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.
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
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(!).
Rub the lamp release the genie, make three wishes (make ’em good)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A Numatic Henry vacuum cleaner gets the kiss of life…
There are times when only no-nonsense suck will do. Other vacuum cleaners offer the moon on a stick, but rarely live up to the repeated abuse of everyday life. Henry on the other hand is tough, no-nonsense and above all, reliable.
I have friends in trades who will only buy and use Henry ‘hoovers’ as they last, always work and are easy to use. And above all, who doesn’t like an appliance with a smiley face?
The example in the picture above had been used by a local Worthing taxi driver everyday for the last 15 years without any problems and was in pretty good nick. The filter was clean and apart from some wear and tear scratches, still looked like the current model.
One day, Henry failed to switch on and after the owner had checked the fuse in the plug, he decided to get in touch with the workshop.
The HVA200a has two speed settings, one at 600 Watts power and one at 1200 Watts power, selectable by a red switch and indicated in a red tell-tail lamp. When plugged in, nothing was happening.
Time to perform surgery.
Opening up Henry’s casing was straightforward and top marks to the designers for creating sensible parts that fit together logically. Henry is designed to last and be repaired. All very pleasing.
With the lid removed, all electrical checks were made from the plug to the end of the flex, down to the motor. The flex was in good condition with no snags, shorts or earth faults. The cable winder on this model is a simple handle operating spindle and was a bit sticky. The contacts inside the gubbins were also tarnished, so while it was all in pieces, I decided to clean all of the electrical contacts with cleaner and make sure all the sliding parts of the cable winder were clean and had a small dab of silicone spray for smoothness.
Testing for current around the circuit revealed that the speed control board was where things stopped. The speed control board was dead and required replacing.
To prove this fact, I was able to temporarily by-pass the controller and connect the mains switch to the motor, which revealed that the motor was strong.
A quick bit of shopping with my favourite parts suppliers yielded a replacement (updated) speed control PCB for under £20, which seemed like good value to me. After making a note of the wiring (see slideshow), the new PCB was connected up, the casing back together and Henry was ready to run, once more.
I also decided to give Henry a little polish too, just because.
A mate asked if it was worth saving his abused Dyson cylinder vacuum cleaner which has been residing in the garage for a couple of years, in the dark, unused. It had last seen service when clearing-up building dust and allsorts of non-domestic detritus and that abuse had now given the vacuum cleaner breathing difficulties. A vacuum with breathing issues means no suction.
Interestingly, the reason the Dyson was being called out of retirement was due to a lack of performance from the family’s more recently purchased battery machine. Hopefully I’ll get to see that in the workshop soon as well. I’m getting ahead of myself already.
Make and model: Dyson DC19 (grey and purple)
Fault reported: 70% reduction in suck
Cost of replacement: About £200
Cost of parts: £9.54
Hours spent on repair: 1
Tools needed: Cleaning tools
Sundry items: Silicone spray
Repair difficulty: 1/10
Cups of tea: 1
Biscuits: 2 (M&S Belgium Selection)
Like many abandoned vacuum cleaners I see in the workshop or at the tip, there really wasn’t much wrong or really broken, yet its owner was considering its future. What to do. I’ll write about readiness to repair and repair inertia another time!
The repair in stages:
Remove, clean (and replace) filters and refit once dry (48 hours)
Remove collection cylinder and clean thoroughly and refit once dry (48 hours)
Clean all seals with soap and water, dress with silicone to revive
Check by-pass valve and clean as needed
Check power cable (clean to improve flex rewind system)
Check and clean roller brush head
The filters on this machine were so dirty that I decided to invest in a new set which, at under £10, seemed good value and will certainly extend the life of the DC19.
After giving the main unit a good polish the Dyson DC19 was ready to go home to clean-up. Another Dyson not biting the dust, just yet.
All things made, will eventually break. Things that are made eventually wear out and either must be replaced or repaired. However, some things wear out a little faster than others.
Planned obsolescence and manufacturing budgets mean that parts within products can wear out faster than reasonably expected and fail totally, rendering the rest of a perfectly working item, useless.
This is where us repair folk come in. We refuse to accept this problem and work away tirelessly in sheds and lockups everywhere, working on solutions to problems such as this, keeping things going, a little longer.
A friend’s DC32 Animal cylinder vacuum cleaner’s roller beaters had stopped turning and made nothing but a horrible noise, when the cleaner was in use. Not cool.
The roller beaters on this model are literally vacuum operated by a turbine/ fan which spins fast when air passes across it, driving the beaters by a toothed belt and gear. There is no separate motor to drive the roller beaters, which is quite an elegant solution to a complex problem.
Fast forward to the issue and despite identifying the broken part and then contacting Dyson directly for a replacement, they would not sell what I needed, a part that would probably cost no more than £10 to supply. Such a shame.
The price of the (original equipment quality) complete Dyson Turbine Head, suitable for the DC32 vacuum cleaner, is £60.00 as a direct replacement from Dyson, but the part is now copied by other manufacturers. A pattern part design is available for under £20 and if this was my machine, I’d be tempted at that price. Pattern parts have their place, but I suspect that at this price, performance won’t be quiet as good as the original.
So, a choice:
Replace the part with a brand new Dyson part – too expensive
Replace with a non-original part, that will probably do the job – unknown outcomes, unsatisfying
Attempt a repair on the original part. Of course it’s what I’m going to do!
On with the repair. The Turbine Head is screwed together using Torx head screws and the side vents that secure the main drive unit, pop-off the main casing, with some encouragement.
A picture paints a thousand words and the above slide shows the dismantling and reassembly process for the Turbine Head. If attempting this kind of thing yourself, remember to keep all components free of dirt and grime.
In the absence of a replacement, I attempted a repair to the existing fan and since it was made of plastic (some kind of nylon derivative I think) it was going to be difficult. Not many glues will stick this type of plastic well, so my choice was going to be ‘make or break’, literally. I considered an epoxy resin, but opted for Gorilla Glue, since it expands slightly in use, to all of the microscopic gaps. I also used it to modify the fan by filling-in around the spindle to try and prevent slippage, when spinning. When dry, I lightly sanded any high spots of glue away.
Once the whole unit was back together and reconnected to the main vacuum cleaner, the head roller beaters spun once again without a horrible noise. Question is, how long will it run for? If anyone thinks they can make a replacement using 3D printing, please let me know!
Why oh why oh why are more kitchen machines not orange? I mean, just look at this beauty. Rare-ish and as a Chef spotter, I think the only time I’ve seen another is on the kids’ TV program, Waffle the Wonder Dog on Cbeebies, here in the UK. Do you have one in another funky colour? If so, please send me a picture!
An orange Chef in the workshop: It was like Christmas had come early.
The Chef had actually been working for a living since it provided daily assistance in the production of artisan cheesecakes, being sold at a local market. Recently it had decided to start a smoking habit and then go on strike leaving the owner in a bit of a muddle and customers with rumbling tummies. That simply wouldn’t do.
Anyway, on with the repair. Opening up the casing revealed the problem straightaway. One of the capacitors had failed and a resistor had burned out, leaving a failed circuit.
With a decent repair kit bought (from eBay), I replaced all components relating to the speed control circuit, which made the motor run again. I also replaced all the machine’s 5 feet, since the originals had long since gone to mush, something they all do with age. Since the motor was out of the unit, I took the trouble to adjust the motor’s end float and oil the bearings, for ultra-smooth running. Very satisfying.
With the casing all back together, I gave the machine a light T-Cut and polish to make it look as good as new and despite its 30-odd years and the odd bit of flaky paint, I think you’ll agree- it looks fab.
PS, thanks to Andrew for supplying the very yummy scrummy, lime cheescakes.