Change My Mind: 40% layouts are insufficient for serious work


First, I apologize for the click-baity title :smiley: I’m not really that opinionated about 40% keyboards.

I wanted to open up a discussion about why people use 40% layouts as daily drivers. I haven’t had the opportunity to try such a layout yet, but I am not yet convinced it could work for me personally. I am wondering how people use these for their daily typing and work, as I am genuinely interested in hearing people’s experiences with these rather esoteric keyboards.

I started in this hobby thinking I could not live with a layout smaller than 80%, but now I’m seriously considering a 60% layout. Maybe this is the first step towards 40% :smiley: One thing I know I cannot live without, though, being a Windows-centric sysadmin: the Windows key. That’s too bad, because I really like the way WKL layouts look.

Let’s use this thread to share positive experiences with the 40% layout!

[IC] Samurai Blue

Calling @ChrisSwires


40% is a calculated exercise in loss for me (I have some 20 or so staggered 40% keyboards), for me it is 100% not about trying to squeeze every key I occasionally use into layers, and conversely about deciding what I can live without. Now what that is depends person to person, it’s inherently use case specific. I myself am a software developer, mostly front end (I use a text editor rather than an ide) and on MacOS for work.

That combination has basically allowed me to cut down to pretty much one layer. Layer 2 contains the punctuation that won’t fit and that’s basically it. I don’t miss the f keys and don’t program them (even on 60 thanks to my os), I don’t use the nav block so it ain’t there.

Now as I said. This is personal. My development style allows for this, most don’t, but it’s about finding what you can live without, not finding some ingenious method of conveniently squeezing 108 keys onto 40. Anyone thinking about doing that I’d honestly advise against 40%.

But to speak to the advantages, 40% allows me to hit every key I need without ever leaving the home row. I have zero lateral or horizontal movement while typing. For me, that’s huge. I type quicker and more comfortably, with less fatigue (I type a lot, I’m at my desk 10 hours a day and work from home so even when not developing there’s a huge amount of text based Comms).


took the words right out of my mouth, listen to this guy about 40% lol


To piggyback off of @ChrisSwires’s response, there’s a few apps and utilities out there that will build a keyboard heat-map of your day-to-day typing. Build up your heat-map over a couple weeks (or a couple months) and you can see for yourself what features and keys you use and don’t use on a regular basis. Keys that never get used can be eliminated. Less frequently used keys get moved to a layer. Regularly used keys become your layout. The main issue at that point becomes how to build your layout with standard/common key sizes so you aren’t stuck with buying three random add-on kits just to cover your needs.


Agree, that’s a great jump off point to understanding your workflow.


I also work in application development and use 40% occasionally. I have 2 layers, my main layer that’s pretty close to traditional and then a second with the missing keys minus the F row. After a while it’s really no different than hitting shift + alpha/symbol on a full-size.


I noticed there were many keys I never use on a traditional Keyboard. I cut out all that stuff first, then I had to find some new places for thing that I did need, layers are your best friend. I use my board (MiniVan) for programming, pcb design, cad work and gaming. I initially just did it as an experiment and after about three weeks went back to a tkl at which point I realized I really liked a lot of the layering from my 40% experiment. I quickly switched back and have been full time 40 for over 2 years.


Damn, that’s amazing. I’m still on a mix of layouts from TKL to Pearl, but your point about the layers is so true. I’m still addicted to buckling springs but my missing layers feel almost like a missing hand.


When I first started my interest in mech keyboards I thought for sure I’d need arrow keys so I got a 65% then got a 60% and found I was okay. Then @ChrisSwires kept posting all his beautiful 40s and I saw the Pearl and fell in love.
I modified a QMK layout to my own liking and I’ve not looked back. The only thing sometimes that throws me off is the symbols corresponding with the number row. I rarely need things like the $ symbol but often forget which key it relates too. Otherwise I have no trouble in writing programs or for everyday use for that matter.

I see it more as a mental hurdle that you have to get over but I really appreciate how close everything is due to layers.


Hm, this is interesting and seems to be quite common. I’ve been perfect ten-fingers touch typist on blank keycaps for over 10 years now and I still don’t know where exactly $ is…


I don’t have a lot to add here that hasn’t already been said… but would like to stress the ergonomic benefits of never having to leave your home row. I don’t have massive hands so not having to reach way up and to the right for backspace and even over a couple keys to mash enter are huge benefits to me. Of course this wasn’t apparent until I used a 45% and got used to it. The rare times I am forced to use a full sized standard layout it’s extremely obvious and annoying. As @cijanzen mentioned, I never learned to touch type symbols on number row keys 6-0 so on a very rare occasion I’m annoyed by that. But in the end I’m pretty sure I’m 45% for life.


Thanks for all the great replies!

This is probably the most convincing argument for me personally and is the main reason I’m looking into going 60% for now. I guess I just can’t let go of the number row and associated symbols just yet :slight_smile: but that brings me to

Now this sounds like a good idea. Any utilities you can recommend specifically that you like?

I might try 45% before going full 40%. First, I’ll see how I like a split-space 60% (gotta use my left thumb for something, and Fn seems like a good idea), but given what I’ve read in this thread so far I could see myself adjusting down to 45 :slight_smile:


lol 45% is the sweet spot for me. 40% is just a wee bit too small. The biggest differences to me being an extra key to the right of L and you can have a dedicated /? key for more or less a full range of basic punctuation on the base layer. JD45, Pearl, Vortex Core. Though I dislike the position of the 1.25 right shift key on the Core. I prefer that key to be all the way to the right.


Sorry, haven’t actually invested in this route yet (currently sitting at 65% for comfort and æsthetics), but I find the field interesting because it tries to ride that line between functionality and minimalism – how small can you go before you lose your comfort zone? Heat maps have been discussed (and argued) on r/mk and have been one of the motivations not only behind small form factor builds, but also behind alternate layouts (Dvorak, Colemak, Workman, etc.) as well as ergonomic layouts (staggered, ortholinear, columnar, staggered columnar, etc.)


I am a software developer who uses visual studio for development. I have a ton of keyboard shortcuts for my editor built in as layers. I don’t use the f keys, so I don’t miss them, and with QMK’s touch tap, just pushing down on one of my thumbs completely changes my layers for fairly inconvenient layer switching. My two main layers are primarily numbers/symbols layouts, and since I can type everything from within one key off the home row, its super easy to remember where everything is once you get used to it without looking or needing to press crazy combinations. Most of my bonus functions are bottom row so its a slight reach (but not really) cause I don’t do them as often, whereas my dominant symbols are home and top row on a layer swap.

Personally, my wrists were starting to hurt at work, and I find the ease of reaching everything without much wrist movement to make me feel much better. I don’t feel I miss anything. It actually makes typing numbers more convenient imo since mine is only 10 alpha keys wide on the home row.


I’ve spent quite a lot of time thinking about it, and anyone that uses Fkeys for work is pretty much screwed, they’d either be forced to put a lot of effort into getting used to operating with the GUI alternative, or they’d be forced to spend a lot of time programming in every single Fkey hotkey that they use onto a secondary layer.

Fkeys are useless keys as primary, but they are also impossible to use in a secondary layer due to a lot of the shortcut key combos that require the use of a lot of modifiers or even an Alpha.


That sounds really handy. Any links to those apps?


I am a carzy 40% user and collector from China. I can almost understand the discussion upstair, but its so hard for me to say my view on 40% layout in English.
In short, suits yourself is the best, and Im already give up recommend 40% layout to others.:sweat_smile:


There is never a problem of how many keys you have on your keyboard. The real question is if YOU can make good and comfortable layers which will suit you. And that’s hell of a task as you don’t know what you will like.
It’s even harder on 40% boards with blocked cases - QMK offers different solutions, you have to dwell in and break down all the possibilities .