This xmas I wished for a silent tenkeyless mechanical keyboard with ISO layout, preferably with Slovenian keycaps. Turns out it’s not so easy to get one.
I was digging into the custom mech keyboards community and the beautiful renders and build streams you can find around the net really get you hyped into getting a nice custom keyboard. But not for long, since you soon give up when you see everything is a group buy and has raffles and waitlists of 6-9 months before you get any parts delivered. And stuff gets really expensive really fast! It’s like Lego, just keyboards.
I decided to take a middle path, which still took me a month, but I somehow put something together with some average spending (far from cheap).
I ordered a Keychron K8 with hot-swappable PCB and German ISO key layout. Close enough to what I need and from here I can start modifying.
Keychron K8 has a metal top plate, there is also nice metal frame that goes all around the keyboard and adds some weight to it, but the bottom is plastic, and most mech keeb fans won’t like it, but that’s what you get for that price - I think it’s a solid deal.
The first common mod I did was to add some foam inside the case that should improve the sound of it - it changes a bit but don’t expect wonders. I used the foam that comes with the packaging, 2 layers of it fit perfectly so you can still fit the PCB back in without problems.
Second thing, I pulled out all the switches. My K8 came with Gateron Red switches. Since this is a hot-swap PCB no soldering is required, you can just unplug each switch (you get a switch puller tool with it, although it is quite low quality - if you plan to work with hot-swappable PCBs more definitely get a better tool).
There is a never ending debate around switches, but all I wanted is silence (mechanical silence). Just get whatever you like and don’t listen much to opinions. At first I wanted to get Cherry MX silent blacks, but stock was low on those, so a few hours of mechanical keyboard typing ASMR videos later, I settled for ZealPC’s Tealios linear switches (67g version 2). They seemed quiet enough for what I needed and it is also a quality switch - a bit pricey at 1$ per switch, but I was willing to spend money here - this was a treat for myself. Good, got them. Obviously you need to lube them - that makes them smooth, so I also ordered a 5ml capsule of Tribosys 3204 switch lubricant (supposed to be enough for 400 switches) and also some TX switch films. You put the films between the top and the bottom of the switch case to minimize the rattle. Lubing itself took a few hours to do the entire TKL (lucky I've got a helper - thanks!).
Since silence was my top priority, I also found bought a component called QMX Clips from Unikey. They cancel the bottom-up hit of the switch stem supposedly reducing the noise by 10dB (I was skeptical while ordering, but they work). This makes a huge difference in how the keyboard sounds, but it also changes the typing experience a bit, since the key travel distance is now a bit shorter and some people may not like that. It’s fine for me and I intend to keep the clips on and I also like the softer typing experience. QMX Clips are specifically made for Cherry-style switch housings, so they will work with Zeal, although it was a huge effort to click them in place (never tried on Cherry - maybe that’s just how they normally fit). It helps if you first clip it on one side and wobble it a bit, then unclip and clip the other side and in the end push it down, so it clips on both sides. Also I was not able to fit the clips on the backspace, enter and shift key due to stabilizers not leaving enough space to fit the clip.
For the keycaps, I found two beautiful sets that contained all the keys I needed for a Slovenian layout - GMK Yugo and KAT Napoleonic. Obviously both are sold out, so no luck there. I went with an alternative and purchased a set of blank keycaps to which I planned to add a printed set of Slovenian symbols on the south side of the cap. A clear look from top, but still have the symbols on the south side of the keycap. In the end I dropped the idea since blanks looked so good and I would probably have a lot of trouble aligning the stickers anyway.
So I ended up with a very silent blank ISO keyboard, fully lubed and equipped with QMX clips. I don’t really like the color of the keycaps, they look a bit boring, but they will do fine until I find a set I like and that fits my needs.
Total price of all parts was ~200€ without shipping costs.