Convert Apple keyboard to Dvorak layout

Prerequisites

  • A desire to own a fully fledged Dvorak keyboard for a relatively small cost.
  • An Apple aluminum keyboard. You can buy one here or at any Apple store.
  • A set of small screwdrivers
  • About an hour of your time.

General discussion

I recently bought an Apple keyboard to use with my teaching rig. There were, essentially, three reasons for my choice.

Teaching rig: Keyboard and tablet

Firstly, this keyboard has a tiny footprint. Thus, it easily fits inside my laptop case and doesn't take up much desk real estate . In addition, I can get my Wacom tablet really nice and close to the side of the keyboard. This significantly reduces the distance my hand needs to travel as I move from the keyboard to my graphics pen.

Here's a comparison of my new rig with my old HP keyboard.

Comparison between Apple keyboard and standard keyboard

Secondly, it is very easy to convert to a Dvorak layout. Dvorak is my preferred keyboard layout, due to its efficiency and ergonomic benefits.

Finally, the Apple keyboard works really well with a PC1. It is pretty much plug and play with a couple of simple tweaks.

The keyboard I bought has filled all of these criteria. So, a big thumbs up to Apple from me.

Step by step guide

Removing the keys
I used two flathead screwdrivers from a miniature screwdriver set.
Lever up the upper edge of the key. This is a bit scary the first couple of times, as it requires a fair bit of force. Keep the pressure even and you should be rewarded by the key coming free.
Remove all the letter keys - except the 'A' and 'M' keys and the number keys
Apple keyboard with keys removed
After removing the keys
There is a hinge mechanism below the key. This needs to be sorted out before replacement of the keys.
Ensure the hinge pins are properly located in their housing. If you don't do this the key will not sit flat and you risk breaking the tiny tabs on the underside of the key.
Apple keyboard key mechanism
Replacing the keys
Slide the bottom of the key into place and jiggle it around until you feel the bottom pins slot into their home. Then push down firmly on the top portion of the key until you hear a click. You should now be good to go.
Apple keyboard after Dvorak conversion
Add tactile indicators
I decided to add tactile indicators to the new home keys 'U' and 'H'. I did this simply by heating up a straightened paper clip and pushing it through from the underside of the keys.
Heating the paperclip to punch out home keys
The new home keys with tactile indicators

I'm very happy with my new keyboard and am about to convert a full sized Apple keyboard for my main desktop machine2. Dvorak users finally have a relatively simple means of converting their keyboards.

regards

1If you want to remap some of the Apple keys for Windows apps, there is a good tutorial here

2I have subsequently converted a full sized Apple keyboard to Dvorak and have, unfortunately, encountered a fairly significant problem. Apple, or whoever build their keyboards, have not standardised the key configuration. On my full sized keyboard the home keys "F" and "J" are manufactured 90° CCW to the rest. This is a major bummer and I can't really understand why.