Embracing Colemak’s caps lock as backspace

I used to joke that I was really fast at typing because I could hit the backspace and fix my mistakes really quickly. Backspace is an inefficient key, if you’re looking at distance travelled when typing. Part of the Colemak layout involves mapping the caps lock key to be backspace: it’s much more efficient and how often do you really use backspace?

Changing the key mapping

When you first install Colemak, the caps lock key is not automatically remapped to backspace. This is true no matter which operating system you’re on. At first, I didn’t even bother making the change. After all, the normal backspace button works just fine and the configuration looked too complicated. I wanted to just get typing!

After a while, I wanted to add even more efficiency, so dug into how to make the change.

You can change the configuration on a Mac like this.

On Windows, you need to make the change at registry level:

I personally use SharpKeys to update the registry for me because I didn’t feel like playing with the different scan codes.


Learning the new key binding

At this point, after having learned Colemak and taken a crack at Dvorak, you would think it wouldn’t be very hard for me to learn a new key binding. The thing was, I almost never actually remembered to hit the caps lock key. My hands just automatically went to the backspace any time I needed it.

After adding dampeners to the keys, I learned how easy it was to pull off the keys on a mechanical keyboard. On the DAS keyboard, the backspace key has a stability wire. After I added the o-ring, I just never pushed the key back onto the switch.

2016-03-16 12.02.37 (2)

It turns out that I could and did still hit the key and I even managed to get it back onto the switch … without even noticing. I had no idea that the backspace habit was that ingrained!

I finally just updated the key binding for the original backspace key to be empty.



I can report that I’m using the new backspace key far more often now and that my right hand appreciates not stretching as far.

This change has had a few unexpected results:

  • I’m using the delete key a lot more often. As I use the mouse with my left hand, it’s just easier to reach over to delete rather than letting go of the mouse. I’m not sure how this going to change over time. I believe I used to use arrow keys and backspace instead of delete.
  • It turns out that I used backspace as a back button on websites a lot of the time. Hitting the old backspace button and having nothing happen is strange.
  • I use Colemak as my keyboard layout on my Android phone, via Swift Key.  My fingers are looking for backspace on the left side of the screen there, too.

Who knew that changing one key would turn into such a big deal? 🙂


  1. Why yes, that is a yarn needle on my keyboard. When I need to weave in ends, like after finishing a sock, it’s really useful to have the needle at hand.
  2. The symbol keys are currently marked as I have been switching between QWERTY US-International and Swedish for too long. I needed help to learn the location of the symbols. The alternative was to  press each key to see what happened every time I needed a symbol.


  1. Congratulations on the switch to Colemak.

    Instead of using the CapsLock key for Backspace, have you considered the even more powerful alternatives – such as the Extend Layer?


    You can put backspace in this layer – it’s surprisingly effective if you put it on a good key – plus you get the bonus of easy navigation functions.


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