DIY Dvorak Keyboards

Meet the DIY Dvorak keyboard. I’m feeling nostalgic this week, and I was surprised that we’ve never mentioned this simple, but useful hack. Heresy history lesson: the qwerty keyboard was created to slow down typing – because old typewriters jammed too easily. The Dvorak keyboard is more efficient because the letters that are most often used are positioned closer to the fingers natural position. [Anders] swapped the keys on his Swedish thinkpad, and even customized the map a bit further to his own taste.

28 thoughts on “DIY Dvorak Keyboards

  1. Thing is it will:

    (a mean you will have to learn to type all over again.
    (b Will find it hard to use any other keyboard because you will eventually leanr how to use the Dvorak.
    (c Nobody else will be able to use it

  2. This oft-told history isn’t quite true. The Qwerty layout predates touch typing. It may have been one of the ways the jamming problem was redressed, but not because it slowed down typists — rather, it may have been used to change the placement of levers in the machine that would frequently be needed in succession.

    One thing that isn’t debatable is that the Dvorak layout is better. It’s somewhat unclear exactly what advantages can be measured in practice, in part because of retraining issues (and good comparative studies on new typists are hard to find). In my case it dramatically reduced hand strain and significantly reduced typos.


  3. I think if you are used to use qwerty and retrain yourself to use the Dvorak layout, the curve is much steeper. But if you’re new to blind and full-hand typing, you’re better of with Dvorak.

    I don’t know why the industry isn’t pushing Dvorak more on schools and businesses as an alternative. Yes, it takes a while, but how hard is it? At least they should make it easier to switch on an OS.

    I agree with #3. The levers would clinch if typed to fast on old machines. So, yes it slows down a bit since your fingers have to move more often, time-space relation here. But that is slightly slower. It is clever anyway. I hate to think back to these days, but I love to type blind and full-hand.

    – Unomi –

  4. While it does take quite a bit of ambition, I know from experience that unless you stop typing on a qwerty keyboard permanently, your brain does retain the instincts to type in both ways given that you don’t think about it too much. Its kind of like playing a song on the piano you haven’t played in a while. Regardless, I highly advocate dvorak, not so much for speed, but because it strains your fingers much less to not have them all over the keyboard.

  5. I’ve been using (modified Finnish version of) dvorak for years now. I was a fast qwerty writer and it took only couple of months to learn dvorak. I didn’t even bother to swap the key caps, I just taped a small paper to my monitor with the new key layout.

    I can still use qwerty without problems. Actually, I’m using both qwerty and dvorak almost every day.

    Just go for it! Learn dvorak, it’s worth it! Really.

  6. The keys on old IBM model M keyboards are all the same shape, so can easily be “popped” off and rearranged. To convert other keyboards use a permanent marker then spray with car touch-up lacquer to stop the letters rubbing off. Prepare for three weeks of hell when you can’t type anything without searching for every letter.

  7. There isn’t really much to this hack. Windows XP comes with it pre-installed. you go to control Panel -> Regional and Language options -> Languages -> details -> add ->, and then add the Dvorak. of much interest is Dvorak Left handed, which optomises the keyboard for left hand use, which is very cool if you are using the mouse alot with your right hand. i would try it, but i have an ergonomic Keyboard.

    As for if it’s worth it or not. I took the step and tried it. it took me 2 weeks to touch type slowly, andother week to build up my speed and get more errors, and then a final week to eliminate my errors.

    but there is nothing like it. your fingers get so used to it so quickly, and there isn’t that akwardness of the qwerty. it’s difficult to explain it if you’ve never not used a qwerty, but you can feel your hands thanking you for the added comfort of the dvorak.

    so i give it a +1000

  8. I did this to my Powerbook shortly after I got it. I really like it. Typing in a Dvorak layout is a bit creepy feeling at first: you’re used to jumping your hands all over the keyboard. Suddenly, they stay put.

    I also really like it because it confuses the hell out of people who can’t touch-type :)

  9. I’ve tried to switch to Dvorak. Everything went well until I realized that the keyboard shortcuts moved along with the keys. Try pressing Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V on Dvorak, it’s not nearly as convenient as qwerty. That was a deal breaker for me :(

  10. I learned Dvorak and was marginally faster than with qwerty. Trying to use other computers was challenging, though, so I switched back. I think that the gains are probably small enough to not make switching worthwhile.

    I would advocate swtiching the US to the metric system before the switch to dvorak (at least for those of us in the US).

  11. like others have said, querty wasn’t designed to slow typists down, mearly to spread out the often used keys to to keep them from jamming when used in quick succession

  12. There are also one-handed versions of the Dvorak layout, which are remarkably useful for two-handed people because it allows you to keep one hand on the mouse all the time. This makes the mouse into a *good* way of navigating (whereas conventionally, moving the hand to the mouse and back again is always a burden).

    Here’s one I made earlier…

  13. I switched completely to dvorak last year(I relearned the shortcuts, no sense in keeping the qwerty eqiv.), and got 5 of my friends to do the same. They all love it! I know that all the mac models I have played with are easy to switch to dvorak (I have a dvorak ibook). You can search Flickr for some dvorak macs :).
    I say that there is no sense in keeping the old shortcut locations, because they were designed with the qwerty in mind. ctrl+v has no attachment to paste, except that it was next to ctrl+c.
    Windows does have problems switching layouts after an install: the login will remain qwerty. There are additional steps needed to change that.

  14. Really, the people with the most to gain from switching to dvorak are those who use the 3-finger-ninja-hunt-and-peck method… you’ll pretty much be forced to touch-type in dvorak.

    debian systems have an optional package called dvorak-tutor (I think) in the games section of the free repository. after 3 or 4 sessions, I was able to slowly touch type.. within 1mo I was completely proficient… (keep in mind it took me well over a year to learn qwerty that well.)

    when I switched to dvorak almost 10 years ago I had no problem with the cut, copy, paste shortcuts… in every single windows app (and a lot of *nix and mac ones) shift-del, ctrl-ins, shift ins, still work for that.

    It’s really worth trying, it’s remarkably logical and easy to learn.

    on a side note, I really think we should have more model m hacks.

  15. The reason Dvorak is so good to your hands is that your fingers do not travel nearly as much when you type with it. Also, you are forced to stretch your pinky fingers unnaturally far less often. This results in a much lower RSI and elevated comfort for the typist.

  16. Currently using dvorak, this is great.

    Get stamina typing tutor to learn, it’s free, took me about a week to be able to touch type it, a bit longer to start getting up to speed. I like it, you can just feel how more efficent it is, and i know no one is using my comuputer, since my keyboard still has qwerty keys. It’s like another layer of security. Great find.

  17. @17 – Heck, let’s just get a bill passed that says we’ll switch to metric, pioneer the dvorak, and completely switch to electric transportation by the year 2010…

    Actually, the US is the loser when it comes to metric – they tried, at first, around when Canada made the swap… but gave up. My dad was growing up in Canada at the time, so he remembers the whole deal.

  18. Re: 22: I think the hack aspect of this is just having the audacity to pop off your keycaps and rearrange them to suit your new charmap. Nothing particularly challenging, but it’s cool from a “hey, this guy really likes his charmap” P.O.V.

    Topical bit: I’m typing this on my PowerBook, which uses the Dvorak layout. I popped my keys off and rearranged them to suit. It makes it really amusing when people want to borrow my computer. I credit Dvorak with getting rid of the wrist pain I used to have typing (I’m a programmer, so my ability to type is part of my stock in trade). On the downside, it did take me months to get good at it (I used no tutor program), and going back to a Dvorak layout isn’t particularly easy. I’m not a really natural typist, though, so YMMV.

  19. “the qwerty keyboard was created to slow down typing – because old typewriters jammed too easily.”

    This is bullshit. Mechanical typewriters do indeed jam easily, and they jam most easily when two keys in close proximity are pressed in quick succession. Therefore, one of the foremost considerations that determined the QWERTY layout was to place keys that are often used in sequence as far apart as possible. Other considerations that have an impact on typing speed were given lower priorities. Therefore, the QWERTY layout is not exactly conductive to quick typing on machines that don’t have the jamming problem.

    So, this layout was created in a way that slows modern typists down. BUT it was not specifically made with the goal to slow down typists — big difference. It was made to speed typing up, because on a mechanical typewriter, even though you’re not super-fast with QWERTY, you would be even slower if you got jams all the time, or if you had to be extra-extra careful to avoid jams.

  20. @25: i would be careful with claiming qwerty slows modern typists down- there’s some truth to it but it’s not the full story.

    qwerty was designed to keep pair of letters frequently typed in succession (digraphs) apart, because this did reduce jamming on the typewriter, but it wasn’t intended to slow typists down. pre-qwerty, typewriters had alphabetic layouts, which were pretty bad from a frequency-compensation point of view. as it turns out, qwerty isn’t that bad because it is possible to type more quickly when frequently alternating hands than it is when using one hand for a number of letters in succession (all else being equal). the high rate of hand alternation using qwerty means it is actually significantly better than a random key layout.

    opinion is divided on whether the dvorak is much better than qwerty. the general consensus is it allows a moderate improvement in speed when fully trained, and significantly reduces finger movement with the associated decrease in rsi/uld, but some studies have found qwerty to be so entrenched that users take a very long time to equal their qwerty typing speed on dvorak even after extensive training. the increase in speed is generally not thought to be worth the trouble of retraining staff, as few computer workers spend a large portion of their time typing prose at maximum speed.

    (my comp sci dissertation is on keyboards, I’ve spent more time than most people would want to reading about this stuff)

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