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. After all, 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.
A little bit of ‘shed magic’ to rescue a Magimix 4200XL
Like everything else, food mixers come in all shapes and sizes and there’s a make and model on the market to suit all applications, tastes and budget. Magimix have been around for a long time and make premium mixers for the wannabe chef. These mixers specialise in chopping and slicing and tend to be more specific in task over, say, a traditional bowl mixer. The Magimix 4200XL is a current model at the time of writing and is all yours for around £300. When whisking something delicious in the kitchen myself, I prefer a traditional Kenwood Chef, but if I was regularly chopping veg with NASA micron-precision, I can see why a mixer like this might appeal. Since I’m a bit of a salad dodger, the need for this has never arisen.
Make and model: Magimix 4200XL
Fault reported: Not running
Cost of replacement: £300
Manufacturer support: 4/10
Cost of parts (for this repair): £0.00
My time spent on the repair: 1 hour
Tools needed: Screw drivers, pliers
Sundry items: None
Cleaning materials: Silicone spray, damp cloth
Repair difficulty: 3/10
Beverages: 1 X tea
Biscuits consumed: 2 X custard creams
The owner of this mixer reported that despite every effort to press buttons and click the safety catch on the lid, the mixer simply wouldn’t comply when switched on. Dead as a dodo.
The owner of this machine reported that their beloved Magimix 4200XL was playing up and despite trying to wriggle, jiggle, shake, rattle and roll things, it simply wouldn’t comply and work. They asked if I would take a look at it for them before it was launched out of the window. There’s nothing like a frustrated owner.
The Magimix 4200XL features a really rather elegant, totally passive, safety device to ensure that one isn’t tempted to operate the machine without the lid fitted correctly, risking one’s little pinkies. A simple sprung lever mechanism built into the lid and jug matches a small recessed switch in the machine’s base. The machine will only fire-up once the lid is in place on the jug, which must be correctly aligned on the base. It’s a nice touch that probably keeps Magimix out of the courtrooms.
On first inspection, I decided that this mechanism was a reasonable place to start my investigations. After you’ve checked things like ‘is the power on’ it makes sense to ‘start simple’ and go from there.
Taking the base cover off only involved four Torx screws, the damned anti-tamper kind. Luckily I have the technology to do this.
Taking the base cover off revealed good access to the safety switch mechanism. Thankfully.
The mechanism all seemed correct and present, which was a bit of a guess since I’d never worked on a mixer like this before. However, a lack of loose parts rattling inside is usually a good sign. Phew.
Despite appearing OK, the operating safety switch lever did seem stiff, so a quick spray with silicone lube had things sliding nicely once again. A quick continuity test of the switch proved that it was switching OK. Things were starting to look up for ‘Maggy’.
Since I had the lube out, it made sense to clean up the jug and lid mechanism and give that the same treatment. It all seemed to work better after and testing the lid and jug, refitted to the base with the base cover removed allowed me to visually confirm that the safety switch mechanism was indeed doing its thing correctly once again. A good result.
After carefully reassembling the base cover, taking care not to damage some of the more delicate plastic parts, it was ready for testing. There’s always a little moment of ‘will something go bang’ when I switch things on for the first time, but luck was on my side as the motor spun up as Magimix intended. A good result. All fingers intact.
Repair for small beans: A magnificent brew from the DeLonghi Magnifica S Coffee Machine
With more knobs and whistles than the Star Ship Enterprise, it’s no wonder that coffee machines like this have become very popular among coffee lovers. From the comfort of your own kitchen, you can brew-up in much the same way as a skilled barista in your local coffee shop does. With a machine like this, you will rarely ever make a mistake, since all measurements and mixes are made at the touch of a button. It’s a compelling package for the coffee nerd.
However, as we all know from school, the more complicated we make something, there’s an increased likelyhood of it going wrong at some point in the future.
I mean, they’re just so darn complicated. Don’t get me wrong, I admire the mechanical packaging and clever processes within these machines, but if just one small part of the mechanism goes wrong, the whole thing fails and the machine is then useless. And these things are not cheap.
The Magnifica S is a premium machine and Delonghi have been making these products for many years, so luckily, some parts are available for when things fall over. In my experience, DeLonghi coffee machines are of reasonable quality.
Make and model: DeLonghi Magnifica S (ECAM 22.110.SB)
Fault reported: Major leak
Cost of replacement: £330-400 when new
Manufacturer support: 5/10
Cost of parts: £1.50
My repair time: 2 hours
Tools needed: Small screwdrivers, small levers, cutters
Sundry items: Cable ties
Cleaning materials: WD-40, damp cloth, soap and water
Repair difficulty: 6/10
Cups of tea: x2
Cups of coffee: x1
Biscuits: Ginger nut x2
The owner of this machine used it everyday and upon delivering it to me for repair, was anxious to get it back soon for his daily caffeine hit as soon as possible.
I had to explain that my ‘shed hours’ are part-time and that I would do my best, but that I would make sure the (assuming I could fix it) it would be returned soon, as good as new. I know how to set myself up (eek).
Appliances like this have lots of ‘vanity’ panels, pieces of trim and general niceties that ‘clip in to place’ without a separate mechanical fixing like a screw. When dismantling, it’s often these parts which take the longest to remove since there are rarely any notes available out there. It’s often the lion’s share of the overall repair time. You just have to go slow and take things easy. That moment when a small plastic tang or lug goes snap is heartbreaking.
Luckily here, the DeLonghi designers had some foresight and the product came apart with care, albeit with some hairy moments.
A water leak had been reported to be coming from the front of the machine during operation. With so many pipes in the machine, the source of the leak could have been anywhere, but fortunately the cause was soon identified. A small silicone (high temperature) hose had ruptured from the boiler valve area to the milk frother wand. Although it wasn’t always in use on every occasion, the pipe’s rupture seemed to be causing a consistent leak with any coffee brew operation. All other areas of the machine seemed dry. With a Chinese original supplier of coffee machine silicone pipe on eBay coming to the rescue, the part I needed was delivered in a week for under £5.00. Result.
The old hose simply came off by temporarily unclipping the metal spring clips at each end. The new pipe simply clipped into place, with a little attention paid to length, so that no pinch-points occurred.
Back to my original point about ‘complication’. I’d ‘got away with it’ on this repair, there’s no getting away from it. A small silicone hose was an easy fix, with just the overall repair made complicated by the machine’s packaging.
If a valve or plastic water vessel had failed, I suspect that the repair wouldn’t have been possible. As another part-time hobby, I source repair items from all over the world (insert environmental case study here!) and it’s usually tricky to get parts like that, if they’re available at all. When repairing, I use a mix of second-hand, generic and original equipment to achieve a balance of quality, cost-effectiveness and minimal environmental damage. It’s not easy. The problem for repair agents is that it takes time to work all of that out before the repair begins…it’s a constant dilema and blog article for another day.
When doing a job like this, it makes sense to make sure that all things that can’t be cleaned easily when assembled are inspected and washed as required.
The coffee group head was one such item. While it is possible to service this item with the machine fully assembled, it’s easier to clean it when it isn’t. I hope that the owner noticed a boost in coffee strength as many of the small water holes in the group head were blocked. Of course, I made sure that everything else was ship-shape too before reassembly.
After reattaching all of the appliance’s panels, it was time to give the machine a portable appliance test (PAT) and brew-up. A sucessful repair for small beans.
A pair of decent studio headphones dodges the bin…
Headphones are big business and global sales of these devices reach over $500m per year in the U.S. alone (quick Google search, so it must be right eh). As I’m sure you do; When I read sales figures like that, I wonder what the average life expectancy of headphones is, as I’m sure that many sets are viewed as disposable items.
Bluetooth and other wireless headphones aside, most wired headphones are fairly straightforward to mend, assuming no damage has been done to the speaker or ‘phones’ part. You just need basic tools, some patience and a fair bit of nerve… See how I got on with this pair of AKG K92s.
Make and model: AKG Headphones K92
Fault reported: No left channel
Cost of replacement: £35 when new
Manufacturer support: 0/10
Cost of parts: £0.00
My repair time: 45 mins
Tools needed: Soldering iron, small screwdrivers
Sundry items: Insulation tape, holt melt glue
Cleaning materials: N/A
Repair difficulty: 4/10
Cups of tea: 1
Biscuits: No biscuits this time, as it was lunchtime. It was cheese on toast for me, with some chorizo on top as I seem to remember, maybe a dash, just a tad, of tomato sauce- from Lidl I think…
I’d just finished the last mouthful of tea, I was getting peckish, thinking about putting the grill on, when a neighbour of mine rang the doorbell, at lunchtime -of all times.
The conversation went like this; Matt, could you have look at these old headphones for me? I was about to chuck them out and I know you like playing with old stuff like this. They used to be good, but they only work ‘one side’ now. I mean, they’ve probably had it. …Hang on I said, let me have a look, leave it with me. Famous last words.
I was quite flattered actually, as I really do like receiving work this way. When there’s little hope for something that’s probably on its way to the great scrap bin in the sky, I must admit that I especially like taking on that challenge of making something work again. Diverting the once condemned item back into full service is the thing that keeps me motivated.
On with the repair. The fault reported was ‘no sound from the left speaker’. The first thing to check with anything corded is the cord/ flex/ wire itself. While a visual check of a wire is no conclusive way of proving that it works or not, tell-tale signs of bending and chaffing can save a lot of time elsewhere. Rule out anything silly before wielding screwdrivers, I say.
Since the wire looked OK and the plug wasn’t bent, it was time to take the headphones apart. The AKG K92 headphones are simple to dismantle; just pull-off the headphone covers and the speakers are held together with just four small cross head screws, each side.
Using a multimeter set to continuity test, I was able to prove each part of the cable. The main wire from plug to headphone set proved OK, which was a good thing as it meant no replacement required (these are widely available on eBay). The headphones’ over the head band, as well as keeping things snug on ones’ noggin, also carries the signal from one side of the set to the other. If you’re still reading, I hope that makes sense. Anyway, the meter proved that it was all fine.
In the end, the fault lay with the main wire to headphone speaker on the left side. To be honest, I should have checked that first as that connection is always under load as it crosses a pivot point, allowing a few degrees of movement and therefore comfort for the user.
On the subject of comfort, while doing the repair, I noticed that the headband was a little torn at each end, presumably a result from many intense sonic moments. The vinyl coated band was a tricky customer to repair, but a little hot melt glue along the torn edges, soon fixed things, giving the headphones a fresh feel.
A quick remake of the connection (cut cable, re-solder) and full hi-fi was restored and the headphones were ready to blast again. Turn it up to 11.
Even as a seasoned repairer you sometimes think hmm, I don’t think I’m going to be able to help this time. I might end up making it worse. This was nearly the case when a lady brought me this Mickey Mouse desktop organiser thingy, in to the workshop for repair.
I’ve never really been a fan of Mickey Mouse. However, after a few minutes of chat with the owner and me staring at Mickey’s face, he started to work his magic somehow. I don’t know if it was the friendly face, disproportionately large ears, or something about that unique colour combination, but at that moment, I decided that I had to help.
This is how it starts for many others, I’m sure.
Make and model: Mickey Mouse desk organiser
Fault reported: snapped-off hand
Cost of replacement: £?
Manufacturer support: 0/10
Cost of parts: £1.00
My repair time: 1 hour
Tools needed: Small file, drill
Sundry items: Paint, car body filler, glue, bit of a rivet
Cleaning materials: Polish
Repair difficulty: 4/10
Cups of tea: 1
Biscuits: 1 Bourbon
This beloved Mickey Mouse pen holder belongs to a local Worthing teacher and had previously adorned her desk for many years until Mickey had an accident, leaving his left arm broken. Ouch.
Despite home attempts involving sticky tape and super glue, his arm simply wouldn’t heal, so the owner did the responsible thing, taking him to hospital. The hospital in this case was my shed.
Resin-formed sculptures like this are tricky to mend as unless you know the resin’s formula, you don’t really know how a general glue will react. And react they can. Get the glue type wrong and you can turn your once loved plastic gem in to a smoking mess. Believe me, I’ve done it.
Fortunately, the super glue used previously hadn’t done much harm, but it had eroded some arm away.
So, I had a hand and an arm stump. Not much to go on. Whilst mulling Mickey’s issue over a brew, it became clear that the only way to go was to use a little bit of ‘real-world’ tech. Cutting down a spare aluminium rivet to use as a ‘bone’ pin, I was able to drill in to both hand stump and arm and use the pin to hold both parts together. I set the pin in place using some fairly inert Gorilla Glue (good stuff). However, this isn’t the end of the repair.
There was a gap around the join as material was missing. I decided to form a new wrist at Mickey’s stump using some car body filler, left over from my years of Mini ownership. A little dab of filler around the joint, followed by a few hours wait, followed by a small rub down and the arm was ready for paint. The mouse’s body is finished in a satin black so I decided to recoat the arm using some Fortress black anti-reflective brush-on paint, that I had in the shed, as you do.
After 24 hours of close observation, waiting for the paint to dry, Mickey was ready to leave hospital.
When I agreed to ‘have a look’ at a customer’s beloved broken blender, I had no idea that the market for blenders was so, well, juicy. One can spend anything from £50-£1800 – a huge price range. You have to ask yourself a question; is the juice made by a blender costing 36 times more than a cheaper one, any better? Hmm, the virtues of blender technology, robustness and efficiency could be debated in a future, exhilarating article, maybe. But for now, our attention is on this one, the repair of an Optimum 8200 Blender.
The reason I mention the huge price range is that prices for spare parts also vary wildly too.
Make and model: Optimum 8200 Blender
Fault reported: Leaking, noisy, crunchy, horrible
Cost of replacement: £300.00
Manufacturer support: 5/10
Cost of parts: £18.95
My repair time: 1.5 hours
Tools needed: Screwdrivers, test meter, heat shrink, soldering iron etc
Sundry items: paint, contact cleaner
Cleaning materials: Bleach, bicarbonate of soda, washing up liquid, car polish
Repair difficulty: 3/10
Cups of tea: 2
Biscuits: 2 X custard creams
I received this blender with a broken drive coupler/ socket (the bit that transfers the power to the blades in the jug) and a rough, leaking blender jug. This high-mileage kitchen appliance had been used until it would work no more.
Upon taking the blender into the workshop, I suggested to the owner that ‘it must have been sounding rough’ for a while… There then might have been a small admission of guilt.
Now, I realise that I’m unusual. I regularly service my vacuum cleaners, sandwich toaster and kettle and I know that this isn’t normal, so my views on machine maintenance are a little outside the bell curve.
The owner had done her own research on repairing her blender. She’d located a spares provider and had identified the parts required, to get the blender back making smoothies, which is more than many folk do. The trouble was that the total amount for all the new parts required, was more than the price of a reconditioned unit. This is often the case as some reconditioning agents have access to cheaper parts, not available to regular punters, through economies of scale. To make this repair financially viable, I was going to have to work smart.
As mentioned earlier, blenders vary widely in price and there are established names out there that command a high price. However, look beyond the logo and things are a little greyer. Badge engineering, colour and subtle style changes can literally add hundreds of pounds to the asking price for the same basic machine. This is nothing new. Manufacturers have been sharing designs and production since the dawn of time and when it comes to buying spares for an expensive machine, there can often be a cheaper route for good quality alternative spares that are compatible, intended for the cheaper variation. The skill is knowing where to look.
A picture paints a thousand words as they say and the slide show above shows the stages that I went through with this repair.
Using the original parts listed for an Optimum 8200 blender, the best deal the customer and I could find was:
Replacement drive socket, £39.95
Replacement blade and bearing, £69.00
Tool for blade removal, £11.99
Total, £120.94 (more if you want speedier delivery). Source: froothie.co.uk
Shopping around for alternatives…
Replacement blade and bearing, £18.95 for a Vitamix blender (Amazon.co.uk)
Repair to existing drive socket (I drilled and tapped a new grub screw), £ my time
I used a tool I had already to remove the old blade (a plumbing bracket) so no need to buy one
Total, £18.95, plus my time
I chose a Vitamix blade as I noticed that some Optimum and Vitamix blenders shared the same jug design. I actually saw the blade assembly for £7.99 on eBay, but decided that the warranty offer on Amazon.co.uk, was a better deal.
Now, I know I haven’t been that scientific here, but one suspects that there is little or no difference in blender blade robustness and all the ones I’ve ever seen to date contain the same bearings you might find in a scooter or skateboard. I suspect that the blade assemblies are all made in the same factory, somewhere.
My guess here is that the aftermarket parts supplier must charge a comparitively high price for some items to:
Cover staff and site overheads
Provide a sense of reassuring expense compared to the original purchase price
Potentially recover a high charge from the manufacturer
The trouble with this strategy is that many domestic appliances are worth little once unwrapped compared to the original ticket price. The comparative high prices for aftermarket parts would likely in many cases, put a customer off doing the repair at all. The customer then weighs up the cost of:
Finding someone to do the repair work
Doing the repair work themselves
The price of parts
The price of labour
Often, when added up, it’s cheaper to replace, rather than repair which in my opinion, not the way to go.
As a repairer, the statement I’m always grappling with is:
Value Repair ≤ Replacement Product Purchase or simply: VR ≤ RPP
So, when someone brings me an item to repair, I’m always looking for:
An overall repair that costs-in for the customer, encouraging the customer to keep the existing machine for longer, saving it from the dump
A repair that’s likely to be reliable in relation to the condition of the machine
An upgrade to the original design (where possible) taking advantage of the innovations or modifications to the original design that enhance longevity or performance
It’s a careful balancing act and one that doesn’t always work first time, but that’s the challenge!
I’ve gone a little off subject but it all relates.
Back to the blender, I saved the customer money on the purchase of a new appliance, saved money on a potential repair elsewhere and saved the broken blender from the chop. The customer was happy. As with all items I receive for repair, I also cleaned and polished the blender to make it shine like new.
Footnote: The repair was over, or so I thought. A week or so later, the customer contacted me again to tell me that a new fault had started. Speed control was now a little erratic and was making the blender hard to use. I said no problem and agreed to have a look. Likely to have happened during my repair work, a small lead on the printed circuit board had become loose. A quick tighten up and normal operation resumed. Phew!
A Star Trek Next Generation themed money box gets a light restoration
Some things are just cool. I mean look, if this money box doesn’t encourage prudent saving behaviour, then quite frankly, nothing will.
Spoiler alert: Put money in, some of the Star Trek crew (Next Generation) light up, followed by speech and cool sound effects. What’s not to like. Pressing the Star Trek (Starfleet) button, simulates the effects too. What fun.
This money box had once been cherished by its owner, but had been left in the attic for a number of years, with the original batteries still fitted. As anyone who’s done this before will know, old batteries leak in time. If you’re lucky and catch the ensuing corrosion in time, you might get away with just battery removal and a light clean up. If you leave it long enough, like the owner of this toy had, you’ll end up with a lot of rusty mess and no chance of life (Jim, but not as we know it). Remember, take batteries out before putting your toys away, long term.
Make and model: Star Trek money box (make unknown)
Fault reported: Not working/ battery compartment heavily corroded
Cost of replacement: £ Irreplaceable
Manufacturer support: 0/10
Cost of parts: £4.00
Hours spent on repair: 1.5 hours
Tools needed: Screwdrivers, test meter, heat shrink, soldering iron etc
Biscuits: none (1 jammy donut, slightly warmed, as they should be)
When I get an item like this, I tend to spend a bit of time researching it online, to see who knows anything about it. It turns out, that this money box isn’t that well represented and after a few Google searches, I simply gave up and got on with the repair.
Parts for something like this are not available from the manufacturer, even if they are still around. Presented with a situation like this, the only thing that can be done is to see if other parts can be bought off the shelf from component suppliers and be made to fit. One simply has to be creative.
Good old eBay came up with the goods. AA and C type battery terminals were available in single and double terminal variants and I ordered a couple of packs from a Chinese supplier, who delivered the bits I needed, within a week. These things are reasonably cheap, so I ordered a pack, just in case I ruined a few, practicing first.
Just a few small screws hold the casing together and after de-soldering the wires going from the battery compartments to the main circuit, I was ready to start. With battery corrosion as severe as this, all you can do is soak the parts in something like WD40 and attack the rusted parts with a small screwdriver and knife, taking time to avoid damaging the (aged) plastic casing..
After an hour, I’d removed 99% of the mess and fitted the new terminals. The AA terminals went in OK, but the C type ones needed adapting with some metal I had lying about in the workshop. A quick re-attachment of the wiring, a quick clean with brake cleaner to de-grease and then touch up with some satin black paint and one would never know that batteries had ever wreaked such havoc.
Sometimes, I want to hang on to some of the things I repair. This was one such item, but alas, I had to give it back.
Having repaired more than 100 Kenwood Chefs, I compare newish and older machines. Which is best?
Believe it or not, people do ask me which is best: New or old machines?
There is of course, no right or wrong answer and the answer will vary, depending on the product and application.
But since the question comes up from time-to-time, I thought I’d give my opinion on the matter and have a bit of fun with the subject, a kind of shoot-out if you will.
My illustration focuses on an old favourite of mine; the Kenwood Chef. My chosen opponents are a model from the early 1980s, the ubiquitous A901 Chef, made in England, and the much later 2000s KMC010 Chef, made in China.
The Chef is a good example for the shoot-out as the machine’s purpose hasn’t changed since it’s introduction to kitchens in the 1950s. Many Chef accessories produced over the years are interchangeable, owning to the foresight of good design.
Some people think that new machines are best and more capable while other people think older machines are best as they were built to last. Since I’ve dismantled, used and admired 100s of these machines, here’s my take.
Round 1 – Performance
Older Chefs are less powerful than newer machines. For example, the A901 has a 450W motor, whereas the later KMC010 has a much more powerful 1400W motor. This means than the newer machine will be more capable to mix more stodgy mixtures for longer. Counter-intuitively, the more powerful machine may be more efficient for some loads, compared to the lower power one, although I’ve never measured this.
A901 – 0 KMC010 – 1
Round 2 – Noise (from the machine)
Kenwood has tended to favour evolution rather than revolution with their product progression. Many models available over the years appeared not to change much on the surface, but under the skin, small tweaks and improvements were taking place. So, in general, the newer the machine, the quieter they tend to be. There are some model variant exceptions to this, but the KMC010 is much quieter than my own good condition A901.
A901 – 0 KMC010 – 2
Oh dear, new things might be better after all..?
Round 3 – Durability
Now this is where things get interesting. Many of the machines I receive in my workshop for repair are getting on a bit. Some of them are over 40 years old. The machines have served their families well with faithful service.
Faulty older machines can often be turned around within a few hours in the workshop, to be back with the customer, to make more cakes. The A901 Chef is a tough old beast. The materials and finish rarely give any problems and major components rarely fail it seems.
KMC010 Chefs (and all newer models) that I see in the workshop are obviously much younger than the A901s. While very capable and powerful, sadly, they seem to have failed, often only with occasional light use.
Seemingly, it’s true what they say, the older machines were built to last and I base that purely on customer enquiries and items I see to repair every week. The newer machines often have features and buttons that don’t serve any real advantage, but have associated circuits which can and do go wrong, rendering the whole machine useless, if they fail.
A901 – 1 KMC010 – 2
Round 4 – Repairability
Now obviously, I am ‘repairability-biased’, this is a blog about repair after all. However, the facts speak for themselves. Older Chefs can be repaired with basic tools, reasonably priced components and a little know-how.
Newer Chefs, like the KMC010 are more complicated and have less user-serviceable parts. This makes otherwise serviceable machines far more likely to end up in the scrapyard with seemingly minor faults, that were too hard to diagnose and repair. The A901 wins hands down in the repairability stakes.
A901 – 2 KMC010 – 2
The feeling is tense and there’s an air of excitement as I get to call the decider on this slightly odd dual.
Round 5 – Value for money (the decider)
A new KMC010 Titanium costs over £600 today and it should be said that all Chefs are great machines and a worthy addition to any kitchen. However, a decent second-hand Chef from the 1960s to the early 1990s is a worthy contender for a tenth of the cost.
Have a look on eBay and you’ll see A701s, A701a, A901, A901E, KM200 model Chefs, starting at £40, often with many accessories. They’re just as useful and capable to serve most home needs. Indeed, I have a customer who uses her standard A901 in an industrial kitchen, every day, with no problems.
A901 – 3 KMC010 -2
The non-scientific conclusion…
Buy an older machine and take satisfaction that it will last generations, can be easily repaired and work with most accessories available now. Buying an older machine is probably less environmentally damaging than the manufacture of a new machine.
Buy a new machine and take satisfaction with additional performance and a manufacturers’ guarantee for the first year…
A cheap fix gets this essential tea making machine back in business…
I admit it. I do get some satisfaction when I divert an appliance, on a journey to the bin, to my workshop for repair. I have been known to collect the odd item from skips or just dumped on the pavement while supposed to be doing something more productive. I think I just feel sorry for things. Weird, but true.
Make and model: Swan Hot Water Tea 20L Urn
Fault reported: Not staying hot
Cost of replacement: £80ish
Manufacturer support: 3/10
Cost of parts: £1.70
Hours spent on repair: 45 minutes
Tools needed: Screwdrivers, test meter etc
Sundry items: Cleaning materials, heat transfer solution
Repair difficulty: 2/10
Cups of tea: X1
Biscuits: Malted Milk X1
This Swan hot water tea urn was one of those items. Spotted during an office reorganisation in the ‘scrap pile’, it had been put there as it wasn’t working properly and a new one had now been ordered.
Being fairly light-fingered, I spirited the urn away to the workshop for some tinker time. Not strictly staff policy, but you know, seek forgiveness after etc.
An urn is really just a big kettle. This one has an all metal 20 litre tank with bar-style tap to brew up, when needed. There are no real controls as such; just an on/off switch with neon light and two tell-tail lights to indicate boil and keep warm. Keep warm is usually on all the time when switched on.
The fault seemed to be that the urn reached boiling temperature when switched on, but then switched off totally, allowing the water to cool again excessively. Timing the switching intervals of the thermostat, 20 minutes or so, and a 15-200 hysteresis confirmed a fault. There was also no ‘keep warm’ green light on, when in use. To push the thermostat further, I poured cold water into the urn to see if that sped up switching between hot and cold, it didn’t.
Opening up the urn’s base involved just three screws, allowing access to all components. Such a nice change to not have layers of covers and things to move out of the way first!
Checking the wiring out for logic revealed that someone had been here before! The wiring was incorrect and the ‘keep hot’ element was not wired up correctly and effectively not in circuit with the power source. A small wiring change corrected this and meant that the ‘keep warm’ element was now working again.
The thermal reset fuse/ button seemed to be working OK- proved with a test meter and the thermostat did seem to switch on and off, albeit with excessive hysteresis. Time to fit another one! Luckily, these thermostats are very common and I managed to get one from eBay, rated at 1000 (a couple of degrees over the one fitted) for less than £2. Fitting a new thermostat only involved a couple of screws, a light smear of heat transfer solution and reconnecting back into the wiring harness.
With all wiring back in place and the cover refitted, it was time to test and brew up. This time, the urn boiled, switched off and then stayed warm on the secondary ‘keep warm’ circuit. To prove that the new thermostat was an improvement, I then topped up the urn with cold water and within 5 seconds, the thermostat clicked in and the boiling process started again.
Time for a brew.
(PS, the urn has now returned to its normal place of work)
Less is usually more. Simpler devices can mean repair is more likely in the event of failure.
I keep a model of a Citroen 2CV car on my desk at work. It’s about 30-odd years old and it’s a bit battered due to an incident involving a shelf, my old cat and an 8ft drop, but that’s another story.
The 2CV is there to remind me to keep things simple, to the point.
To me (and many others) the 2CV represents pure function over form. Nothing on the car is superfluous to its function as a capable load lugging, robust, ever-repairable and frugal vehicle. I have a soft spot for these cars. They encapsulate the phrase ‘less is more’.
Not every story from the workshop is rosy and my heart usually sinks when I receive something to fix that has tiny printed circuit boards fitted inside that do ‘something’ and nothing at the same time.
What the Tin Snail do I mean by that? Many appliances and machines manufactured in the last 20 years or so often contain ‘mini’ circuits that control ‘something’.
Take an electric kettle, something that most people have in their homes. Kettles generally are a water holding vessel, a heating system, and an on/off switch with a boiling water state detecting negative feedback loop (it switches off by itself when the water boils). There’s also some wire and stuff.
Electric kettles haven’t really changed that much over the years, after all the basic need hasn’t changed: You put water in, you switch it on, you get hot water to make a drink. Nothing has changed. However, many offered these days are fitted with things like filters, LED lighting and other electronic temperature control systems with bells on.
Trouble is, all these (kettle) gadgets tend to be controlled by a small circuit board which isn’t repairable or even replaceable. It only takes an accidental water spill, some static electricity or bump mishap and that tiny circuitry is toast. Not even a professional circuit repair agent, let along home spanner wielder would have a chance of repairing the broken circuit. When failure occurs, many will just discard the appliance and go and buy another one, quickly. Who wants to be without tea or coffee?!
The tragedy is that the rest of the (kettle in this case) appliance is, nine times out of ten, OK and if it was made with more traditional components that one could see with the naked eye, the appliance would stand far more chance of being repaired easily and economically. Something to think about, next time you’re considering a new purchase.
I particularly enjoy receiving something to fix that I’ve never come across before. Indeed, I’d never used an electric rice cooker, let alone heard of Tulip, the manufacturer of this example. To be frank, I haven’t often thought about the popularity of electric rice cookers in general as an additional labour-saving device in the kitchen. Clearly, I must be slipping.
This actual machine was a family treasure, which had moved around a bit and had originally been purchased in Holland and had since been converted from using a standard Euro plug to IEC/ kettle UK mains plug at some point. All very interesting you say (maybe), but how did it end up in my workshop?
Make and model: Tulip A350T Electric Rice Cooker
Fault reported: Not working
Cost of replacement: £30
Manufacturer support: 0/10
Cost of parts: £2.00
Hours spent on repair: 1 hour
Tools needed: Screwdrivers, test meter, heat shrink, looped crimps etc
Sundry items: Cleaning materials
Repair difficulty: 3/10
Cups of tea: 2
Biscuits: Custard Cream X 2
After many years of reliable service, poor old ‘Tulip’ decided it had had enough of boiling up pilau rice and assorted vegetables and conked out. When the owner tried to switch the cooker on, nothing happened, no light, no heat, no hope.
Most people would then usually have thrown in the towel, reached for their phone and within a couple of clicks, bought a new one on Amazon to be delivered the next day.
Perhaps it was the thought of poor old Tulip being crushed in the scrap metal pile at the tip which made the owner go online and find my website of strange domestic appliance tales instead of Amazon*… But I’m glad they did. *other online electrical retailers are available!
The machine is basically a large kettle with a removable bowl that holds whatever you wish to cook. It has a thermostat for temperature regulation, a switch to change modes (cook/warm) and a safety cut-out mechanism, should something go wrong. It was this safety system which had operated and caused the machine to fail-safe.
The design of the machine is quite simple, dare I say crude in places. Within a few minutes, I had removed the base, exposing the wiring, switch, thermostat and other gubbins.
The earth bonding cable had melted which was the first alarm bell to ring. Digging a little closer, the main issue revealed itself. The heat-proof insulation on the ‘over heat’ one-shot thermal fuse had shorted out via a cracked piece of wiring on the metal casing of the unit. Surprisingly, this had not overloaded the main plug fuse, but had heated the thermal fuse and had blown that instead. Flash-bang, kaput.
The cooker’s switch, thermostat, element and other wiring checked out OK, so it was now worth fixing the failed system.
After purchasing a suitable replacement thermal fuse for a couple of quid, I set about installing this in place of the failed one, taking the time to upgrade the wiring harness with heat shrink to avoid a short again in future. I removed the damaged earth and replaced it with fresh wire, securing it on to a better earth-bonded location and after some careful wire re-routing and fettling, the base of the machine was ready to be re-attached, ready for testing. With the cooking bowl full of water and power applied, the ‘cook’ light lit up and the machine started to work. Utter joy. After a few cycles of heating and warming, I was satisfied that my work was done.
Even though this device wasn’t marked as such, it’s a metal bodied Class One device here in the UK and ideally required a thorough integrety test of the safety system. Using my newly-acquired Megger PAT150 tester, I was able to prove that the machine was compliant with current UK legislation for Portable Appliance Testing. Ricely done.