Lubing Switches Is (A Bit) Overrated

Lubing Switches Is (A Bit) Overrated

Lubing switches is without a doubt one of the most polarizing tasks that come with building a keyboard. To some it’s a daunting task driven out of pathological fear of scratchy switches drilled into them by content creators and to others it’s the most enjoyable, relaxing task that is born out of necessity from the old days when switches weren’t factory lubed well. While I personally like this task quite a bit, I have to be fair in pointing out that I’m not entirely sure that it is now as necessary as it once was back in the day. Switches, as well as our opinions of them, have grown in number and complexity over the last handful of years, and pretending to be like the guides from a half decade ago necessarily ring true today would probably not be the most honest claim that we could make. However, I do recognize that very few newcomers will hardly get a balanced take on this topic, with the vast majority of creators making the switch lubing process sound like an absolute necessity. In place of that, I don’t intend to provide a balanced take on to lube or to not lube switches, either. Instead, I want to point to the fact that you probably don’t have to lube switches quite to the same degree as most other content creators tell you that you have to. As well, if you do lube switches, you might even be missing out on some of the finer aspects of their individual performance and unique design quirks!


Figure 1: It seems as if the vast majority of new builders will even buy this even before their first boards arrive!


Before I really dig into why switch lube is just a bit overrated, it probably would help to start with laying out the fundamentals. Switch lube is a greasy or oily substance that can be applied to various internal components of a switch to reduce part-on-part friction that occurs when pressing in a switch. If applied correctly to specific parts of the stems and bottom housings, this can cause that jagged feeling from friction that occurs in some switches known as ‘scratch’ to be altogether eliminated, leaving you with a smooth, effortlessly gliding switch. However, if you over do it with the lubrication – as quite a few people do – this friction-reducing coating can make all switches feel more or less the same as one another. A heavily lubed linear switch, for example, will almost always have its feeling primarily driven by the lube that the user put on it and if they were to repeat this across two entirely different linear switches, they would almost feel exactly the same. Sure, you could avoid this by reading my guide ‘A Few Switch Lubing Tips’, but even if you do it well the first time around you’re missing out on quite a bit of nuance, character, and interesting feelings from your switches. Or to put it more bluntly, you’re missing out on what makes mechanical switches truly feel unique. So instead of going out and just blindly lubing up the insides of whatever switch that it is you’re buying, consider that you likely are buying switches that come in quite a variety of feelings and styles that each have specific characteristics of their own. For example, you could buy your switches in their stock form as…



Figure 2: Some of the most notoriously 'scratchy' dry switches in Novelkeys Creams, Arc Creams, and Cream Tactiles.


Look, I get it if these are the types of switches that make you instantly reach for the lube and applicator brush as they come from the factory without any lubrication applied whatsoever. Unless you’re a bit odd like me, most people will initially recoil at the feeling of dry POM-on-POM contact points like in Novelkeys Cream switches, or even the deeper, leathery scratch of stock Cherry MX Red switches. However, before you start cracking open switches to lube them, stop to consider that what is making you select for these specific switches is likely these specific materials themselves. Sure, you could go ahead and lube over all of them until they basically feel the same as each other, but doesn’t that defeat the purpose of buying switches with nylon housings or POM-based ones instead? While adding a little bit certainly won’t hurt anything, the amount of people I’ve seen over lube dry switches to the point that it altogether removes their special unique traits and even dampens the tactility in some tactiles is a bit painful to see. Instead of appreciating switches for what they are, or even trying the good, old fashioned method of breaking of them by brute force themselves, people often instead just choose to blindly twist them into their end goal. So while you definitely can (and most people certainly will) lube these switches, consider that you lose out on the feelings of the special materials and manufacturing used in making those specific switches when you do so!


Lightly Lubed

These are usually the sweet spot of switches for the vast majority of the community as they arrive from the factory with the thinnest amount of lube on them necessary to cut down on scratch while still leaving some of the raw character of the switches behind. Most manufacturers that are worth their reputation get around a lot of the basic manufacturing issues that show up in dry and scratchy switches through this method, though they hardly market the fact that this still leaves room for switches to feel different from one another. It’s in this lightly lubed zone that linears made of nylon or polycarbonate can separate themselves from one another, and the snappiness of tactiles made by companies like Gateron or Kailh can differentiate themselves from KTT or Tecsee instead. Further stressing just how much of a sweet spot that lightly lubed switches are, they also allow users who are adamant about their switch modification process to simply add over top of the as received lube without having to completely clean out their switches first. The fact that switches can come from the factory lubed lightly enough to not ruin their unique and defining features while also not requiring extra effort from most users often makes this option the most effortless and sometimes cheapest way to enjoy switches.


Heavily Lubed

Figure 3: This switch, as an example, had so much lube applied to it that it globbed up in between the spring and bottom housing!


In my opinion, the most boring (though often most consistently performing) switches are those that are absolutely filled with lube from the factory. If you’re buying any of these switches shown above, not only are you likely paying a premium for it, but you absolutely will also not need to spend the time and effort to go through lubing your switches. In fact if you do so, then you’re almost certainly paying too much for your switches. These switches almost never have any issues with scratch in their stock form, are usable directly out of the box, and require almost no effort from their users. While factory lube that is this heavy does lose a bit of the separating factors that make lightly lubed and even dry switches really feel like distinctive entities from one another, many users could benefit from just buying switches like this that are consistent in their feeling instead of attempting to beat the replicability of a factory lubing machine.


While I’m sure Dangkeebs is super happy about me pushing back a bit against their switch lube sales here in this article, this was all most done to be a counter to what you hear from seemingly every other content creator out there. While switch lubing is a perfectly fine practice to enjoy in the hobby, it is definitely not a necessity for all switches out there, and could even be taking away from what makes your favorite switches truly special. Sometimes, enjoying the switches for what they have to offer and appreciating their nuances – both good and bad – makes for a much more special, personalized, and unique feeling keyboard build. As well, cutting back on your lubing practices has the added benefit of saving you all that more money to buy yourself even more switches too!

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