Inside The Real Repair Shop 4

Free to take, but who bears the cost?

This time, I want to talk about something that’s seemingly become the norm for many streets up and down the land (in the UK for people reading this elsewhere).  The ‘free to take’ trend has arrived from somewhere, and I can’t quite put my finger on why it’s happened.

I have a few working theories, that I’d like to share with you.  Indulge me for a few minutes if you please.

With UK-wide social restrictions still in place and most of the high street closed at the moment, many of us are taking more walks locally to spend time, which isn’t only good for our health, it’s also much, much kinder on one’s wallet. Whilst out walking, have you noticed how many households leave small appliances and other domestic items out on the pavement on-offer to passers-by? I have. To be honest, I never know if the items are fair game, or if I should ask permission before taking something.  Whilst mulling this over, during the past few months, I’ve decided that it is OK to take discarded items, if it’s obvious that they’ve been abandoned and that I can do something useful with them. I suspect that there are many reasons why items are being abandoned like this, and I’d like to share my thinking with you.  If you’re still with me, I hope you’ll find it interesting.

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, March’21. An abandoned 4-slice toaster. It tested OK and looked in good condition after a wipe-down. Maybe it didn’t match the original owners’ colour scheme?

This year so far, I have acquired a cordless kettle, a 4 slice toaster, and two Dyson vacuum cleaners.  Why you ask? It’s a good question, but before I go in to why I think they were all left out for ‘Magpie Matt’, here’s another thing;  The kettle and the toaster worked perfectly, with a clean-up. The two Dysons needed thirty pounds’ worth of spare parts between them.  When new, the vacuum cleaners would have been worth about £300, each.

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, March’21. A Dyson vacuum cleaner left out by a bin, waiting for some love and a replacement (second hand) motor and upright chassis, all for under £20.

So, why do folk do it? Why leave items out, working or not, for others to take for free? Here is a list of possible reasons why.

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, March’21. The replacement motor required for the Dyson was under £10 and the plastic chassis required was £10. MUCH less than the price of a new machine and surely MUCH better to fix this otherwise working order machine and save it from the crusher.

1  Folk just get bored with an item, and see so little value in it any more that they want to get shot of it quickly but feel, possibly with some guilt, that they should give it away, rather than disposing of it. We’re bombarded with advertising that tells us to replace things often by retailers and manufacturers, so it’s hardly surprising that some people feel this way.

2  It won’t fit in the bin.  General waste bins should only ever contain non-recyclable plastics, polythene, some packaging, kitchen waste and a sprinkling of dust.  However, take a look at your street on bin day, and you’ll see other items poking out from under the lid. Vacuum cleaners don’t usually fit in a 140 litre bin, which could explain why we see them on the pavement, from time to time. The local amenity tip is an option for the responsible owner when looking for a place to offload items, but if you don’t own a car, the whole process can be a bit of a chore.

3  The value of the item, which may have broken is now low and not worth repairing or the expected cost of repair outweighs the cost of replacement.  This issue is as wide as it is long and could easily form the basis of a master’s degree.  I simply can’t do this point justice here.  What I can say here is that the value of a broken item, which might be repairable is often zero, many manufacturers don’t make enough effort to support products in-life and there are limited repair and knowledge opportunities for people locally.

Obviously, there’s more to it and these are only three examples of drivers that can influence what happens to an item, after it’s become useful or has broken.

However, there is hope. Repair Cafés have become very popular across the world, and we’re very lucky to have at least two well-run (Repair Cafés) in the Adur and Worthing area (UK). I believe that the BBC’s very popular The Repair Shop is changing attitudes too, and it’s theme of keeping things longer with repair and restoration is a winning formula. Indeed, my own waiting list for repairs grows longer by the day. The French Government recently implemented a scheme to appraise repairability on items sold there, and it was revealed recently that the UK Government plans to do similar.  I’m watching progress with a beady eye.

If you’ve been following my articles here, you’ll know that I advocate keeping things for longer, with good maintenance and the odd dose of repair. It’s usually kinder to our environment, our wallets and helps slow the march of discarded items going to landfill, which is better for us all.

What’s the strangest item that you’ve seen abandoned? Please get in touch- maybe this could be a new feature!

A much-needed lift for a… Vax Airlift

A Vax gets airlifted to safety

Back in the 1980s, VAX were famous for making bright orange, usually very robust, carpet washers. The products were premium priced at the time, and the sort of thing that ‘someone else had’. It was the sort of thing you borrowed when someone had spilled wine or worse on the floor in a last ditch attempt before condemning the carpet. I’ve only used one a few times, but I can remember that very distinct carpet shampoo smell.

Fast-forward to now and it seems that the VAX badge is owned by someone else and the name is applied to many vacuum cleaner designs. In my own recent experience, the products are a bit flimsy and parts are not easy to obtain. Indeed, on a recent repair, I tried and failed to get hold of a replacement motor for an 18-month-old machine only to be told by VAX that they don’t supply it, but that’s another story. Such a shame.

Anyway, on with a more positive story I think. The owner of this vacuum cleaner (not carpet washer) got in touch to tell me that they would like me to repair their VAX Airlift. As the name suggests, the machine is lightweight and slim, which makes lifting and manoeuvrability easier. However, lightweight in this case meant limited lifespan.

Make and model: VAX Airlift

Fault reported: Split hose

Cost of replacement machine: £200

Manufacturer support: 0/10

Cost of parts (for this repair): £1.00

My time spent on the repair: 1 hour

Tools needed: Screw drivers, pliers, cutters

Sundry items: None

Cleaning materials: Silicone spray, damp cloth

Repair difficulty: 3/10

Beverages: 1 X tea

Biscuits consumed: None, 1 slice of cheese on toast instead, must have been lunchtime

This model carries all dust sucking tools, brushes and other ‘extendibles’ onboard, for convenience. It’s neat and tidy and considering the amount of stuff onboard, it’s still amazingly light, hence the name. To be frank, I wish that I’d weighed it, but that might be going a bit far…

The problem with this machine was that the flexible hose from the brush head to the main machine had split. This caused air to rush into the hose’s hole when the vacuum was in use, which in turn meant that the vacuum simply wouldn’t suck up. The owner had attempted several previous repairs with electrical tape. These repairs had worked for a while, but after several hoovering sessions, the tape repair had failed and the machine was back to square one.

I took on the job and realised quite quickly that VAX’s sporadic spares listings on various websites neglected our poor friend and only certain consumables like filters were still available. Terrible really as the machine was only a few years old. The part I needed certainly wasn’t anywhere and looked unique to this model. When a situation like this confronts me, I do what any other sensible person does. Put the kettle on.

It’s often situations like this that will condemn a machine to waste, even when the rest of it is in serviceable condition. I can see why some may simply throw in the towel.

It soon dawned on me that I’d saved various bits of hose from old Dyson and Numatic vacuum cleaner repairs and that maybe something I’d salvaged might do the trick. That’s the power of a strong cup of Yorkshire Tea.

This was turning out to be my lucky day as some old grey Dyson vacuum hose that I’d salvaged from a knackered Dyson DC25 (if memory serves) looked like it would do the job.

The first task was to remove the bespoke Airlift connectors from the old hose and peel off the metres of horrible hairy electrical tape. Yuk. I needed the old hose, so that I could measure the correct length to allow a good fit in every position the machine would be used in. The hose end connectors were screwed on and bonded with impact adhesive, which just needed brute force to remove.

The Dyson hose was a gnats-whisker wider, but it still fitted the old hose connectors OK, with a little impact adhesive applied. The new-old hose with old connectors simply fitted back on the machine and I think you’ll agree, the new/old part looks like original equipment.

While I had the machine, I took the liberty to clean the seals, dust container and drive belts to the brush head as these were all clogged up. As filters were readily available, I also replaced these as they were only a few quid.

So, for small beans and using some old salvaged parts I already had, this VAX was ready to see another day. Most satisfactory.

Magimix 4200XL – safety as standard

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.

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, November’20, Magimix 4200XL, inside the mixer’s safety switch.
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, November’20, the 4200XL features a motor with oomph!
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, November’20, Magimix 4200XL, removing the base.
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, November’20, Magimix 4200XL, these little horrors are designed to deter repair- I dislike them immensely.
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, November’20, Magimix 4200XL, the repaired mixer.
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, November’20, Magimix 4200XL, the cheeky little safety switch.

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.

DeLonghi Magnifica S Coffee Machine

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.

Swan tea urn off the boil

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.

IMG_20200621_214203
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, July’20, Swan Hot Water Urn… shiny!

 

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.

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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)

Dinner will be served in a flash…

A Tulip A350T Electric Rice Cooker is repaired

IMG_2609
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, June’20, Tulip A350T 12Y1EI (to be exact).

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.

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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.

 

 

 

Fetch me a coffee Parker… Yes Milady!

A Gaggia Milady gets unblocked

Despite various warning labels and advice from manufacturers, sometimes it’s better to ignore official advice and just dive in, especially if something has stopped working altogether.  Gaggia coffee machines of this vintage are well supported by various online parts suppliers, so when your machine stops making the perfect brew, the chances are that it can be sorted out with a little know-how…

Parker
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, June’20 Aloysius Parker from Thunderbirds (picture from Wikipedia)

IMG_20200525_181240
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, June’20, Gaggia Milady.

I couldn’t resist a reference to one of my favourite childhood programs…

Make and model: Gaggia Milady Coffee Machine

Fault reported: No coffee/ blocked group head

Cost of replacement: £300 (approx.)

Manufacturer support:  3/10

Cost of parts:  £0, inc. carriage

Hours spent on repair: 1 hour

Hours spent on finding parts: 0 hours

Tools needed: Screwdrivers, spanner, pliers, drill, tap set

Sundry items: Silicone spray, WD-40, water safe silicone lube, cleaning materials

Repair difficulty: 4/10

Cups of tea:  X 2 (and one coffee for testing purposes)

Biscuits: None (Ice Cream X 1)

Someone got in touch to see if I could repair their much loved Gaggia Milady, after receiving some unhelpful advice from the UK distributor.  A new Gaggia had already been purchased, but the owner was missing the ‘solidness’ of his original machine and wanted it back working again.

Fault reported:  Heater working, pump running, no water at all at the group head, therefore no coffee.

Opening the machine’s lid reveals lots of cables and pipes, so if you’re attempting this repair yourself, I recommend making notes and taking photos, carefully marking the location of all the positions.

I suspected a blockage from the boiler to the group head, as sometimes happens with older machines, as scale builds up on the inside.  In cases like this, de-scaler is usually no good and more drastic action is required.

Removing the boiler on this model is similar to many other Gaggia machines, the only variant differences usually being cosmetic.  Just four screws usually hold the boiler to the cabinet.  I suspected that there was a blockage between the boiler area and valve to group head ‘jet’ and in order to access it, a few layers of metal work needed to be removed.

 

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Just one screw holds the strainer, but removing the head involves removing two bolts, which secure two halves of the group head.  The trouble is that over the years, corrosion makes the two halves ‘weld’ together and the only way to split them is to use a little ingenuity.  Fortunately, there are four water holes in the head which make ideal leverage points and with a small M5 tap, those holes become anchor points for the two bolts holding the head together.  Winding those bolts into the new threaded holes forces the two halves apart…

…Revealing the brass valve base.  Using a 10mm spanner releases the valve’s spring and valve rubber.  In this case, it was full of scale and debris.  A thorough clean using WD40, wire brushes and wire wool and the group head was ready for reassembly.

All surfaces scrubbed, all rubber seals cleaned and treated to some water-safe lubricant, the group head back together, the boiler was ready to be re-installed into the machine.  After some careful re-plumbing and re-connecting, the machine was ready for testing.

Just one more job.  Make the coffee for Milady!

Another machine dodges the tip with only a small tin of elbow grease used. F.A.B!

Atco Consort 14 (CT14) self-propelled lawnmower repair

A mid-90’s take on a classic design, dodges the tip

When they say; “they don’t make things the way they used to”, they’re right… sadly.

With many repairs that I do, half the battle is identifying the correct or closest-match replacement part.  Half the fun is finding a part to do the job, when the original manufacturer can’t or won’t sell that part.

IMG_2260
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, May’20, Atco Consort 14 (CT14)

Make and model: Atco (Qualcast) Consort 14 (CT14- 002107A)

Fault reported: Intermittent running

Cost of replacement: £300 (approx.)

Manufacturer support:  0/10

Cost of parts:  £24.44, inc. carriage

Hours spent on repair: 1 hour

Hours spent on finding parts: 1 hour

Tools needed: Screwdrivers, spanner, pliers

Sundry items: Silicone spray, WD-40, cleaning materials

Repair difficulty: 3/10

Cups of tea:  X 1

Biscuits: Custard Cream X 1

Some things are just a joy to work on because of the way the original design and engineering teams that came up with the product, saw their machines being used in real life.

Even though this machine was built in the 1990s, the Consort 14’s DNA comes from a long line of designs that include the famous ‘Suffolk Punch’ lawn mower created by Suffolk Iron Foundries of Stowmarket in 1954.  This machine is badged as Atco (and Qualcast in places) but the electric motor was made in Stowmarket, England.  The original factory had a reputation for making everything, literally everything, for its machines, right down to the nuts and bolts and this ethos lives on in the CT14.

I’m not going to bang on about sustainable design and circular economy here, but today, unless one pays serious money, garden equipment is simply not built to last any more than a couple of years.  Many of the mowers and strimmers you can buy for under £100 in B&Q, Tescos (here in the UK) and alike have a built-in obsolescence factor measured in months, not decades.  Personally, I believe that products like this should be banned.  Too many end up at my local tip with the price label still attached…

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A neighbour asked me to look at their Atco lawnmower, which had stopped mowing recently.  They were wondering if it was worth bothering with a repair, I of course said that the machine that they had was better than many machines available now, so it was absolutely worth repairing!

The mower is a self-propelled, cylinder type with speed control and clutch to engage the propulsion system, as desired.  It’s a neat design that’s hard to better.  The next time you are at Wembley or Wimbledon, just look at the mowers still used by professional grounds maintenance teams.

The Atco is designed to receive occasional maintenance and all items which might require the owner or maintenance engineer to inspect are easy to access.  Forward thinking again, shown by the designers.  The main issue in 2020 is that parts are only available from aftermarket suppliers and although there are still (thankfully) specialists ready to supply, part numbers and cross-referencing is a nightmare and despite me doing this work in the UK and this machine being made in the UK, the repair required a degree of investigation and sleuth work to get the parts needed.

The motor was my first port of call and with only a couple of bolts holding it in place, the motor was soon removed.  It was in good overall condition but the carbon brushes were a little short and needed replacing. This explained why the motor had suddenly cut-out.

You might think that finding carbon brushes for a UK made motor, might be easy.  You would be wrong.  Despite several conversations with mower experts, these brushes were seemingly unavailable, off the shelf.  I did order some brushes for an equivalent model produced a little later, but these were too large.  I could have filed them down to make them fit, but after rooting around in my collection of brushes (as one does) I found that a new pair of brushes from a Kenwood Chef A701 fitted perfectly.

While I had the mower in pieces, I decided to inspect the drive belts which were both in poor condition.  One was split and one had stretched badly.  For smooth, reliable operation, both required a replacement.

Again, the Consort 14 was not on many mower supplier inventories, so finding the correct belts required cross checking with other Qualcast and Bosch (Bosch later acquired Qualcast) models and a little bit of luck to match them up.  Fortunately, eBay sellers came to the rescue again and I managed to find the correct belts which fitted perfectly.

With the mower back together, it was ready to run for another 30 years.  Time for another cuppa.

Footnote:  I’m very aware that I sound like a stuck record…

Look, many products made and sold nowadays are much better than older ones.  I’m not saying that all old things are better. Take old cars for example (although I have a soft spot for old cars):  They were polluting, they didn’t have safety built-in (in general) they rusted-out and broke down, all the time.  New ones generally don’t break down, last for longer and you’ll walk away from many crash situations.

New things are usually safer, more efficient and capable.  However, many older machines were designed to be serviced, repaired and re-used over and over, which in my opinion, is more sustainable.  Many products today, especially mowers and alike are designed to last for 18 months hard-use and then the whole thing is scrapped, but it’s apparently acceptable to society as it ‘only cost 40 quid- I’ve had my monies worth’.

It’s this notion that doesn’t sit well with me and I see a growing cohort of people who are not prepared to accept this waste of resources either.  What say you?

 

Magic Lamp

Rub the lamp release the genie, make three wishes (make ’em good)

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, March’20, Dimmable Projector Lamp

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.

Here goes.

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.

The repair.

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.

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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.

Hooray for Henry!

A Numatic Henry vacuum cleaner gets the kiss of life…

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, March’20, Numatic ‘Henry’ vacuum cleaner HVA200a (to be exact).

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.

Reviewers of this kind of thing, seem to agree.

Make and model: Numatic International ‘Henry’ vacuum cleaner HVA200a

Fault reported: Dead/ not running

Cost of replacement: About £130, give or take

Cost of parts: £17.25

Hours spent on repair: 1

Tools needed: Cleaning tools/ cross-head screwdriver

Sundry items: Silicone spray/ cleaning rags

Repair difficulty: 2/10

Cups of tea: 1

Biscuits: 1 bourbon, I think

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.

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, March’20, Henry’s on switch.

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.

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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.