB is required. However, if you're looking just to move your keycaps, you can do just that, then switch your keyboard layout in your OS to the layout you'd like. There are two common layouts, ANSI and ISO. There are keycaps available for both, on any of the retailers you can find online. Take your keyboard apart, and desolder the switches, if you want to keep or resell them. Take the new PCB and solder the switches onto the PCB, and add the keycaps you'd like to the switches (be sure they match the layout) then reattach the case around the new layout. If it doesn't fit, then find one that does, on a retailer of your choosing. Some common layouts include Qwerty, Azerty, Dvorak, Coder's Dvorak, Colemak, and Workman.
Keyboard Size Modification
There are a massive variety of keyboard sizes out there, from a microscopic half-hand to a massive 126 key version. There are a few denominations for keyboard sizes (40%, 60%, 80%, 100%) and there are quite a few PCBs easily gotten online for each. The process is the same as listed above, for replacing the PCB.
Digital Layout Modification
There are many keyboard coding tools out there, an excellent one also available for free is KeyTweak, it allows you to completely remap your keyboard, in any way, shape or form you can imagine. For those of you who are more macro and hotstring inclined, an excellent software to use is AutoHotKey, or AHK It allows you to custom-code hotstrings and it's got even more functionality than that. Take a look for at both of these programs, they're really interesting, and allow even more functionality than previously possible. It's encouraged that you find the tool that fits your coding experience and workload. Happy Hacking!