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The Secret Beginner’s Guide to Switch Lube

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Keyboard switch lubricants. If you thought people’s variation in opinions on switches was too wide to pin down a cohesive idea of what is good and what is bad, then you clearly have never tried asking people about their favorite lube for switches. Since the very beginning of modifying mechanical keyboard switches, everyone and anyone who has ever done this, even once, will have the most detailed, intricate, and sworn-too response as to what lubricant goes with what switch, why Brand A is better than Brand B, and so on. As someone who cares way too much about switches and has spent more than his fair share of time modifying them as well, I can with confidence say that 95% of these opinions, deep articles on comparing lubes, and all the niche cases people ascribe to them are actually useless. The vast majority of people wanting to read an article or watch a video about lubing switches likely haven’t spent enough time with them to develop a super informed opinion on them, and I think we as a community need to stop making it so damn hard on them out of the gate. So here is my super simple take on switch lubes for beginners.
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Figure 1: Example switch lubing setup. Credit to: https://drop.com/talk/54644/time-to-lube-up
First and foremost, I think it would be in my best interest to briefly establish explicitly what I am talking about here in terms of “switch lubing.” Switch lubing is an aftermarket modification made to switches in which the builder disassembles their switches and then paints/coats points of contact that cause friction within a switch when pressing it in order to reduce this friction and make them feel ‘smoother’. The act of lubing these points of contact – which typically are the sides of the stem and various parts of the inside of the bottom housing – fills in the tiny microscopic, jagged gaps in the plastics of the switch components and creates a thin layer over top which has less friction than the plastic, itself. Some of the single best keyboard switch science I’ve ever seen done actually details exactly where I am talking about applying lube in a switch, and was written up by Walker of Walker’s Keyboard Science here. While there are some lubricants such as Krytox XHT-BDZ which are only recommended for usage in modifying stabilizers (and not switches), the most common types of lube which a beginner would encounter in the hobby in 2023 are Krytox 105g0, 205g0, Tribosys 3203, and 3204. Functionally, there are not any substantial differences between these two brands and thus the only thing a beginner needs to know about are the numbers behind the brand names.
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Figure 2: While neat and very legitimate, still entirely too complex for beginners to switch lubing.
Broadly speaking, all of these various types of Krytox and Tribosys can be divided into two categories of lubricants based on their viscosity, or how thick they appear. For example, water is low in viscosity whereas something like maple syrup or peanut butter are high in viscosity. The lower the number is for most switch lubricants you’ll see on the market, the lower their viscosity. Krytox 105g0, for example, is often referred to as an “oil” and is much thinner looking than 205g0, which is commonly referred to as a “grease”. By extension, I’m sure you can put together that 3204 is thus slightly thicker than 3203 as well! While less common in this modern day and age, many years ago the keyboard scene had a much wider variety of lubricants it would use and so you may still encounter odd formulations such as Krytox 205g2, for example. Just know, again, that because it is higher in number than 205g0, it is thicker than 205g0. Armed with this knowledge, many people will then immediately jump to question which of these lubricants – oils or greases – serve the best purpose for whatever switches they have in mind for their upcoming build. And that is where I think new people run into most of their confusion. Some places will tell you using ‘Lube A’ for tactiles is the best, whereas someone you know might swear that ‘Lube B’ is actually better for a laundry list of contrived reasons. As a beginner, though, what you should really be most concerned with is how easy it is to apply a specific type of lube to a switch and how easy it is to fix mistakes. Broadly speaking: thinner lubricants (105g0 > 205g0 or 3202 > 3204) are easier for beginners to learn how to lube switches, are more forgiving of mistakes, and are all around a bit more easy to manage. If you think of lubing switches like painting a complex picture, thinner paints allow you to add to a picture more subtly and slowly, and afford you the opportunity to either continue adding to that spot if you want or choose to remove some instead. If you chose a thick, heavy red color and ended up not liking it, then you could actually entirely ruin a painting with just one wrong, heavy-handed stroke. While you can easily work up to that heavy red color with many iterations of thin red paint and patience, you can’t as easily walk back from a mistake with that heavy red paint. 
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Figure 3: Now this chart is much more my speed. The line to walk between ease of application and thickness. (Hint: You want to be at the star!)
Well, Goat, if what you are telling us here about lubricants is the truth, then why do companies even offer thicker lubricants at all? Aside from the fact that there are some very minor details that do make some lubricants more preferable in some applications over others (according to everyone’s unique preferences), thicker lubricants are easy for people who have experience to use. After having lubed tens of thousands of switches, myself, I have a pretty good handle on how much lube I am putting onto a stem at a time and exactly what degree of smoothness I’m going after. If you’ve never lubed a switch before, though, it would be unreasonable to expect that you have that same sort of understanding both in what you are physically doing and what exactly you are looking for in terms of a smooth switch. Like all things custom keyboard related, this is a sort of opinion and skill that you can only really develop with practice and experience. But until you get to that point, though, I would recommend sticking to thinner switch lubricants as a whole – it will give you more practice, save you money versus buying a half dozen different lubes, and will be the most forgiving.
Now with all of that knowledge, I’m sure you want to dive right into lubricating your own switches and getting your next build smooth as ever. But did you ever give some consideration as to what type of switch that you were going to use? Did you even have a brand or manufacturer of switch in mind to check out? If not, you should definitely consider checking out the other articles and guides on those which I’ve written here on Drop as well. I hope that you find the perfect switch for your next build! Separate Link to Walker's Lubing Guide: https://imgur.com/a/hijSYcp
(Edited)
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I doubt that keyboard enthusiasts are a significant contribution to the larger problem, but these are are all PFAS based lubricants. PFPE and PTFE are both in the PFAS family, and there is an increasing body of research that these chemicals present threats to both human and environmental health. It'd be interesting to see if there are worthwhile alternatives to the ones described in the article.
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