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.
Someone got in touch with a set of GHD 4.2B hair straighteners, which wouldn’t warm up. Not even the light would come on.
Make and model: GHD 4.2b hair straighteners
Cost of replacement: £85.00
Cost of parts: £2.89 (plus my time)
Hours spent on repair: 1 (plus testing)
Repair difficulty: 5/10
These older hair straighteners are well supported with spare parts and their design means that, with a systematic approach and basic test gear, the fault can be identified and parts replaced, fairly easily.
The thermal fuse on these straighteners can fail, even though the heating elements and associated wiring and circuitry is just fine. A combination of age and accidental rough handling can affect the life of the fuse, so it was the first thing I checked on these straighteners.
It was first time lucky in this case. The fuse tested open-circuit. To prove that the rest of the circuit was working, I made a temporary short circuit to the fuse connection and the straighteners powered up OK.
Time to order a new fuse. Using an eBay shop (SiriusHairUK), a fuse was ordered and it arrived very quickly, great service.
With the fuse re-fitted and the heating element re-installed the rest of the hair straighteners were ready for reassembly. Using basic tools, the straighteners went back together well and after final testing, they were ready for use again.
The right formula for a poorly Tommee Tippee Perfect Prep Machine
The owner of this Perfect Prep machine had reported that it had not been used for a while, then filled with water, powered up and … nothing.
Make and model: Tommee Tippee Perfect Prep
Cost of replacement: £70
Cost of parts: £3.69 (plus my time)
Hours spent on repair: 1 (plus testing)
Repair difficulty: 6/10
I’ve repaired a machine like this before and I already had a theory about the problem, which went like this:
Machine not used for a while; watery scale deposits built-up in machine
Machine filled with water, with possible air-lock present
Air-lock causes bubble in heater, causing it to temporarily over-heat, safety thermal fuses blow
At this stage, it was only a theory, so the only thing to do was to start wielding screwdrivers.
A few quick checks revealed that mains power was not getting to the main controller in the machine, which indicated that the safety thermal cut-out fuses had failed. There are two on this machine. A quick test with the multi-meter confirmed that both had failed.
After some dismantling, both fuses could be removed from the wiring harness. Fuses like these are not available from the high street usually, but they are readily available online. The manufacturer had used crimps to attach the fuses to the wiring, but I decided to solder the new ones back in place. Care had to be taken as the melting point of solder is very close to the thermal rating of the fuses, so I came up with the idea of using a damp cloth wrapped around the fuse while doing the soldering. A bit tricky!
Both fuses replaced meant that the unit powered-up and worked. Great.
However, I wasn’t totally convinced that an air-lock wouldn’t happen again so I looked deeper at the machine’s plumbing. There appeared to be a kink in one of the boiler tube feed pipes, so I decided to cut some material away, to prevent the pipe restricting water flow in future.
All back together, the machine worked well once again.
As my own children have begun to get a little older and have become more interested in, quite frankly more interesting toys, I’ve occasionally had to repair them as they’ve suffered the odd mishap.
I enjoy repairing toys and sharing the repair experience with the owner. Looking after things and learning how stuff works from a young age will help nurture the beginnings of the engineers and scientists of tomorrow, so it’s vital that children start wielding screwdrivers as soon as they show an interest.
Through a local Worthing-based dads and children’s play group called Dad La Soul/ Don’t Believe The Hype, I’ve recently begun offering a broken toy repair surgery. Children can bring in broken toys and together we can work out what the problems are and how to fix them.
This 4×4 push-along toy had suffered a road traffic incident which had left it missing one of its front wheels. With only three wheels, it wasn’t going far.
Luckily, the axel and wheel stub were only push fitted on, so after taking the axel off, it was just a matter of applying some strong glue to the broken parts and leaving the wheel somewhere still and safe, while the glue set.
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, May’19, toy 4×4, wheel glueing.
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, May’19, toy 4×4, base.
For light ABS plastic like this, I like using Gorilla glue, which seems to work well. It won’t work for all plastic types, but it’s non-toxic and will be safe and strong for this application.
After the glue was set and dry, the wheel just simply pushed back on, ready for more ‘ragging’ around the floor.
Cost of replacement: £any. Cost of repair: 1 x dab of glue.
Time taken to repair: 20 minutes (plus glueing time).
A friend mentioned that their son’s Lumie Bedbug lamp was intermittently working and that it was shortly going to be visiting the bin if it didn’t buck its ideas up.
Er, no I said.
The bug night light was meant to glow orange, once switched on, but it only lit up when the cable was wobbled about.
The power connection on this model is a standard USB (B) connector, the ones commonly used to charge Android phones. If the power lead was faulty, it would be easy to find a suitable replacement.
The bug comes apart by removing the silicone outer layer and releasing the tangs holding the two halves of the bug together. One screw holds the PCB in place and once removed, the whole thing comes to pieces.
The USB socket was a little out of shape, presumably from some rough handling. A quick nip with a pair of pliers and it was back as it should be.
The plug was also a little out of shape, but with a bit of careful re-shaping, it fitted the socket perfectly.
Once reassembled, reconnected and powered up, the bug glowed without flickering. Result.
Cost of replacement: £50. Cost of repair: One tea and one custard cream, that I made myself.
Home coffee machines are very cool. Home espresso machines are even better as they’re the closest you can get to a coffee shop brew, in my opinion. Due to heat, water and coffee mixing up on a regular basis, they need ownership with care for long life.
Top tips for longer coffee machine life:
Use filtered water, especially if you live in a hard water area
Clean the tank regularly
Keep all rubber seals, especially those around the main coffee making area, clean with a damp cloth
Someone got in touch with a machine that was a few years old, but had once made a lovely cup of coffee. The owner had used it daily but recently it had begun to leak and not perform at its best. The machine had also been to a UK repair specialist, but sadly, they couldn’t solve the problems. I always test appliances when they arrive to confirm the fault and as expected, water came out of places it wasn’t supposed to.
I’ve worked on a few of these machines, so I know the drill. Remove the lid, make a note of the wiring connectors, the pipes and remove the bolts holding the main boiler in place. I also ordered a service kit (new seals) for a reasonable £7.99.
The main boiler separates into two halves which reveals the main boiler chamber and exit for hot water.
This boiler was in poor condition and years of corrosion and scale had built up and was probably blocking the main group head, the bit where you attach the group handle/ filter bit to make coffee.
Time for more dismantling. The group head is held in position with a couple of screws, but years of corrosion had taken their toll and this head was going nowhere. Great care was needed as the soft metal is easily damaged.
Thinking about this a bit more, I decided to cut a screw thread into one of the water holes in the head and use a bolt to lever the group head apart. It worked. Once off the head revealed loads of debris and scale.
The next job was to give all parts a thorough clean, re-faced with wet and dry paper as needed and use new seals as part of the reassembly.
Once back together, the boiler was reinstalled and reconnected. After a few blasts of fresh water through the machine, it was ready to make its first proper brew.
Cost of replacement: £100-300. Cost of repair: £7.99, my time, one tin of elbow grease, one cup of coffee and a ginger nut.
A friend of the family was very upset that her mantel clock had decided to stop and despite changing the battery, it refused to start ticking.
Now, this clock was not an expensive item, but it matched the décor of the room it was in and so the owner was very keen for it to be returned to its place above the fire.
Battery clocks like this are ubiquitous and often, like this one, don’t even carry a makers’ brand logo or name. I was thinking; if the clock’s motor was unsavable, I would replace it using a generic replacement from eBay.
I’ve fixed many battery powered quartz clock motors. They all work in a similar way. An electromagnet which is pulsed using a simple circuit, regulated by a quartz crystal. Add-in some gears and pointer hands and you’ve got yourself a clock.
After removing clock motor from the housing, just two screws, the motor comes apart by peeling back two plastic tangs. Care should be taken not to force anything at this stage as the parts are very small and delicate.
The motor gears and electromagnet out of the way, the printed circuit board popped out and the fault became clear. At some point in the past, I suspect that a battery had leaked just a little and the vapour from the leak had corroded the contacts. A little dab of contact cleaner on an old toothbrush and a little bit of scrubbing and the corrosion was gone.
A little bit of jiggery pokery again and the motor was back together and refitted to the clock’s frame. It just goes to show that something as simple as this can be fixed with basic tools and patience.
Cost of replacement: N/A. Cost of repair: Just 30 minutes tinker time and a cuppa.
Top tips for keeping your petrol strimmer running like a ‘Rolls Royce’
Make sure the fuel you have in the tank is fresh and not from three years ago (it goes off)
Keep the spark plug gap set within the manufacturer’s tolerances
Lubricate all moving parts lightly with a generic spray oil each time you use the strimmer
Someone got in touch with a strimmer that would not start. Anything that involves moving parts and petrol always gets my attention, so I accepted the challenge. Once in the workshop, I tried to start it using the pull cord and as predicted, it wouldn’t run, not even a cough. A little bit of carb cleaner sprayed in to the barrel, a pull of the starter cord and the engine did fire, suggesting that the engine could run. More analysis was required.
The strimmer had not been started for many years, so the first job was to remove the old fuel from the tank as old fuel goes off after a while. The engine on this strimmer is a two-stroke design, so the special two-stroke oil must be pre-mixed with the fuel in the right proportion before re-filling the tank.
While sorting the fuel out, I noticed the first fault. Both flow and return fuel pipes were cracked and one had come apart in the fuel tank, meaning that no fuel would flow to the carburettor. No fuel, no work.
To start most petrol strimmers, mowers and chainsaws from cold, a petrol primer pump is usually used to fill the carburettor with the right amount of fuel and this one was no different, but in this case, the pump was cracked.
After fitting some new fuel lines, a fuel filter and primer pump, the engine fired up and ran well again, ready for more garden work. See slide show.
Cost of replacement: £80 and up. Cost of repair: £7.53 plus my time and custard creams.