How to Remove Mechanical Keyboard Switches Without a Tool: Expert Tips and Techniques

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Learn efficient and effective methods for removing mechanical keyboard switches without a tool. Before beginning, ensure that your keyboard is hot-swappable, as these methods are specifically for hot-swappable keyboards. It’s crucial to power down and disconnect your keyboard before starting the process to avoid mishaps.

Understanding Keyboard Switches

Types of Mechanical Switches

There are various types of mechanical switches you can find in the market. Some of the popular brands are Cherry MX, Gateron, and Kailh. Each brand offers a range of different switch types. Typically, mechanical switches are categorized into three main types:

  1. Linear switch: These switches have a smooth and consistent keypress. As you press the key, there is no tactile bump or audible click. Examples include Cherry MX Red, Gateron Red, and Kailh Red.
  2. Tactile switch: With these switches, you will feel a tactile bump when the key reaches its actuation point. This feedback helps reduce typing errors and provides a satisfying typing experience. Examples include Cherry MX Brown, Gateron Brown, and Kailh Brown.
  3. Clicky switch: These switches are similar to tactile switches, but with an additional audible click on actuation. The sound can be satisfying for some users, while others may find it annoying. Examples include Cherry MX Blue, Gateron Blue, and Kailh Blue.

Structure of a Mechanical Keyboard Switch

Each mechanical switch consists of several components, including the base, the stem, the spring, and the housing. Let’s briefly describe their roles:

  • Base: The bottom part of the switch, which connects to the keyboard’s Printed Circuit Board (PCB).
  • Stem: The moving part of the switch, where the keycaps attach. The stem’s shape determines the switch’s characteristics (linear, tactile, or clicky).
  • Spring: This component provides resistance during the keypress and returns the key to its original position after it is released.
  • Housing: A plastic casing that holds all the switch parts together.

Understanding your keyboard switches‘ types and structures will help you when you attempt to remove them for cleaning or replacement without using a specialized tool. Make sure to follow the appropriate steps depending on whether your keyboard is hot-swappable or not.

Preparation for Removal

Identifying Hot-Swappable Keyboards

Before attempting to remove mechanical keyboard switches without a tool, it’s crucial to identify if your keyboard is hot-swappable. Hot-swappable keyboards enable users to easily change switches without soldering. You can check your keyboard’s manual or website to see if it’s hot-swappable. Another indication is the presence of sockets on the PCB (printed circuit board) instead of solder joints.

Take a closer look at your keyboard by carefully removing a single keycap using a keycap puller or a DIY alternative (e.g., a flattened paper clip). Be cautious not to damage the keycap or the surrounding keys. Once the keycap is removed, inspect the switch beneath it: if there are LEDs or RGB lights, ensure they won’t be damaged during the switch removal process.

Safety Precautions

Before proceeding, follow these safety precautions to avoid any harm or damage to your keyboard:

  1. Power off and disconnect the keyboard from your computer: This prevents any accidental input, and protects both the keyboard and your computer from potential damage.
  2. Work on a clean and well-lit surface: Ensure that your workspace is organized and bright enough to see small components clearly.
  3. Keep delicate components safe: Be mindful of any LEDs, RGB lights, or other sensitive parts while handling the switches.
  4. Avoid using excessive force: When removing keycaps and switches, use gentle pressure to prevent damage to the keyboard or personal injury.
  5. Organize your keycaps: If you need to remove multiple keycaps, consider organizing them in a specific order or taking a photo of the layout to help with reassembly later on.

Protecting Your Keyboard While Removing Switches

Avoiding Damage to the PCB

When removing mechanical keyboard switches without a tool, it’s important to avoid causing any damage to the printed circuit board (PCB). Make sure to clear your workspace of any debris, as it can get in the way and cause scratches or other damage. Also, be cautious about applying too much pressure or force when removing switches, as this can bend or break the PCB. Keep in mind that some keyboards may have hot-swappable switches, while others may require de-soldering before removal. Always research your specific keyboard model to ensure you’re following the correct procedure.

Before you begin, it’s a good idea to clean your keyboard to remove any dirt or dust. You can use a can of compressed air to gently blow away debris, or a soft brush to sweep away any loose particles. This will help minimize the risk of damage during the switch removal process.

Ensuring Keycaps are Unharmed

In order to protect the keycaps while removing switches, you’ll want to use proper keycap removal techniques. Although you might not have a keycap puller at your disposal, there are alternative methods to safely remove keycaps. One option is to use two credit cards or other thin, flexible items to gently wedge under opposite sides of the keycap, then lift upward with even pressure until the keycap is released.

Note: Be cautious when removing keycaps with stabilizers, such as the spacebar or enter key. Applying too much force can damage the stabilizers, so take extra care when removing these larger keycaps.

Using a Makeshift Switch Puller

If you don’t have a switch puller at hand, you can still remove mechanical keyboard switches effectively using items you probably have lying around at home. One popular method involves fashioning a makeshift switch puller from a small flathead screwdriver and a pair of pliers.

First, ensure that your keyboard is unplugged and placed on a flat surface. Gently insert the small flathead screwdriver beneath one side of the switch, being careful not to damage the surrounding keys or the switch itself. Apply light pressure to lift the switch slightly. Use the pliers to grip the raised side of the switch and slowly pull upwards while maintaining a firm grip. Repeat this process on the opposite side of the switch and carefully remove the switch from its socket.

Leveraging a Paper Clip

Another simple technique for removing keyboard switches without a tool involves using a paper clip. Here’s a step-by-step guide to using this method:

Prepare the paper clip. Straighten out one end of a regular-sized paper clip, and create a small hook by bending the straightened end at a 90-degree angle.

Locate the switch. Identify the mechanical keyboard switch you want to remove and ensure that the surrounding keys do not obstruct your access to the switch.

Engage the paper clip. Insert the hooked end of the paper clip under one side of the switch with the hook facing upwards. Be cautious not to apply too much force, as you may damage the switch or the keyboard.

Leverage the switch. Slowly and steadily apply upward pressure on the paper clip, leveraging the hook to lift the side of the switch. Once the side of the switch is raised enough, grip it with your fingers and gently pull it out.

Repeat the process. If needed, repeat this process on the other side of the same switch or proceed to remove any additional switches.

Keep in mind that these methods should be used with caution, as they have the potential to cause damage to the keyboard or its switches if not executed properly.

Replacing or Fixing Mechanical Keyboard Switches

Choosing Replacement Switches

You should have first decided on the type of replacement switches you want to use. Make sure you choose switches that are compatible with your keyboard.

Reattaching Switches

Since you followed this guide, your keyboard supported hot-swappable switches, and the process of replacing them is quite simple. Remove the keycaps from the affected switches and gently pull out the old switches from the sockets. Then, carefully insert the replacement switches into the appropriate sockets, making sure they are aligned correctly.

If your keyboard has plate mounted switches, then follow this guide here.

About the Author

Dan was initially only focused around gaming reviews and other content back in 2019ish on this platform. Since then he has decided to focus on the hardware and software side of things instead of just the games themselves. He has been focused on PC gaming and wants to give back to his community as much as possible.