Fix It Workshop’s diary of a tinkerer. Stories and hints to inspire your own repair.
On this blog, I’ll be writing about the things I fix and those I can’t, or are just beyond economical help. I hope my ramblings will at least inspire others to think twice before just accepting that something doesn’t work.
To those who doubt their own ability I say this: If ‘that thing’ isn’t working, grab a screwdriver, take it apart and investigate. What have you got to lose?
Within reason, I’ll try and repair most domestic items before condemning them to landfill or recycling and I hope there are many other shed-dwellers doing the same thing.
In our modern ‘throw it away culture’ one could be called ‘cheap’ for attempting to make-do-and-mend. This is madness as often good quality items end up on the scrap heap with little required to get them back in working order.
While throwing things in the bin and buying new is good news for the economy, we live in a world where the strains on our environment are increasingly evident and repairing things that can be repaired usually makes economic and ecological sense. I’m a Circular Economy advocate.
My aim here is to promote the art of repair and reuse. I also offer a local repair service in Worthing, West Sussex, UK, for a small fee, if I can fix it!
This fix was actually carried out during the summer, 2018.
A friend of mine brought over a broken formula making machine for me to look at. It had been stored after their first child had out-grown it and since having another baby, it was now needed again, urgently. Following a couple of years in storage, it was brought out, plugged in and after briefly coming on, it failed. No lights, no hope.
These machines save time and effort by allowing water to be heated rapidly and mixed exactly with the formula powder, to produce consistent results every time, perfect for new exhausted parents in the middle of the night. So it was important that I got this working quickly.
After removing the back, I was presented with an electronic control unit, some solenoid valves and a heater, plus some other environmental sensors such as thermostats. The plug fuse was OK, so it was time to check if power was getting to the machine. It wasn’t.
This machine features a couple of power control devices; two thermal aluminium ‘can-style’ fuses in-line with the heater, plus a thermostat on the output of the heater itself (to regulate heat). After testing for continuity, it appeared that one of the can fuses had failed.
These fuses are common across a wide range of appliances, such as coffee machines, fans etc and are cheap, just a few pounds. It could be that a temporary air-lock in the heater caused a hot-spot and therefore that excess heat caused the 172 degree fuse to pop. It was worth a try to replace it and see what happened.
I replaced the fuse and re-assembled. After filling with water and powering it up, normal service was resumed.
Since I replaced the fuse, the machine has been in continuous service for many months, so I can conclude that it was probable that the over heating was temporary.
I created a short video to help others who may have similar problems with their machine.
Cost of a new machine: £90. Cost of repair: a few quid and a few beers.
Another Kenwood Chef gets the treatment in the Workshop
How about another Kenwood Chef story? I know I’ve covered this machine a few times now, but I’ll try and make it as interesting as I can. I just LOVE Kenwood Chefs.
A customer got in touch with me via the FixItWorkshop ‘contact us’ link asking if I could fix his family’s much beloved Chef. While last in-use, it started smoking and smelling terminal. How could I refuse. I’m located in Worthing, but the customer was based in North London, quite a distance for a repair and would have been usually cost prohibitive using the Royal Mail. However, using local drop-off points, carriers such as Hermes and DPD offer (slightly slower) courier services for about £7.00 one way, which starts to make more fiscal sense. This is what we did.
I wish I’d taken a photo of the box the Chef came in, because the customer had clearly gone to a lot of effort to make sure it was well protected!
On with the repair.
The Chef has been in production many years and although they can often appear similar on the outside, they do vary on the inside, depending on the year of manufacture as small tweaks and improvements are made. Evolution, rather than revolution, usually the backbone of any successful design.
The A901E is different from the previous A901 as it features an electronic speed controller, rather than a centrifugal affair. While the later design is an improvement, it wouldn’t deter me from buying an earlier model; the improvement is small.
The A901E still features similar components to previous models which can and do fail, especially with age. The subject here is about 30 years old, give or take.
The motor on the A901E comes out quite easily; first remove the motor cover, remove the mains cable (disconnect first of course), remove the top cover, belt, then the four screws holding the motor in. The motor then pulls down from inside, out through the gap left by the hinge. Easy.
The motor circuit board showed traces of component catastrophe with dust and dirt left by exploding components. Nasty. Pre-empting the fault, I ordered a repair kit before I’d taken the machine apart, together with replacement feet as the ones on this machine were knackered. The kit includes capacitors, resistor and triac as these are the main components that tend to fail.
These kits are available on eBay and are worth the money as they are often cheaper than buying the components separately and they contain instructions for newbies. Here’s a little slide show showing the process.
With the kit fitted, the motor re-installed, mains reconnected, the Chef ran well again, this time without burning or smoking. However, all was not well as the speed control was a bit wobbly at lower speeds, which was just plain wrong. Having worked on a good few Chefs, this problem is usually down to excess end-float on the motor spindle. Working with the motor still in situ, the motor fan, which controls end-float could be adjusted with an Allen key. Sorted.
Just the replacement feet to fit and after a quick clean-up, the Chef was reassembled, ready to go home.
A top tip for you. If you intend to replace the feet on your machine and you probably should if they are old as they go hard or fall apart, then soak the area around the feet recesses with WD-40 or similar a day or so before as this will make getting the remnants of the old feet out, much easier.
Cost of a replacement: £400 up. Cost of repair: £12.65 plus my time and tea.
Christmas wouldn’t be complete without having to fix last years’ tree lights and this year was no exception. It’s a tradition I look forward to and savour.
Gone are the days spending hours trying to find a faulty bulb, now due to the wide availability of cheap LED products, the thing that’s often likely to fail is the wiring, something which was much more unusual, a few years ago. Manufacturers must make savings somewhere and I often wonder how retailers can offer new decorative lights, so cheap. Compromises must be made somewhere I guess.
Being cheap, like a lot of things, makes them more disposable, which is a shame when things fail, often for trivial reasons. This year’s blackout was caused by a couple of broken wires on the control box, which didn’t appear to have any obvious way to get inside.
We don’t like to be beaten in the workshop and sealed units and tamper-proof items are just seen as a challenge, rather than a deterrent.
Like many multi-function sets, the lights are operated via a control box with a switch, mounted in a plastic enclosure which appears sealed. The fault was obvious here, just the main wire from the transformer had broken ‘flush’ with the control box, meaning that there was not enough wire either side of the break to re-join it.
The control box has no screws nor visible clips, holding it together, so it was time to break it open, using a small flat-bladed screwdriver. The small section covering the wires snapped off cleanly, revealing several terminals covered in hot melt glue, annoyingly. This meant that before any repair, the glue must be removed. Several minutes picking this off with the screwdriver, revealed some conventional post terminals. The fix was easy from there, just cut down the wire to make a new connection, remembering which way round they went, clean up the terminals and solder back together. A little bit of fresh hot-melt glue to seal the connection and a bit more on the surface to be stuck together, and the cover was refitted. I also fitted a little heat shrink to repair to reduce the chance of the cable from breaking again.
As I had the soldering iron out, I also did a small repair to the control box wire to transformer plug, which had also broken. It was a case of cutting back two sides of the break, soldering, isolating with a small amount of electrical tape and sealing with heat shrink.
Now that’s all done, Christmas can now officially start.
Cost of replacement: £ 5.00 up. Cost of repair: 1 cup of tea, heat shrink, tape and solder.
Strange noises from machines play on my mind. None more so than when that niggling noise starts to get worse. Noises like that usually mean two things. Catastrophic failure and expense.
Time to disconnect from the mains and fetch the tool box.
The patient in the surgery this week is our own Hotpoint tumble dryer. We avoid using it at all costs, but with miserable English weather and two children, getting washing turned around efficiently, ready for use is mandatory. To be frank, I’d noticed the excess whinning bearing noise coming from the dryer for a few uses, but it was getting to the point where it was hard to ignore.
Electric hot air tumble dryers are pretty simple things. They work by sucking cool air in, heating it up under thermostatic control and then blowing it in to a rotating drum. The moist air is then expelled via a filter and then hose, to atmosphere. Tumble dryer models of this kind will have the following: A motor, heater, thermostat circuitry, timer and a drum. There isn’t much to go wrong and many parts for UK tumble dryers are available, cheaply from places like eSpares.co.uk. Usually, no special tools are required if you want to have a go at fixing your machine and I recommend you do of course.
After opening up the cabinet, access to the drum and motor was available by the side panel which was held in position with several self-tapping screws and hooks. Care must be taken if you attempt something similar on your machine since there are plenty of sharp edges to watch out for. This dryer features an AC induction motor (which has no motor brushes). It has a spindle which runs through the motor with a pully one side to drive the drum via the belt and a fan the other to blow the hot air. Removing the belt and spinning the motor by hand revealed the problem. The spindle spun OK, but sounded rough.
Replacement motors are available at a reasonable £90 or so, but you know me by now, I don’t like spending that kind of money, unless I have to.
The motor is attached to the appliance with simple bolts and is removed easily. The motor is held together with self-tapping screws, which are easily accessible. Just two bearings feature in this motor; one at each end to support the load. Both bearings sounded rough, but seemed not to be worn too much. The bearings are standard items and it would be easy to find exact replacements from a bearing supplier (rather than replacing the whole motor), for under £20. However, as this was my own machine, I went for cheaper fix, to squeeze more life out of what I already had. With the dust cover popped off from both bearings, I cleaned both with isopropyl alcohol cleaner and then re-greased with quality high-melt point bearing grease. Much better.
The motor re-assembled, re-installed back in the machine and it was time to switch on. It now sounded as sweat as a nut.
If and when the bearings get noisy again (and they will eventually), I’ll replace the bearings with new ones.
Cost of replacement: circa £200. Cost of repair: My time, two cups of tea, one custard cream, a bit of grease. Not in that order.
Who wouldn’t love a new DAB radio for your birthday? Well, that’s what I had this year and I was thrilled to receive this Pure Evoke H2. After choosing a suitable location on my desk, I quickly unpacked it, plugged it in and…nothing. Booooooo!
The display backlight appeared to glow a little, but that was it and I was missing Today on Radio 4.
To save a quite frankly dull story, the returns and replacement process offered by the company who supplied the radio was hopeless. But, after 2 months, I ended up with a replacement radio, in addition to the one I already had. The second radio worked, albeit with some fettling required to the speaker to make it sound ok (another story).
Time to dig out the screw drivers as I had nothing to lose.
Just 6 screws hold the back on and with these removed, the radio’s innards were exposed. Now, I’ve made radios from kits in the past using components I can hold with my fingers, but with this radio, the circuitry was teeny-weeny and I would have to have some luck to fix it.
I was in luck. The radio is made up like a sandwich. The front fascia is screwed to the cabinet and the back, that I’d removed, was screwed to the cabinet, from the other side. There are data-style cables between the two halves and one of them appeared to be loose. I carefully pushed the connector ‘home’ and then re-applied the power lead and wouldn’t you know it, the display lit up and it burst in to life. Now we’re talking.
Thinking I’d sussed it out, I screwed the radio back together and had about a week or two of unbroken service, until the screen froze and then nothing. Oh no.
Re-opening the back of the radio, I suspected that the tiny soldered pins on the back of the multi-way connectors on the data-style cables, had been dislodged. I have average sized hands for a bloke, but I needed tweezers to get the connectors on during assembly. I wonder how much it would have cost to add an inch or so to each cable, to make manufacture easy. As a consumer, I would have gladly paid the extra penny. I suspected that this is how the original fault came to be as it wouldn’t have taken much more than a shove in the wrong direction to break the delicate connectors, due to the short length of the internal cables.
Since this circuit board is a tiny stamped component affair, I had to be quick and neat with my re-soldering. Each pin to PCB connector re-soldered, cables re-attached, back screwed back on and the radio worked once more.
Pure have a reputation for easy to use, excellent sounding products. It’s just a shame they have seemingly penny-pinched on some of the internal gubbins on this model. If yours develops similar symptoms, don’t give up, take the back off and have a look.
Cost of a new radio: £40-90. Cost of repair: 5 mins tinker time, one cup of tea.
It’s important to talk about failure as we can often learn from it and this brief write-up is all about something which left the workshop, ready for recycling. I made it go bang, sadly.
Remember TVs before the networks ‘went digital’? They had analogue tuners built-in, which received the signals. With so many old TVs out there, manufacturers sold digital set-top boxes, which allowed an older TV to work with the new digital TV stations from about 2007. Since then, manufacturers include a digital receiver within their TVs of course and this particular device now seems a bit of a museum piece.
This SEG DVB Digital TV box had failed completely, so off with the lid. Once open, the printed circuit board (PCB) was revealed. The PCB on this device was made in two halves; one for the TV reception stuff and one for the power, the conversion of mains electricity to lower DC working voltages. The power part of the board had some visible damage and it appeared that a smoothing capacitor had gone pop.
As it happened, I had a similar device on the shelf I was gradually stripping for spares and was able to quickly identify a suitable replacement. Once re-soldered in and powered-up, nothing happened!
Then I spotted an on-board fuse which had also failed, but I didn’t have one of these, so I decided to temporarily short the fuse connections to make a connection. That’s when things got smoky.
I’d missed the fact that a small transformer on the PCB had a winding short on it, which had impacted on the rest of the components. Bang.
Never mind. Digital boxes are still available online and that’s what I did, I ordered a new one.
Although I didn’t win this one, it’s important to have a go and that’s the whole point. If it’s not working to begin with, what’s the worst that can happen?
Starting a new job is always fun and when a new colleague of mine mentioned that the office vacuum cleaner had packed up, I rose to the challenge.
I’m quite fond of Dyson products as some of you know, mainly because:
They’re well-engineered, by engineers
They’re designed to be repaired easily with simple tools, which is better for everyone
Parts are readily available at reasonable prices
The DC01 was launched in the early 90’s and was Dyson’s first market clean-up, competing with the established market leaders. Although this machine is over 20 years old and Dyson no longer supports it directly, reasonable quality pattern parts are available on eBay. If you have one, love it and keep it going.
This one is actually an ‘Antarctica Solo’ model (grey and light blue instead of yellow), which commemorated Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ solo trek across Antarctica and raised money for Breakthrough Cancer. It had been abandoned and was moments away from the skip. I felt quite sorry for it.
Faults reported included; no suction, excess noise and smell!
The first thing to check on the DC01 is the filters, as like many other Dyson products, people forget to clean or change the filters. Both filters were totally choked and full of all sorts of detritus. A quick shake out and wash with warm soapy water and they were as good as new. Following that, I inspected the seals around the join between the cylinder and the main body. All the seals were dirty, so a clean up and quick spray with silicone spray and they were as good as new. Great.
The noise seemed to be coming from the front beater/ rollers which usually means, noise bearings. The beater on this model uses a two bearing set up. One was fine, but the other was seized. As I didn’t want to spend any more than I needed, I cleaned the bearing, after removing it and the dust cover, re-greased it with LM High-Melt Point grease (general automotive stuff) and it was ready to roll and beat again.
Once the filters were dry and re-installed, the Dyson ran like new again. Very satisfying.
Cost of replacement: £15 second hand, £100’s for an equivalent-ish new model.
Cost of repair: Patience, washing up liquid, two cups of tea.