Right to repair or despair‽

Right to repair laws are a good thing on the face of it, but don’t go anywhere near far enough to give the public back control over their appliances.

As you might expect, I’ve been keeping a weather eye on our neighbours in France over the last couple of years and was pleasantly surprised when they announced a Repairability Index scheme, on the 1st of January 2021, the first European country to do so.

The scheme in France will make it easier for consumers to assess the longevity of some products on the market. But I nearly choked on my custard cream, when the UK Government announced a Right to Repair bill for UK consumers, which came into force on the 1st of July 2021.  The news report made it sound as if a magic wand had been waved by the Brits, and that all our gadget maladies had vanished.  Sadly not.

There’s always a backstory to any announcement like this, and the new UK ‘right to repair’ laws, are on the face of it, a good thing. However, don’t for one minute that the new laws passed will help the public directly.

The laws will make it compulsory for manufacturers to provide spare parts and documentation to professionals, whoever they are, for at least ten years. Consumer items such as TVs, fridges and washing machines, will in theory, be given the opportunity to last longer.  But there are problems, and here’s why. The legislation doesn’t specifically cover planned obsolescence, parts prices and consumer accessibility or product durability. These are all issues generally accepted as the main barriers to repair. Let me explain.

During the many years I’ve spent locked away securely in the workshop, I’ve regularly been presented with items which were designed, made and sold with no attempt on the manufacturers’ or retailers’ part to design-in repair. In other words, many items that I see are not meant to be repaired at all, and there’s usually no support network in place, when the product is out there in circulation. Sometimes I can fix these things, sometimes I can’t and many-a-time, I’m working without certainty. Over the years, I’ve built-up knowledge on certain products and have a working knowledge of various spares providers for many items, but this trainspotter knowledge, isn’t easy to acquire. It takes many shed-years and a limited social life.

Items such as complicated coffee machines and toasters do have some spare parts available, sometimes long after they’ve gone out of production, but prices for spares are often so high that repair might not be cost-effective.  I once attempted to repair my own UK made Triton shower as the heater inside had failed.  The shower was 10 years old and parts, were available here in the UK, for delivery next working day.  Price of a replacement boiler £80.  Price of the same brand-new complete shower from Screwfix, £50 with a new warranty.  Now, as much as I’m passionate about repair, I’m not daft.  I had a bath instead.

The new legislation, which is regarded by me and others in repair circles, is a step in the right direction and certainly highlights the current issues around our throwaway society. But it doesn’t scratch the surface of the problem. Not even close.

A true Right to Repair would enforce proportionate parts prices, sensible repair accessibility, free documentation and accessible repair support from manufactures and retailers directly to consumers and independent repairers.  Luckily though, there is good news.  Repair initiatives such as therestartproject.org, repair.eu and the Repair Café movement are actively campaigning, organising petitions and actively lobbying governments for change, and you can get involved. Repair Cafés operate in my own area of Adur and Worthing (Sussex, UK) and are home to dedicated repairers and tinkerers.

And there’s more good news. Over the last 20 years or so, eBay has revolutionised the second hand domestic goods parts market. If you need a cost-effective part for your vacuum cleaner, coffee machine or washing machine, you might just find the part you need online from parts breaker, on eBay. I’ve saved many a vacuum cleaner using a second-hand motor for a tenner and recommend it, if you know what you’re looking for and have the nerve. If the government is serious about right to repair, the circular economy and its goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions, the process needs to include all stakeholders. Honest and transparent consultation with robust legislation that includes the second hand parts market and the home repairer is the only way to truly gain back control of our appliances.

Matt, July 2021.

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…

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.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

 

 

 

The tale of Hetty & Henry

A small mix up nearly resulted in some body modification…

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, May’20, Henry & Hetty bathing in the sunshine

Make and model: Hetty Vacuum Cleaner (HET200-22)

Fault reported: Not working

Cost of replacement: £100-£140

Manufacturer support:  10/10

Cost of parts: £21.59, inc. carriage

Hours spent on repair: 1 hour with service

Tools needed: Screwdrivers, test meter etc

Sundry items: Silicone spray, cleaning materials

Repair difficulty: 4/10

Cups of tea: 1

Biscuits: Ginger Nut X2

If only everything was as well made and built to last as a Henry (or Hetty!) hoover.  Simple as a knife and fork, with tried and tested technology, it’s a machine created by an engineer, for everyone to own, use and repair themselves, when needed.

A neighbour got in touch to say that their broken Hetty was about to be scrapped and asked if I could do anything with it.  Of course, I said.  To be honest with you all, I’m not that confident with all repairs, but I knew that in the case of this one, I should be fine as Numatic products are pretty well supported by the manufacturer. And this is the thing:

How many purchases do we make that consider; “will I be able to get parts for that one day”?

We all do it, but as a tinkerer I try and consider the longevity and likely need for replacement components when I’m considering handing over my hard earned wedge, at point of purchase.

The Hetty had been working fine, but had then conked out, mid clean.  No drama, no noise, no smoke, it had just stopped.  The owner had already checked the fuse, but that was fine (as they often are).

When things just stop and won’t restart, that symptom is often trying to tell you something and if you’re listening, capturing the way something fails and acting on the information can save you time and often money.  It’s a trick I’m always trying to perfect, although one can be caught out anytime- but that’s half the fun.

  • The machine stopped suddenly…
    • Maybe the cable broke?
    • Maybe the plug is damaged
    • Maybe a component failed quickly

Expensive things like motors tend to start making noises, run slower than usual or smell bad before failing.  They can ‘just stop’ of course, but it’s likely that there will be a build-up, so I proceeded with some confidence that the motor was probably fine.  I always check motor bearings and brushes anyway, when servicing this type of thing.

Since the mains cable and plug were fine, it was time to delve inside.  The Hetty top is simply held together with a few screws (normal cross head) which then frees the cable winder and motor assembly, when undone.

I suspected the two-speed control PCB as these can fail suddenly without warning and since I have no Numatic PCB tester (if there is such a thing), all I could do is prove the component as faulty, beyond reasonable doubt.  A quick check with my multi-meter revealed that there was no output, when connected to the mains.  Suspicious.

It is also possible to by-pass the speed control PCB on these machines, which I did.  I connected the motor up without it’s 600W/1200W control circuit in the loop and the motor spun up just fine.

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Often, I like to go direct to the manufacturer (where possible) for spare parts as you often get the truth about an appliance as well as the latest version of a part.  Often, manufacturers continue to iron out bugs and develop upgrades for spare parts as these will be fitted to the latest models.  A company such as Numatic seem to apply those upgrades retrospectively to older models too, so that all customers new and old, can enjoy the benefits.  For information; UK spec speed controller part 208436 (red) replaces part 206735 (orange) for model HET200-22.

As I couldn’t find the part I needed on any website, a quick call to Numatic UK, gave me the information I needed.  Even during Covid-19 lockdown here in the UK, the lady in Numatic’s spares department, working from her kitchen, was able to advise me on the upgraded part I now needed and arrange for it to be with me for the next working day.  If that’s not good service, I don’t know what is.  http://www.numatic.co.uk

With the new part installed, the motor spun once more, at the correct two speeds.  Happy days.

All fine then.  Not quite. 

Hetty had been supplied with a red base, not the original pink one that Hetty should have.

As we all know… no?  Just me then, Henry is red and Hetty is pink and there is a range of names and colours to choose from in the range.

When I tried to fit the Hetty top to the supplied red base, it didn’t fit.  Quite a head-scratching moment, if I’m being frank with you.  Had it never fitted? Had the owner simply just put up with it the way it was?  Had there been some kind of strange swapping incident that I wasn’t aware of?  Time to get some answers!

It turns out that my neighbour have both Henry and Hetty models and had given me the wrong base.  They had assumed they are all the same.  They’re not actually, see below.

The latest Henry and Hetty tops have a cut-out for the tool storage bracket moudling as shown on the red base above.  The earlier Hetty I had in the workshop had no such bracket in the plastic.  I did offer to modify the Hetty top I had with my Dremel saw, but this offer was declined!

With the right top and base paired up once more, I was happy, the neighbours were happy and another vacuum cleaner had been saved from being scrapped needlessly.

Time for another brew.

 

Touch control lamp repair

An old lamp sees the light…

You’ve got to be in the mood for certain repair work.

A friend of ours dropped in a ‘dead lamp’ to the workshop with a message:  “Matt, can you mend it”?  I then sort of forgot about it for er, nine months.  Whoops.  I need to focus on the workshop more.

The lamp was much loved by its owner and its current lack of light was leaving her in the dark.

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, May’20, Endon Touch Control Dimmable Lamp.

Make and model: Endon Touch Control Dimmable Lamp

Fault reported: Not working

Cost of replacement: £30ish

Manufacturer support:  0/10

Cost of parts: £3 approx.

Hours spent on repair: 30 minutes

Tools needed: Screwdrivers, test meter etc

Sundry items: None

Repair difficulty: 2/10

Cups of tea: 1

Biscuits: Wagon Wheel (Jammie)

These touch lamps were a bit of a novelty back in the day and seem to have fallen out of favour in recent times.  However, the owner of this one was a bit upset when suddenly one day, it wouldn’t work.

When working on anything mains operated, I always start with the basics:

  • Is the bulb working? Yes.
  • Is the mains flex OK?  Again, yes
  • Is the fuse (UK) intact? All OK

Lamps like this are pretty simple; there’s a mains wire, there’s a bulb and holder, a switch and the main lamp unit itself.  Some dimmable lamps, like this one, feature an electronic dimming module, which in this case was built into the base of the unit.

First step:  Remove the base cover

Removing the cover was fairly straightforward and only involved a few self-tapping screws, under the felt pad base.  This exposed the dimmer module, which when tested with the meter, was not outputting any current to the lamp circuit.

Second step: Dismantle the dimmer

Dimmer modules like this are not designed to be repaired and contain no user-serviceable parts (don’t get me started on that!).  But in the past, I’ve had some luck cleaning components and re-heating the odd dry joint with a soldering iron.  In this case, it was no joy.  A replacement module was needed.

Third step:  Find a new dimmer!

I can’t remember what I used to do before finding specialist electronic suppliers on eBay and alike.  Oh yes, I just remembered:  I struggled!

It didn’t take long to find a new (almost identical) dimmer module on eBay for about £3, delivered.  How do they do it for the money?

After 2 weeks of waiting, the new module arrived in the post, hand delivered by our usual friendly posty, Keith.

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Forth step:  Fitting the new module and test

Comparing the dimmers side-by-side revealed that they were more or less the same, using the same wire colours…but in a different combination.  This meant that it wasn’t a simple ‘cut and re-join’ the new dimmer to the existing wiring.  Oh no, it meant cutting everything out and starting again.  Still, with only four wires, it didn’t take long.  With a little soldering and heat shrink, one would never know I had been tinkering.

A good job, jobbed, even if it did take me months to get ‘aroundtuit’.

Quite literally illuminating.