Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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NU Mechanical Keyboard Club looks to build custom boards, community on campus

Illustration by Beatrice Villaflor
There’s a new club on campus — NU Mechanical Keyboard Club, or “NU Mech Keebs” to its members.

Stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, Weinberg sophomore Jovy Zhou stumbled upon a video of a mechanical keyboard. Four years and five custom-built keyboards later, Zhou founded NU Mechanical Keyboard Club with McCormick freshman Toby Zheng.

Zhou, the club’s president, compared keyboards to a computer and its many parts. Underneath each key, a switch creates a unique sound when a user types — where the term “mechanical” originates, Zhou said.

“My first keyboard, it took me like four hours to (lubricate) all the switches,” Zhou said. “Assembly-wise, putting everything else together, It’s more intuitive after you do a lot, so I’d say I’ve gotten a lot faster.”

A printed circuit board assembly ties the board’s parts together beneath a plate that houses the switches. Keycaps cover each key and can be found in various designs, typically with alphanumeric symbols.

Unlike other computer hardware, like a mouse or a pair of headphones, Zheng said keyboards present greater customization opportunities.

“You have way more of an opportunity to customize and do whatever you want, build it to your liking from the ground up,” Zheng said. “Other stuff you kind of just have to buy, you can’t really make it for yourself.”

Zheng said the hobby is quite expensive, so he built keyboards for others as a way to fund his own in high school. He consulted others on their boards’ layouts and helped with material selection.

The consumer covered the cost of materials, and Zheng charged at least $100 for board construction.

“It’s a really cool hobby for you to be able to customize (a keyboard) yourself,” Zheng, the club’s vice president, said. “It’s pretty fun if you like building or if you like working with your hands.”

Zhou estimated that costs can climb up to several hundred dollars for one custom board, but he added that there are cheaper modifications newcomers to the hobby can implement on their pre-owned keyboards.

He said he hopes to educate other Northwestern students on these changes and the niche hobby as a whole.

McCormick freshman and executive board member Caden Lee said beginners can start by buying individual parts, like a keycap.

“It’s something that you can slowly invest in,” Lee said. “If you find something cool that you want, then you can just purchase that.”

Because the club is still new, Zheng added that the executive board plans to host tutorials and introductory sessions for beginners.

Lee said the club also hopes to explore 3D printing in the Ford Center to mitigate new member costs.

“Mechanical keyboards are always the thing I had an interest in and it was more private, to enjoy myself,” Lee said. “I didn’t really realize that there was an entire community based on it.”

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