Lubrication of keyboard switches is not a complex science. However, it’s not something you can get the first time, either. Most end up ruining hundreds of expensive switches while mastering the trade. And that still doesn’t guarantee that you will achieve consistency. In fact, an inconsistently lubricated keyboard objectively feels worse than an unlubricated keyboard.
Fortunately, this is not a medium switch lubrication tutorial. You will not blindly follow the instructions without understanding the process. In this guide to lubrication switches, you will learn how the keyboard switches work; understand the different tools, lubricants, accessories and why you need them; and finally, how to lubricate the switches.
Tools of the trade
Let’s make an inventory of all the necessary tools and consumables. At approximately three minutes per switch, manual lubrication switches take a few hours via keyboard. Spending a little more on tools that make work easier and faster is worth every penny.
However, you will find these optional (and relatively more expensive) tools listed alongside their less expensive counterparts. It is up to you to decide if you want to spend more time or more money to achieve the same goal.
- Lubricant switch
- Change movies (optional)
- Switch opener (optional) or fine point angled tweezers (type-15)
- Jeweler’s Claw Pickup Tool (optional)
- Brush (size-00)
- At least four containers with lids (optional)
The Anatomy of MX Style Switches
Let’s take a closer look at how MX style switches work. A large majority of popular switches in this hobby are based on the original design of Cherry MX. Learning how these switches work is essential for identifying friction points. This is essential for formulating a good lubrication strategy.
The Cherry MX design is fairly simple and consists of three main components: the upper case, the lower case and the slider assembly.
The image below should give a better idea of the individual components. The upper housing is a single piece of injection molded plastic. It’s nothing complicated, because it only exists to prevent the cursor from coming out of the case.
Assembling the slider is a bit more complicated. It consists of a plastic slider which interfaces with a coil spring. The coil spring is what gives each switch its unique weight. Making variants of heavy, medium and light switches is a simple matter of using lighter or stiffer springs.
The bottom case is the most complicated part of the switch and consists of three separate components – that is, the plastic case and the copper contact sheets. The plastic housing contains a central hollow shaft which allows the cursor to move up and down. It is a major source of plastic-to-plastic friction.
The central shaft is flanked by two rails designed to reduce the oscillation of the cursor. These rails prevent oscillation by providing a straight path for the corresponding guide tabs on the slider to move. This is another important source of friction.
The contact blades consist of a two-part assembly consisting of a leaf spring and a static contact blade. The latter is the smallest insulated copper plate on the right side of the image above.
The contact leaf spring has a natural tendency to push against the small contact sheet at all times. However, the two contact blades are kept apart by the cursor when the switch is at rest. By pressing the switch, the cursor moves down, allowing the contact sheets to connect and complete the electrical circuit. This is saved as a key entry.
The image above explains how two small pins (right side, marked in green) on the slider keep the contact leaf spring away from the static contact sheet when the switch is at rest. The sliding teeth or cams act as plastic fingers pushing against the corresponding projections on the contact leaf spring (left side, also marked in green).
By pressing the switch, the cursor goes down and the cams of the cursor move apart, allowing the contact blade spring to fall on the static contact blade and complete the circuit. The meeting points of the sliding cams and the contact leaf spring are also important sources of plastic-to-metal friction.
Switch films are essential
Switch films are optional. However, they are the cheapest way to significantly improve the in-line and touch switches in stock at $ 5 for 110 switches. The source of improvement here is the oscillation (video demonstration) that exists between the two halves of the switch boxes. Almost all switches have some degree of oscillation by design. Switch films eliminate oscillation by filling the space between the upper and lower switch housings.
Is it worth spending $ 5 to close the gap between the switch boxes?
The gap between two cases not only generates oscillations, but it also makes the switches act like miniature hi-hat cymbals. (Watch this video to understand how hi-hat cymbals work.) The upper and lower halves of the switch case generate a punchy note, just like hi-hat cymbals in a drum set. Eliminating backlash with switch movies eliminates this problem, making the switches sound consistent and quieter. This video shows how the movies make the switches better.
It won’t be a problem if, for whatever reason, you really enjoy the percussive note. However, the gap between the two halves of the cases is not consistent between the switches. This leads to switches generating acoustic notes with inconsistent sound. Not to mention, the linear and touch switches aren’t supposed to produce these rather loud and boring sounds to begin with.
Jeweler’s Claw Pickup Tool
The jeweler’s claw is a pickup tool that makes it easier to hold the cursor during the lubrication process.
Choosing the right brush
A good brush is a simple necessity. Higher quality brushes made of fine, natural bristles will keep the lubricant better and more regularly than cheaper brushes with coarse and artificial bristles. The quality of lubrication also depends on the choice of the right brush size.
I absolutely recommend a size 00 brush. Consistent lubrication depends only on the amount of lubricant loaded on the brush. Using a larger brush will charge an excessive amount of lubricant per application, resulting in excessive lubrication. Nothing ruins switches faster than using excessive lubrication.
Switch lubricant considerations
The standard switch lubricant used by keyboard enthusiasts around the world happens to be Krytox brand lubricant. It is safe for plastic and durable and available as an oil or grease. The higher viscosity of the greases guarantees better adhesion and makes the switches soft to butter compared to oils. But they are difficult to apply correctly and not recommended for beginners. Higher viscosity lubricants such as grease are ideal for linear switches where the main objective is softness. However, fats can reduce the tactility of touch switches and completely eliminate the clickyness of clicky variants.
This makes the oils more suitable for touch and click switches, which offer a good degree of smoothness without excessively reducing tactile feedback or clickyness. Krytox oils are available in viscosity grades from 103 to 107, the viscosity increasing with higher numbers. Krytox greases are generally only found in category 205 in the keyboard world, making it ideal for use with linear switches.
Recommended switch opener
Opening the switches quickly and securely with a set of electronic clips at $ 9 is cheaper but takes more time and adds the risk of inadvertently ruining the switches. If you are adamant about avoiding switches video shows how to open the switches with angled tweezers type 15. For those who wish to follow our advice, the following shows how to use a switch.
1. Buy a door opener.
2. Locate the south face of the switch. It is the one with the inclined edge and the through holes to fit an LED. Place it on one of the alignment posts on the switch opener. Refer to the image below for clarification.
3. Press the switch down. Release. There you are.
How to grease different types of switches
Cherry MX style switches, or any other switch for that matter, come in three main variants: linear, touch and clicky. The audible click, as well as the tactile feedback produced by clicky switches, make it the most complicated of the lot in mechanical terms. Touch switches, on the other hand, can be widely felt but not as much heard. These produce no audible click but only a tactile shock. Linear switches are the simplest of the lot and do not provide tactile feedback and do not generate an audible click.
Fortunately, the simplicity of the Cherry MX switch design is focused on keeping manufacturing costs low. In other words, each switch component (except the slider) is interchangeable between the three types of switches. It makes our work easier and less complicated.
It also means that our lubrication strategy must adapt to the different slider variations for each type of switch. Fortunately, the diversity in cursor design is further limited only to the cursor cam profiles between the linear and touch switches.
A glance at these profiles shows how the linear switches integrate a single slope, while the touch switch cursor cam exhibits a pronounced bump. This projection generates tactile feedback when it slides against the contact leaf spring.
Heavy lubrication of the sliding cams on a touch switch will result in significant loss of touch feedback. It is better not to lubricate the sliding cam and the contact leaf spring if you want to maximize the tactile feedback. A light application of thin lubricant on this part, however, will ensure smoother actuation without excessively attenuating tactile feedback.
Clicky switches further divide the slider into a new discrete part known as a click jacket. The new component (click jacket, in white above) incorporates the cams of the cursor and is free to move on the cursor along a pair of integrated guide rails. The clic jacket also produces the distinct clicky note by slamming against the lower case during actuation.
When a snap switch is pressed, the sliding cams are held in place by the contact leaf assembly, even when the contact leaf spring gradually compresses. As the slider descends, the cams pushing against the leaf spring generate compression energy.
This repressed energy ends up quickly launching the click envelope on the lower case. This is how you get a click, which looks more like a horrible rattle in reality. No wonder users of custom keyboards hate this type of switch with revenge.
You must therefore avoid lubricating the upper and lower surfaces of the dust jacket, otherwise you will completely lose the click. You can, however, lubricate the contact leaf spring and sliding cam if you’re not worried about losing tactility.
Zoning sliders to control the behavior of switches
Now that the basic concepts have been deepened, let’s take a closer look at the most critical component of the lubrication process – the slider. Consistent lubrication is easy, provided the process is streamlined. To do this, you have to divide the cursor surfaces into separate zones.
The idea is that each time you load the brush with a constant amount of lubricant, the very first application is the heaviest, the following ones gradually transfer smaller amounts of lubricant to the surfaces of the components.
In this way, parts / areas that require light lubrication can be pushed further in the lubrication order and others can be deleted. Because we now know exactly what each part / zone does, you can choose the right lubrication strategy for a specific switch type or customize it further to your own typing preferences.
The following example shows the slider of a tactile switch lubricated in a specific way to obtain specific results, i.e. to ensure the most fluid actuation, a slight reduction in tactility and the greatest reduction of background and rising noises.
1. The guide tabs (highlighted in green) on each side of the slider should be lubricated first after loading the brush with lubricant. It’s one of the most important sources of friction, so you’ll need a relatively generous application of lubricant here.
2. Because we privileged the actuation of the switch gently on the tactility, we can lubricate the cams of the cursor (highlighted in red) then. This will reduce tactility to some extent, but the friction of the leaf spring between the cam and the contact will be eliminated.
3. The third and last application of this lubricant charge is reserved for the north face of the cursor (highlighted in gray). This part has the smallest contact surface and therefore the lowest friction. There’s not really a need to add a lot of lubricant here.
1. With the brush refilled with the same amount of lubricant, the cursor guide rod (highlighted in gray at the bottom) obtains the first application of lubricant because it is the greatest source of friction among these areas.
2. The following application focuses on the parts of the cursor (highlighted in red) responsible for the background and rising sounds. This is how you take advantage of a hard sound switch.
3. Like the north face, the south face of the slider is also last lubricated for the same reason.
We start by opening the switch as illustrated above. The specific lubricant used in this example is a 1: 5 ratio mixture of Krytox 205 grease with 104 oil. It is a ratio that I settled on after exhaustive trial and error. Over time and with experience, you will find your own ideal viscosity and / or mixture. We are going to lubricate a Zealios V2 touch switch in order to make it as smooth as possible while sacrificing some of the tactility to reduce the friction of the slider blades on contact. The softening of ascending and ascending notes is also an important consideration.
Loading the brush: It may sound basic, but the very success of this endeavor depends on the success of this seemingly simple step. Dip the size 00 brush into the container of lubricant until it is saturated. Now remove the excess lubricant from the brush by wiping it on the neck of the container. Remember to wipe the other side of the brush.
Note: your brush should look like the one shown in the bottom half after wiping. Please do not lubricate your switches with the overloaded brush visible in the upper half.
Our goal is to achieve consistency. We do this by dipping the brush once to the same depth to pick up a constant amount of lubricant. If you have removed the excess lubricant by wiping it on the container three times per side, be sure to repeat the exact same process each time you reload the brush. Coherence is not obtained by chance; you must be deliberate when making and counting each movement.
Warning: The examples in the photos have been excessively lubricated for visibility. Grease should be applied in a thin layer that barely shines when kept under bright light. Less is more here. If you apply thick layers of viscous lubricant to the switch components, the whole thing will erase and feel horribly pasty and slow during operation.
1. Load the brush with lubricant.
The two rails maintaining the alignment of the cursor are great sources of friction. That’s why we lubricate them first to transfer most of the lubricant. Lubricate the first rail with one side of the brush, but use the opposite side to paint the remaining rail. Whether you use one or two runs per rail, keep the number constant between the switches.
Although lubrication of the entire width of the rail seems obvious, be sure to paint the narrow orthogonal edges which also interfere with the slider. I prefer to lubricate each rail in two passes. Touching the right and left corners in separate passes makes sense because the size 00 brush is too narrow to lubricate the full width of the slider.
2. Next, the hollow central shaft which interfaces with the cursor. Skip the hollow of the tree because we will rather lubricate the male end of the cursor (guide rod) which enters it.
Lubricating these two complementary parts is a recipe for disaster. Excessive lubricant can seal the space between the shaft and the slider guide rod. This makes the switch feel like someone has slipped an additional air spring inside.
We only lubricate the outside of the switch in a clean circular motion. This prevents the spring from grating hard against the shaft and producing an annoying crunchy sound. Again, count your hits and maintain consistency between the switches.
3. Now the brush turns fairly low on the lubricant. This makes it the ideal time to apply a thin layer to the two actuation points of the contact leaf spring. Use the highlighted part in the second image above to give you a better idea.
4. If you plan to use switching films, now is the time to add one. The largest hole in the switching film corresponds to the part of the lower housing containing the contact blade assembly. Just slide it onto the lower case.
You are finished with the lower switch housing. Set aside for the moment in a clean container. However, I find it easier to cover it by placing a clean, inverted drinking glass on top. This way, you are less likely to accidentally drop the case or touch the lubricated internal surfaces. Glass is also a great barrier against the ingress of dust.
1. Load the brush with lubricant.
Clamping the tweezers teeth together, sliding them inside the spring recess and releasing the pressure is the best way to turn a pair of ordinary pliers into improvised reverse pliers. This makes it almost impossible to drop the spring.
Use only one side of the brush to lubricate the outside surface of the spring lengthwise.
2. Use the other side of the brush to lubricate the inside of the spring with a clean circular motion. Also apply a constant amount of lubricant (count your brush strokes) to the bottom of the spring.
Paint the remaining half of the occluded spring with the tweezers. You will need to hold the spring by the opposite end for this. Transferring the spring to another pair of tweezers while removing the first is the quickest and easiest way to do it.
You are also finished with the springs. Remove the drinking glass covering the lubricated lower case and place the spring on the shaft. Pinch the tweezers to release the handle on the spring so that it is transferred to the shaft. Cover the lubricated parts again with the inverted drinking glass.
1. Load the brush with lubricant.
The alignment tabs on each side of the slider slide into the corresponding vertical rails in the lower case. It’s a great source of friction, so let’s lubricate this area first. Apply a thin layer of lubricant on one side and turn the brush over to paint the tab on the other side.
2. Because we favor softness over tactility, lubricate the two legs of the sliding cam with either side of the brush as illustrated above.
3. The north and south faces of the cursor are not subject to much friction. Therefore, we keep them for the last time while our brush is running almost empty. Apply a thin and uniform layer and count as always your brushstrokes.
1. Load the brush with lubricant.
Let’s focus at the bottom of the cursor. Do you remember the hollow central shaft in the lower case that we didn’t lubricate? We will lubricate its male counterpart found at the bottom of the cursor. Apply a constant amount of lubricant all around the guide rod, as shown in the image above.
2. Lubricate the bottom edges of the slider. This is the part that strikes the floor of the lower case and produces sound from top to bottom. Lubricating this part softens the bass sound and gives it a nice low note.
3. Repeat the process for the top of the alignment tab. This part slams against the upper case to produce the sound of the climb. Lubricating it also improves the sound of the switch.
The cursor is finished. Remove the glass and slide the slider through the spring and into the center shaft using the jeweler’s claw pickup tool. Replace the drinking glass.
1. Load the brush with lubricant.
The left and right sides of the upper housing have internal channels cut out to accommodate the corresponding pair of guide tabs on the slider. Follow the same lubrication strategy used in the first step of the lower case for this part.
2. Turn the upper quarter-turn of the housing to reveal two plastic strips designed to reduce friction. Ceci est réalisé en creusant les bandes au milieu, de sorte que le point de contact avec le curseur est réduit à une paire de fines lignes verticales. Il est inutile d’appliquer du lubrifiant dans la partie médiane évidée. Appliquez une fine couche de lubrifiant sur les deux bords verticaux de la paire de bandes.
3. Retirez le verre à boire et récupérez l’ensemble lubrifié composé du boîtier inférieur, rempli de film d’interrupteur, de ressort et de curseur. Alignez le boîtier supérieur de manière à ce que le côté incliné (face sud) contenant la prise LED soit aligné avec le côté du boîtier inférieur qui ne contient pas le panneau de contact. L’image ci-dessus devrait vous donner une idée juste.
Ne les mélangez pas, car vous écraserez le délicat assemblage des lames de contact à la fermeture de l’interrupteur. Une fois l’alignement vérifié, appuyez sur les boîtiers supérieur et inférieur l’un contre l’autre jusqu’à ce que les quatre loquets de retenue du boîtier supérieur s’enclenchent dans les encoches correspondantes du boîtier inférieur. Vérifiez que les loquets de rétention sont sécurisés et appuyez sur l’interrupteur pour assurer un actionnement en douceur.
Toutes nos félicitations. Vous avez lubrifié un grand total d’un interrupteur. Maintenant, vous n’avez plus que 60 à 95 à faire selon la taille de votre clavier mécanique personnalisé.
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