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.

Old vs new, which is best?

Having repaired more than 100 Kenwood Chefs, I compare newish and older machines. Which is best?

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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…

You know which machine I would buy…

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Time to put the kettle on.