More power please

Does your toy have enough energy?

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, March’20, testing a battery (featuring my retro BT multimeter).

I’m not a fan of batteries. They run out and always when you least expect it.

You know that anything with a battery, will need attention at some point.

Batteries either need to be replaced or better, recharged.

But often, replacement batteries are the only option for toys, which can mean high running costs. Especially when the toy is played with continually by an enthusiastic child owner!

Trouble is, a mixture of built-in obsolescence and poor design means that it’s just not obvious how one replaces duff batteries meaning that, I suspect, lots of toys get thrown away needlessly, but it’s not the owners fault necessarily.

Sadly, some replacement batteries cost more than the toy itself, which is just mad.

Make and model: toy radio control car (no brand or model)

Fault reported: Not working

Cost of replacement: £10ish

Manufacturer support:  0/10

Cost of parts: £5 (batteries)

Hours spent on repair: 30 minutes

Tools needed: Screwdrivers, test meter etc

Sundry items: None

Repair difficulty: 0/10

Cups of tea: 1/2 cup

Biscuits: None

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The owner of this toy had played with it non-stop wearing the batteries out.  Mum and dad had replaced some of the batteries in the car part of this toy, but still the toy didn’t work.  It wasn’t clear to the parents, which batteries in what part of the toy needed to be replaced, which meant that an email asking for help, popped in to my inbox.

At first glance, the car part of the toy had no battery cover or compartment, but on closer inspection, the car separated in to two halves, allowing access to the 4 X AA (1.5V) batteries.  Not a straightforward task for everyone.  Testing each battery revealed that they were all worn with an average of 1.3 volts (much lower under load) each.  I replaced these with fresh ones and put the car back together.  The car’s casing was simply held together with a clip and a couple of small screws.

However, the toy still wasn’t working, time to test the radio controller.  Again, a screwdriver was needed to open the battery compartment to access the battery.  Not all households have screwdrivers (even though I believe they should!).

Testing the 9V PP3/ 6LR61 battery revealed around 3 volts, 6 volts too low.  Again, a new battery got the radio controller working once more.

Doing this ‘repair’ got me thinking.  Batteries can be tricky things to manage.  New ones can go flat when not in use and old ones that have been kicking around in a drawer for a while can be fine to use.  One can replace batteries with ‘new’ ones which are no better than the ones fitted, leading a user to believe that the ‘thing’ must be faulty.  A false positive.

With a little basic training on multimeter use, hours and cash can be saved by testing pesky batteries.  At under £5 for a basic multimeter, it could be money well saved for any household.  Just a thought.

With both car and radio controller switched on, the toy sprung to life.  Of course, I had to test the car thoroughly before handing it back(!).

 

Janod Toy Phone repair/ Une réparation de Janod jouet téléphone

A Janod Toy Phone gets opened up and stuck back together.

There’s always a debate to be had on what age one should give a child a phone, but as a parent, groovy toys like this are hard to resist.  I mean, who doesn’t like a toy that makes cool noises, at the touch of a button.

I especially enjoyed the cuckoo noise (clock symbol).

Make and model: Janod toy phone

Fault reported: No sound, despite new batteries

Cost of replacement: About £10

Cost of parts: £0.00

Hours spent on repair: 0.5

Tools needed: Cutters, screwdriver and soldering iron

Sundry items: Glue

Repair difficulty: 2/10

Cups of tea: 1

Biscuits: 0

A friend of ours got in touch to ask if I could look at their daughter’s toy phone, which had stopped working after being dropped on a hard surface.  Despite the rubber outer cover fitted, after being dropped, the phone now rattled and made no sound.

The (adult) owners had changed the small coin cell batteries, but to no avail and were now wondering what to do, so I said I’d admit it to the workshop.

Janod.com are a French company specialising in making funky wooden toys with a retro warm vibe, while offering modern features.  I like their stuff.

However, on the repair side of things, the designer had not allowed me any service access to the rear of the phone.  It was glued.  The only way of getting in was to break the casing open to see what was going on.

Janod:  I like your products, but please consider changing your designs to allow repair.  Tamper proof screws and other child-resistant systems can be used so that only those with intent can open up the casing to perform a repair.

I used a small flat-bladed screwdriver to gently prise the casing apart and after some nail-biting moments, (I was worried I was going to snap something), the back came off.

The fault became apparent almost immediately.  The small speaker had become detached from the mounting and a wire from the circuit board to the speaker had snapped.  A little soldering and a bit of hot melt glue and the speaker was installed back where it was meant to go, ready to sound off again.

The last job was to repair the now broken case.  Since it was wooden, I used PVA wood glue on the mating surfaces and held the phone for 48 hours gently in my bench vice and now, no one would never know the repair ever happened.

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The toy was returned to its owner ready to bring child happiness and parent irritation, once more.  I had to press the cuckoo noise button a few times before I gave it back.

 

 

Jonathan Deer the III

A Christmas novelty toy gets a new lease of life…

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, December 2019, Jonathan Deer III.

I meet some really interesting people with this hobby of mine with some quirky things to fix, often with personal and meaningful backstories.  This repair is one such item.

Make and model: Jonathan Deer III rubber deer thingy

Fault reported: Not running

Cost of replacement: About £0

Cost of parts: £0.00

Hours spent on repair: 2

Tools needed: Cutters, screwdriver and soldering iron

Sundry items: Contact cleaner

Repair difficulty: 2/10

Cups of tea: 2

Biscuits: 0

Someone got in touch to see if I could repair a festive family favourite Christmas novelty, which was a big hit with the children, back in the day.  Jonathan Deer III has become a family legend and Christmas simply wouldn’t be complete without him.  Intrigued, I agreed to see the injured deer.

A few days later, a parcel arrived and upon opening, I was greeted with a deer’s head made of rubber.  Not one’s average delivery.

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‘Jonathan Deer’ was available about 20 years ago in the UK and I suspect the US as a novelty singing Christmas toy, designed to hang on the wall, to bring festive joy when anyone walks past the deer’s motion sensor.

Sadly, or maybe fortuitously, depending on your perspective, Jonathan was now silent and despite new batteries, it was dead.

The thing about Christmas decorations is that they get used for about 4 weeks a year and then packed away, usually in a loft or alike where it’s not necessarily that warm or dry for the remaining 48 weeks.  Cold, damp and draughty conditions are not good for small electrical items.  Batteries left leak and metallic contacts corrode and these ailments had affected poor old Jonathan.

Repairs completed:

  • Battery terminals were corroded from battery leakage and therefore cleaned with a small toothbrush and protected with contact cleaner
  • Opening up the casing (several small screws) revealed a broken negative lead.  A Small re-soldering job fixed that

Still no action.

  • Lastly, the on/off switch didn’t seem to be working.  I was able to separate the small tangs holding the switch together and gently clean the switch wiper/ contacts with cleaning agent.  I didn’t replace the switch as it’s a bespoke item and getting a replacement would be difficult.  The repair I made seemed to work OK.

Once the switch was cleaned, Jonathan burst into life.  Upon switching him on in demo mode, he woke up by blaring out James Brown – I Feel Good.  Moving the switch to on mode, he worked as he should via the motion sensor.  Wonderful.

I was then able to return the deer to its owner to enjoy over the festive season.  Result.

Is 12 years too long to keep a toothbrush?

A Braun Oral-B electric toothbrush gets a new lease of life.

Let’s just clarify one thing straightaway; I’m talking about an electric toothbrush with changeable brush heads.

I was given an Oral-B/ Braun electric toothbrush as a birthday present years ago, which when you think about it, is a bit of a strange thing to receive as a gift.  Maybe the gift contained a hint?  Back then, these toothbrushes were not cheap, starting at about £60.00 if I remember correctly.  Today, a new equivalent is quite a bit cheaper.

In the time I’ve owned it, it’s had about 40 new brush heads and it’s just about to start it’s third non-replaceable battery.

Make and model:  Oral-B/ Braun 3756 931 41306

Fault reported: Battery won’t hold charge

Cost of replacement:  About £20.00

Cost of parts:  £6.60

Hours spent on repair:  1

Tools needed:  Small flat-bladed screwdriver, soldering iron

Sundry items: None

Repair difficulty:  5/10

Cups of tea:  2

Biscuits:  2 Gingernuts

Electrical items with non-replaceable batteries are so annoying.

A message to manufacturers:  There’s simply no excuse for it as all batteries are replaceable.

In my experience, items with ‘non-replaceable batteries’ contain entirely replaceable items.  The batteries might not be standard ‘AA’ items, but there’s a host of online suppliers that are ready to supply just about any power cell for any application, you name it, usually for a reasonable price that costs-in for the repair process.

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Now, I don’t know how long one of these toothbrushes is meant to last, but as a long-term test, I thought it would be interesting to find out.  After the first battery died, I decided to take the toothbrush apart, to see what was going on inside.

As you can see from the photos, there’s more within than one might think.  There’s a switch, charging circuit, timer circuit, over-pressure circuit, gearbox, motor, mini crankshafts and a battery.  Not to mention all of the tiny connecting parts all neatly engineered to work together, reliably.  It’s a small work of art really.

It makes me very sad that most of these toothbrushes will end up in landfill, after a few years.

The designers had clearly designed this toothbrush as a disposable item as the battery, despite being readily available from spares suppliers, was hidden, out of sight, under all of the gubbins.

To extract the battery (a simple nickel cadmium item) a full dismantle was required, in this order.

  • Prise off the top collar
  • Prise off the bottom cap
  • Pull out the main mechanism
  • De-solder the main pressure switch, charging coil, LED, and some other joints,
  • Take PCB off of battery carrier,
  • Split battery barrier from the main motor area
  • Remember the polarity of the battery, negative near the coil (a misleading ‘+’ there)
  • Reassembly, with the new battery is the same in reverse.  See pictures for hints.

Twelve years down the line and now on its third battery cell, the toothbrush is still going strong which proves that with a little tinkering, disposable items can be repaired and made to last longer.

It’s just a shame that Braun, the manufacturer, decided to ignore any notion of consumer maintenance.

 

 

Old school iPod Nano battery replacement

Apple really don’t want you to get into their products- but they’re not alone.

We have two Apple products in our house from the early 2000s; one iPod Nano 1st generation and the 1st generation iPod colour.

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, August’19, Apple iPod Nano.

Apple tech polarises opinion as it’s always premium priced and is quite locked-down to ‘Apple only platforms’.  Some people love the ease of use that their products seem to offer, others get frustrated with the lack of integration with other products.

Despite being an Android house, we keep the iPods as they are quite robust, but due to age, battery life has recently become an issue.

Make and model:  Apple iPod Nano

Fault reported: Battery not holding charge

Cost of replacement:  eBay, loads out there

Cost of parts:  £8.00

Hours spent on repair:  1

Tools needed:  Spudger, small flat-bladed screwdriver, soldering iron

Sundry items: None

Repair difficulty:  4/10

Cups of tea:  1

Biscuits:  2 (Custard Creams)

Let’s just get it out of the way now.  Apple really don’t want anyone opening up their devices and it was a wrestle to open up the casing, without snapping something (the iPod, not one of my nails or something).

The battery in the Nano is situated beneath the metal cover, which must be removed using a spudger.  A spudger is a small lever with a fine edge that can be used to gently open up small, usually plastic, push-fit, ‘clicked-together’ things.  Spudgers are kind of disposable and I always seem to break one on each job.  I must look out for a strong, stainless steel item.

Using the spudger on the Nano isn’t easy, since (as I later found out) all of the metal tangs located around the metal casing, dig in to the plastic face.  Trying the separate the two halves is a real battle and there’s a real risk of damage should you use too much force.

After a good 15 minutes of wrangling with the Nano, the casing popped off.

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The battery on this model uses a small fly lead which is soldered to the main PCB, again more evidence to suggest that Apple had no intention of making the Nano’s battery replaceable by most users.  Extreme care had to be taken with the soldering too since the PCB’s components are so close and small, making it too easy to use too much heat, causing irreparable damage.

I took my time and was able to fit the new battery (push fit) and solder the connections OK.

The cover popped back on and fortunately, the screen lit up once more, when the menu button was pressed.  Phew. Tea time.

 

Imaginext Super Hero Flight Gotham City

Good thinking Batman, but I have a safety dilemma with a repair.

During a recent Toy Doctor surgery at a Dad La Soul/ Tot Rockin’ Beats event http://www.totrockinbeats.com/dad-la-soul I attempted a repair on a kids toy that I couldn’t get working in the two hours we had, so I asked if I could take it home to the workshop where I have more tools at my disposal.  Good thinking Batman.

The Imaginext Super Hero Flight Gotham City (catchy title for a toy) was much loved, but the flying bit (circled in red below) had stopped working and no longer did anything when switched on.  No fun without the flight bit.

Imaginext Super Hero set
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, August 2019, Imaginext Super Hero Flight Gotham City. Image: Google/Amazon.

 

Make and model:  Imaginext Super Hero Flight Gotham City

Fault reported: Not working

Cost of replacement:  £45.00 approx.

Cost of parts:  £0.00

Hours spent on repair:  About two hours- although to be honest, I lost count with this one

Tools needed:  Cleaning cloths, small fine file, soldering iron

Sundry items: Contact cleaner

Repair difficulty:  6/10

Cups of tea:  4

Biscuits:  10, maybe the whole pack, I lost count (Custard Creams)

The battery-powered flying thing on a weighted boom should fly about in a circular fashion and be controlled by the city platform, presumably by remote control from the main city bit.

Upon opening up the battery compartment, the problem revealed itself.  The previous batteries had leaked and the spillage has corroded the battery terminals.  No bother I thought, just a matter of cleaning-up the metal surfaces and we’d be back in business.  How wrong I was.  Even with new batteries installed, nothing happened, how very dissapointing.

No, it wasn’t going to be that easy and that was the theme for the rest of the repair.  Everywhere I turned, whether it was trying to open up the casings, inspect wiring or generally take something apart, I was going to be met with glued shut fixings and more problems.

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Construction on this toy was very strange.  Surfaces on the casing were sometimes glued and screwed together, very odd, and I guess that method must have been used due to production time and cost saving.

The wiring between the flying bit and base checked out OK and the motor spun when I applied some charge briefly to the terminals, so that all seemed fine.

Upon opening up the gubbins where the switch was, the problem with the toy presented itself.  The mini printed circuit board had suffered from battery leakage corrosion and was shot.  Whatever it was meant to do was in the distant past.  So, this toy was for the WEEE skip, as there was no chance of getting a replacement.

Well, hang on a minute, we don’t give up like that do we.

I decided that I could make the toy work albeit without the printed circuit board by re-wiring the motor, using the existing loom and switch, so that the motor and therefore helicopter bit worked as it should.  This would mean that once the switch on the base of the unit was turned on, the helicopter would start and it would not be possible to turn it off without grabbing the moving base weight first.  It clearly wasn’t designed like that, but I had at least got it working again.

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So, here was my dilemma:  Give up with something I couldn’t get a part for or get it working again, albeit with a removed (percived) safety feature, so that the toy could still be enjoyed.  I went with the latter as I thought that the danger was negligable.

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, Aug’19, flying high, once again.  Always read the safety label.

Was I right?

 

 

That thing just eats money!

Tomy (UK) /Robie (US) Mr. Money repaired in the Workshop

I have a real soft spot for novelty toy robots that actually do something.  I think I’ll make a point of collecting more.

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, August’19, Tomy/ Robie Mr. Money.

Make and model:  Tomy (Robie in U.S.) Mr. Money  children’s money box

Fault reported: Not eating money

Cost of replacement:  N/A

Cost of parts:  £0.00

Hours spent on repair:  About an hour

Tools needed:  Cleaning cloths

Sundry items: Contact cleaner

Repair difficulty:  3/10

A lady got in touch with me on the back of an article I wrote a while ago about a faulty Mr. Money toy robot money box.  My Mr. Money had gone wrong as I’d left an old battery inside which had then leaked.  A major clean-up and tinker was then required to get it working again.

This particular Mr Money belonged to the lady’s husband and was to be ‘given to him again’ as a 40th birthday present.  What a nice thought.  The only problem was that Mr. Money had stopped working long ago; put away and forgotten about.  He needed bringing back to life.  Perhaps there was a hidden message to the husband to save for something?  Who knows.

Mr_Money_Quick_Strip

Mr. Money arrived well packed at the workshop and I wasted no time in taking him apart.  There was no evidence of battery leakage or accidental Cadbury Button ingestion and he was generally in good condition with no bits broken off.  A good start.

Mr. Money is getting on a bit and when taking apart any toy, let alone one that’s over 30 years old, one must be careful not to accidently snap-off any lugs or tangs that hold things like casing and levers together.  Very tricky.  It’s not something I usually attempt after a day at work, when I’m shattered.

After some rooting around in the depths of the mechanism, I noticed that the ‘limit switch’ was a little dirty and that some of the contacts needed a little clean.  Using some fine cloth and switch cleaner, all metallic switch surfaces and battery connections were cleaned up and with a new AA battery installed, Mr. Money worked again.

Being 30 years old, there’s no silly use of electronics or other USB excesses which are, I think, ‘over used’ on modern toys.  It all adds up to something which can be repaired with basic tools and parts.

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I carefully reassembled the workings, casing, switches, arms, head, eyes and lid.

Mr. Money was ready to feast.

After testing a couple of quid through the Mr.Money’s eating cycle, I was happy for him to start his journey home.  I hope he gets used regularly and never put away in a box again.