Inside The Real Repair Shop 5

Why do people get things repaired? Some thoughts shared. One day, I’ll write a book on the subject.

What makes something cool and just maybe worth hanging on to? Is it good design? Is it great functionality? Is it celebrity endorsement? Is it scarcity? Is this a list that could go on forever? Yes, probably.

Some stuff is just cool and loved from the off, and some things take a while longer to enter the hall of fame. But why is that? Why does it happen?

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, September 2021, the mug

I was pondering this while going through my workshop enquiry inbox recently, and began wondering what motivates people to get something working again or restored to its former glory. The subject is probably a study in its own right, but I thought I’d share my own thoughts on the subject here.  Now might be a good idea, assuming you fancy a drink, to grab a cuppa.  Please come back as soon as possible.

One of the things I get asked to repair frequently is food mixers, especially Kenwood Chefs.  Like the original Mini, AEC Routemaster London Bus and K6 Phone Box, the Chef in its many forms has become a design icon.  It also helps that the mixer excels in function and is timeless in design. Many Chefs that I receive come with an interesting family backstory.  Recently, one such example involved a 1964 machine which had travelled the world, after being originally purchased in South Africa. It had accompanied an army family each time my customer’s husband had transferred to start another tour.  The Chef had grown up with her family making cakes, treats and dinners for over 60 years and had visited over 15 countries and was now worth way more to its owner than the sum of its parts.  After the mixer was repaired and returned, I was told that the Chef would be passed down to the next generation to enjoy, when the time came. This particular Chef was, quite literally, one of the family.

Luckily, many Chefs new and old have spare parts readily available with straightforward access to technical information, making repair possible, and I was able to fix this one which only needed a motor overhaul and gearbox re-grease. Not bad service really, considering its age and life!

Old toys are another ‘workshop favourite’ enquiry. Many toys from the 1970s and 1980s have seemingly survived playtime to then be laid up in attics and cupboards for many years, only to be rediscovered when children move out or something similar is spotted, while browsing eBay! Toys from this era which take batteries, tend to have traditional electro-mechanical parts (switches, motors and bulbs etc) which if broken, can be repaired or replaced.  By comparison, later made toys with microprocessors and micro components are sometimes very difficult to reboot without donor parts. A few months ago, I repaired a motorised ‘Tomy Kong Man’ toy for a customer who had found it in his parents’ loft.  The toy was in good condition, but wasn’t working.  The Dad wanted to get it working for his kids as he remembered having so much fun with it, when he was their age. After a good hour of dismantling, cleaning, re-lubricating and a touch of soldering, the toy was working well once again, ready to be enjoyed by the next generation.

The great thing about the repairs recalled here is that the owners all had a connection with their item and were prepared to preserve it for future generations. For whatever reason a strong bond had formed between item and owner, established over many years and incorporating many shared experiences.  It’s programs like BBC’s The Repair Shop and Drew Pritchard’s restoration TV which draw out those backstories to bring tales of product ownership to life.

Sustainable is probably an overused word at the moment, but in order to really live more sustainably and reduce our impact on our environment, we need to buy less stuff, love the things we already have for longer and lobby decision makers to assist when repair barriers exist.  So, the next time you’re thinking about binning your old Hoover, just think about all the fun memories you’ve had together and consider repairing it.

For ‘The Workshop’, it’s about preserving an item, with its story intact, keeping it going, providing good service and enjoyment for as long as reasonably possible.  Until the next time.

KONGMAN lives again!

A classic 1980s Tomy Kongman game pays a visit to the workshop, for some much-needed TLC.

Every now and again, a little gem drops right into my inbox and I think; Christmas has come early. My eyes light-up! It’s nice to get something different to work on, and hopefully repair, especially when it involves motors, batteries, ball bearings and a gorilla.

A customer contacted me after rediscovering Kongman in his attic, not literally you understand, but the 1980s hit toy from Tomy. The toy was in wonderful condition, despite being a little dusty. A new battery had been installed, but upon switching it on, nothing happened. Not even a peep.

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, June’21, Kongman box

I should really kick this thing off by saying what Kongman (the game) is. Kongman is an animated vertical game with the objective of getting a small metal ball bearing from the bottom of the wall to the top. The player must defy gravity and move the ball up-stairs, across a bridge, along several steps to a magnetic swing and then into a lift. The zenith of the game is reached with a quick flick of the ball on to Kongman’s magnet hand, which then gets dropped down a hole, ringing a bell on the way down. Fun really doesn’t get any better. If you’ve ever played Screwball Scramble, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what I am talking about. Did I mention that this infuriating game can be set against the clock too? Bonkers!

Tomy’s Kongman comes from a time just before kids games started to contain many electronic gizmos and wizmos within, parts that when kaput, render a toy useless, forever. Luckily, Kongman uses an electro-mechanical animation movement; elegant and clever. Old, but good.

Kongman is powered by a single D-cell, 1.5V battery and the motion of the toy is actuated with a reassuringly simple little motor, connected to a compact gearbox driving a series of levers and rods, which make up the games’ animation. On a slightly different note; are D-cell batteries an endangered species? I mean, really, ‘what the 1980s torch’ takes D-cell batteries any more?!

Make and model: Tomy Kongman, circa 1981

Fault reported: Not working

Cost of replacement machine: £40.00 if you can find one working

Manufacturer support (in the UK): 0/10

Cost of parts (for this repair): £0.99p

My time spent on the repair: 1 hour

Tools needed: Small knife, pliers, small screwdriver

Sundry items: None

Cleaning materials: Silicone spray, contact cleaner

Repair difficulty: 5/10 (fiddly)

Beverages: 2 teas

Biscuits: 2 custard creams

So, on to the repair.

The toy wouldn’t run and after checking the basics like battery contacts and proving that the local wiring from the battery compartment to the main gubbins was OK, it was time to dive in.

One of the things that makes this already difficult game to complete, is the fact that as a player, you’re up against the clock. This seemed to be the next logical place to check.

The timer seemed to be part of the gearbox which is responsible for driving the rest of the game’s motion. I found this a most practical application of sound and efficient design. You can trace the DNA of this toy back to early pinball machines and jukeboxes, something I also love. Anyway, I seem to be getting romantic, not the workshop way.

The gearbox was easy to remove, just a few screws, and it was out. The timer’s switch contacts were situated within the ‘box and came apart with a gentle prod of a small screwdriver. This allowed me to apply a small amount of additional tension to the switch’s spring and to clean the contacts with cleaner. Reassembling was pretty much the reversal of the disassembly.

With the gearbox back in, it was time to turn some attention to the mechanism, to ensure smooth, reliable performance. With nearly 40 years’ worth of dust to contend with, it was time to clean all of the game’s nooks and crannies with a small brush and treat some of the sliding parts to a little silicone, plastic-friendly, lube.

With the D-Cell battery installed, a deft twist of the timer’s knob, and the game sprang to life.

I’ll be honest with you now. I tried several times to get the ball the whole course to ring the bell, against the clock, but alas, I failed. I did complete the game, but only with the timer set to ‘auto’… which provides as much time as you need, or at least until the battery runs out.

Until the next time…

What’s in your man-drawer?

I discuss some basic tools that should be found in every home…

I think it was Michael McIntyre who first referred to the man-drawer as ‘the funniest drawer in the kitchen’, full of all the ‘that’ll come in handy items’ that we accumulate over time.  It’s brilliant observational comedy, and he nailed it so well that today, we often refer to the ‘man drawer’ as a thing in our homes.  The reason that the joke still resonates today is that it’s true.  But, what should be in a man (or woman) drawer for the conscious home maintainer?

Toolbox talk!

I want to talk about the tools that I think every home should have. Tools that could empower you with a fighting chance of having a go at fixing something yourself. The tools that will help you get the best from your appliances, make things last longer and help save you money.  If you already have a good selection of tools, skip the next paragraph and head straight to the ‘common jobs, useful tools to have’ section.  If not, do read on.

Let’s bust some tool-related myths. Firstly; tools are expensive.  Sure, like anything in life, you can pay through the nose for a set of screwdrivers or spanners if you want to, and there’s a tool quality to suit all circumstances and pockets.  But here’s the thing, for most DIY purposes, a reasonable set of basic screwdrivers costs less than a tenner and the best part is that you’ll get that money back again and again when they’re put to use.  Secondly, you need to be an ‘expert’ to use tools.  Well, a knife and fork are tools and we all (hopefully) use those, so don’t be deterred by people who might dissuade you from tackling jobs yourself.  I’m wary of the term ‘expert’ anyway.  In my experience, experts are a rare thing. Luckily, these days, most of us have access to YouTube.  Search for the thing that’s foxing you and the chances are that one of the 2.3 billion users have an answer. 

Before you reach for your phone to fix a dripping tap, if you haven’t got some already, you’ll need to arm yourself with some basic tools.  Below is a brief summary of tools I think every home should have and what I think they can be used for.  Some jobs are obvious, some less so.

Common jobs, 6 useful tools to have

1:  Small flat-blade electricians’ screwdriver. I think it’s possible to write a thesis on the usefulness of a small flat-blade screwdriver, but I’ll spare you that for now.  For small change, you can buy one and use it to: Wire a plug, adjust light fittings, get batteries out of a gadget, scrape-off old paint from a surface, prising something open, cleaning nooks and crannies. A screwdriver like this has uses beyond screws.

2:  Pliers and cutter combination tool.  Really useful for cutting and shaping garden wire, fixing Christmas lights, fixing kids toys, recovering items that have ‘fallen down a gap’ not forgetting cutting and trimming wire.  If you have a bike, a lawnmower, taps or doors in your life, then you need pliers and cutters as adjustment of those items will be needed from time to time.  Do it yourself, and you’ll save yourself time and money.

3: Adjustable spanner. If you don’t have space/ need/ cash for a full spanner set, consider an adjustable spanner instead.  OK, so they’re not ideal for regular nut-spinning, they are useful for those less frequently required tasks such as; adjusting a bike saddle, tightening a tap and adjusting a radiator valve.

4:  Cable ties and electrical tape. OK, not strictly tools, but honestly, I can’t think of more useful tool/fixings to have in your own man-drawer.  Cable ties and electrical tape has a million uses, are cheap, readily available and can fix so many things either temporarily or permanently including; tying cables, mending a broken handle on a hoover, fixing a backpack strap, mending a buggy, making a hook loop, tying a door back.  I always keep both in my mobile tool wrap to fix something, on the go. Get some today.

5:  Screwdriver set. If you’re going to tackle more jobs around the home, invest in one that contains at least; big and small flat blade screwdrivers and large, medium and small cross-head screwdrivers. From kitchen appliance maintenance, kids toy adjustment, door hinge fixing to furniture assembly, a basic screwdriver allows you to keep things running for longer and to do the job properly.

6:  A small set of Allen keys.  Allen ‘hex’ screws are used on lots of things now including bikes, home appliances and children’s toys. As with the other tools mentioned here, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get a set of keys that will open many common household objects.

Don’t worry if you don’t yet have the knowledge to fix your coffee machine, just a quick search on YouTube will show you how to remove the doofer to access the widget to clean the thingy. Using a few of the aforementioned tools will allow you to complete the job like a pro, saving you cash, saving the appliance from landfill and giving you the power to do more.  Just remember to unplug from the socket first.  Tools also make excellent gifts, so the next time you’re wondering what to buy a loved one, have a sneaky peek in their man drawer, make a note of what’s missing for your gift list.

Until the next time… Do you have a DIY fixing related matter that you’d like me to explore in this section?  If so, please get in touch.

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 KitchenAid struggling to make dough!

A KitchenAid 5K45SS gets a light overhaul and a replacement worm gear assembly to restore it to its former glory.

My regular reader might gasp in horror to learn that this time on ‘Diary of a Tinkerer’, I’m writing about the opposition. What? Uh?

Yes, I’m writing about a KitchenAid stand mixer and not a Kenwood Chef for a change. Are these things all the same? Well, I guess that the model you see below does a similar job and has a wide range of accessories, making it extremely versatile, like a Chef. However, the overall package is different and while the Chef has gently evolved over 70-odd years in production, the original KitchenAid remains closer in function and form to its original design. That’s not to say that a KitchenAid bought today is the same as one bought 50 years ago, far from it. New models benefit from modern motors and modern manufacturing processes, but it’s all packaged with a retro-feel. I’m not a fan of retro-stylised items as they’re often not as good as the original. However, the KitchenAid is different as it’s truly original, well-made and not just playing at it.

KitchenAid stand mixers have been around for over 100 years and the basic design has its origins in the US with the Hobart Company. The KitchenAid brand is now owned by the Whirlpool Corporation, and current models feature robust construction and hard wearing finishes ensuring long-service. KitchenAid machines are durable, stylish and available in a wide selection of colours.

Now, I know what you’re thinking; Do I prefer the Kenwood Chef or my new American friend, the KitchenAid? Well it’s hard to say. I love the construction and the sound industrial design of older Chefs, and it must be said that recently made models have lost some of that robustness with the use of overcomplicated electronics and gimmicky LED lighting.

Over the years in production, KitchenAid machines have retained a ‘function over form’ approach and appearances have changed little. KitchenAids are simple to operate, durable and can be repaired easily. It’s an example that ‘modern Kenwood’ and other manufacturers, could learn from.

KitchenAid’s mantra is simple; Less is more, so much so, that it’s now a design classic in its own right.

Make and model: Whirlpool Corporation KitchenAid 5K45SS

Fault reported: Rough running, noisy operation

Cost of replacement machine: £500

Manufacturer support (in the UK): 6/10

Cost of parts (for this repair): £37.98 (Worm gear assembly 240309-2)

My time spent on the repair: 2 hours

Tools needed: Screw drivers, pliers, cutters, drift for planet pin

Sundry items: Food safe grease

Cleaning materials: Silicone spray, damp cloth, cleaning spirit

Repair difficulty: 4/10

Beverages: 2 X teas

Biscuits consumed: 3 X ginger nuts

This machine you see in the photos came into the workshop with a few issues. Firstly, it needed a good clean; something that machines visiting me get whether they need it or not. I always make sure that things are polished or paintwork touched-in, if possible. It’s a little bit of OCD that’s hard to shake-off. I think I want all my customers to see what’s possible with a little-workshop love!

Cleaning over, and on to the main problem. This machine had had a hard life making lots of dough, or maybe cement, and routine use day-in day-out had taken its toll on the worm pinion gear assembly. I’m sure you’ve heard of that. In Plain English, it’s the bit that transfers the movement from the motor to the bit which drives the mixer’s blender.

The machine was rough in operation and the planet wheel (where the mixer bit attaches) was intermittent. No good for dough. No good for anything.

Due to their simple construction, dismantling just involves one cross-head screwdriver and a small drift and soft hammer. Simple stuff, no Torx screws or plastic tangs to worry about here, just traditional assembly techniques, which means that the machine can be repaired many times over a long-life, without fixings becoming loose and tired.

The worm pinion gear assembly (I hope you were paying attention) is available as a complete unit with bracket and bearing or available as seperate components. On an item like this, I prefer to replace the whole assembly as parts like this wear together. It’s personal choice at the end of the day, but sometimes, it’s a false economy to replace a spare part within a spare part, as I’ve found out to my cost, during many a previous repair.

As a side point; the worm gear on this machine can be described as a sacrificial part. The motor output is made of toughened steel, the gear that drives the mixer bits is forged steel, both hard and tough. The worm gear is made from Nylon, which is hard wearing, but less so than the other moving metal parts. If the machine is overloaded, it’s the worm gear that will fail first before the other, more expensive parts. Many manufacturers do this and it’s recognised as good engineering practice.

With the gear replaced, just a couple of screws to remove and replace, together with new (top-up) grease applied and the mixer worked well, once again.

The last job on this machine was to replace the very short flex and Euro plug fitted. This particular machine had been owned by an American couple, living in Europe but were now living in England and therefore required the correct UK specification plug. Together with the correct three-core flex, this machine was ready again to earn its keep.

Time to make a pizza I think.

Inside The Real Repair Shop 3

Save time and money with a multimeter and a quick look at alkaline versus rechargeable batteries.

Batteries are needed for all kinds of toys, remote controls and the latest gadgets. With a smattering of basic awareness, a tool like a multimeter can be used by anyone, saving one time, cash and help to save waste and who wouldn’t want to do that?

For under £10 (GBP), a decent multimeter can be bought online and, armed with a few YouTube videos on your phone, you’ll be able to test batteries to see if they’re still up to scratch, test domestic fuses in plugs when the lights go out and prove that power adaptors are OK before buying new.  And that’s just the start, exciting eh?

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, January’21, a basic multimeter, batteries, bulb and fuse. Many uses!

I’m not going explain every function on a general purpose multimeter, but I do want to dispel one myth: Multimeters are difficult to use. They simply are not. Assuming you can turn a dial and read a number display, then all you have to do is put the test probes on the right part and then voilà, you’ll be ready to measure things.

Take a standard 1.5V AA battery. It has a + (positive) end and a (negative) end. The red probe should touch the positive end and the black lead should touch the negative end, it’s that simple. Assuming that you’ve selected the DC voltage (10’s) range, a good AA (alkaline) battery will show between 1.5V and 1.68V when new. Anything less and the battery is starting to fade and may need to be replaced.

It’s worth noting at this point that some things are capable of running on less battery juice, for longer. Take a quartz clock with one AA battery. Chances are that it will run for years on a battery, even though over time, the voltage will fall below 1.5V. If you put that same aged battery from the clock into a toy car for example, the chances are that the toy wouldn’t work properly or even at all. To some things, battery voltage is critical, others not so much.

What about normal alkaline batteries versus rechargeable ones, I hear you say faintly, are they worth it?  As with all things, it depends.  Not all battery specifications are the same, so check details carefully when making a purchase.  It’s easier than you think.  Based on detailed shed-based experiments, I generally use rechargeable types in items that tend to use-up batteries quickly, such as radio control car toys and so on.  For something like a clock or a TV remote control handset, where batteries tend to last longer, I recommend conventional types as these items are sometimes more sensitive to voltage differences.  The aim overall is to buy fewer batteries and by using rechargeable ones, which are generally more expensive to get started with, in things that ‘eat batteries faster’, they begin to make economic sense.

Image left: Rechargeable batteries and conventional ones can look similar.  Image right:  Check battery specifications carefully, before deciding that something doesn’t work correctly.

Here’s something you’ll be familiar with.  You go to use something that takes batteries that you haven’t used for ages, only to find that it won’t work.  Upon opening up the little battery door, you’re then greeted with an unpleasant mass of rusty, acidic battery leftovers which have been festering since last Christmas.  In situations like this, many will simply throw away, but often, all that’s required is light restoration with contact cleaner, maybe some wire wool and something like kitchen roll.  More serious battery contact damage can often be solved with new battery contacts, which are available on eBay for small change.  Remember, remove batteries when something’s not in use.

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, January’21, battery leakage has caused corrosion damage to the battery connections (repairable).

If you don’t already own one, make sure you add a digital multimeter to your birthday list this year. Now go and recharge your own batteries with a nice cup of tea.

Inside The Real Repair Shop 1

They do make them like they used to. You just have to know where to look.

Think back 30 years, and if you can’t, ask anyone over the age of 42. In the place you grew up, how old was the kettle? It might seem a strange question, but as a (slightly odd) child, I noticed stuff like that. I can fondly remember my parents’ own Russell Hobbs K2 kettle, which had been given to them as a wedding gift and was still going strong after they divorced, 25 years later. Unlike their marriage, the kettle was well engineered, robust and easy to mend.

Russell Hobbs advert for the seminal K2 kettle, familiar to many. Image taken from Google Images, FixItWorkshop is not the copyright owner.

Not long ago, long service was expected from appliances and my friends and relatives had similar experiences. Trust me, I’ve asked them. Buying spare parts was also a thing. You could easily repair kettles of that vintage with basic tools and without the need of a yet-to-be-invented online video. Hardware shops would stock cost-effective spare parts like elements and rubber seals to keep your kettle running for longer, but over time, this type of thing has become the reserve of nerds like myself.

During the last 40 years, the market for small appliances such as vacuum cleaners, toasters, kettles and much more has become congested with laughably cheap goods, and while the prices can make items accessible, it’s usually a case of ‘buy cheap, buy twice’. 

Manufacturers have perfected built-in obsolescence to such a degree that they can time your product to fail, just after the warranty expires. Bad for many reasons, but the main thing is that a £15 toaster thrown out after two years will probably end up as landfill. There are free, environmentally kinder disposal routes available from your local council in the UK, but many people just don’t bother.  Sad, but true.

It’s still possible to buy something well-designed and robust that will be supported by a responsible manufacturer, you just need to know what to look for.

Do you really need it?

Just because your friend has a kettle with an interactive disco display controlled by their iPhone, do you need one?  Probably not.  No one does. Google ‘the best kettle’ and you’ll find products that have more knobs and whistles than a power station.  This makes them more complicated and likely to go wrong in the future and contain more precious metals, increasing their environmental impact.  Remember what you need the product to do. Keep it simple.

How long will it last, will it be any good?

This is a tricky one to quantify as lots of things affect that.  But ask yourself, is a kettle costing a tenner going to be a family heirloom to hand-down?  Probably not.  It will boil water, it will make a lot of noise, it will be inefficient.  Take  customer reviews on Amazon with a pinch of salt. Trust organisations such as ‘Which’ to guide you on matters of performance and longevity before handing over your hard-earned wedge.

Can I get help when I need it?

Many retailers and manufacturers are not set up to take care of your product once it’s in your hands.  At the end of your twelve-month warranty, is there a local agent or are there spares available to fix your product, when you need it?  Before making a purchase, do some online research on your chosen toaster manufacturer.  Do they have a help desk, can they supply reasonably priced parts, are there engineers out there who can help repair your item? Responsible manufacturers are out there…

Russell Hobbs K65, Henry HVR160 vacuum cleaner, Kenwood Kmix KMX750 Dualit classic toaster. What do they all have in common? All have reasonable support from the manufacturer, after purchase.

Give yourself time to work this stuff out, and you’ll end up replacing your appliance less often.  Better still, you’ll be able to fix it when it goes wrong, saving it from becoming waste. You’ll also be able to pass it on when the time comes, which is a far better thing to do.  If buying new isn’t an option, don’t be afraid to buy quality appliances second-hand from places like eBay, Facebook and Gumtree.  It might not come in a new box with a receipt, but it’ll still be decent, without costing the earth.

Matt or Fixitworkshop is not affiliated with any of the products shown in this article.  The items displayed are for illustration only, but were chosen with care based on Matt’s own repair knowledge and experiences.

Wall-E gets back on track

A simple cable tie comes to the rescue again.

Cast your minds back to 2008, and you might remember Wall-E, a Disney Pixar animated film set in the 29th century, where mass consumerism and environmental disregard have turned Earth into a literal wasteland. I’ll let you Google the rest of the plot yourself, but suffice to say that the film’s protagonist, Wall-E or Waste Allocation Load-Lifter; Earth class, is one of the cutest robots on the big screen. While the film’s environmental messages are extreme, there are clear warnings about the way our species generally looks after its home which were provoking twelve years ago, but are now ever more poignant in 2021.

No one does cinema merchandise quite like Disney, and it’s not without a slight sense of irony that the company produced many Wall-E related products to accompany the film’s release, all around the world. I wonder what proportion of those items are now in landfill? Something to ponder over a cup of tea or two.

Wall-E and I have quite a bit in common as we both have a penchant to collect discarded items. It’s not unheard of for me to collect broken objects from skips and from the side of the road, but that’s a blog entry for another day.

A local Worthing lady got in touch to ask if I would repair her much beloved Wall-E robot. How could I resist? A broken toy robot in need of some TLC, what’s not to like.

Make and model: Mattel Remote Control Wall-E

Fault reported: No drive on one side/ track

Cost of replacement machine: £75.00 (Amazon.co.uk, December 2020)

Manufacturer support: 0/10

Cost of parts (for this repair): 1p

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: 5/10 (fiddly)

Beverages: 1 X tea

Biscuits consumed: 1 ginger nut (and maybe a slice of cake)

Just to warm you up, here’s a cool little slideshow

Being frank with you, I had my doubts with this one. Toys like this contain lots of small, fragile parts with little in the way of easy service access. My chances of success were 50/50, so I was going to need a bit of luck.

Wall-E’s tracks allow for movement forward (straight along) and also degrees of clockwork rotation. Wall-E isn’t supposed to turn left and right, strangely enough.

The problem with this Wall-E was that ‘he’ (I think) would only move around in circles and would not move forwards. Dizzy stuff. This was because one of the tracks wouldn’t move when operated by the remote control. Time to dig out the screwdrivers.

Mattel’s Wall-E comes apart in a fairly modular fashion. Things like the battery cover, main base cover, motor, gearbox and electronics are all neatly housed within the toy’s chassis, and it’s all held together with simple self-tapping screws. This meant that I at least stood a decent chance of getting the robot apart, without causing more damage. Often with toys like this, parts are clipped or glued together, making disassembly a fairly destructive affair. Dismantling this toy was fairly routine, luckily. Despite this luck, I knew that no spares would be available from the manufacturer, so extra care and tea were still needed.

The reason the track wouldn’t rotate was because whatever it was inside that was meant to drive it, was no longer doing its job. The motor was whirring when the ‘forward’ button was operated, so one could assume that the issue was likely to be mechanical. Things were looking up.

Two gearboxes operated by a single motor, propel the toy along or around in a circle. Depending on the direction of the motor’s spin, one or both gearboxes engage to drive the robot’s tracks. Upon inspection, this ‘motor-gearbox action’ was working well, but the output from one side was not turning, the side with the faulty track. Bingo!

The affected gearbox was simply held together with small self-tapping screws, which meant easy dismantling. At this stage I was wondering what I’d find inside. A shredded gear, pieces of plastic all over the place? Any of those things would have spelled disaster, so I was pleasantly surprised when all I saw was a small crack in the main output cog, which drives the track. Getting a small cog to match the damaged one might have been possible, but would have taken time and a lot of patience. I mean I’m fairly patient, but even I have my limits. As the cog hadn’t totally split in half, I simply put a small cable tie tightly around the cog’s shank. I’m sure you would have done the same.

After a little cog-fettling and a little trim of the cable tie with a sharp knife, I returned the repaired cog to the gearbox, with my fingers crossed.

Reassembling the gearboxes, motor and other gubbins to Wall-E’s interior was pretty much the reverse of what I’d done so far, taking care to lubricate things like track belts and sliding parts with a little silicone to ensure smooth service.

There was some evidence of previous battery leakage damage to a couple of the battery contacts, so a little battery compartment spring-cleaning with contact cleaner and an old toothbrush was required before new power was installed. Never throw away your old brush, they’re just so handy for cleaning in those hard-to-reach nooks and crannies.

I had all fingers and toes crossed before firing up Wall-E with fresh batteries for the first time. There were a lot of small fragile parts in Wall-E, and it wouldn’t have been inconceivable for me to have broken a wire by mistake. Fortunately, Wall-E sprang to life, and for the first time on my watch, went along in a straight line. How long would my cable tie fix last? Well, all I can say is that I gave the toy a thorough testing around the kitchen floor maybe once or twice before handing it back to the owner.

Time for a celebratory cuppa and ginger nut.

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, January’21, Wall-E running well!

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.