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Identifying Stabilizer Tuning Issues

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If you’re in this hobby long enough, you’ll eventually encounter a set of stabilizers (stabs) that, for reasons you can’t quite explain, will not stop rattling or ticking! Even if you followed all of the best practices we previously outlined, and memorized our stabilizer tuning guide, you may still run into a set of stabilizers that doesn’t seem to want to behave.  Today, we’re going to clarify the specific functionality of a stabilizer, and demystify what can cause stabilizer issues, split into the three main things that can cause them: the keycap, the switch, or the stabilizer, itself.  Bear in mind that while many of these things CAN cause an issue, not all of them are curable through traditional means, so stay with us as we walk you through what can cause stabilizer tuning issues!  If some of these don’t seem to be happening with your keyboard, or you’ve encountered SEVERAL ISSUES AT ONCE, we’ll cover that at the end as well. As always, if you have anything constructive to add to the discussion, want to share some strategies that worked for you, or have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment below! Stabilizer Function: A Quick Tutorial

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To understand why some of these things may cause an issue, it’s important to understand the basic premise of how a stabilizer behaves; if you already get this, feel free to skip to the next section below.  Regardless of being plate or PCB-mount, a modern stabilizer is made of five core parts: two housings, two stems, and a wire run between the two housings and being secured near the front via two clips, and inserted into both stems via the two legs at either end of the wire.  Costar stabilizers have a similar operating premise, and much of what’s discussed here can apply to those as well.
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This assembly is designed to prevent side-to-side movement and keep the switch moving up and down.  It does this by plugging in to the outside stems of the stabilized keycap via the stems.  As the cap moves up and down on the switch, the wire rotates up and down on the stab housings, and in doing so lifts up the legs of the wire along with the stabilizer stem.  This keeps either side of the stabilized cap from drooping below the other. Like on a car’s suspension, if something doesn’t line up correctly, you end up with strange movement, and parts interacting in ways they weren’t meant to… which leads us pretty comfortably into what can cause stabilizer issues! Issue #1: The Stabilizer

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This tends to be the most common issue with stab tuning: the stab, itself.  Like so many parts in this hobby, there are some that just don’t quite make the cut once you place them on your board.  Issues with stabilizers can include, but are not limited to:
  • Bent/warped wires
  • Tolerance issues
  • Over/under-lubing
For many of these, the end result will end up being ticking or rattling after several attempts at tuning as a result of the parts not articulating as they should.  In instances where tolerance or over-lubing is the issue, the stab may also make the switch feel extremely sluggish, or noticeably heavier than the other switches.
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Warped wires are tragically common, and are typically warped in one of two ways: a lateral bend, or a torsional bend. Lateral is relatively easy to spot: the wire will look as if it’s bowing when you look at it long-ways along a flat surface.  You can attempt to correct this using the steps in our stabilizer tuning guide we linked earlier: the gist is basically using gentle force on a sturdy table ledge to bend the wire in the opposite direction of the bend, but BE CAREFUL DOING THIS, and do so at your own risk!
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Then there’s torsional warping: this will make the wire, when set on a flat surface, seem as if one leg is elevated a bit more than the other.  This sort of bend can be extremely difficult to correct, and unless you just happen to have improvised tools with the precise dimensions of the wire in mind lying around, there’s not enough material to grip the wire to twist it back into shape.  Geon Works sells a wire twisting tool that will allow you to get enough leverage to fix this, but if you aren’t building a lot of boards this may be a bit much to spend… … so you also have the option to buy different wires!  Sites like Cannon Keys and Divinikey sell standalone wires at very reasonable prices, and can certainly be far less expensive and wasteful than buying an entirely different set of stabs.
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Loose tolerances, while less common, can be weird to diagnose.  These Glorious GSV2 stabs pictured above have all the hallmarks of a well-made set of stabs, until you hook the wire in to the stab housing: that’s when I saw the wire is too loose in these housing clips, making rattling that no amount of over-lubing can correct.  The best solution is to place tiny foam bits underneath the wires to help hold them in place, but this makes the stab feel overly sluggish and can increase the possibility of your wire popping out of the housing on cap removal… sadly, this forced me to just replace the stabilizers with something else that didn’t have this issue.
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Occasionally, some have such tight tolerances you have a hard time assembling them, or CAN’T use certain lubes at all.  Take the TX V3 Long Pole stabs pictured above: on the surface they look like any other stabilizer, and seem to be really well built… until you start to put them together and discover it takes TREMENDOUS force to install the wire in to the housing, and the SLIGHTEST bit of excessive lube will make the wire more sluggish than chilled molasses.  In situations like that, resetting the stab to dry and re-testing articulation can be very telling of where the problem lies: I originally used light XHT-BDZ on the wires, but after clearing that off and using VERY light 205g0, the sluggishness went away and the stabs became well-behaved again.
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Plate mount stabs, in particular, can have loose fitment of the housing in the plate, caused by differing manufacturing tolerances in plates and stab housings.  If this happens to you, 3M Medical Tape is your best friend: cut small tabs to place directly on the plate on the areas where the stabilizer rests on the plate to act as shims.  Re-apply the stab housings to test fitment: if either the noise is gone, or fitment is pleasantly firm, you’re good to go. If you still have rattling or excessive movement, apply a second layer and re-test.  Be careful not to go too far with this one since it can also cause problems with articulation!
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Even if there’s no tolerance issues otherwise, it’s still possible the stab is sluggish because it was just over-lubed.  It can take a LOT of lube for that to happen, or sometimes, like mentioned above, can happen with a very normal amount but is exacerbated by overly tight part tolerance.  An important thing to remember with stabs: LESS IS MORE! It’s always going to be easier to add more lube with something like a small syringe than it is to clean off parts and start over again. Issue #2: The Keycaps

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Now we’re getting into the more obscure issues that can be a bit more difficult to diagnose and correct.  Occasionally, despite manufacturer’s best efforts, your keycap set may arrive to you with certain issues that might not be readily apparent that can cause issues with stabilizer tuning.  These can include, but are not limited to:
  • Not installed correctly
  • Warped Keycaps
  • Misaligned/Malformed stem posts


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One of the most annoying, and common, issues you’ll encounter is a cap creating an issue due to not being installed correctly: hey, it happens, even to me!  I’ll be so busy admiring the board that I’ll forget to check to see that all the caps are level and installed correctly, or not realize there’s a fitment issue with the stem posts. Make sure you’re pressing down adequately across the entire surface of the keycap (just don’t be rough about it) to see that it’s properly secured and sitting straight on the switch and stabs.  If you notice there’s still an issue, another thing you can try is setting the cap centered on the switch, and pressing straight down on the center, but NOT on the sides.  I’ve encountered this on my Idobao ID80 Crystal when using OwlStabs, Holy Pandas, and GMK Blue Samurai: when fully inserting the stab stems, the Backspace sounds and feels terrible, but when I re-install the cap only pressing down on the center, not only does the Backspace feel great again, but all the ticking and rattling disappears.
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While a warped spacebar isn’t always the end of the world, it can be a sign of a bad time to come.  Warped keycaps will typically display as either a convex or concave bend in the cap when setting it on a known flat surface, but may also include torsional warping similar to a stab wire.  When this happens, it can occasionally result in the stem posts at either end of the cap being off-axis, though sometimes the warp is just the appearance of the bottom edge of the keycap, and the rest of the cap is actually fine.  If the stem posts at either end are off-axis, this can result in the stabilizer not articulating in the way it was intended to, resulting in ticking, rattling, or occasionally sluggish movement.  In VERY RARE instances, like with the pictured Alpherior Keys Oni spacebar, it can also cause your switch to just not rebound after pressing it down, staying stuck in a depressed state!  Regardless of whether or not you’re using ABS or PBT keycaps, you can technically use various techniques to try and re-straighten the keycap, usually involving a hair dryer/heat gun or some warm water, but YOU DO SO AT YOUR OWN RISK!
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Before condemning the keycap and trying to reach out to the vendor for a refund, try out not only a different keycap on the board you’re having issues with, but also try testing the cap on another known-good keyboard to see if you can reproduce the issue there.  If you can repeat the issue on a known-good board with known-good parts, you might try to get a hold of the vendor to see if they can help you out with a replacement set, though it’s worth noting if you went in on a group buy cap set, and you’re experiencing issues, correcting it might take a bit more time than is typical, and depending on the amount of extras available for the vendor, might not be possible.
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Occasionally, I’ve encountered an issue where the cap is otherwise fine, but the stem posts are problematic on their own.  Typically this results in the stem posts not properly gripping the stab stems, causing them to shift around in the cap when actuating the switch, or sometimes lifting off the stab stem, entirely.  If this happens, you can use a small piece of plastic/cling wrap on top of the stem to help shore up the tolerances without creating excessively tight fitment, which can lead to the keycap’s stem post cracking.  It’s also important to note poor fitment can be caused by some lube having gotten on the stab stems.
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Rarely, the stem posts can also be misaligned or off-axis: you can diagnose misalignment by looking at the stem posts on the bottom of the keycap and checking to see that they’re all parallel with one another.  This can result in ticking/rattling, or occasionally something like a scraping or grinding sensation.  If they’re obviously not aligned correctly, reach out to the vendor for the caps and see what can be done to replace your keycap set. Issue #3: The Switch

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This is a recent discovery I’ve made on several boards I’ve worked on, including a client build Mode Eighty using Mode Reflex Linears, GMK Midnight Rainbow, and KBDFans PCB-mount Stabilizers.  Turns out the stabilizer was fine, but the SWITCH was causing the issue!  This is usually the result of how the switch stem wobbles when it’s being depressed… Let’s unpack that a bit more.
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Most mechanical switches have a bit of what’s colloquially referred to as “stem wobble”.  This is lateral movement on the “Y” axis of the switch, or North and South movement, in opposition to the longitudinal movement you want on the “Z” axis when pressing the switch.  If the switch is built particularly poorly, you can also occasionally get “X” axis movement, or East and West movement.  When this excess movement happens, it can cause the stabilizer components to shift exactly enough that you end up with rattling, ticking, or occasionally grinding or hitching sensations, as was the case with some NK PCB-Mount stabilizers I once raged out over for a client build. Back to the issue with the Mode Eighty: when I suspected what was happening, I removed the plate/PCB assembly from the case, removed all adjacent caps EXCEPT for the offending spacebar, and looked under the keycap to see how the stems were articulating when I depressed it, as well as checking to see the cap was fitting properly on the switch.  Fitment was fine, but I observed that the stab stems were dramatically shifting their position due to how the stem of the Reflex linear moved when I depressed it.  This was due to the board requiring a North-facing switch for a 7U spacebar, which caused stem wobble in a North-facing direction.  This, combined with the orientation of the stabilizer, resulted in neverending rattle and ticking.  The fix: a Glorious Fox linear!
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I tried one of these because it shared the most similar overall construction and sound as the Reflex linears, with one crucial difference: these switches have relatively little stem wobble by comparison, which led to the spacebar articulating properly again, and eliminating the ticking.  In trying the Reflex switch on other boards, I got mixed results: some boards worked fine with it, others re-created the same issue.
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Occasionally, what sounds like strange stabilizer sounds can be the result of either over-lubing the switch stem, or a faulty/under-lubed switch spring.  It may SOUND like the stab is making the ticking sound, but things like “spring crunch” (typically from a poorly oiled/constructed spring) can mimic the sound of the stab misbehaving.  Try swapping the switch for a known-good switch, either from the same batch or from another known-good batch, and ideally of the same type (linear, tactile, etc), to see if the stab is still making the same noise.  Over-lubing can also create uneven Z-axis movement (up and down), which can also lead to stabilizer tuning issues.  This happened to me directly with a set of Gateron Oil Kings, which happened to have very uneven, and occasionally quite heavy, factory lube.  Moving to a switch that was more evenly lubed corrected the issue.  If spring crunch is creating the issue, try re-oiling/lubing the spring, or if there are any extras, swapping that one out for a different spring; I have recently needed to do this several times with a set of 53g Three-stage Wuque springs.
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Rarely, the leaf spring on the inside of the switch can be the cause of the ticking.  You can try applying a bit more lube to the stem legs to see if this will cure the issue, as well as lubing the rear face of the leaf spring… but if neither of those cures the issue, you may either need to try a different switch in your batch, or reach out to the vendor to explain the issue and see if they can help you out with an exchange, or at least confirm if it’s a known issue that’s being worked on… which sort of leads us to the awkward conclusion of this article… What Did I Just Read!?

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So if you’re feeling a bit lost still… same. The fact is, there are so many different manufacturing tolerance and QC standards out there, and so many different parts to use on your keyboards, that it’s sort of impossible to get everything aligning correctly every single time.  Sometimes it’s a matter of needing to replace a certain part, or saving them for another build.  There have been stabilizers that I previously wrote off as being defective, only to clean them off and re-try them in another board and find out it was something else causing the issue… but then if that other part is still being used, was it really a “defective” part in the first place, or did this particular stabilizer just not “play nicely” with that specific combo of switch and keycap?  Perhaps I just sucked at tuning them that day, or I didn’t double check to make sure I had them installed correctly.  Maybe it could have even been something like not having the keycap installed correctly, which can ALSO lead to stabilizer tuning issues, because of course that would create a problem. In the end, it can be a combination of all of these things that can lead to issues tuning your stabilizers.  The important thing to take away from all of this is there may be multiple troubleshooting steps you need to take to identify what, exactly, is causing your issue… and sometimes there may not be a cure without the use of a different part, which is not a luxury everyone has or can afford.  I have to acknowledge my privilege here in that I have many parts in-house, and several parts that have been generously supplied by the many vendors I’ve had the pleasure of either working with, or shopping with, in the past, so I’ve been able to competently experiment with different diagnosing and troubleshooting steps.  Based on what I’ve observed so far, with so many of these issues being interconnected with one another to varying degrees, stab tuning issues are a thing that won’t be going away any time soon… but now that you’ve gotten to the end, you should at least be better prepared to identify what’s causing your problem, fix the issues you have control over, and be able to provide more informed feedback to a vendor if/when you have an issue you can’t fix yourself! As always, if you have any questions, or anything constructive to add to the discussion, comment below, and thanks for reading!
(Edited)
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This is such a comprehensive, well-crafted guide! Thank you for taking the time to make this, and for the excellent visual aids!
storyboardtechYou're so welcome, glad you liked it!
Excellent guide! This would have been super helpful to me when I was getting started. Re: cap fitment - I've had some success with cling wrap as mentioned above, but on a rare occasion I've actually had it damage cap stems, likely because I used a little too much on an especially loose one. 1 or 2 layers should generally be safe - but I've since found another material that is a lot more forgiving: PTFE tape (like usually comes with shower-heads). It's a lot like cling wrap in terms of consistency and how one applies it - but it's even softer, so if you use a little too much like I did, it will just mush out of the way instead of cracking your cap stems. Any tape of this style will do, but ThockPop sells some that's pre-cut to a convenient width for this purpose.
DeadeyeDaveGood shout on the PTFE tape! Thanks for the kind words on the article, glad you liked it!
Thank you so much for reading! If you have anything constructive to add to the discussion, or have any questions about what you read, as always please leave us a comment! This article was the culmination of all my building and tuning experience so far. I still have a lot to learn, but I plan on bringing you all along for the ride so we learn together!
Wow, Really good guide! I never used the M3 tape for loose plate-mount stabs. I always just used fabric bandaids with varying results lol. nice guide!
Andy_WhoThank you so much for reading, glad you liked it! Realistically you can use any interface material you have on-hand, so strips of bandage are also viable! I like 3M medical tape because it's thin enough to be a "stackable" interface: if it's too thin I can add another strip, or back track if it becomes a bit too thick and causes other issues.
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