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Microwave hack replaces flat keypad with mechanical keyboard switches

Microwave hack replaces flat keypad with mechanical keyboard switches

 January 16, 2022 at 2:37 am   |     Author:   |     Technology  

A Kailh Box Black mechanical keyboard switch.
Enlarge / A Kailh Box Black mechanical keyboard switch.

Scharon Harding

Ever have a microwave with buttons that don’t work properly? If you hit the keys at the right angle, maybe the microwave will respond. Or perhaps, no matter how you push them, the microwave stays silent. What if you could fix the issue without calling a repair company—and simultaneously make pressing the microwave’s keypad more enjoyable?

Kailh, which makes mechanical keyboard switches, shared a tweet on Tuesday highlighting a use for its switches that the company had never seen before. A Reddit user employed some Kailh Box Blacks to make his microwave usable again.

A few switches, wire, cardboard, and adhesive go a long way.
Enlarge / A few switches, wire, cardboard, and adhesive go a long way.

The Reddit user, who goes by gregschlom, wrote that his 9-year-old microwave started malfunctioning, and instead of settling for cold leftovers and unpopped popcorn kernels until repairs could be done, he hardwired the device to Box Black switches. Based on the shared image, the new switches can be used to add 30 seconds, add a minute, cancel the operation, and access the settings menu.

Gregschlom wrote that the microwave is supposed to be repaired this month, but with the appliance now bestowed with that tactile mechanical feel, gregschlom isn’t sure if he wants to go back.

“[H]onestly, it feels so good pressing these switches I’m not sure I want to replace it anymore. Might just throw some keycaps and leave it like that ;D,” gregschlom commented on Reddit.

It’s hard to blame him. The keypads on modern microwaves are often remarkably flat. They’re mushy, they have little to no travel, and they rely on a special type of membrane switch to work. And like so many membrane keyboards, it’s hard to know if you’ve pressed a button unless you hear a reassuring beep.

But you’ll know you’re pressing a key with a Box Black switch, as the key requires about 60 g of force to actuate. Kailh designed the switches to be a sturdier (hence the square or “box” surrounding the stem) rival to the Cherry MX Black, one of Cherry’s heaviest switches. Further specs for Box Blacks include a total travel of 3.6 mm and 1.8 mm of pre-travel. Clearly, the experience is very different from your typical microwave keypad.

But despite that tactile sensation, gregschlom pointed out a key downside: “The thing to keep in mind, though, is that these switches will get absolutely nasty with grease after a couple of years of use, especially when it’s an over-the-range oven like this one.”

We’d love to see gregschlom figure out a way to securely attach some lightweight keycaps to the switches. Another Redditor, redcorerobot, suggested using a flexible cover to keep the switches clean.

redcorerobot also suggested building out the project even more by using a microcontroller to work with the microwave’s controller, then rip off the front panel to “have a good quality mechanical key pad on the front” or “give it smart functionality, like home assistant or even just a library of pre-set times and powers so you can have a dedicated [button] for common items.”

It’s unclear whether gregschlom will continue to hack the microwave, get it repaired, or buy a new one. But you can find a small pack of Box Black switches for under $4, so we’d say this user found a fiscally responsible, finger-friendly way to keep food warm in the interim.

Listing image by gregschlom/Reddit

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