Tech

My journey to NYC's mechanical keyboard mecca

nyc keyboard meetup tableImage: Michael Crider/Foundry

For a few hours on Saturday, a beer hall in Queens was the nerdiest place in New York City. And considering that you can buy Gundam sets in Times Square and see a musical version of Back to the Future on Broadway, that’s saying something. 

I spent about three hours on various buses and subways to get from my home in Pennsylvania to the 2024 NYC Mechanical Keyboard Meetup. More than 150 people squeezed into a creaky old meeting place next to the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden, most bringing at least one keyboard with them, eager to show off and share their mutual love of the bustling hobby. 

Michael Crider/IDG

This isn’t my first keyboard meetup — I’d been to several in Texas before moving, and this event had a lot of commonalities. Long rows of folding tables showed off everyone’s collections and a few wares from small indie creators there to drum up some business. Every keyboard was accompanied by an information card, letting the curious know what parts and techniques were used in its construction. 

Michael Crider/Foundry

These events are the best way to see the widest varieties of keyboards possible, from relatively tame builds with standard layouts to vintage decades-old keyboards (the IBM Model M is a perennial favorite) to absolutely wild 100 percent custom hand-built designs. My own entry, a 60 percent Star Trek-themed board with an engraved bamboo case, barely stood out among such variety.

Michael Crider/Foundry

There were themed keyboards like mine, going for cute or artsy looks. There were keyboards that were simply as heavy and as elaborate as possible to give the “thocky” typing feel so coveted by fans. There were “Alice” and split layouts to cater to ergonomic tastes, some based on pre-existing designs, some completely customized with 3D-printed cases. And there were novelty boards of every description — impossibly small ones that would take weeks to even learn how to use, and boards designed just to show off the elaborate “artisan” keycap collections. 

One of my favorite boards was a relatively innocuous design from a Discord user who goes by The CaptainTim. It uses an ortholiniar Planck layout (meaning that all the columns and rows are straight, instead of staggered like a QWERTY layout). But he’d designed and printed a custom sloping case for his board that included a wrist rest, completely made out of spongy thermoplastic polyurethane, the same light, spongy material that goes into many phone cases. This gave the wrist rest a squishy quality that was super comfy. 

Michael Crider/Foundry

Among many of the vintage examples was something I hadn’t ever seen in person: a keyboard for the SEGA Dreamcast game console. There’s nothing particularly notable about the design or build…except for the proprietary Dreamcast controller connector on the end of it. 

The Dreamcast was the first widely available game console with built-in internet connectivity via a dial-up modem, hence the availability of a keyboard and mouse made by SEGA. In addition to browsing the late-’90s web with its own browser (which you had to load on a dedicated CD), the keyboard could be used to play several Dreamcast games in WASD PC fashion, most notably the typing instruction spin-off Typing of the Dead. The owner of the keyboard even brought along a working console if anyone wanted to play. 

Michael Crider/Foundry

While there was many a spirited discussion on keyboard design, the intricacies of various switches, and the shared experiences of group buys, what most intrigued me were the indie shops and small businesses that decided to attend the meetup for promotion and direct sales. 

I struck up a conversation with a woman who turned her acrylic laser cutter into a side gig. Normally she makes earrings and other accessories, but at the meetup she was showing off adorable Bongo Cat-themed trays for artisan keycaps, and I couldn’t resist getting one for myself. You can see more of her work at her Instagram account, @handmade_by_chen. 

Michael Crider/Foundry

Those artisan keycaps are getting more and more elaborate. Another vendor, AsianJoyCo, was showing off a collection of sushi-themed keycaps with tiny removable plastic foodstuffs. The food parts attach to the tray (which actually sits on the switch) with magnets, allowing you to mix and match for a miniature dining experience. 

NYC Keyboard Meetup Gallery

The most impressive independent vendor at the meetup was Cyboard, makers of “bespoke ergonomic keyboards.” With 3D-printed cases custom-designed via CAD software and tons of options available on their website, these truly unique split boards range from around $200 to $700 for the most elaborate, labor-intensive designs. 

Cyboard

For five minutes at a time, the hall came to a stop to allow the organizer to engage in the most exciting part of the meetup: giveaways. Sponsors for the event gave away door prizes at random, including collections of rare switches, stylish desk mats, and even a few entire keyboards. 

Most of these would easily surpass the value of the $20 event price, something that I haven’t seen at other meetups, but which is understandable given the space and attendance limitations for the NYC venue. I tried to attend last year’s meetup, but a bit of hesitation meant that all the tickets were gone before I could buy one. 

NYC Keyboard Meetup Gallery

All in all it was a wonderful time, and I’d highly recommend checking out your local meetup if you’re as obsessed with this hobby as I am. (And if you fall into that category, I might also humbly suggest you keep an eye on our reviews and our constantly updated mechanical keyboard roundup.) There’s a list of upcoming events and links to sign up for them at KBD.news. If you can’t find one there, Google for nearby cities or universities — there’s bound to be something not too far away.

Further reading: The best mechanical keyboards we’ve tested

the best mechanical keyboard overall

Keychron Q3 Max keyboard

Keychron Q3 Max keyboardRead our reviewPrice When Reviewed:$214Best Prices Today:$214 at Keychron US

Michael is a former graphic designer who’s been building and tweaking desktop computers for longer than he cares to admit. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.

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