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fixitworkshop.co.uk repair blog

The diary of a tinkerer: Stories, advice, tips and sometimes the odd failure to inspire your own repair.

Repair shop | Repair blog | Repair information source | Making everyday things last longer

The tinkerer at FixItWorkshop.co.uk is Matt Marchant

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You can follow me on Twitter (if you want)

I also write for Bangernomics (a car website)

  • I write about things I fix and even those I can’t
  • I offer a repair service for a small fee
  • I occasionally volunteer at Repair Café and similar events in Sussex and surrounding area

I love repairing things and hate throwing things away that can be saved. There’s far too much waste in the world.  Many things that can sometimes appear unrepairable, are indeed repairable, with a little tinkering.

I want to encourage people who doubt their own ability to repair their things, to give repair a go.  Afterall, if ‘that thing’ isn’t working, grab a screwdriver, take it apart and investigate.  What have you got to lose?

I’ve been tinkering with bikes, cars, coffee machines, toys and vacuum cleaners and pretty much anything that can be dismantled since I could hold a screwdriver.  I’ve worked for BT as a senior engineer and I’ve studied design, business and electronics.

Enjoy the repair diary of a tinkerer.  I hope it gives you a nudge to repair your broken thing. 

Scroll through the repairs

Minimum Cash for a Maxi Micro Scooter

A Maxi Scooter Gets a Refresh!

Before and after…

This is exactly the kind of job that I should have done with my daughter, but I had to do this repair in secret on this occasion as the scooter was to be a present for her.

Birthdays can be expensive times, but Dad is a shed-dwelling-repair-mad-penny-pinching fiend and it means that his children’s presents don’t need to be new. Take this Micro Maxi Scooter. £129.99 when new, second-hand for £10. Wheelie good value.

However, a £10 Micro Scooter isn’t going to be as fresh as one costing £129.99 is it, so time for a few service items and light renovation.

Make and model: Micro Maxi Scooter

Fault reported: Tatty, noisy wheels, brake rattles

Cost of replacement: About £129.99

Cost of parts: £16.68 (bearings, grips and tassels)

Hours spent on repair: 1

Tools needed: Allen keys, screwdriver, drill

Sundry items: Silicone spray, PTFE spray, rag

Repair difficulty: 3/10

Cups of tea: 1

Biscuits: 0 (I was being good for a change)

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It’s amazing what a bit of spit and polish, mixed with a little elbow grease can achieve. A rattily, untidy Micro scooter that might have end up at the tip prematurely is now as good as new, thanks to some time spent and basic new parts, which only cost just over £16, or just over 10% of the value when new.

Rattily wheels

The four wheels on this model can take a pounding as kids take their scooters off kerbs and through puddles, just as they should. But the small bearings that allow the wheels to spin freely and smoothly can suffer with age and wear. Due to sensible design, the bearings fitted are readily available online and a complete set can bought for a fiver. After removing the wheels using an Allen key, the old bearings simply pop out using a large screwdriver and the new ones can be pushed in using your thumbs or a small vice. If you do this job yourself, don’t forget to clean all of the surfaces with a rag and something like WD40.

Tatty grips

The grips on older scooters can get mucky and after oil and sunshine have worked on them, they tend to suffer with discolouration and cracking. Again, the handle bars are a standard size and you won’t have any trouble sourcing the official replacements or aftermarket replacements

Noisy brake

The brakes on these scooters tend to become noisy with use as the small steel rivets rust and become lose with time. Although this issue doesn’t affect operation generally, it sounds horrible. On this scooter I decided to drill-out the existing rusty rivets and after a quick clean up, replace them with some alloy alternatives. These look better and will last much longer.

During this repair, I couldn’t do much about the chipped Micro Scooter logo, but even a new one would end up like this example after 5 minutes use!

A very satisfying repair and something any parent could do with their kids at home using basic tools.

Is 12 years too long to keep a toothbrush?

A Braun Oral-B electric toothbrush gets a new lease of life.

Let’s just clarify one thing straightaway; I’m talking about an electric toothbrush with changeable brush heads.

I was given an Oral-B/ Braun electric toothbrush as a birthday present years ago, which when you think about it, is a bit of a strange thing to receive as a gift.  Maybe the gift contained a hint?  Back then, these toothbrushes were not cheap, starting at about £60.00 if I remember correctly.  Today, a new equivalent is quite a bit cheaper.

In the time I’ve owned it, it’s had about 40 new brush heads and it’s just about to start it’s third non-replaceable battery.

Make and model:  Oral-B/ Braun 3756 931 41306

Fault reported: Battery won’t hold charge

Cost of replacement:  About £20.00

Cost of parts:  £6.60

Hours spent on repair:  1

Tools needed:  Small flat-bladed screwdriver, soldering iron

Sundry items: None

Repair difficulty:  5/10

Cups of tea:  2

Biscuits:  2 Gingernuts

Electrical items with non-replaceable batteries are so annoying.

A message to manufacturers:  There’s simply no excuse for it as all batteries are replaceable.

In my experience, items with ‘non-replaceable batteries’ contain entirely replaceable items.  The batteries might not be standard ‘AA’ items, but there’s a host of online suppliers that are ready to supply just about any power cell for any application, you name it, usually for a reasonable price that costs-in for the repair process.

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Now, I don’t know how long one of these toothbrushes is meant to last, but as a long-term test, I thought it would be interesting to find out.  After the first battery died, I decided to take the toothbrush apart, to see what was going on inside.

As you can see from the photos, there’s more within than one might think.  There’s a switch, charging circuit, timer circuit, over-pressure circuit, gearbox, motor, mini crankshafts and a battery.  Not to mention all of the tiny connecting parts all neatly engineered to work together, reliably.  It’s a small work of art really.

It makes me very sad that most of these toothbrushes will end up in landfill, after a few years.

The designers had clearly designed this toothbrush as a disposable item as the battery, despite being readily available from spares suppliers, was hidden, out of sight, under all of the gubbins.

To extract the battery (a simple nickel cadmium item) a full dismantle was required, in this order.

  • Prise off the top collar
  • Prise off the bottom cap
  • Pull out the main mechanism
  • De-solder the main pressure switch, charging coil, LED, and some other joints,
  • Take PCB off of battery carrier,
  • Split battery barrier from the main motor area
  • Remember the polarity of the battery, negative near the coil (a misleading ‘+’ there)
  • Reassembly, with the new battery is the same in reverse.  See pictures for hints.

Twelve years down the line and now on its third battery cell, the toothbrush is still going strong which proves that with a little tinkering, disposable items can be repaired and made to last longer.

It’s just a shame that Braun, the manufacturer, decided to ignore any notion of consumer maintenance.

 

 

A broken massage belt, with a happy ending…

An Invitalis Massage Belt gets a simple repair at the workshop.

I was asked to repair a personal massage belt recently, which had developed an annoying habit of cutting out, mid-treatment.  Over email, I confessed that I did not know what a massage belt was, but was reassured that is was used to treat lower back ailments and nothing more personal.  Phew.

Make and model:  Invitalis Vitalymed Flexi massage belt

Fault reported: Cutting out

Cost of replacement:  About £40.00

Cost of parts:  £1.29

Hours spent on repair:  1

Tools needed:  Small flat-bladed screwdriver, soldering iron

Sundry items: None

Repair difficulty:  2/10

Cups of tea:  1

Biscuits:  1 Goldbar

 

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, August’19, Invitalis Vitalymed Flexi massage belt.

These devices are sold on Amazon and are usually available at events, such as the Ideal Home Exhibition and alike.  This belt offers the wearer a lower back massage by means of two rotating arms with smooth spheres, hidden behind a soft pad.  The spheres also emit infra-red, if required.

I don’t know much about this kind of thing, but I had noticed that the power cable for the belt was a standard female 12VDC connector, used on many types of domestic equipment.

With the power applied and with some wiggling, the belt would occasionally come on and then fail, indicating a loose connection.  The trick here was to find out where.

The belt is zipped together and access to the wiring was easy.  The belt’s power connector ran to a switch/mode box and then on to the motors and other gizmos within (see photos in slideshow).

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After cutting into the cable, testing continuity, I found two problems; A break within one of the cable cores and a faulty female power connector.  Luckily, connectors like this are abundant and a quick look on eBay revealed lots for under £2, delivered.  As it happens, I bought a high-quality connector and flying lead, intended for a CCTV camera, to fit the belt.

The last step was to reconnect some good cable, reconnect the new connector and make good with soldered joints and heat shrink, to keep everything nice and tidy.  Before I solder things, I always make sure I’ve not cross-wired anything, by proving continuity with a multimeter.  In the past, one has been known to blow things up by not taking this sensible approach!

After reassembly, it was just a case of powering up and switching on.  Gladly, I hadn’t crossed any cables and it now worked again, happily ever after.

Old school iPod Nano battery replacement

Apple really don’t want you to get into their products- but they’re not alone.

We have two Apple products in our house from the early 2000s; one iPod Nano 1st generation and the 1st generation iPod colour.

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, August’19, Apple iPod Nano.

Apple tech polarises opinion as it’s always premium priced and is quite locked-down to ‘Apple only platforms’.  Some people love the ease of use that their products seem to offer, others get frustrated with the lack of integration with other products.

Despite being an Android house, we keep the iPods as they are quite robust, but due to age, battery life has recently become an issue.

Make and model:  Apple iPod Nano

Fault reported: Battery not holding charge

Cost of replacement:  eBay, loads out there

Cost of parts:  £8.00

Hours spent on repair:  1

Tools needed:  Spudger, small flat-bladed screwdriver, soldering iron

Sundry items: None

Repair difficulty:  4/10

Cups of tea:  1

Biscuits:  2 (Custard Creams)

Let’s just get it out of the way now.  Apple really don’t want anyone opening up their devices and it was a wrestle to open up the casing, without snapping something (the iPod, not one of my nails or something).

The battery in the Nano is situated beneath the metal cover, which must be removed using a spudger.  A spudger is a small lever with a fine edge that can be used to gently open up small, usually plastic, push-fit, ‘clicked-together’ things.  Spudgers are kind of disposable and I always seem to break one on each job.  I must look out for a strong, stainless steel item.

Using the spudger on the Nano isn’t easy, since (as I later found out) all of the metal tangs located around the metal casing, dig in to the plastic face.  Trying the separate the two halves is a real battle and there’s a real risk of damage should you use too much force.

After a good 15 minutes of wrangling with the Nano, the casing popped off.

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The battery on this model uses a small fly lead which is soldered to the main PCB, again more evidence to suggest that Apple had no intention of making the Nano’s battery replaceable by most users.  Extreme care had to be taken with the soldering too since the PCB’s components are so close and small, making it too easy to use too much heat, causing irreparable damage.

I took my time and was able to fit the new battery (push fit) and solder the connections OK.

The cover popped back on and fortunately, the screen lit up once more, when the menu button was pressed.  Phew. Tea time.

 

Imaginext Super Hero Flight Gotham City

Good thinking Batman, but I have a safety dilemma with a repair.

During a recent Toy Doctor surgery at a Dad La Soul/ Tot Rockin’ Beats event http://www.totrockinbeats.com/dad-la-soul I attempted a repair on a kids toy that I couldn’t get working in the two hours we had, so I asked if I could take it home to the workshop where I have more tools at my disposal.  Good thinking Batman.

The Imaginext Super Hero Flight Gotham City (catchy title for a toy) was much loved, but the flying bit (circled in red below) had stopped working and no longer did anything when switched on.  No fun without the flight bit.

Imaginext Super Hero set
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, August 2019, Imaginext Super Hero Flight Gotham City. Image: Google/Amazon.

 

Make and model:  Imaginext Super Hero Flight Gotham City

Fault reported: Not working

Cost of replacement:  £45.00 approx.

Cost of parts:  £0.00

Hours spent on repair:  About two hours- although to be honest, I lost count with this one

Tools needed:  Cleaning cloths, small fine file, soldering iron

Sundry items: Contact cleaner

Repair difficulty:  6/10

Cups of tea:  4

Biscuits:  10, maybe the whole pack, I lost count (Custard Creams)

The battery-powered flying thing on a weighted boom should fly about in a circular fashion and be controlled by the city platform, presumably by remote control from the main city bit.

Upon opening up the battery compartment, the problem revealed itself.  The previous batteries had leaked and the spillage has corroded the battery terminals.  No bother I thought, just a matter of cleaning-up the metal surfaces and we’d be back in business.  How wrong I was.  Even with new batteries installed, nothing happened, how very dissapointing.

No, it wasn’t going to be that easy and that was the theme for the rest of the repair.  Everywhere I turned, whether it was trying to open up the casings, inspect wiring or generally take something apart, I was going to be met with glued shut fixings and more problems.

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Construction on this toy was very strange.  Surfaces on the casing were sometimes glued and screwed together, very odd, and I guess that method must have been used due to production time and cost saving.

The wiring between the flying bit and base checked out OK and the motor spun when I applied some charge briefly to the terminals, so that all seemed fine.

Upon opening up the gubbins where the switch was, the problem with the toy presented itself.  The mini printed circuit board had suffered from battery leakage corrosion and was shot.  Whatever it was meant to do was in the distant past.  So, this toy was for the WEEE skip, as there was no chance of getting a replacement.

Well, hang on a minute, we don’t give up like that do we.

I decided that I could make the toy work albeit without the printed circuit board by re-wiring the motor, using the existing loom and switch, so that the motor and therefore helicopter bit worked as it should.  This would mean that once the switch on the base of the unit was turned on, the helicopter would start and it would not be possible to turn it off without grabbing the moving base weight first.  It clearly wasn’t designed like that, but I had at least got it working again.

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So, here was my dilemma:  Give up with something I couldn’t get a part for or get it working again, albeit with a removed (percived) safety feature, so that the toy could still be enjoyed.  I went with the latter as I thought that the danger was negligable.

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, Aug’19, flying high, once again.  Always read the safety label.

Was I right?

 

 

Why are some spare parts more expensive than a complete product?!

I struggle to buy a replacement part for a reasonable price.

I’ve been meaning to do a little article on this problem for a while and I apologise in advance if (you’re still reading) this seems like a rant.

Why-o-why-o-why are manufacturers still allowed to price spare parts dearer than a complete product?

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, Aug’19, Triton Cara and Enrich Showers.

Recently our electric wall shower gave up the ghost and tripped the electrical breaker in the fuse cupboard.  Not great when it happens mid-wash.

The shower was a few years old and registered with the manufacturer for support for things like recalls and so on.  I had fitted the shower myself and it it had been a reliable product until this point.

Out with the screwdrivers and multimeter.

The 8.5kW heating element is split into two circuits, one for half-power and one for full.  Most people would use full power, but you might be able to get away with using it on half or economy mode in summer, when the water feed is generally warmer.

All micro switches seemed to be working OK, which was a bit of a shame actually as it meant that the heater can was probably faulty.  It was.  Half the heater can tested OK, the other half was dead.  Oh dear.

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, Aug’19, Triton Cara heater can.

After visiting some shower spares suppliers and the manufacturers’ own website, I discovered that the spare part I needed wasn’t cheap at over £50 delivered.  I saw some advertised for £70 on some third-party sites.

Price of part
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, Aug’19, Triton Cara replacement heater can spare part.  Price sourced from triton.co.uk, correct 10/08/19.

I was fuming.  Why so expensive?  I mean, you’d have to be out of your mind to part with your hard-earned cash on a spare part like this when you can buy the whole unit for less.  See below.

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, Aug’19, Triton Enrich/ Cara – new price listing.  Price sourced from Screwfix.com, correct 10/08/19.

The Cara shower has been replaced by the Enrich and is basically the same product, by another name.  Therefore, the high price of the spare part in this instance cannot be blamed on low manufacturing volumes as the showers are still made, are widely available and have been in production for a long time.   Something is ethically wrong with Triton’s spare parts pricing policies.

Now, I don’t want to beat-up Triton, they’re not alone and many manufacturers do the same, but there are now many forward-thinking companies out there getting it right.  Maybe Triton will revisit their spares listings.

Despite my natural leaning to repair and recondition, I had to admit that simple logic won the day and I bought a whole new unit from Screwfix.  The Enrich shower fitted exactly where the Cara had been and worked perfectly.

I thought about this situation long and hard and decided that for this type of appliance, a spare part should not cost more than 30% of the current retail price.  In this instance, I would have been prepared to pay about £15.00 for a spare part. 

In a world where we need to encourage people to repair appliances (and anything else) manufacturers need to facilitate a reasonable and proportionate spares back up service.  It’s as simple as that.

Still, there is a bright side to this tale.  The old shower’s solenoid, mixer, control knobs and switches all work fine and I’ll keep those as spares to be used again in a shower or something else that comes along.

Blinking GHDs!

A pair of GHD 3.1B hair straighteners gets fixed

GHD hair straighteners are not something I’ve ever had the need to use, but they are seemingly very popular among the long-haired kind, none the less.  There are cheaper alternatives out there, but devotes tell me that the ceramic plates seem to have a better finish and run hotter for longer, all essential features for taming unruly curls.  So they tell me.

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, August’19, GHD 3.1b hair straighteners.

Make and model:  GHD hair straighteners 3.1b

Fault reported: Buzzing noise, not warming up

Cost of replacement:  £97.00

Cost of parts:  £0.00

Hours spent on repair:  About an hour (ish)

Tools needed:  Cleaning cloths, small fine file

Sundry items: Contact cleaner

Repair difficulty:  4/10

Cups of tea:  2

Biscuits:  1 (Ginger Nut)

Someone got in touch to ask if I could fix their GHDs and to be frank, I’ve had mixed success with these repairs in the past as in general, the newer the model, the harder it is to fault-find and subsequently order parts for, something I find very frustrating.  However, the 3.1bs discussed here are pleasingly old-school.

Dismantling these GHDs involves just one small cross-head screwdriver and one small flat blade screw driver, none of your fancy Torx heads here, thank you very much.

Strangely, the GHDs made a disconcerting buzzing noise when switched on, which to my fairly trained ear sounded distinctly 50Hz-like.  That means that the mains electricity feed was causing some component to ‘arc’ or resonate- the buzzing noise, in plain English.

Fearing imminent catastrophe, I unplugged the GHDs and went to work.  The main PCB is pretty simple on the 3.1b.  Most of the solder joints were OK, but some of the joints around the switch had discoloured, showing that heat had built up, indicating a problem.  To be on the safe side, I re-soldered all the joints to avoid a dry-joint situation.

The buzzing noise still prevailed.  The switch seemed to be the next logical place to look and being of quality, the designers had provided easy access to the switch mechanism via a small metal cover with sprung tangs.  A quick bit of jiggery-pokery and the switch was in bits.

The problem was revealed in an instant.  Both switch contacts and corresponding wipers were burned and needed re-finishing and cleaning.  A quick whizz with a fine file and clean with special electrical contact cleaner and the switch was as good as new.  Since the GHDs were already in pieces, I gave the same clean up treatment to the 3600 flex mechanism, as a precaution.

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So, this set of GHDs were saved from the bin, ready to straighten locks once more, thanks to a few basic tools and cleaning.  Very satisfying.