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If I Had to Start Frankenswitching

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Admittedly, I’ve not covered much in the way of ‘frankenswitches’ either here on Drop or over on my own website where I do full length switch reviews. While part of this is because there’s already way too much variety in factory-made switches out there that I still need to cover, a much larger part of this is due to the fact that the number of frankenswitches is borderline endless at this point. Frankenswitching, for those of you who don’t know, is the act of mixing and matching parts between various types of switches in order to provide a unique combination of aesthetics, performance, or a bit of both that you simply couldn’t get elsewhere in a stock switch. Combine this idea with the fact that there are well over a thousand different MX-style switches which in theory have interchangeable parts, and you can see why I refer to this list as practically endless.
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Figure 1: Not quite the monster movie that goes with 'frankenswitch', but ol' Dracula and his frankenswitches just fit the vibe too well to be left out of this article. Image credit to @o2_designs Even though I haven’t quite had a chance to cover frankenswitches much in writing, many people still like to ask me if I care about them, collect them, or even make them for my own keyboards. As to the first two questions, the answer is most certainly yes, though only ones of historical value and community-wide interest. Switches such as Holy Pandas, Ergo Clears, Gatistotles, Zykos, etc. are all inarguably important frankenswitches that have had an impact on the modern keyboard hobby and should absolutely be tried by any and all people who build a custom keyboard. Regarding the latter question, though, I don’t frankenswitch nearly as much as I used to back when I first joined the hobby. However, in the interest of providing a starting point for new people to look into making their own frankenswitches, here’s some components I would start out exploring, given all my switch knowledge that I have now, that might lead to some interesting results with enough messing around… Top Housings
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Figure 2: Gateron KS3-X1 'Milky' Yellow and Cherry MX Black
While there are plenty of different materials, nameplates, and color schemes which have cropped up over the span of the past few years which may form the start to a peculiar frankenswitch, my brain immediately jumped to two old school classics for top housings: Cherry MX and Gateron KS3-X1 Milky switches. Aside from the fact that the switches which both of these components come from are on the cheaper side of modern switch offerings, these both have historically been lauded for the deep, rich tones they provide to housing collisions as well as how they tend to dampen other internal switch sounds. Cherry MX top housings, in particular, have what seems to be an increased mechanical thickness in addition to their nearly entirely nylon construction which does a lot to deepen out the sound of any switch they’re included in. While Gateron milky top housings also have these sound morphing properties to a similar degree, they also gain the added benefit of being budget friendly, slightly more RGB friendly than opaque housings, and some of the most commonly used frankenswitch top housings of all time. Stems
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Figure 3: Gateron Aliaz and Akko Crystal Silver
In this day and age, the ability to buy stems entirely separate from switches and any other switch components has quite drastically modified the frankenswitching game as a whole. Whether it’s a bag of random stems from Aliexpress or the latest run of UHMWPE stems from whatever vendor is running them this month, simply swapping a stem of a new material into your already favorite switch would be a potentially unique option in and of itself. However, I’m much more interested in choosing parts from existing stock switches which could radically alter performances when placed in a different setting. Super long pole stems, in particular, have been popular over the last few years because of their ability to greatly reduce travel distance as well as provide a more firm, pointed bottoming out. As a result of this trend, I would immediately try out Akko Crystal Silver stems in any frankenswitch focused around a long pole stem, as these are stupidly long at 14.02 mm in length and also fairly cheap on the budget as well. By comparison most stems are under 13.00 mm in total length, meaning a stem that is over a millimeter longer could possibly lead to a frankenswitch with a greatly shortened distance to bottom out. If I had to pick a tactile stem to start with that was also budget friendly, I may show my age a bit here by suggesting Gateron Aliaz switches. Due to the unique, low-set tactile bump placement in the stems of Aliaz switches, which has really yet to be replicated in recent years, these stems can provide some uniquely different tactile bumps when paired up with leaves of tactile switches from various manufacturers other than Gateron. Springs
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Figure 4: Novelkeys Cream Arc and Kailh Christmas Tree
Springs are most certainly the hardest of any frankenswitch component for me to try and make a decision about. A good part of this is because there is very little hard science in existence comparing various types of springs out there, and instead the community at large is left with mostly anecdotes about spring performance. While many people here would immediately jump to recommending two, three, or seventy-four stage springs in whatever frankenswitch you’ve got brewing in your mind, I would be much more inclined to suggest the polar, conical springs of switches like QwertyQop Quartz, Kailh Santa Hat, or Novelkeys Cream Arc switches. Since these springs are not uniform across the length of their design, they can produce not just one but two entirely different progressive switch feelings depending on how you orient them within the frankenswitch that you are building. Even though the switches that these polar conical springs reside in may not exactly be the most cost effective for frankenswitch building, there’s very few chances you’ll ever get elsewhere for two-in-one functionality in switch components! Bottom Housings
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Figure 5: Kailh Midnight Pro Grey and Light Yellow
It is certainly kind of tempting to round out this list by simply pointing to the two choices I had in the top housing section above for bottom housings, as the points made up there also stand down here as well. If I had to choose something distinctive in design, something like Kailh’s Midnight Pro bottom housings would be interesting to explore (if you are building a frankenswitch with winglatch style top housings) as their built-in dampening pads could produce a unique bottom out dampening with a stem that was never designed to be in a silent switch in the first place. Beyond this selection though, my basic recommendation would be to try constructing linear frankenswitches with tactile switch bottom housings and vice versa. Given that the leaves in tactile and linear switches are bent ever so differently in order to interact with their respective stems, trying out cross-type combinations of stems and leaves can lead to an entirely different, and sometimes unexpected actuation point and/or tactile bump that is well worth the effort in exploration.
After having officially narrowed down the effectively infinite list of frankenswitches out there to a few dozen potential combinations for you to start out with, I now officially push the onus on you to go out and explore. While it’s not likely that you’ll stumble across the next community-altering combination in switch components, there’s a very realistic chance you’ll come across a patchwork style switch which is not only unique to you and your tastes, but just may be your true endgame switch. However, if you’re still a bit interested in learning more about switches prior to dropping some money on frankenswitch components, consider checking out my other switch articles here on Drop such as ‘The Who’s Who of Switch Manufacturers’ or ‘Switch Marketing Terms: What to Know and What to Ignore’.
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o2_designs
27
Aug 25, 2023
In my ventures into franken some switches, my favorite find is putting a Boba LT stem into a C3Equalz Kiwi housing and kiwi spring. Very interesting sound and feel to type on. I’ve been calling them Donatello’s due to their ninja turtle appearance. thanks for the shout out for the Nosferatu image!! Good ole Dracula switches are amazing to use as well.
I finally broke down and made a set of Cthulhus recently. It was quite the investment of time, effort, and money for what was ultimately a single set of switches. However, I can honestly say that it was worth it. My particular flavor uses Gateron Milky tops, Gateron Oil King bottoms (made of ink material), KNC “Average Joe” stems, Geon 22mm 65g springs (I think these were multistage, but I can’t remember off the top of my head), and a treatment of good old Krytox 205g0. I’ve included some thoughts about the individual components below. Regarding the housings: I was surprised at just how nice these two components played with one another. They fit together like two pieces of a puzzle. I would imagine this isn’t always the case, even when both halves of the housing are manufactured by the same company. No films necessary, in my opinion. It may also be worth noting that the leftover parts aren’t worthless for either of these switches. The nylon bottoms of the Milky switches can be used for Black Cherry Pie frankenswitches. I’ll probably find a use for the Oil King springs as well... in hindsight I probably could’ve used them for the Cthulhus, but I’d already ordered the Geon ones. The tops of the Oil Kings are nylon, so they may eventually be useful as well. Regarding the stems: I know Kailh Blacks are a budget-friendly and popular option for many Cthulhu makers, but I really liked the KNC Average Joes. They’re a bit pricey, but I found them to be super uniform in quality, and they’re polished for that extra bit o’ smoothness! Plus I kind of appreciated that I wasn’t left with spare Kailh parts that I probably wouldn’t have used. Regarding the springs: I really enjoy the snappy return offered by slow/long springs (which to me means 18mm or greater). I don’t think that it’s important to get multi-stage ones like I did. I question how well these switches would work with really light springs (<50g), but I’m not going to knock something I haven’t tried for myself. Lube: I think Tribosys 3204 would’ve worked well for the Cthulhus, but I wanted to get ‘em as smooth as possible, so I went with Krytox 205g0. Whichever lube you choose, just make sure you don’t overlube them, since there’s more investment at stake here compared to a typical set of “off the shelf” switches. tl;dr: If you’re looking for a great linear frankenswitch to get you started, I highly recommend making yourself a set of Cthulhus!
ThatPotatoGuy
4
Jan 24, 2024
jrobinsHey, I'm thinking of putting milky yellow tops on gateron oil kings without changing anything else. Do you think it would be worth the effort? Would it make a noticable difference (in my case I'm hoping to achieve a deeper/ more muted sound)
ThatPotatoGuySorry for the slow reply @ThatPotatoGuy . I would imagine the main difference you’d see (er… hear) is a deeper sound on the upstroke/return. If you’re looking for a muted sound signature, you could try adding some foam… that usually seems to help achieve a more muted sound. Let us know how it turns out!
As a heads up to anyone thinking of trying Frankenswitching things with Everglide Aqua King bottom housings: the leaves are far too weak to handle tactile stems. Tried swapping a Crystal Violet stem into one of my AK housings, and it immediately warped the leaf to the point of not being usable. Then again my experience with AK's has been trash (I was part of R1 with the jacked up top housing fitment with the stems, some of my switches wouldn't even rebound after pressed when bone dry), so take my tale with a grain of salt. Great article!
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Artidek
2
May 5, 2023
Ive tried milky yellow and cherry housings. Cherry top and milky bottom is pretty nice and works well but depending on the switch, milky tops and cherry bottoms may have some closing issues. They will close its just that the legs may stick out a bit which may result in it being kinda hard to put in and may even break the legs.
EnKeyDu
2
May 5, 2023
Thanks for the fun read! I've tried to do a little frankenswitching before, but never anything crazy. Now this gives me ideas with what I do have try out different combos.
Skrynat
33
May 4, 2023
What about invyr holy pandas, zealios and bobas?
Brimmy
2
May 4, 2023
i heard about Frankenswitching from Keybored when he posted a video saying he made the quietest keyboard one of these days i'll have the money to put together my own quiet keyboard :3
BrimmyI recommend trying out Haimu Heartbeats if you're looking for a solid silent switch to experiment with 👌
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