Do-it-yourself keyboards are outside the circle of hobbyists – and that’s a good thing

Do-it-yourself keyboards are outside the circle of hobbyists - and that's a good thing

Sharon Harding

Last week I was visiting a friend and saw a mechanical keyboard on her desk for the first time. This is someone I’ve known for decades and isn’t interested in technology, so that was a surprise. But her job has been partially removed since the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, so she needed something convenient with a number pad to take home. The keyboard was a cheap, quick buy from Amazon that made a living by looking cute and being “so clicky,” she informed me.

My friend is not alone in her newfound use of mechanical switches. The demand for more tactile and durable typing, gaming, and number crunching has made pre-built mechanical keyboards incredibly easy to find. And while they can still be extremely expensive, newbies like my friend can find sub-$100 options that enthusiasts might scoff at, but still represent an upgrade over a membrane or laptop keyboard.

This widespread acceptance of mechanical keyboards has led to an even deeper corner of the hobby garnering more attention of late: DIY customization.

Best buy on the train

On Thursday, peripherals maker Glorious announced its products have arrived at Best Buy, one of the hearts of global electronics retail. In addition to pre-built keyboards, Glorious’ best-buy layout includes accessories for people interested in building or tweaking their mechanical keyboard, including barebone kits, top plates, a rotary knob, detachable cables, keycaps, mechanical switches, and even a lubrication kit.

Best Buy has been selling pre-built mechanical keyboards for a while, but this addition gives its inventory a DIY boost that wasn’t there before (apart from a few cables and keycaps) and is different from other big-name retailers. For example, Walmart doesn’t sell keyboard kits, cables or lubricants, or mechanical switches directly online (though you can get them from third-party sellers on the Walmart website); However, the company sells a set of keycaps.

You can now purchase a switch lube kit from Best Buy. Enlarge / You can now purchase a switch lube kit from Best Buy.

This isn’t about praising Best Buy. In fact, its inventory is clearly built around its retail partnerships, rather than offering keyboard enthusiasts the best, or even diverse, selection. But the addition of keyboard customization products like this is a sign of the growth of mechanical keyboards.


And for those who are new to the hobby and already delving deep into switches, stabilizers, and Krytox lube, this is a good thing.

From keycaps and beyond

Best Buy’s Glorious partnership is just one of the latest signs that keyboard customization is expanding beyond narrow hobby circles. Mainstream companies that sell pre-built mechanical keyboards, like Logitech or Razer, don’t typically expect you to modify their hardware. Most of their keyboards have soldered switches that would be very difficult to change, and sellers don’t encourage you to remove their keycaps unless they sell keycaps themselves. If you’ve decided you want new colors on your keyboard, they’ll be happy to sell you a whole new board.

In 2021, I saw a notable sign that keyboard customization was gaining wider attention when HyperX, a better-known name for PC gamers and now owned by HP, announced a homegrown keyboard with two spacebar caps: one that looks like the another was plain black, and one featured a swirling engraved design. Not only did HyperX encourage consumers to think about changing the look of their keyboard, but it included the basic tools (a keycap puller and an extra keycap) needed to get tinkering going for free.

The Alloy Origins 60 by HyperX comes with the decorated spacebar cap shown and a plain one. Enlarge / The Alloy Origins 60 by HyperX comes with the decorated spacebar cap shown and a plain one.

HyperX likely got the idea from Ducky, a rather niche but popular brand among mechanical keyboard fans. The HyperX Alloy Origins 60 came out a year after the HyperX x Ducky One 2 Mini, which also featured a detailed spacebar.

Asus also encourages keyboard users to be more picky with their keyboard. In January, it announced the ROG Azoth wireless mechanical keyboard, which comes with a switch lube kit that includes a switch opener and puller, keycap puller, lube station and brush, and a bottle of Krytox GPL-205-GD0.

The ROG Azoth with its included grease kit and switch testers.Enlarge / The ROG Azoth with its included grease kit and switch testers.


The ROG Azoth product page states that they want to “make it easier for beginners to get started with DIY keyboards”. The keyboard has the potential to persuade people who never cared about the smoothness or sound of its switches to do so. It also gives owners who have thought about lubricating mechanical switches but not been willing to buy the tools for free an incentive to try it.