If you love gaming, there’s a good chance you own a mechanical keyboard. These keyboards are beloved by gamers of all stripes, for many different reasons. For one thing, mechanical keyboards last far longer than their ordinary counterparts. This isn’t a big deal if you only use your computer to fire off the odd email. But if you spend a lot of time on your PC, it makes sense to use a more durable board. Mechanical keyboards also provide better tactile feedback. Whether or not they give off a loud audible click, you feel when they actuate. The same features make them popular for writers, and anyone else who uses a keyboard.
The downside of a durable keyboard is that it will eventually need some tender loving care. With a lesser keyboard, it’s usually not worth performing any maintenance or repairs. When it gets dirty, you wipe it off with a rag. When it starts to fail, you buy a new one. But a mechanical keyboard is worth putting some effort into fixing it. And if you’re going to do that, you’re going to need tools. Most of those tools are widely-used tools you may already own. However, some of them are specialized for the task. The most important of these are a keycap puller and a switch puller. Without them, you can easily damage your keys or switches trying to get them out.
We’re about to review three of the best keycap and switch pullers that money can buy. We’ll start with the SYIDINZN Keycap Puller. This is a simple 2-in-1 keycap remover and switch puller, with one tool on each end. Next, we’ll look at the Koi Co Switch Opener Kit. This is a similar tool, but the kit also includes a switch opener for more advanced maintenance. Finally, we’ll check out the SwitchCaptain. This basic tool is a simple stainless steel dual-function puller, which comes in a two-pack. To find out which one is best, we’ll take a closer look at each of their features and functions. Afterwards, we’ll have a complete picture of what we’re looking at. Let’s begin!
Maintaining Your Mechanical Keyboard
So, you’re the proud owner of a mechanical keyboard. What do you need to do to keep it in good working order? To begin with, you’ll need to clean it from time to time. You may also want to lube your switches, depending on your keyboard.
Cleaning is something you’ll definitely need to do sooner or later. Finger grease can build up on your keycaps. If you’re prone to eating at your computer, crumbs will fall between the keys. And unless you’re as bald as a cue ball, hair is going to fall down in the gaps as well. This isn’t get gross. If you have LED backlighting, it’s also as ugly as sin. Some of this gunk can be cleaned out by hand. You can wipe your keyboard with a damp cloth or alcohol swab, or vacuum out between the keys. But that will only get you so far.
To do a full, deep cleaning, you’ll need to remove all your keycaps. Soak them in soap and water, wipe them down, rinse them, and leave them to dry. Now, clean off the bare keyboard. It should be easy to wipe down around the switches and make the keyboard look as good as new. Just be careful not to get water into the actual switches. Depending on their design, this may be more or less easy to do. Regardless, let your keyboard air out overnight before you put it back together.
Lubing your keyboard is purely optional. If you’re using a super-clicky keyboard like the Keychron K2, you might not want to. It will dampen the sound, and can even make the keys sound different from each other. On the other hand, it also makes your keys move much more smoothly. This is a great feature if you’ve been experiencing finger fatigue.
The first step is to remove all of your keycaps, and set them aside until you’re done with the process. Next, you’ll have to remove the switches from the keyboard. This can be easy or complicated depending on the design. Some keyboards have a simple plug-in design. You can just pull the switches out and plug them back in. In this case, all you’ll need is a switch puller. On the other hand, other keyboards have their switches soldered into place. If you have one of those, you’ll need to carefully de-solder each switch as you’re removing them. This can be considerably more time-consuming. If you’re buying a keyboard with the intention of lubing the switches, look for one that’s hot-swappable.
With all the switches removed, it’s time to open each one up to lube them up. This is easiest if you use a switch opening tool. However, you can also use a small standard screwdriver. In that case, you’ll need to work your way around the outer perimeter of the housing. There are four clips that hold it together. Gently pop each one open without breaking them. The hardest part is getting all four open at once; they tend to snap back into place. It helps if you can get a fingernail into place to prevent this.
With the housing separated, lube the inside of the lower half. Here’s the thing; you don’t want to get any lube on the metal contact. It can cause your switch to fail. Instead, stick to the inside and outside of the stem, and the bottom and sides. It helps to use a small brush, so as not to make a mess. In the upper housing, you’ll need to lube the areas where the stem passes through. Since the rest of the upper housing remains fixed, there’s nothing else you need to lube up.
Lubing the stem is a bit more complicated. The main body and sides of the stem, as well as the rails, should all be coated with lube. The outside is purely optional. As far as the legs go, it depends on the type of switch. On a linear switch, lube away. But if it’s a tactile switch, lube on the legs will cut down on tactile feedback when the switch actuates. With that kind of board, you’ll want to avoid the legs.
If you’re lubing a single spring, you can just use a brush. But this can be time-consuming if you’re lubricating an entire keyboard. In that case, you can take a shortcut. Put all the springs in a plastic baggie, and add a generous amount of lube. Shake the bag up, and you’re ready to reassemble all your switches.
Reassembly is pretty straightforward. Just be careful not to get any lube on the metal contact during reassembly. When each switch is put together, give it a quick press. Make sure it feels right, and reassemble it again if something feels wrong. Put them back in your keyboard, and reattach the keycaps. If you don’t have a hot-swappable keyboard, this step will be a little more involved. You’ll have to solder all your switches in place.
With everything back together, it’s time to test your keyboard. Plug it into your computer, open a text editor, and type out the alphabet and all the numbers. Verify that the Shift and Enter keys work, as well as the tab. If your keyboard has a numerical pad, test that as well. You’ll also want to check the arrows, Function keys, and every other key on the board.
If you’ve done everything right, they should all work fine. If not, your issue is most likely the seating or the soldering. If that’s not it either, you may have damaged the metal contacts. In that case, you’ll need to buy a new switch.
SYIDINZN Keycap Puller
The SYIDINZN Keycap Puller has a fairly standard design for a modern keycap puller. This is a two-in-one tool, with the keycap puller on one end and a switch puller on the other. The main tool is similar to a set of wire tongs, with two slender, springy jaws that easily envelop any key. The nice thing about this design is that they’re flexible, so they can even fit oddly-shaped keys. They’re attached to a flat plastic mid-section, which functions as a grip. On the other end, you’ll see the switch puller. This is similar to a set of beefy tweezers, with broad, inward-facing tips. They make it easy to grip the notches in the sides of standard mechanical keys.
Koi Co Switch Opener Kit
The Koi Co Switch Opener Kit comes with a few different components. The first is a two-in-one tool, similar to the SYIDINZN tool, and they’re virtually indistinguishable. However, the kit also includes a die-cast switch opener that’s perfect for lubrication jobs. It’s a simple aluminum lug with four grooves and notches on the sides. When you press a switch into place, the four clips on the sides will pop right open. There’s even a dummy keycap for quickly testing your switches on the fly. If that’s not enough, the package also includes a velvet drawstring pouch for storage.
The SwitchCaptain is the most basic offering on our list. This is a two-pack of switch pullers that are made entirely from stainless steel. They’re designed as rings, with long grips that keep your hands clear of your keyboard as you work. They’re surprisingly springy and durable, as well as lightweight. That said, they’re just switch pullers. They’re not ideal for keycaps, and there’s nothing else in the kit.
Each of these keycap and switch pullers has its own unique quirks. The SYIDINZN Keycap Puller is the best tool for standard cleaning. It’s affordable, and it’s easy to use for removing keycaps. That said, if you’re going to lube your keys as well, consider the Co Switch Opener Kit. You’re going to want a switch opener, so why not get the complete package? The SwitchCaptain works just fine for what it is. It’s a straightforward switch puller that works as advertised. But we’re not sure why you’d want to choose it over another alternative.