Leaf switch is an electric switch with a button (or other moving part) and two strips of metal that make contact when the button is pushed. The circuit is only closed when the button is held down (unless there is a locking mechanism in the button) so these switches are best suited for generating short pulses that trigger an action in the circuit. They are commonly used in everyday appliances like door bells and joystick fire buttons. Leaf switches are silent (unlike microswitches) and durable since there is a minimum amount of moving parts involved. The stroke length needed to trigger the switch is also small so the leafs won't wear down because of cyclic fatigue.

              |   |     <-- Push button with a spring return mechanism
            | |  /| |
            | |/  | |   
        __      V
   ....|  |_________     
   . ..|__|_________  <-- Leafs (strips of metal) make contact when button is pushed
   . . 
   . .
Wires connected to the circuit

Guys who are into classic arcade games tend to talk about leaf switches quite a bit. You see, back in the good old days, arcade controls usually used leaf switches. A joystick would use four of them, and each button would use one of them. They were silent and were the perfect game controls.

In the mid-80s the industry began switching over to microswitch based joysticks, because they were more reliable. But older gamers said that they felt horrible, and no one seemed to like the clicking. Thus began the myth about leaf switch joysticks being far superior to microswitch based ones.

I own a lot of arcade joysticks, and in general it does seem that the leaf switch based sticks have a much better feel. But, the real reason that leaf switch sticks feel superior is that most microswitch based joysticks are incredibly cheaply produced. Most leaf switch based sticks have rubber centering grommets, while microswitch based sticks will only have a weak spring that centers the stick. This makes all the difference in the world.

Currently it seems that leaf switch based arcade joysticks are out of production. But Wico was making them until fairly recently, and it is still rather easy to find NOS examples. Stock up now while you still can.

Older leaf switch joysticks (and buttons), can often be brought back to life with a new centering grommet and some new leaf switches. The switches themselves are quite easy to replace, although they are kind of difficult to find.

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