Figure 1: Cookie Dough Switches featuring dust-proof stems.
If you think that keeping your mind firmly wrapped around all the switch options out there gets any easier the more switches that you collect and try out, I hate to inform you that the reality is the exact opposite of that. Yes, even after having seen, tested, and hoarded thousands of switches I still struggle to try and remember which fruit this switch is named after, or who the manufacturer was for that one. Google-translated Chinese names for switches only sold by way of AliExpress or TaoBao only further bury me in more confusion on these points, as well. However, for all the blank spots, confusing names, and weird associations between switches and various keyboard related terms in my head, there is one singular pair of terms that I would bet a lot of money on that I can keep straight: ‘Dustproof’ vs. ‘Box’ switches. Even after all the articles I’ve written about switches, there still seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding which switches should actually be called ‘Dustproof’ switches and which ones should be called ‘Box’ switches. So, let’s go ahead and set the record straight once and for all:
"Dustproof” style stems are by far the easier of these two terms to discern as they only deal with the shape of the stem that sticks out from the top of the switch. The phrase ‘dustproof’ refers to any stems which have a series of partial or complete walls surrounding the keycap stem mounting point. Originally marketed as a design improvement to minimize the amount of dust that would build up in switches over several years of repeated use, the phrase has more or less become accepted as being purely aesthetic based rather than actually functional. As a result of being popularized by brands such as Kailh and TTC, who have in recent years incorporated such into the designs of a large portion of their premium mechanical keyboard switch profiles, many people would be shocked to learn that the concept of dustproof style stems is significantly older than either of these brands. In fact, some of the earliest known modern mechanical keyboard switches to feature dustproof style stems came in the form of countless blue, clicky switches with unknown nameplates, brands, and manufacturers they came from. Beyond this physical appearance criteria, though, there’s really no other qualifying features which make a switch dustproof. If there’s walls or barriers around the keycap mounting point, that’s all it takes!
Figure 2: In fact these are all dustproof switches!
Well now hold on a minute, Goat, I thought you said everything in that photo above was a dustproof switch, yet you included quite a few Kailh ‘Box’ switches such as Kailh Box Jades and Pink Unicorns. I thought that stems which had walls that fully encircled the keycap stem mounting point were Box switches whereas ones with only partial walls were Dustproof. Well, that’s where you were unfortunately misled by some poor communication by Kailh, the manufacturer who developed the internal ‘Box’ mechanism. Due either to language barriers with western audiences or poor clarification of their naming scheme attempt, ‘Box’ switches are called such because of their unique, box-like internal mechanism of actuation and not their stems. As can be seen below, rather than having a full set of leaves which point out of the bottom housing of the switch and stretch all the way into the space underneath the top housings, Kailh box leaves are compressed and sealed away in a small corner of their bottom housings. With a small black or green lever protruding out of this box to collide with the stem when being pressed in, the stems in these switches interact indirectly with the leaves and thus have an extra special shape just to function with this design. The fact that the walls around the keycap mounting point on top just so happen to box in the stem is, for all intents and purposes, a coincidence related to their name. In fact, I’ll repeat it again just to make sure it’s clear: there is no relation between the ‘Box’ name in switches and the shape of the stem!
Figure 3: Kailh Box internal mechanism as seen in Kailh Box Speed Ultimate switches.
Unfortunately, this confusing mix-up of ‘Box’ and ‘Dustproof’ style switch names isn’t a problem that is going to get any better any time soon, either. Recently released Gateron Black and Pink switches featuring dustproof style stems have been marketed as being “Box Blacks” or “Box Pinks” by Gateron even though they feature no internal mechanism similar to that of the original Box switch mechanism. Furthermore, Kailh refuses to clear things up by referring to their ‘Box’ switches as ‘Dustproof Box’ switches as they feature both dustproof style stems and an internal box actuation mechanism. Not only does this cause problems from an utterly pedantic (yet incredibly important to me) naming convention stance but imagine if someone buys some ‘Box’ switches thinking that they could easily frankenswitch them since it’s only the shape of the stem that is being called such. If they happened to buy Gateron’s latest “Box Blacks”, they’d be perfectly fine, but if they bought something like Kailh’s Box Jades they would be absolutely screwed. In the picture above you can see just how different the stem shape is for Box switches, and especially so for the part that doesn’t even stick out of the switch. Well at least now I can rest assured that you won’t make this mistake!
While this short notice of an article may seem a bit obvious to those of you reading it who were already aware of this difference, you’d be shocked at how many people who have been around for some time don’t realize this. You know what else people confuse all the time? The subtle differences between all the linear switches out there today. If you don’t want to fall victim to that confusion either, check out my article on ‘Just How Different Similar Linears Are’.