Another Myth About Box Switches

Another Myth About Box Switches

After having actively collected switches for almost 6 years now, one thing that I can say for certain is that I’ve witnessed a lot of myths and incorrect sentiments about switches get passed around the community over the years While claims of ‘all linear switches being the same’ and ‘X is just a recolor of Y’ are up there towards the top of that myths list, likely the single most repeated claim I’ve heard over the years is that ‘Kailh Box switches are known to crack keycap stems’. Unlike the other two claims being looped around the community endlessly, this claim which often comes in the form of a cautionary warning about using Kailh Box switches doesn’t seem all that unbelievable. At first glance, it’s evident that the stems of Kailh Box switches are noticeably different than the traditional MX-style mounts which have become the de-facto standard for the community, and it was even more apparent when the “Box style” stem was introduced all those years ago. However, if you ever actually probe deeper into the origins of this claim, you’ll find out that it isn’t all quite what it seems. Trust me, I was there and had just started collecting switches when all of this went down. So, perhaps to try and put one more switch myth to rest once and for all, let’s go ahead and take a trip back to the origin of all of these stem cracking fears. 

Figure 1: Yes officer, those switches right there.

It is somewhere around the early middle of 2018, and the mechanical keyboard switch scene is radically different than it is today. Brands like Durock/JWK, Tecsee, and KTT don’t even remotely exist yet and the debut of Novelias – one of the very first custom colored, limited release switches that kicked off the modern day switch market – has just been announced by Novelkeys. However, alongside the excitement that everyone had for these pink-colored Box tactiles, there was a growing sentiment of dissatisfaction and fear surrounding Box switches. Between May and July of 2018, a not insignificant number of posts were made to the r/mechanicalkeyboards subreddit showing pictures of the stems of keycaps which had been cracked, chipped, or altogether broken after the unfortunate owner had attempted to put their new GMK keycaps on them. In response to this growing fear, and not wanting to potentially ruin the reputation of their newest set of branded releases in the Novelkeys x Kailh Box Dark Yellow, Pale Blue, and Burnt Orange switches, Mike from Novelkeys went out and measured some of the Kailh switches in his warehouse to find that they were, in fact, slightly larger than what was expected for switches at that time. Wanting to make things right, Mike then reached out to Kailh about this issue, reached an agreement with them to get the tolerances for the stems of Box-style switches reduced by a small amount, and then posted an update on Reddit on July 30th, 2018, discussing his findings and these changes. With a follow up response by Kailh on Reddit the next day, the problem was all but entirely fixed – moving forward Box switches would have adjusted tolerances and Mike/Novelkeys, who were the largest sellers of Box switches at that time, would prevent any of the “too big” batches from going out to customers. That’s it. That is the entirety of the story.

Figure 2: Novelkeys x Kailh Box Dark Yellow, Pale Blue, and Burnt Orange switches.

In the months and subsequent years that followed this update by Mike and the adjustment in tolerances by Kailh, there has yet to be a single repeated issue with keycap cracking and Kailh switches to date. That’s right – this one small, few month blip on the radar of switch issues still echoes and reverberates around the community all these years later. To this day, Kailh still has a slightly bad reputation surrounding their Box-style switches because of a few batches of switches made in early 2018. The next large Box-style switch to be released following these changes in Novelias notably went off without a hitch and also helped spur on the explosion of custom colored, fancily decorated switch offerings alongside other pioneers like Gateron Linjars and Gateron Tangerine V1s. In fact, since this explosion of offerings has started, the community has not seen any real, large scale issue with batches of switches cracking keycap stems at all. Occasionally fears will pop up surrounding certain styles of switches potentially having the same destructive effects on keycaps – like with the recent Cherry MX Ergo Clear and MX Purple switches debuted in 2023 and 2024 – though none of these sporadic flare ups in the rumor mill have ever amounted to anything more than a few isolated incidents of this happening with a few unlucky people. This has also continued to remain true even as more and more switch manufacturers have cropped up over the course of the last couple of years.

In an attempt to further bury the fears of keycap stems cracked when being mounted on Kailh Box switches, or really any new switches from up and coming manufacturers, I’ve been working on a database that holds measurements of the widths of each of the keycap stem mounting posts across a wide range of switch manufacturers and types. As of the time of writing this article, I’ve measured over 400 different switches from 19 different known manufacturers and found only 5 total switches which could potentially, maybe cause a keycap stem being mounted on them to crack as a result of being larger than Cherry’s keycap and stem mount specifications – and none of those switches were particularly popular nor groundbreaking at the time of their release. Does this necessarily mean that your keycap stems are safe across all switches in all instances and that you can come hunt me down in the event that you do have a cracked keycap stem from a modern switch? No, as it is a risk that always does exist. However, to think that Kailh, or really any newer brand of switches poses an obvious, known, and measurable risk to your favorite set of keycaps in 2024 is, by the numbers, a bit absurd to me.

Figure 3: Just one example of the dozen or so plots of all those keycap mounting stem measurement data that I've collected…

 If you feel strongly enough in your convictions against Kailh’s Box switches to disagree with me on this one, I will highly encourage you to go read the original Reddit thread updates from Mike of Novelkeys and Kailh as well as view my ‘Artisan Addendum’ Excel sheet where I am tracking the measurements mentioned above. It’s not always easy overcoming preconceived notions about switches, and especially ones that have been parroted to you by others in the community for quite some time. If you’re on the other side of that coin, though, and want to continue knocking out switch misinformation in your head, consider checking out my article on ‘Dustproof, Boxes, and Confusing Naming Conventions.’ (Hint: It’s even more things you’ve gotten mistaken about Box switches!)


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