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!
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.
My mum’s got an old electric Singer sewing machine which is about 40 odd years old. Singer sewing machines are well supported generally and parts are readily available, but I find it’s sometimes fun to try and find the cheapest way to fix something myself.
The foot pedal on this machine went pop and smelled horrible after. The machine then stopped working, oh dear.
The pedal is of high quality construction and easily better than any generic replacement on the market, so it was definately worth saving.
Opening up the pedal was just a few screws, which then exposed the whole mechanism. The mains resistor was in tact and seemed to test with resistance. A good start. The contacts were in good condition as was the rest of all the components, except for the mains input capacitor, which has spectactularly failed and split open, a common problem on older mains capacitors.
Repair kits are readily available for about £5, but that seemed expensive to me! Using the existing capacitor as a guide, I found a suitable component on eBay for £2.09 delivered. That’s more like it.
The capacitor I used was: Film Capacitor, 0.1 µF, 250 V, PET (Polyester), ± 5%, R60 Series (from eBay).
Here’s a little slide show that I hope will help others fix their pedal, should it fail.
With the old capacitor cut out and the new one soldered in, the pedal was ready to run again. Sorted.
Cost of a replacement: £15-30 for a generic part. Cost of repair, £2.09, 1 cup of tea.
On the back of a previous article about a repair I did on the rather wonderful Elna SP sewing machine, a reader got in touch. She was a genuine sewing aficionado and had several top of the range current machines, but she used the trusty Elna SP for many smaller jobs, where the other machines didn’t quite cut it.
All Elna SP machines are getting on a bit and parts are either re-manufactured, scarce or secondhand, if you can find them. Having said all that, a well-maintained Elna will run for many years and last much longer than new metal on sale now.
The foot pedal on this machine had gone pop, bang, finito. It smelled terminal.
Knowing that parts for this machine are rarer than hens teeth and I do like a challenge, I took on the job. I’m based in Worthing, West Sussex and the machine was located in Scotland, so after a short wait, the knackered pedal arrived in the post.
The pedal is held together with four small self-tapping screws and came apart easily. The reason for failure was two-fold. The copper leaf contacts had arced excessively and caused major pitting in the contact strip (see slide show) and the probably ensuing resistance had caused the main resistor to overheat, causing the winding to fail.
The contact surfaces were easy-ish to fix, or rather breathe new life into as all they needed was cleaning and re-shaping. The resistor was a bit trickier to mend. Getting hold of a replacement was going to be near impossible, so the only thing to do was to try and repair it. Without that particular style of resistor, of that value, it wouldn’t work again. Luckily, there was some excess resistance wire on the thing and I managed to twist it in to the broken section. Soldering was not an option, since the wire was an alloy that wouldn’t take to solder and in any case, these things get hot in normal service. I twisted both ends of the break to form a new section, while maintaining the same length of windings on the resistor, essential if I was to match or get close to the original specification. Difficult. Luckily, after a few goes, I managed it and the applied a little heat-conducting (and therefore dissipating) paste to the join.
With the pedal reassembled, I was only able to test it with my meter, since the sewing machine was far too heavy to post. The pedal tested as a closed circuit (OK), which was a result. I then had to wait for the pedal to be collected, taken back to Scotland and tested. Fortunately, my fix worked and the machine sprang in to life, without a hitch or missed stitch.
Now, a word of caution with this one. This is NOT the best way of mending something like this and all I’ve probably done is prolong it’s life a little longer. There are generic sewing machine pedals that would work with this machine and will be fine, when this one fails in future, but that’s not the point. The main thing is that something that was broken is now working and even if it’s not the best fix, at least it will run for a bit longer. Happy days.
Cost of replacement: (generic part) £15-30. Cost of repair, my time, a bit of solder and several cups of tea.
A neighbour of mine is a talented musician in a local band and also teaches school children various instruments. Some of his students learn the drums, which is most parent’s nightmare as any notion of a peaceful evening is shattered. Luckily, electronic drum kits are an excellent way to learn with headphones, while keeping happy parents and neighbours.
This kit was missing several beats and was hampering learning, so time for a visit to the workshop. I’m no musical instrument repair specialist, but I thought that the drum kit must use electrical contacts, switches and rudimentary electrical components and I was right.
Two faults were reported; The kick/ foot pedal was intermittently not working and one of the drum pads was hardly working at all, unless you hit it with a sledge-hammer. Time to see what was going wrong.
First up was the faulty drum pad. Opening up the back of the pad was simplicity itself, just a few screws held the back to the pad. Sandwiched between two halves was a sensor, a bit like a piezo flat speaker, similar to the type found in many toys with sounds. I guess the principle here is that vibration detected by the piezo sensor is converted to analogue variable voltages by the drum kit’s circuitry. While apart, I noticed that some of the copper detail tracks on the printed circuit board which had a standard 3.5mm jack socket (to allow a connection back to the rest of the kit) had cracked. Looking again through my magnifying glass revealed quite a bit of damage, probably as a result of many Keith Moon wannabes. Testing these tracks with my meter confirmed an intermittent fault, so out with the soldering iron, to repair the connection. Plugging the pad back in, it was ready once again for more drum solos.
Next up was the dodgy kick/foot pedal. As the with the drum pad, the pedal would cut out intermittently. A few screws held the pedal together, so only basic tools required. See the slide show below for an idea of the construction.
The fault with the pedal was similar to the drum pad. Some of the copper detailing around the 3.5mm jack socket had failed and required some careful soldering. I say careful, as applying too much heat at once would, likely as not, melt the casing of the socket. One had to take care.
Once soldered, the pedal was much better. I didn’t get a full 10/10 repair with the pedal since I think there was wear on the kick sensor, but it was an improvement none the less.
Cost of replacement: £lots. Cost of repair, my time, two cups of tea and some solder.