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How to Customize your Mechanical Keyboard

Updated on May 17, 2014

What's a mechanical keyboard?

When you pop off a key from a non-mechanical keyboard, you'll see a rubber dome or a plastic membrane in the key slot. When you press down on this rubber dome, the keyboard will send an electric input for the computer to display. This is basically the same thing manufacturers use on remotes. It's cheap, and it works.

A mechanical keyboard does not have this. Instead, you'll notice a switch under each individual key. While the switch functions the same way as the rubber dome, the 'feel' is definitely different. There are different types of switches each producing a different amount of some sort of tactile feedback that simply put, feels different. This feel is the main reason why people shell out for a mechanical keyboard. Typing on a mechanical keyboard feels just that much better! If you spend a lot of time typing on your keyboard and you have a bit of money to spare, consider trying one out. I guarantee you won't look back.

On to Customizing!

The good thing about mechanical keyboards is that most of the key caps are interchangeable. For this guide, I used my Razer Blackwidow Ultimate which uses blue-type switches. I bought the key caps from WASD Keyboards. You can choose from a few designs or you can make your own through their keyboard designer. You can also buy a complete keyboard from them but as I already have a Blackwidow, I only bought the key caps. Once you are done designing,you should bookmark or at least take a screen shot of the design for reference.

If you have your own mechanical keyboard that you want to customize, I suggest checking the compatibility list out (found here). Most keyboards are compatible but a few, like the Blackwidow, have a few different, incompatible keys. Better sure than sorry!

Here's the stock Razer Blackwidow Ultimate.
Here's the stock Razer Blackwidow Ultimate.
The keycap remover tool.
The keycap remover tool.
Lock the key like this and pull gently.
Lock the key like this and pull gently.

The key caps will arrive in a few days to several weeks, depending on your location. The keys will not come arranged; you have to set the keys up yourself. This can be a bit problematic if you opted for a blank key set like me so always have that design saved and ready. The package should also come with a key remover tool. This will make it easier to remove the keys. If it doesn't, you can use any flat screwdriver or card to wedge the keys out.

Stabilized Keys

I removed all the keys first so that I can clean the keyboard. Start with the 1x1 keys first. The rectangle ones are a bit tricky since some of them have stabilizers. These are metal rods that evens out the force when you press down a key so that it wont topple. Here are a few reminders in removing these keys:

  • Wedge the key softly. If the key remover tool won't fit, use a card to wedge the key. It's also a good idea to remove any adjacent keys first.
  • Once the key pops off, it should still be hooked to the stabilizer rods. Take the flat screwdriver and pull the stabilizer bar one way gently while pulling the key the opposite way.
  • It's a good idea to immediately transfer the stabilizer hooks to your custom key caps so you don't end up losing them. They should come off easily enough.

Take extra care when removing the keys with the stabilizers (the metal rods). Once the key pops off, there should still be hooks attached to the stabilizer rods so don't pull too hard.
Take extra care when removing the keys with the stabilizers (the metal rods). Once the key pops off, there should still be hooks attached to the stabilizer rods so don't pull too hard.

Putting in the New Key Caps

If you removed all keys, you should clean your keyboard as well. Take an old brush and brush away, or better yet use compressed air. You buy these from your local computer shop.

After cleaning the keyboard, I started putting the new key caps starting with the top layer. If you used a blank design, this part will be more challenging. Each row of keys is different from the next and putting the right key in the right row is going to be hard. Luckily, WASD Keyboards provided a guide for the keyboard layout found here. Simply look under each key to find out what whether its R4, R3, R2 or R1 and put it in the respective row.

If you are using blank keys, you should have a copy of the design close by and refer to it often!
If you are using blank keys, you should have a copy of the design close by and refer to it often!
Insert the hooks to the keys like this.
Insert the hooks to the keys like this.

Replacing the Stabilized Keys

After you're done with the square 1x1 keys, it's time to start with the keys with stabilizers. This part will be a bit tricky, but it shouldn't be too hard. Just follow these steps:

  1. Attach the stabilizer hooks to the keys. Be sure that the hooks facing backward as shown in the picture.
  2. Hook one side of the key to the stabilizer bar.
  3. With a flat screwdriver, pull the stabilizer bar while you pull the key in the opposite direction while you try to hook the other side of the key to the bar.
  4. Once both sides are hooked, align the key to the switch and push down.

Insert one hook to the stabilizer bar then with a flat screw driver, pull the stabilizer bar the other way while you try to hook it up with the other side of the key.
Insert one hook to the stabilizer bar then with a flat screw driver, pull the stabilizer bar the other way while you try to hook it up with the other side of the key.

Remember to be very gentle with the stabilizers as they are very fragile. Once that's done, the rest should be easy. Remember to press firmly on the key so that it doesn't come off easily.

And that's all there is to it! You can experiment with the orientation of the keys, like putting them upside down. It's all up to you, and that's always the best part.

The final product. The bottom row isn't supposed to be compatible, but aside from the space bar which doesn't fit at all, the problem seems to be just a few smaller keys, which I can live with.
The final product. The bottom row isn't supposed to be compatible, but aside from the space bar which doesn't fit at all, the problem seems to be just a few smaller keys, which I can live with.

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