Monday, July 24, 2017

IBM Selectric Dvorak Keyboard Conversion Procedure

Due to interest in the procedure to convert an IBM Selectric keyboard layout to a Dvorak layout, I decided to give it a try and document the procedure I used. Before now there hasn't been much info online about how to do it and there have been lots of unanswered questions. Although it is pretty straightforward to do this conversion, I would suggest that only someone familiar with the IBM Selectric attempt it. Selectrics are much more complicated than they first appear and proper, exact adjustments, made in the right order are critical for correct operation.
ANSI Dvorak Keyboard

 I started with a Selectric III model, mainly because of the keytop design. The keytops are different on Selectric I and II models for each row, making moving them around problematic. Each row is the same on a Selectric III so moving the keytops around doesn't change the angle. It is also a good idea to choose a machine with the SRS (1299095) ribbon design instead of the "210" or "bicycle" ribbon since they are more expensive and harder to find.
SIII with the SRS 1299095 Ribbon

Because of the unique keyboard input method on an IBM Selectric, it is possible to re-arrange the keyboard in any configuration you want and still use a standard type element.  No special element is required for the Dvorak conversion shown here. You will still be able to choose from any typestyle that is available for the Qwerty layout.
ANSI Dvorak Keyboard
There are 44 character keys on a Selectric I or II and 46 on a Selectric III made for the US market. Some Selectric III's have 48 keys for non-US markets so be aware of this.  The illustration above is for a Selectric I or II. I added the extra two keys for a US-model Selectric III. Those keys won't be moved anyway, but I added them to avoid confusion. The five keys that are shaded in the illustration above are low-velocity characters and don't strike as hard as the other characters to prevent puncturing the paper.

Notice that each key has a position number (0 through 43 in this illustration). These numbers will be helpful later, but realize I did not number the extra keys since they won't be moved. To the left of each key position I wrote the current character from the Qwerty arrangement as an aid.

Start with a working machine to make this process go easier. Resolve any problems with the machine first before attempting this conversion.
Use a Service Manual and Adjustment Parts Manual to become become familiar with part names, operational theory and adjustments.
1. Remove the Margin Rack and Margin Bail. The keylevers won't be completely removed, only flipped upward to access the Character Interposers.
2. Remove keylever upstop rod.
3. Remove spacebar and spacebar rod.
4. Gently work keys from under Shift keycaps and flip keylevers to rear.
5. Use a sharpie to mark interposer numbers every 10 positions on bracket. Refer to the keyboard image above to determine the interposer positions.
Position Numbering

6. Refer to the list below. These are the only interposers that you need to remove. The remaining interposers will remain in their original positions.

Position    QWERTY    DVORAK
1    Q     “
4    Z    :
5    W    ,
6    S    O
8    X    Q
9    E    .
10    D    E
12    C    J
13    R    P
14    F    U
16    V    K
17    T    Y
18    G    I
20    B    X
21    Y    F
22    H    D
24    N    B
25    U    G
26    J    H
29    I    C
30    K    T
32    ,    W
33    O    R
34    L    N
36    .    V
37    P    L
38    ;    S
39    -    ¼
40    /    Z
41    ¼    ?
42    '    -

7. Remove restoring springs only from interposers that will be rearranged. Take note of the color of each spring in its position.

8. Remove Snaprings from Interposer rod and gently work the interposer rod to the right as you insert another temporary rod from the left to maintain the positions of the interposers that will not be removed.

9. Remove only the inteposers that will be rearranged, laying them aside and arranging them on a marked board. Pay attention to which position each interposer is removed. Be careful not to mix them up as they are not marked individually. I laid them out with each character written below.

10. This is what it will look like when the interposers that will be rearranged are removed.
Remaining Interposers are not rearranged.

 11. Follow the new layout pattern and insert each character interposer in the correct numbered position. (ex: " ' goes in position 1). Follow the numbered order and refer to the illustration and list to make sure you install each interposer in its new correct position.
12. Insert the interposer rod as each interposer is inserted, removing the other rod as you go. Be careful not to bend the flat Inteposer Latch springs as you insert the interposers.
Cycle machine by hand if necessary to make sure none of the interposers are tripped and the machine is between cycles. If an interposer gets latched down, it will make installing the others more difficult.
13. Reinstall Interposer Restoring Springs. Be careful to install correct tension spring in each position.

The springs are different for the two upper rows versus the two lower rows on the keyboard. If the springs get mixed up, the keyboard will not have the correct feel.

14. Center the interposer rod when all interposers are installed and then install the snaprings on each end.
15. Remove Velocity Vane and bracket.
16. Modify the Velocity vane or install a WT (World Trade) model vane. Because most of the punctuation will be moved to the left side of the keyboard, the vane will have to be replaced or lengthened to reach the necessary low-velocity interposers. One method is to use the velocity vane from a German-Swiss keyboard model as it is a full-width velocity vane. The WT Vane is item 21-327 in the APM, part number 8168649. You will also need the Bellcrank for it, item 21-406 in the APM, part number 8170727 or 1141835.
WT Velocity Vane

Close-up of Vane Fingers

WT Velocity Vane Bellcrank

The other method is to modify your existing vane. I'll go into detail on this because I know finding the special vane will be difficult.
Original QWERTY Velocity Vane

There is a second location for the velocity vane bracket on the left side of the keyboard. Move the existing bracket there and make your existing vane longer to reach it.

I cut the existing vane to the left of the right finger. The black marks indicate where I need the fingers to line up with the low-velocity interposers.

I removed the un-needed fingers and made a new set of fingers from an old keylever.

Then using a hardened fulcrum rod I had, I ground flats on each end to fit it to the ends of the existing vane.

Once I fitted it for length, I soldered it and made sure that it remained straight and that the fingers line up properly.

Once installed, it looks like this.
Left Side
Right Side

17. Check velocity vane operation and adjustment.
18. Remove Keytops from keylevers that are being rearranged. Notice the A and M keys are not moved.

 19. Remove Repeating Keylever and modify or replace with a normal keylever for that row. If you don't have a replacement third row keylever, then just cut or break off the repeating lug extension.

20. Lower keylevers and install keylever upstop rod.
21. Install keytops in the new layout.
22. Test that the correct character prints for each keylever in the new arrangement. I just hand-cycled the machine to see which character was selected on the element for verification.
23. Reinstall Spacebar and Spacebar Rod.
24. Reinstall Margin Rack and Margin Bail and adjust.
25. Test all machine functions.
26. Reinstall covers and test again.

Happy Dvorak Typing!


  1. Thanks for publishing this. I had been looking for someone to convert an IBM III for me. Do you know of anyone? My email address
    is Thanks again, Don