One of the most intimidating hurdles for people looking to build a mechanical keyboard is the need to solder on their switches. However, that is where hot swap PCB's come to save the day! A PCB, or printed circuit board, is the brain of your keyboard. You attach your mechanical switches to the PCB to register inputs, and there are two ways to connect them.
What is a Hot Swap PCB?
June 22, 2021
Soldering requires a soldering tool and solder, which is a low-melting metal alloy. This method includes placing a switch's pins through holes in your PCB, then melting the solder to connect the two. Doing so keeps the switch in place and forms a connection between the PCB and the switch's metal pins. Now, when you press down on the switch, the signal can transfer, register as an input, and finally create an action on your computer.
This process requires some research before attempting to do it properly. You could potentially burn the solder, destroy your PCB's socket, or mess up your switch's pins. Soldering may sound overwhelming, but watching video tutorials and practicing with other objects will give you a good idea of how to go about it safely and correctly.
HOT SWAP PCB
The second, and notably more straightforward method, is using a hot swap PCB to install your switches. Instead of using a soldering tool and solder, you push your switch's' pins into pre-installed sockets. The hot swap is similar to installing PC parts or Legos; you plug and play. It is quick, requires no training, and allows you to swap out switches with ease.
All Glorious Modular Mechanical Keyboards (GMMK) use hot swap PCBs, making them the perfect choice for those seeking an easy, intuitive, and customizable keyboard experience.
Using a softer surface to push against when installing switches into a hot-swap PCB is recommended. Lining up your switch with the socket needs to be done carefully, so a softer surface reduces the chance for bent pins. Additionally, when removing switches, you should be gentle on the board. Ripping out a switch could cause catastrophic damage to the hot swap socket.
Note: A solder PCB can be converted to hot swap, but this still requires you to use a soldering tool. Additionally, it is not an easy process we recommend for beginners.