Microwave hack replaces flat keyboard with mechanical keyboard switches

Enlarge / A Kailh Box Black mechanical keyboard switch.

Charon Harding

Have you ever had a microwave with buttons that didn’t work properly? If you press the keys at right angles, maybe the microwave will respond. Or maybe, no matter how you push them, the microwave stays quiet. What if you could fix the problem without calling a repair company and simultaneously make pressing the microwave keypad more enjoyable?

Kailh, who makes mechanical keyboard switches, shared a Tweeter Tuesday highlighting use of its switches the company had never seen before. A Reddit user used Kailh Box Blacks to make his microwave usable again.

A few switches, wires, cardboard and adhesive are enough.
Enlarge / A few switches, wires, cardboard and adhesive are enough.

Reddit user, who goes by gregschlom, wrote that his 9-year-old microwave started malfunctioning, and instead settled for cold leftovers and unpopped popcorn kernels until repairs could be made, he wired the device to the 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 fixed this month, but with the device now having that tactile mechanical feel, Gregschlom isn’t sure he wants to go back.

“[H]Above all, it feels so good to flip those switches that I’m not sure I want to replace it anymore. I might just throw in a few keys and leave it like that; D,” gregschlom commented on Reddit.

Hard to blame him. Modern microwave keypads are often remarkably flat. They’re mushy, they have little to no travel, and they rely on a special type of membrane switch to operate. And like many membrane keyboards, it’s hard to tell 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 because the key requires about 60g of force to actuate. Kailh designed the switches to be a sturdier rival (hence the square or “box” surrounding the stem) to the Cherry MX Black, one of Cherry’s heaviest switches. Other specs for the Box Blacks include 3.6mm total travel and 1.8mm pre-travel. Obviously, the experience is very different from your typical microwave keyboard.

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

We’d like to see gregschlom find a way to securely attach lightweight keys to switches. Another Redditor, redcorerobot, suggested using a flexible cover to keep the switches clean.

redcorerobot also suggested developing the project even further by using a microcontroller to work with the microwave controller and then tearing off the front panel to “get a good quality mechanical keyboard on the front” or “give it some smart features, like a home assistant or even just a library of preset times and powers so you can have a dedicated 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 less than $4, so we’d say this user has found a tax-responsible and friendly way to keep food warm in the meantime.

Listing image by gregschlom/Reddit

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