The Stab Lab: A living stabilizer modification guide - by Quakemz
DISCLAIMER: The methods I show here are what work best for me. I've tried methods, as well, but this is the best result that I came up with, personally. Some of these methods or techniques might work better or worse for you. I always recommend trying as much as you can, so you can find what works best for you.
For a lot of starting enthusiasts, stabilizers are an afterthought; something that just needs to be there to stabilize larger keys, and nothing more. Well, they’re not necessarily wrong. However, bad stabilizers can really put a damper on an otherwise great keyboard. Have you ever wondered why your backspace feels particularly mushy? Or why your spacebar sounds like you’re shaking around a bag of coins every time you press it? This guide will help you to know what stabilizers you should be using and how you should be using them, to make your typing experience consistent, smooth, and appropriately quiet. Here I will primarily be referencing genuine Cherry-style stabilizers, which are generally the best option to use for MX format boards, in most circumstances. I will be using screw-in stabilizers manufactured by GMK, though this guide will work for any genuine Cherry-style stabilizer, regardless of mounting method.
Ideally, a stabilizer is like a good neighbor: so quiet you don’t even know it’s there, but always does exactly what it needs to. You want it to stabilize your necessary keys, but don’t want to feel any extra resistance from, or hear any noise from, the stabilizers. There are several mods that address these issues, as well as alter them in other ways. This is a guide aimed to improve your stabilizer experience to the best it can be. Here, we will cover common modifications like “clipping” and lubrication, while also going over slightly more advanced modifications, like the “band-aid mod”. This guide will be living, meaning it will be updated when good new modifications are discovered.
Starting off, we’ll talk about “clipping”, which is arguably the most common modification. This is a community term used for when the “unnecessary” legs of a genuine Cherry-style stabilizer are cut off, often using flush cutters, or similar. The theory behind this is to remove the legs that protrude downward, that soften the impact on the PCB. Though it can be argued, they’re not needed, and many community members feel that leaving them on makes them feel somewhat “mushy”, and not quite as clean of a press when you reach the bottom of the press. Removing them results in a much more natural linear feel, at the cost of adding a little more impact onto your PCB.
Using your flush cutters, clip off all of the aforementioned two legs, so that the bottom of the stabilizer insert is flush. This will remove the "mushy" feeling when fully pressed, and replace it with a more natural and consistent linear motion. Do note that plate-mounted stabilizers do not benefit from this modification, as they don't touch the PCB.
Next we’ll talk about lubing. The goal to this one is kind of obvious, but it’s two-fold: smoothness and silence. These two things are absolutely key for having stabilizers feel as if they’re not there, yet doing their job. As with switches, the type of lube, how much to use, and where you lube on the stabilizers, can be somewhat subjective. For this guide, I will talk about what works best for me, after quite a bit of testing. My default stabilizer lube is Super Lube. I like it because it works well for me, it’s easy to work with, and a 3oz tube for about $7 USD is about all you’ll need for your entire keyboard career.
Though there are multiple ways to apply lube, I stick with the good old-fashioned brush. Here, I'm using the 5/0 size of brush, which is my preferred size for lubing stabilizers. Some lubes might have applicators built into the tip of the container, which might work for you, and there are other options, such as small silicone applicators, which are rather new to the community. Regardless, the theory here is simple: apply lube where parts meet. Start by lubing the entire inside of the stabilizer housing, and don't be prissy about it. Unlike a switch, it's hard to over-lube stabilizers. After applying a generous coat to the inside, target the small plastic clip at the back of the housing, where the wire clips in. Again, if you don't think you're using enough lube, you're probably not. Once those parts are sufficiently lubed, we'll set our sights on the stabilizer insert.
The method continues to be simple here. Lube all 4 outer sides of the insert, with the exception of the cross-section that will eventually be inserted into a keycap. Don't be afraid to put a generous coat on this, too. (seeing a theme here?)
Anyways, once that's finished, it's time to move on to.....the hole. This is a very very very important part to lube, if you're trying to reduce or eliminate "rattle".
In this picture to the right, you see the back of the insert, which has two holes. The bottom hole (to the right) that goes through to the other side needs a good dose of lube. The reason this is so important is because this is where the wire will be inserted, and rattle is primarily caused by metal meeting plastic. With a generous coating of lube, that noise will cease to exist.
Now that this is done, you can assemble your lubed stabilizer and test it on a PCB/plate. It's a good habit to test your stabilizers before doing any kind of switch soldering, so that way you can make any adjustments to the stabilizers with ease.
In this modification, we're going to use fabric adhesive bandages to reduce the impact and noise from bottoming out the stabilizer. These are pretty widely available, and aren't terribly expensive. My local store had the name-brand models in a 100-pack for a little under $9 USD. I prefer a pack with a single uniform size. Here I am using 1" x 3", or 2.5cm x 7.6cm. For reference, a single bandage allows me to modify a total of 6 stabilized keys, so that's pretty good value, and shows how inexpensive this modification can be, if you build multiple boards. Like clipping and lubing, this modification is pretty simple and doesn't require a lot of time or money, so it's worth trying out, if you're able to.
Using a pair of scissors, cut the rounded ends off of each side of the bandage. Then cut out the entire soft middle section, the part that would be applied to a wound. Discard that middle piece and the rounded end pieces, as we won't need them.
You'll be left with the left and right sides of the bandage, the parts that have adhesive on them. Cut each one into thirds. If I did my basic math correctly, you'll have 6 adhesive strips, like shown in the picture above. Cut each of those in half horizontally, so you have 12 squares that look like this:
Now that we have our final squares, we can apply them to the PCB, as such:
As you can see, they're to be applied under where the stabilizer insert will hit the PCB, so place them between the holes on each side. You can take off the paper that protects the adhesive now, if you'd like them to stick to the PCB. I don't find this necessary, personally, so I leave it on. The pressure from the stabilizer mounted onto the PCB is more than enough to hold it in place during use, so that option is up to you. You also have another option here: lubing the fabric. Again, I don't do this, as I don't feel it's needed, but if you'd like, apply a thin layer of lube to the top of the fabric. Careful not to use too much on this spot, as it could result in a sludge-like sound or even make your stabilizer stick down, depending on the weight of your switches.
If you've done all of the modifications correctly, you'll now have a much smoother, more natural-feeling stabilizer, and the sound will be much cleaner and quieter, throughout the press.
Thank you for reading!