Those of you who have been following my puerile witterings here from the early days of ‘Wibble’ may recall that, back in 2007, I underwent the throes of converting my fingers from <spit> QWERTY to the vastly superior keyboard layout pioneered by Professor August Dvorak. My experiences in those salad days are still available; should you be interested in (re)visiting that journey, it starts about here.
On a website I set up even earlier than ‘Wibble’, I maintained a bunch of information about the Dvorak layout. Regrettably, that site disappeared a couple of years ago, for reasons I choose not to dwell upon. From then till now, this information was available only in backup data on my computer here* — inaccessible and worthless. There’s one page in particular I would like to resurrect, so I present it below. Whether it should have remained in oblivion in perpetuity I leave as an exercise for the reader.
* … except that I’ve just realised that it’s also available on the Wayback Machine, too. But dash it, I’ve just spent the last hour or so copy-pasting and tidying this article up, so I refuse to hit ‘delete’!
How to make your own Dvorak keyboard from a QWERTY one
I present you with a simple choice. Either die in the vacuum of space, or: … ah, sorry, wrong script :)
- The ‘Six Keys Off’ technique
- The ‘Messy Method’
The ‘Six Keys Off’ technique is for those who like following step-by-step instructions, or who have playful kittens around who might lose some of your keys for you. You might prefer this technique if you’re the type that gets DIY furniture and follows the instructions religiously. With the ‘Six Keys Off’ method, you never have more than six keys off the keyboard at any one time, so you’re less likely to end up scrabbling about on all fours looking for the one that’s inexplicably gone walkabout.
The ‘Messy Method’ is more suited to those who throw the instructions away at the outset and just set to building the thing, not worrying if the end result is more like the Eiffel Tower than the bookcase shown on the front of the box; or, for those who just like playing Scrabble and ‘Kill the Cat’.
You will need:
- A spare QWERTY keyboard (with the correct interface; USB, PS/2 or AT) that it wouldn’t break the bank if you were to break it. Possibly two, in case you do manage to damage the first one. (If you don’t damage the first one – you could modify the second one too, and give it to a friend as a gift. Your friend might look at you strangely, particularly if you’re not in the habit of offering gifts, but once it sinks in that your gift is not just a rather odd-looking keyboard but a new lease of life to ten fingers, your friend will thank you, and might even send you a Christmas card — who knows?)
- A Flat Blade Screwdriver (‘FBS’).
- (maybe) A Stanley or other razor-sharp knife. DISCLAIMER: I will not be held responsible if, while following these instructions, you slice off one of your fingers, accidentally stab yourself in any part of your body, or the cat, or damage anything in any way at all.
The ‘Six Keys Off’ technique: Instructions for modifying a QWERTY keyboard to Simplified Dvorak layout (both hands)
This technique assumes that you’re right-handed. Apologies to all the sinister people. Unless you’re really evil ‘sinister’ that is, in which case… ah, forget I spoke :)
A. Getting rid of the obsolete anachronism known as ‘QWERTY’
- Insert FBS (Flat Blade Screwdriver) to the right of the ‘Q’ key (i.e. between the ‘Q’ and ‘W’ keys).
- Using gentle pressure, push the end of the FBS towards the base of the ‘Q’ key.
- Prepare your left hand to catch the ‘Q’, to prevent it from flying off into the air and being chased by the cat (or other family pet) into the most inaccessible place in the house (for instance, under the enormous fridge-freezer that you bought only last week, the one that’s now fully stocked with yummy edibles).
- While pushing, exert a gentle clockwise twist to the FBS. The ‘Q’ key should now come off.
- Place the ‘Q’ key on a flat surface such as a table top, preferably well out of the reach of the cat, with the ‘Q’ facing towards you so that you can easily recognise it. It may be all alone at the moment, but it will soon be joined by others.
- Repeat steps A.1 through A.5 for each of the ‘W’, ‘E’, ‘R’, ‘T’ and ‘Y’ keys. Yes, yes: I know you can no longer put the FBS twixt the ‘Q’ and the ‘W’; you know what I mean.
- Take one last look at the six keys sitting on your flat surface (the one out of the reach of the cat, as first mentioned in A.5).
- Congratulate yourself on taking your first steps towards eliminating an obsolete design from your life.
- Reward yourself with a beverage of your choice.
B. Getting down and dirty
- Take the ‘Y’ key and position it over the place where the ‘T’ key used to be (i.e., one place to the left of where ‘Y’ originally sat).
- Using firm pressure, push the key down until it clicks into place.
- If you do damage the key, replace it with the ‘Y’ key from your other keyboard (the one that you were going to give to your friend, but which has now been rendered totally useless). Send your friend a note apologising for being such a klutz.
- Now remove each of the following keys in turn and place them in the locations indicated below:
|1||‘ (apostrophe)||to the right of the [tab]|
|2||, (comma)||to the right of the ‘ (apostrophe)|
|3||. (full stop / period)||to the right of the , (comma)|
|4||W (on table)||to the right of the M|
|5||– (minus)||to the right of the ; (semicolon)|
|6||[ (left square brace)||to the right of the 0 (zero)|
|7||= (equals)||SWAP WITH [ (right square brace)|
|8||/ (forward slash)||to the right of the P|
|9||Z||to the LEFT of the [RIGHT SHIFT]|
|10||; (semicolon)||to the right of the \ (backslash)|
|11||S||to the right of the L|
|12||O||to the right of the A|
|13||P||to the right of the . (full stop / period)|
|14||L||to the LEFT of the / (forward slash)|
|16||N||to the right of the K|
|17||B (on table)||to the LEFT of the M|
|At this point note how it reads: ‘UI BMW’ :) Oh well, please yourself… :P|
|18||R (on table)||to the right of the I|
|19||X||to the right of the V|
|20||Q (on table)||to the right of the ; (semicolon)|
|Now we’re into the final stages of upgrading this obsolete UI…|
|23||C||to the LEFT of the R|
|24||V||to the right of the W|
|25||K||to the LEFT of the X|
|26||T (on table)||to the right of the J|
|28||E (on table)||to the right of the O|
|30||G||to the LEFT of the C|
|31||I||to the LEFT of the H|
|33||D||to the right of the I|
|35||F (on table)||to the right of the Y|
|If the ‘F’ key doesn’t move up freely, read ‘The FUHJ Factor’, below|
|36||U (on table)||to the right of the E|
|37||H (on table)||to the right of the D|
|38||J (on table)||to the right of the Q|
|Note: A and M don’t move!|
The ‘Messy Method’
- Preparation: as above.
- Kick the cat out of the house and lock the cat flap.
- Pop all of the keytops off your keyboard, you devil, you.
- Replace keys according to the Standard Simplified Dvorak Layout (both hands) diagram.
- Reward yourself with a beverage of your choice.
Note: the ‘Messy Method’ is the only way I can currently offer to create a Left-Handed or Right-Handed Dvorak keyboard (Professor Dvorak didn’t stop at designing a layout for two-handed folks; he designed two others for one-handed folks, too).
The FUHJ Factor
Once you’ve rearranged the keys to Dvorak layout, assuming that you have a keyboard with no missing keys in front of you, you’re done! All you need to do now is to configure your Operating System to ‘understand’ the Dvorak layout, plug in your upgraded keyboard (after first powering down if it’s a PS/2 keyboard!), and you’re up and running. Did I forget to mention that it was really simple?
However, with some keyboards, those last four keys, ‘F’, U’, ‘H’, and ‘J’, can be troublesome. On this keyboard I have here, if I pop those last four keys in, they sit on their haunches and refuse to come back up. This is because the ‘F’ and ‘J’ keys, commonly known as the ‘home’ keys, are themselves ‘keyed’: they are intended to sit only in the two ‘home’ locations.
To get around this requires a little deft manipulation with your razor-sharp knife, to slice the tiny plastic tongues from the insides of the mounting holes. If you do encounter this problem, examine the keys and the mounting holes; I’m sure that you’ll see what I mean. Please be very careful with that knife: one slight slip and there will be blood all over your nice keyboard, your clothes, the table and the floor; and the air will be rent by violent screams. Yours. Not a pleasant scene. Of course that knife is sharp enough to damage the keyboard too… so just take it slow and easy. If your hands shake too much, you could try asking someone else to do it for you. Or give the whole thing up, chuck your attempt in the (recycling!) bin and go look for one to buy…
Note: Breaking a key or its mounting whilst following these instructions, although a possibility, is unlikely, unless you have a really cheap and really nasty keyboard, or you are a total klutz.