All About Keyboards
Welcome to the Grovemade keyboard guide, where we help you to find a keyboard you love for a workspace that makes you smile.

There’s no objectively best keyboard. Yes, there’s keyboard technology and construction to consider. Yes there’s the typing experience. Yes there are high quality options, and low. But ultimately you have to pick the one that just...clicks.
The keyboard is a significant part of our daily lives. Like 8 hours a day 5 days a week significant, (or 12 hours a day, 6 days a week). It’s so built-in it’s easy to take for granted, but it’s worth our attention.

Knowing what to pay attention to is easiest with a guide, so we found two. The first is Zach Allaun. He founded Keycult, a North Carolina company that makes limited-run mechanical keyboard kits. Zach is, in his own words, “excitement-driven.” That’s how he got into keyboards in the first place, and it’s why we’ve turned to him in our own keyboard journey.
ZACH ALLAUN, FOUNDER OF KEYCULT, GROVEMADE CUSTOMER: A keyboard adds an entirely new dimension to computing, and one you might not know you're missing.
Zach’s enthusiasm reminded us that searching for a keyboard is not just a task. It’s an opportunity.

You’re going to touch it all the time, hear it all the time, see it all the time. It’s going to change how you interact with your space. So why not make it something you love? Given all the keyboard options out there, we bet you can find one that fits your budget, style, and workspace all at once. Especially if you’re willing to go custom.
What Are the Different Types of Keyboard?
There are a lot of ways to answer this question. Here are some categories to help us tackle it.
Category: Compatibility Types
Mac-compatible. PC-compatible. Mac-and-PC-compatible. The easy part is making sure that the keyboard you’re considering will connect to the computer you have. The fun part is making sure it’s stylistically compatible.

Think about the look of the keyboard, the colors, lines, key rise. Will it create a good visual flow in your workspace? Will it contribute to a cohesive space that brings peace of mind every time you enter it?
Category: Wired vs. Wireless/Bluetooth
A Bluetooth keyboard is wireless, which means great portability. It gives a sort of floating feel to your workspace, and if it’s an Apple wireless it looks great in our keyboard tray. But it also could result in a slight lag in the characters appearing on the screen.
A USB keyboard, on the other hand, is immediately responsive. But then there’s the wire to consider. Do you have a spot to put it that doesn’t interfere with your workspace? Can you make it look clean?
Category: Ergonomic Keyboards
Definition: An ergonomic keyboard fosters a natural position while you type, relieving muscle strain. It allows your wrists to rest in a neutral position on a flat surface and lets your arms relax at a wider distance.

What it might say about you: You type a lot, your nerves feel swollen and/ or pinched, and you sometimes get that numb feeling in your hands.

Now’s a good time to introduce our other guide: Cory Watson. Cory is a Grovemade customer, a programmer, and an Observability specialist. He also really digs keyboards. Unsurprisingly, Cory has a keen sense of awareness and a good memory. He remembered, for example, that his obsession with keyboards began with ergonomics! As he put it, typing was his living. So he decided to invest in an ergonomic keyboard. After trying a few, he settled on the Kinesis Freestyle, a split mechanical keyboard.

"Since typing was my living I decided it was worth investing in a nice keyboard."

Keyboard Enthusiast and Grovemade Customer
The keyboard wore out over time, but it inspired Cory’s next purchasing decision: a pure mechanical keyboard. According to Cory, “it’s been downhill ever since.”

More on that later, but now that you’re aware of the path they might take you on, here are types of ergonomic keyboards:
Fully split. Two separate keypads. You choose how to space them based on your own body structure.
Partially split. A continuous keyboard that puts space between the keys to encourage your arms to a wider-set position.
Contoured. These are curved in a way that supports the natural fall of your hands and accommodates the different lengths of your fingers.
And here are some things to look for:

Tenting. The keyboard is higher in the center than on the sides, again mimicking the natural position of your hands.

Zero or slightly negative slope. Since your hands shouldn’t be angled up. And a palm rest that sets your wrists a bit higher (enter: negative slope) can help alleviate wrist tension.

There are a lot of options out there, but what’s essential across all these ergonomic keyboards is ease. Opening up that hunched posture, that clenched and frantic clicking away, and creating a more sustainable typing experience. It’s not that an ergonomic keyboard prevents Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, or that there’s a proven “best” keyboard for Carpal Tunnel. Some have even suggested that since ergonomic keyboards change the key location, the strain of re-training your muscle memory negates any benefit you might get. We leave that there for you to consider.

But if you’re open to changing your typing patterns, if you spend a lot of time at the keyboard and are worried about a repetitive stress injury, there might be an ergonomic keyboard out there for you!

And you don’t have to find it alone. Wirecutter has their top picks of course, and New York magazine’s the Strategist does a roundup as well.

We wish you unhunched, easy luck!
Category: Construction Types
In this way of categorizing keyboards, there are three types! Or four, or two, depending on how you count. It’s a bit of a doozy, so hold on. But, it does get at some of the major differences in keyboard interactions, how the keyboard feels and responds to your typing and actually using it.
Key travel: the distance the key moves from the beginning of the press to “bottoming out.”

Key rollover: the ability of a keyboard to register multiple keystrokes at once.

NKRO: N-Key rollover, wherein each keystroke is registered regardless of how many other keys are being pushed down.

Actuation point: the point when the keystroke registers
Membrane keyboard: Your typical laptop keyboard fits into this category (unless you get your hands on this). See below.

The basic construction: the keys sit atop a continuous, rubber-like panel (the membrane), which sits atop a two-layer circuit matrix. When you hit the key, it results in a chain reaction that closes the circuit and signals a keystroke.

What it might say about you: You like minimal, quiet, low-profile tools at a relatively low cost. You want it, you order it, you open the box, you use it. And this makes you happy.
ZACH ALLAUN, FOUNDER OF KEYCULT, GROVEMADE CUSTOMER: I do occasionally still use my MacBook keyboard out of convenience.
Sub-subcategory: In a dome-switch membrane keyboard, the membrane layer has synthetic or metal domes under each key. Press on the key, depress the dome, close the circuit, This results in greater key travel than a flat-panel membrane keyboard (think: microwave keypad), and a more substantial “click” feel when typing. The dome-switch construction is a sort of middle ground between pure membrane keyboards and mechanical keyboards.

Sub-sub-subcategory: Scissor switch dome membrane keyboard. An x-shaped mechanism connects the key to the rubber dome and decreases the distance from the key to the circuit touchpoint. This means a shorter key travel, and a slimmer profile. Laptops use this construction to save space while still providing some clickiness.

[Once upon a time Apple experimented with a butterfly switch, which was a V-shape instead of an X. The experiment flopped. You can read about that here.]
Diagram showing the function of a keyboard scissor switch.
Membrane keyboards are relatively thin and light, meaning highly portable. But some things to note:

They have a limited key rollover, meaning only two or three keystrokes can register simultaneously. So if you’re a supreme, rapid typist it might result in more typos, or if you’re a gamer who needs to press a lot of keys at once, it might be terribly annoying.

Some say they make for a “mushy” typing experience, probably because of the smushy domes underneath the keys.

Also the domes lose their elasticity over time, so membrane keyboards typically have a shorter lifespan than mechanical keyboards (think 1-10 million keystrokes).

But they are slim, trim, functional and a perfect fit for some people.
Mechanical keyboard: The one for self-expression.

Basic construction: Individual keycaps sit on top of individual switches that connect to a printed circuit board (PCB) when you push down and register the keystroke. The switches either rest directly on the PCB or on a backplate that sits on top of the PCB.

What it might say about you: You like the term “tactile feedback.” You are willing to pay more for a more durable build that has more options for customization. Your favorite kind of travel is key travel, and the ultimate soundtrack is the one the keys are playing. You’re ok with the potential of developing a new obsession.

These keyboards make a visual and audible impact. They’re customisable, from the switches to the keycap set to the lighting and so on, which means they’re lovable. In fact there’s an entire universe of mechanical keyboard devotees (including Zach and Cory), so we devoted an entire article to it. We even built one ourselves. To read up in detail on switch types, group buys, and “thock” theory, head here. << link to mechanical keyboard article<<

Mechanical keyboards are known for their sound, though there are some quiet options out there! If you’re worried about the noise, consider that you can type more softly with a mechanical keyboard, because on most models the keystroke will register before you bottom out. For example, if the key travel distance is 4 mm, the actuation point can actually be at 2 mm. This avoids the hardness and loudness of hitting rock bottom.

These keyboards are also known for their price tag, but you don’t have to shell out hundreds of dollars to get your hands on one. Gear Patrol recommends the Magicforce 68 as an entry-level, inexpensive mechanical keyboard. Mid-range options exist too, if you’re trying to find that sweet spot between expense and multi-generational quality.

Many elite mechanical keyboards and parts are only available through group buys. The maker releases a keyboard concept, either a complete keyboard or components to make a custom one. People pledge to purchase it. If the campaign reaches the minimum order quantity necessary to make the product financially viable, then the maker will produce it. This process can take a long time. Zach’s company operates on group runs, and he knows people are willing to wait. Cory is one of those willing people. He goes in on group runs, and he always waits, no matter how much it irritates him.
CORY WATSON: Now I’m frustrated because I realize that the board I got doesn’t have caps because they are either delayed or I already gave up and put them on another board. Nothing ever seems to arrive at the same time.
As for key rollover, a mechanical keyboard can support NKRO, though it comes at a steeper price. There are less expensive options that still offer multi-key rollover, and more than a membrane keyboard can provide.

Mechanical keyboards are long lasting (generally rated to around 50 million keystrokes) and because the keys fit snugly together there’s less space for water and dust to sneak in.

So if you like the idea of a “vintage keyboard,” or are searching for a thoroughly satisfying keystroke, or will be playing games, or want a really cool passion project, a mechanical keyboard could be just the thing!
Category: Sizing
Size is a product of the number of keys on the keyboard and the spacing between each one. What size is right for you is a product of how you’ll be using it and where it fits in your space. There’s a lot of variation in key spacing out there, but here are some general sizes to keep in mind.
Full size keyboard. This could be considered a traditional keyboard, and includes all the letters, number and symbol keys, punctuation keys, function keys, directional keys (arrow keys), and a numeric keypad (usually on the right).

It takes up more space, but if you’re doing a lot of data entry that keypad is a beautiful thing.
Tenkeyless. This one doesn’t have the number pad.

Zach’s using a Keycult No. 1 tenkeyless at home (at the time of writing).
60% keyboard: A tenkeyless mechanical keyboard that doesn’t have the F or the directional keys.
65% keyboard: A tenkeyless mechanical keyboard that doesn’t have separate F keys but it does have the directional keys.

When we emailed with Zach, he was using the Keycult No. 2/65, “the 65% form-factor of our No. 2 design.” We get the feeling he uses all different types, maybe because when we asked what kind he uses he said “All sorts”!
75% keyboard: A 65% plus an extra row of function keys on top.

* For these smaller keyboards, the F function can be layered into other keys.
Multimedia keyboard. This style has extra multimedia keys/ buttons that control your built-in music and video functions. See a deeper dive on these here.

So think about what you’ll be using your keyboard for. Do you need a number pad? Do you need as small a footprint as possible? What key functions do you need? If you really like the idea of a 60% keyboard are you okay with having a mechanical one? Do you want one of each?
Category: Layouts
If you’re classic, you might go for:

QWERTY. Your classic keyboard layout since about 1878. Typewriters first had alphabetical keyboards. When the typist hit neighboring keys in quick succession, the keys would jam. So the QWERTY layout was intended to space out the letters that typically show up together.
ZACH ALLAUN: QWERTY for me and [for] the large majority of the ‘luxury keyboard’ market.
If you’re daring and love attention, you might go for:

Dvorak: A 1936 development that put the most frequently used characters in the most naturally-reached “home” row, meaning your fingers have to move a shorter distance when typing. Advocates of this style say it’s a more efficient keyboard than one with a QWERTY layout.

If you’re curious but approach commitment carefully:

Colemak: More similar to QWERTY (only 17 characters different), but still tries to decrease finger movement by strategically placing the most frequently used characters.

If you’re used to QWERTY, you’ll need to re-learn to type on a Dvorak or Colemak. And there’s no guarantee you’ll see an increase in efficiency. But here’s a good resource if you want to learn more.
Category: Specialized Keyboards
Up to this point we’ve covered mostly standard keyboard fare. But there are niche styles too.

Virtual keyboard. There’s the virtual keyboard on your touchscreen, but there’s also a laser projection keyboard that can connect to a computer, smartphone, tablet, etc. A projection device sends out the image of the keyboard, and when you tap a “key” a sensor or camera registers the keystroke. The device can connect via Bluetooth or USB, depending on the model.

Thumb or thumb-sized keyboard. A small physical or on-screen keyboard that’s optimized for typing with your thumbs. This can be helpful when a traditional keyboard is too cumbersome, like in console gaming.

Waterproof keyboard. these can withstand spills, crumbs, and dust, and some models can even be fully submerged for a thorough washing.

Flexible keyboard, or silicone keyboard. The flexible, foldable keyboard is often made out of silicone rubber. They are bendable and rollable, and typically are water- and dust-proof. They require more force to push the keys down, and must be used on a hard surface.
This is a sea of information, float on this: your keyboard is an expression. It’s an opportunity to bring joy and excitement into your everyday.

"Keyboards can be really freaking pleasant to use."

It is a moment in your design story, where you have the power to add a new dimension to your space and choose what you want it to be. So whether you end up with 600 keyboards or just one, channel your inner Zach and Cory and go find your best.

Further Reading