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fixitworkshop.co.uk repair service and 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.  If you can’t, I might be able to help.

Scroll through the repairs

Atco Consort 14 (CT14) self-propelled lawnmower repair

A mid-90’s take on a classic design, dodges the tip

When they say; “they don’t make things the way they used to”, they’re right… sadly.

With many repairs that I do, half the battle is identifying the correct or closest-match replacement part.  Half the fun is finding a part to do the job, when the original manufacturer can’t or won’t sell that part.

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, May’20, Atco Consort 14 (CT14)

Make and model: Atco (Qualcast) Consort 14 (CT14- 002107A)

Fault reported: Intermittent running

Cost of replacement: £300 (approx.)

Manufacturer support:  0/10

Cost of parts:  £24.44, inc. carriage

Hours spent on repair: 1 hour

Hours spent on finding parts: 1 hour

Tools needed: Screwdrivers, spanner, pliers

Sundry items: Silicone spray, WD-40, cleaning materials

Repair difficulty: 3/10

Cups of tea:  X 1

Biscuits: Custard Cream X 1

Some things are just a joy to work on because of the way the original design and engineering teams that came up with the product, saw their machines being used in real life.

Even though this machine was built in the 1990s, the Consort 14’s DNA comes from a long line of designs that include the famous ‘Suffolk Punch’ lawn mower created by Suffolk Iron Foundries of Stowmarket in 1954.  This machine is badged as Atco (and Qualcast in places) but the electric motor was made in Stowmarket, England.  The original factory had a reputation for making everything, literally everything, for its machines, right down to the nuts and bolts and this ethos lives on in the CT14.

I’m not going to bang on about sustainable design and circular economy here, but today, unless one pays serious money, garden equipment is simply not built to last any more than a couple of years.  Many of the mowers and strimmers you can buy for under £100 in B&Q, Tescos (here in the UK) and alike have a built-in obsolescence factor measured in months, not decades.  Personally, I believe that products like this should be banned.  Too many end up at my local tip with the price label still attached…

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A neighbour asked me to look at their Atco lawnmower, which had stopped mowing recently.  They were wondering if it was worth bothering with a repair, I of course said that the machine that they had was better than many machines available now, so it was absolutely worth repairing!

The mower is a self-propelled, cylinder type with speed control and clutch to engage the propulsion system, as desired.  It’s a neat design that’s hard to better.  The next time you are at Wembley or Wimbledon, just look at the mowers still used by professional grounds maintenance teams.

The Atco is designed to receive occasional maintenance and all items which might require the owner or maintenance engineer to inspect are easy to access.  Forward thinking again, shown by the designers.  The main issue in 2020 is that parts are only available from aftermarket suppliers and although there are still (thankfully) specialists ready to supply, part numbers and cross-referencing is a nightmare and despite me doing this work in the UK and this machine being made in the UK, the repair required a degree of investigation and sleuth work to get the parts needed.

The motor was my first port of call and with only a couple of bolts holding it in place, the motor was soon removed.  It was in good overall condition but the carbon brushes were a little short and needed replacing. This explained why the motor had suddenly cut-out.

You might think that finding carbon brushes for a UK made motor, might be easy.  You would be wrong.  Despite several conversations with mower experts, these brushes were seemingly unavailable, off the shelf.  I did order some brushes for an equivalent model produced a little later, but these were too large.  I could have filed them down to make them fit, but after rooting around in my collection of brushes (as one does) I found that a new pair of brushes from a Kenwood Chef A701 fitted perfectly.

While I had the mower in pieces, I decided to inspect the drive belts which were both in poor condition.  One was split and one had stretched badly.  For smooth, reliable operation, both required a replacement.

Again, the Consort 14 was not on many mower supplier inventories, so finding the correct belts required cross checking with other Qualcast and Bosch (Bosch later acquired Qualcast) models and a little bit of luck to match them up.  Fortunately, eBay sellers came to the rescue again and I managed to find the correct belts which fitted perfectly.

With the mower back together, it was ready to run for another 30 years.  Time for another cuppa.

Footnote:  I’m very aware that I sound like a stuck record…

Look, many products made and sold nowadays are much better than older ones.  I’m not saying that all old things are better. Take old cars for example (although I have a soft spot for old cars):  They were polluting, they didn’t have safety built-in (in general) they rusted-out and broke down, all the time.  New ones generally don’t break down, last for longer and you’ll walk away from many crash situations.

New things are usually safer, more efficient and capable.  However, many older machines were designed to be serviced, repaired and re-used over and over, which in my opinion, is more sustainable.  Many products today, especially mowers and alike are designed to last for 18 months hard-use and then the whole thing is scrapped, but it’s apparently acceptable to society as it ‘only cost 40 quid- I’ve had my monies worth’.

It’s this notion that doesn’t sit well with me and I see a growing cohort of people who are not prepared to accept this waste of resources either.  What say you?

 

Nilfisk GM80 industrial vacuum cleaner

This ‘vacuum beast’ from the 1960s gets serviced, ready for today

Sometimes big is best and when it comes to longevity, this machine is tough to beat.

I wasn’t born when this machine was made, but good quality designs and engineering foresight, means that new parts fit retrospectively.  Why aren’t all machines made this way?

Make and model: Nilfisk GM80 (large)

Fault reported: Poor running

Cost of replacement: £600-800 (approx.)

Manufacturer support:  8/10

Cost of parts: £14.94, inc. carriage

Hours spent on repair: 1.5 hours

Tools needed: Screwdrivers, test meter, soap and water etc

Sundry items: Silicone spray, WD-40, cleaning materials, wire wool

Repair difficulty: 3/10

Cups of coffee:  X1

Biscuits: X2 Chocolate Hobnobs (that don’t dunk that well in coffee, truth be told)

Recently, I got the opportunity to tackle an industrial vacuum cleaner in need of a proper service, which had been in continual use since the late 1960’s.  Judging by the condition it was in when I first received it in the workshop, I doubt that some parts of the machine had received any care since its first day at work.

The machine in question is a Nilfisk GM80 (large).  It’s a ‘large’ as it has a milk-churn sized base to it, which means it can swallow a lot of dust.  The large base has long been discontinued, but you can still buy the current smaller base, should yours be damaged.  Indeed, the Nilfisk GM80 range of vacuum cleaners are all quite modular and feature different levels of filtration, depending on the specific environment they are put to use in.  This means you can easily swap parts from donor machines to keep older machines going. The design means that parts seldom go obsolete, new parts just get improved and fit older models.  Great news for sustainability.

Back to the machine in question.  It had been covered for many years under a service contract, but for whatever reason, that company were no longer taking quite as much time as they should and applying as much care with each inspection.  This ‘serviced’ machine had recently had a new motor (hence later model motor housing) but the basics of vacuum principles had been overlooked.

I won’t go into the repair blow-by-blow, so here’s a summary of the work completed:

  • clean of all rubber seals and mating surfaces, essential to avoid air leaks
  • check and adjust all housing clips and adjust as necessary (all of them in this case)
  • wash motor diffuser (this had been changed within the last year)
  • wash main cotton filter (this had never been done, it was so clogged)
  • wash motor intake filter
  • check condition of motor brushes and bearing end-float (all fine)
  • check and tighten electrical IEC connection
  • inspect flex for damage (all OK)

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The previous service agent had stated that the damaged hose (original 1960’s rubber item) was now unavailable and that a replacement was impossible.  Impossible eh?  That’s two letters too long.

Upon taking the old hose connectors apart (and removing layers of gaffer tape), I discovered that the internal diameter was similar to a Nilfisk-to-Numatic aftermarket adaptor and with a little adjustment, this 1960’s Nilfisk machine could be made compatible with Numatic’s vacuum cleaner hose design, which is much more abundant, here in the UK.  So, with a little jiggery pokery, this machine is ready to work for its living, once again, with a shiny new hose.

So yet again, when an ‘expert’ tells you that something cannot be repaired, don’t necessarily take their word for it.  A second opinion can sometimes save you time and money.

The repair didn’t break the bank either and I have since taken on more machine service work for this organisation.

The tale of Hetty & Henry

A small mix up nearly resulted in some body modification…

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, May’20, Henry & Hetty bathing in the sunshine

Make and model: Hetty Vacuum Cleaner (HET200-22)

Fault reported: Not working

Cost of replacement: £100-£140

Manufacturer support:  10/10

Cost of parts: £21.59, inc. carriage

Hours spent on repair: 1 hour with service

Tools needed: Screwdrivers, test meter etc

Sundry items: Silicone spray, cleaning materials

Repair difficulty: 4/10

Cups of tea: 1

Biscuits: Ginger Nut X2

If only everything was as well made and built to last as a Henry (or Hetty!) hoover.  Simple as a knife and fork, with tried and tested technology, it’s a machine created by an engineer, for everyone to own, use and repair themselves, when needed.

A neighbour got in touch to say that their broken Hetty was about to be scrapped and asked if I could do anything with it.  Of course, I said.  To be honest with you all, I’m not that confident with all repairs, but I knew that in the case of this one, I should be fine as Numatic products are pretty well supported by the manufacturer. And this is the thing:

How many purchases do we make that consider; “will I be able to get parts for that one day”?

We all do it, but as a tinkerer I try and consider the longevity and likely need for replacement components when I’m considering handing over my hard earned wedge, at point of purchase.

The Hetty had been working fine, but had then conked out, mid clean.  No drama, no noise, no smoke, it had just stopped.  The owner had already checked the fuse, but that was fine (as they often are).

When things just stop and won’t restart, that symptom is often trying to tell you something and if you’re listening, capturing the way something fails and acting on the information can save you time and often money.  It’s a trick I’m always trying to perfect, although one can be caught out anytime- but that’s half the fun.

  • The machine stopped suddenly…
    • Maybe the cable broke?
    • Maybe the plug is damaged
    • Maybe a component failed quickly

Expensive things like motors tend to start making noises, run slower than usual or smell bad before failing.  They can ‘just stop’ of course, but it’s likely that there will be a build-up, so I proceeded with some confidence that the motor was probably fine.  I always check motor bearings and brushes anyway, when servicing this type of thing.

Since the mains cable and plug were fine, it was time to delve inside.  The Hetty top is simply held together with a few screws (normal cross head) which then frees the cable winder and motor assembly, when undone.

I suspected the two-speed control PCB as these can fail suddenly without warning and since I have no Numatic PCB tester (if there is such a thing), all I could do is prove the component as faulty, beyond reasonable doubt.  A quick check with my multi-meter revealed that there was no output, when connected to the mains.  Suspicious.

It is also possible to by-pass the speed control PCB on these machines, which I did.  I connected the motor up without it’s 600W/1200W control circuit in the loop and the motor spun up just fine.

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Often, I like to go direct to the manufacturer (where possible) for spare parts as you often get the truth about an appliance as well as the latest version of a part.  Often, manufacturers continue to iron out bugs and develop upgrades for spare parts as these will be fitted to the latest models.  A company such as Numatic seem to apply those upgrades retrospectively to older models too, so that all customers new and old, can enjoy the benefits.  For information; UK spec speed controller part 208436 (red) replaces part 206735 (orange) for model HET200-22.

As I couldn’t find the part I needed on any website, a quick call to Numatic UK, gave me the information I needed.  Even during Covid-19 lockdown here in the UK, the lady in Numatic’s spares department, working from her kitchen, was able to advise me on the upgraded part I now needed and arrange for it to be with me for the next working day.  If that’s not good service, I don’t know what is.  http://www.numatic.co.uk

With the new part installed, the motor spun once more, at the correct two speeds.  Happy days.

All fine then.  Not quite. 

Hetty had been supplied with a red base, not the original pink one that Hetty should have.

As we all know… no?  Just me then, Henry is red and Hetty is pink and there is a range of names and colours to choose from in the range.

When I tried to fit the Hetty top to the supplied red base, it didn’t fit.  Quite a head-scratching moment, if I’m being frank with you.  Had it never fitted? Had the owner simply just put up with it the way it was?  Had there been some kind of strange swapping incident that I wasn’t aware of?  Time to get some answers!

It turns out that my neighbour have both Henry and Hetty models and had given me the wrong base.  They had assumed they are all the same.  They’re not actually, see below.

The latest Henry and Hetty tops have a cut-out for the tool storage bracket moudling as shown on the red base above.  The earlier Hetty I had in the workshop had no such bracket in the plastic.  I did offer to modify the Hetty top I had with my Dremel saw, but this offer was declined!

With the right top and base paired up once more, I was happy, the neighbours were happy and another vacuum cleaner had been saved from being scrapped needlessly.

Time for another brew.

 

Touch control lamp repair

An old lamp sees the light…

You’ve got to be in the mood for certain repair work.

A friend of ours dropped in a ‘dead lamp’ to the workshop with a message:  “Matt, can you mend it”?  I then sort of forgot about it for er, nine months.  Whoops.  I need to focus on the workshop more.

The lamp was much loved by its owner and its current lack of light was leaving her in the dark.

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, May’20, Endon Touch Control Dimmable Lamp.

Make and model: Endon Touch Control Dimmable Lamp

Fault reported: Not working

Cost of replacement: £30ish

Manufacturer support:  0/10

Cost of parts: £3 approx.

Hours spent on repair: 30 minutes

Tools needed: Screwdrivers, test meter etc

Sundry items: None

Repair difficulty: 2/10

Cups of tea: 1

Biscuits: Wagon Wheel (Jammie)

These touch lamps were a bit of a novelty back in the day and seem to have fallen out of favour in recent times.  However, the owner of this one was a bit upset when suddenly one day, it wouldn’t work.

When working on anything mains operated, I always start with the basics:

  • Is the bulb working? Yes.
  • Is the mains flex OK?  Again, yes
  • Is the fuse (UK) intact? All OK

Lamps like this are pretty simple; there’s a mains wire, there’s a bulb and holder, a switch and the main lamp unit itself.  Some dimmable lamps, like this one, feature an electronic dimming module, which in this case was built into the base of the unit.

First step:  Remove the base cover

Removing the cover was fairly straightforward and only involved a few self-tapping screws, under the felt pad base.  This exposed the dimmer module, which when tested with the meter, was not outputting any current to the lamp circuit.

Second step: Dismantle the dimmer

Dimmer modules like this are not designed to be repaired and contain no user-serviceable parts (don’t get me started on that!).  But in the past, I’ve had some luck cleaning components and re-heating the odd dry joint with a soldering iron.  In this case, it was no joy.  A replacement module was needed.

Third step:  Find a new dimmer!

I can’t remember what I used to do before finding specialist electronic suppliers on eBay and alike.  Oh yes, I just remembered:  I struggled!

It didn’t take long to find a new (almost identical) dimmer module on eBay for about £3, delivered.  How do they do it for the money?

After 2 weeks of waiting, the new module arrived in the post, hand delivered by our usual friendly posty, Keith.

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Forth step:  Fitting the new module and test

Comparing the dimmers side-by-side revealed that they were more or less the same, using the same wire colours…but in a different combination.  This meant that it wasn’t a simple ‘cut and re-join’ the new dimmer to the existing wiring.  Oh no, it meant cutting everything out and starting again.  Still, with only four wires, it didn’t take long.  With a little soldering and heat shrink, one would never know I had been tinkering.

A good job, jobbed, even if it did take me months to get ‘aroundtuit’.

Quite literally illuminating.

 

More power please

Does your toy have enough energy?

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, March’20, testing a battery (featuring my retro BT multimeter).

I’m not a fan of batteries. They run out and always when you least expect it.

You know that anything with a battery, will need attention at some point.

Batteries either need to be replaced or better, recharged.

But often, replacement batteries are the only option for toys, which can mean high running costs. Especially when the toy is played with continually by an enthusiastic child owner!

Trouble is, a mixture of built-in obsolescence and poor design means that it’s just not obvious how one replaces duff batteries meaning that, I suspect, lots of toys get thrown away needlessly, but it’s not the owners fault necessarily.

Sadly, some replacement batteries cost more than the toy itself, which is just mad.

Make and model: toy radio control car (no brand or model)

Fault reported: Not working

Cost of replacement: £10ish

Manufacturer support:  0/10

Cost of parts: £5 (batteries)

Hours spent on repair: 30 minutes

Tools needed: Screwdrivers, test meter etc

Sundry items: None

Repair difficulty: 0/10

Cups of tea: 1/2 cup

Biscuits: None

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The owner of this toy had played with it non-stop wearing the batteries out.  Mum and dad had replaced some of the batteries in the car part of this toy, but still the toy didn’t work.  It wasn’t clear to the parents, which batteries in what part of the toy needed to be replaced, which meant that an email asking for help, popped in to my inbox.

At first glance, the car part of the toy had no battery cover or compartment, but on closer inspection, the car separated in to two halves, allowing access to the 4 X AA (1.5V) batteries.  Not a straightforward task for everyone.  Testing each battery revealed that they were all worn with an average of 1.3 volts (much lower under load) each.  I replaced these with fresh ones and put the car back together.  The car’s casing was simply held together with a clip and a couple of small screws.

However, the toy still wasn’t working, time to test the radio controller.  Again, a screwdriver was needed to open the battery compartment to access the battery.  Not all households have screwdrivers (even though I believe they should!).

Testing the 9V PP3/ 6LR61 battery revealed around 3 volts, 6 volts too low.  Again, a new battery got the radio controller working once more.

Doing this ‘repair’ got me thinking.  Batteries can be tricky things to manage.  New ones can go flat when not in use and old ones that have been kicking around in a drawer for a while can be fine to use.  One can replace batteries with ‘new’ ones which are no better than the ones fitted, leading a user to believe that the ‘thing’ must be faulty.  A false positive.

With a little basic training on multimeter use, hours and cash can be saved by testing pesky batteries.  At under £5 for a basic multimeter, it could be money well saved for any household.  Just a thought.

With both car and radio controller switched on, the toy sprung to life.  Of course, I had to test the car thoroughly before handing it back(!).

 

Magic Lamp

Rub the lamp release the genie, make three wishes (make ’em good)

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, March’20, Dimmable Projector Lamp

I’d say that 8 out of 10 repairs commissioned by folk who get in touch are for sentimental reasons.  Take this unusual lamp.  It’s not worth a great deal of cash, it doesn’t use the latest luminescence technology and it doesn’t even have a makers’ mark (we think it came from Aldi or Lidl).

Yet, it had been a family favourite for years and the owners were keen to see it light their world, once more.

Make and model: Dimmable ‘projector ball’ lamp

Fault reported: Not working

Cost of replacement: £30ish

Manufacturer support:  0/10

Cost of parts: £15.30 plus £3.25 for bulb

Hours spent on repair: 1 hour

Tools needed: Spanner, screwdrivers, test meter etc

Sundry items: None

Repair difficulty: 2/10

Cups of tea: 2

Biscuits: 1 Gold Bar

Firstly, we all make mistakes and here’s one of mine!

It’s easy to fall into traps or ‘snap diagnosis’ when doing a repair and I want to share a ‘little accident’ that I had with this one.  Even an experienced repair bloke can make mistakes.

Here goes.

After checking the mains plug (all fine) and cable to the lamp for continuity and potential shorts to earth, I was convinced that the supply lead was fine.  All good so far.

Next, I checked continuity from the dimmer module to the lamp socket.  Ah ha, that’s the problem, that link in the circuit is dead.  A quick repair job, on to the next?  Not quite.

As a temporary test, I decided to by-pass the dimmer and rig a temporary wire to the lamp, to prove the wiring was OK and that the dimmer was the fault.  Upon plugging the mains plug in, the bulb nearly exploded.  Bang!  My safety circuit breakers then stopped the power to the whole workshop.  I was now in darkness, but luckily, my heart was still ticking.

I had failed to realise that the dimmer on this light was actually doing two jobs; dimming the lamp as well as stepping down from the (UK) mains 240VAC supply to a safer 12VAC operating power.  I had connected 240 Volts to a 12 Volt bulb!  What a simple mistake to make.  If I had simply inspected the dimmer more closely, I would have realised this.  The original sticker and badges on this lamp had long disappeared.  An important lesson, relearned.  Time for a cup of tea and a biscuit.

The repair.

With the power back on, it was time to see what the original dimmer was doing.  Not much as it turned out and due to the tininess of the dimmer’s components and build type, I was unable to say why it had failed.  I suspect that one of the power sink control components (maybe a Zenner diode) had failed, causing an overload to the onboard one-time blow fuse.  However, that’s just an unproven theory.  The fact was that I now needed a replacement dimmer with step-down 240/12VAC capability.

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It turns out that only a couple of manufacturers make such a dimmer module and I chose one made by Relco as it seemed to match the original specification quite well.  It would have been tempting to convert the lamp to mains power and just fit a simple on/off switch, but I’m not keen on this as technically, the lamp would need to be re-subjected to British/ EN Standards, not something I was prepared to do.  Unless impossible otherwise, all kit leaving the workshop must be original specification or better.

With a new (correct) dimmer wired-in and replacement MR11 bulb fitted, the lamp came to life once more.  I’d also fitted a proper mains on/off switch, since the replacement dimmer did not have one.  The new switch would isolate the flow of power to the whole thing when not in use, hopefully prolonging the life of the dimmer module.

The owners of this lamp were very pleased to have it back as they had missed the lovely light patterns it projected on to their ceiling.

Micro Mini Scooter tune up

A Micro Mini Scooter gets a little TLC

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, March’20, Micro Mini Scooter.

I like Micro scooters and I would have loved one when I ‘were a boy’.  My daughters have them and they love zipping along the pavement on them to school.  The scooters handle well and are well screwed together.  They are also well supported from a spares point of view, so I like them even more.

Make and model: Micro Mini Scooter

Fault reported: Back wheel stuck

Cost of replacement: £55

Manufacturer support:  7/10

Cost of parts: £2.00

Hours spent on repair: 30 minutes

Tools needed: Cleaning tools/ cross-head screwdriver/ Allen keys

Sundry items: Silicone spray/ cleaning rags/ PTFE spray for steering

Repair difficulty: 2/10

Cups of tea: 1

Biscuits: 1 custard cream

The scooter in the picture belonged to my friend’s son who’d taken it through one too many puddles I think, as the rain water had taken its toll on some of the scooter’s moving parts.  Over time, the rear wheel’s bearing had suffered excess water ingress, had rusted and had seized.  I’m always amazed at how ‘stuck’ things can get with only a small amount of rust.

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In their wisdom, Micro have decided to fit their products with generic bearings commonly fitted to skateboards, roller boots, bikes, cars, photocopiers etc, which means that replacement bearings are a doddle to obtain.  I bought some upgraded bearings with better water seals for under £10, so I know that the repair will last longer than the original equipment fitted from the factory.

The front wheels were seemingly fine, so I left them alone. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.

On this model, the rear wheel comes off with one Allen key bolt holding a retaining a stub axel, which slides out with a little persuasion.  The bearings just pop out of the wheel using a small screwdriver as a lever and before fitting new equipment, I always clean the area first to ensure that no dirt is trapped, which could cause premature bearing failure in future.

With the new bearings in, stub axel refitted, a quick wipe down with a strong cleaning wipe, a little PTFE lube applied to the scooter’s steering mechanism and it was ready to see another day.

Bonza.