Even though I’ve been writing about video games and tech for a while now, there are still some subjects that I feel like I should have strong opinions on by now that I just…don’t. Mechanical keyboards, for example. I own one myself, sure. I asked for it as a wedding present solely because it’s pastel pink and, let’s face it, I’m nothing if not a basic bitch at heart. But if you asked me what kind of switches I’ve been tapping away at for over a year now, you’d get a blank stare (Uhh, the loud kind…?).
But even a neophyte like me can recognise the ridiculously impressive craftsmanship behind something like the “Smorgasboard,” the latest creation from the artisan keycap maker known as Tiny. After nearly a year of work, this week she shared the finished product on social media in all its scrumptious glory: a mechanical keyboard equipped with 61 food-themed keycaps, each meticulously hand-crafted and designed according to the letter or symbol they correspond to.
At a pace of about one or two keycaps completed per week, the entire board took around 11 months to make. Though it was always intended to be more of an art project to showcase the craft of custom keycaps, and not necessarily a fully functional keyboard, Tiny told Gizmodo in a call Saturday. So she worked on it in spurts alongside her other custom keycap designs and commissions, which can range from cartoon characters to Baby Yoda and cute little Kirby butts.
She documented her progress along the way on TikTok, often incorporating suggestions from viewers into her designs. Each keycap is constructed out of either polymer clay, resin, or a mix of both, with the exception of the “Ctrl” key, for which she needle felted a fluffy piece of cotton candy. A few of the more complicated keys took significantly longer to build, particularly the minuscule Tic Tac box in lieu of the quotation mark symbol. While just about all the other keycaps were made out of a single mould each, the Tic Tac box had so many tiny details that it required two molds, thus doubling the time it took the resin to cure.
Some of the keycap designs are pretty straightforward (though obviously no less impressive) such as a stack of waffles for “W”, an avocado for “A”, an Oreo for “O”, etc. While others, especially the punctuation marks and symbols, required a more creative interpretation.
For example, she used a xiao long bao, Chinese for soup dumpling, for the “X” key. The letter “U” is a tiny Starbucks unicorn frappuccino. For the “Alt” key, a BLT sandwich, naturally. A swirly cinnamon roll to make the “@” symbol. And my personal favourite: a chocolate bar for the period key. Get it? Because you usually crave chocolate when…yeah. Hey, groan all you want, silly puns are my kryptonite and I am here for it.
For the uninitiated, mechanical keyboards differ from traditional keyboards in that each key has a typically spring-activated switch underneath to determine when someone has pressed it. These switches come in a wide range of varieties depending on your preference in haptic feedback or how loud you want that satisfying “clack” to be with each keystroke. The keycaps, aka the small plastic bit on top of the switch that you press to type, can also be changed out. By extension, the keyboards themselves are leagues more durable and customisable than your standard fare, and an entire community has been built around the often mind-blowing ways people customise their setups.
Unsurprisingly, when it comes to actually typing, the Smorgasboard is pretty crappy. Tiny demonstrates as much when she attempts a typing test on it, which you can check in the YouTube video below. Honestly, I’m impressed she still managed a rate of 58 words per minute. I consider myself a decently fast typist, but you start swapping in hot dogs and zebra cakes and rice cookers (a design choice I know my colleague will appreciate) for keys and my confidence goes out the window.
The Smorgasboard worked about as well as she expected, Tiny said, since it’s not like she set out to make just a functional keyboard anyway. What she didn’t expect, though, is how emotional the journey to complete it would be.
Her followers on TikTok were psyched to watch her progress, she said, and a lot of excited anticipation built up around which key she would create next as a result. Towards the latter half of the construction process, she started a tradition in her videos of eating whatever food matched the keycap she was working on at the time. The final key she made, the sub sandwich spacebar, was by far the most requested, she told Gizmodo. However, just as she was finishing up construction, it felt like TikTok’s days were numbered in light of President Donald Trump’s threatened nationwide ban. (To date, he still hasn’t gone through with the ban, and has instead extended the deadline to mid-November for TikTok to resolve the administration’s so far unsubstantiated national security concerns regarding the app’s Beijing-based parent company, Bytedance.)
At the time, Tiny, like many other creators, put out a video to share her alternate social media accounts in case the app went down. She also announced she was going to try her best to finish the sub spacebar before then. She said her followers left several comments about how, after watching the yearlong process from start to finish, they were genuinely sad that things were coming to an end. Some even commented that they’d cried and that they couldn’t believe they were this emotional over a keyboard of all things.
“I found it touching but also hilarious because we’d gone on this journey together and it was ending,” Tiny said. “There was just this very sad moment where we realised we’re all kind of just together in this.”
As for what to do the with the thing now that’s it’s done, well, that’s a good question. Tiny told Gizmodo she’s been scratching her head about the Smorgasboard’s future. Selling it seems out of the question; even if there were someone out there who’s interested in owning an entirely food-themed keyboard, she estimates that, given her average rate per custom keycap, the whole thing would cost somewhere north of $US6,000 ($8,286). And parting it out to sell each keycap individually feels practically sacrilegious at this point given the sentimental value.
“Honestly this keyboard is probably one of my proudest achievements,” she said in her video.
No, for now, she told Gizmodo that she has no plans to part with it and will probably end up creating a display for it in her home.
“Honestly, this [process] taking an entire year, taking so much longer than I expected it to, it evolved into something more at some point. I wanted to showcase keycap art as a thing because I don’t think a lot of people know about it…Artisan keys are a pretty big thing within the keyboard community, so having one or two or even a couple is totally normal,” Tiny said.
She added that she already has an idea for her next big art project on the horizon: a board full of keycaps themed to fictional characters. She’s especially looking forward to seeing what kind of creative suggestions her followers come up with next.