Inside the Real Repair Shop 9: Do we ever own our own stuff?

Matt takes a shallow dive into the notion of stuff, ownership and value. Something ‘light’ then.

You may recall adverts on tele and in the glossies a few years ago from prestige watchmaker Patek Philippe, often featuring a father and son relationship, implying that one never really owns one of their watches, but merely has custodianship of it until it’s passed on to the next generation.  That’s great for the son or daughter inheriting a posh watch at the appropriate time, but please spare a moment for the poor sod, still paying for it!  Anyway, this all got me thinking about our relationship with stuff.

I live in deepest West Worthing, Sussex, UK and we’re surrounded by charity, house clearance and general second-hand shops everywhere, amongst the upmarket coffee shops and tiny ‘living room’ pubs.  Could be a lot worse, I guess!  To ‘Magpie Matt’, it’s brilliant news, as I’m always on the lookout for interesting items, especially if they look like they can do with some tender loving care.  Don’t you seek out broken and damaged items?  No, just me then.  One can save a lot of money by buying second-hand, but it’s only good value if you really need it.  The downside is that I often return home with ‘a thrift shop bargain’ when I only popped out for a pint of milk.  Great for the local economy, but, I fear that our home office has become a museum for too many ‘interesting items’!

Matt with his sandwich toaster.
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, July’22 – vintage items and a relic(!)

There’s a backstory for every item for sale, and I often wonder if it would be interesting to list the narrative behind every charity donation, a bit like we see at those auctions for famous paintings and jewellery, so that the customer might form more of a connection with the thing. Probable madness and an administration nightmare of course, but indeed we expect it if handing over money for a genuine rare classic watch like a Rolex – it’s all part of the experience. Every pre-loved item has something to say, good or bad.

Ditching the ‘perfectly OK and fit for purpose’ stuff we already have is the issue I think, and in these increasingly cash-conscious times, can we do more to love what we already own to save money and the planet? It’s not always easy though it is as it takes time, care and, dare I say it, cash to preserve things for longer. Of course, I don’t want to come across like a preaching bore (insert objection here) – I do buy new stuff, I live in the real world, but I’m trying to love some of the old things I have for longer, with the scratches, faded colours, missing buttons, maybe it’s an ‘age thing’?

The more times that you ‘patch something up’, get something repaired, use something past its high-fashion status, you’ll form a stronger bond with it over time, believe me.

On a slightly different road, many of the things you threw away years ago are very much still here on Earth.  Think about the now collectable items you saw as junk at the time, but are now worth a mint, probably languishing in the side of a hill!  Until relatively recently, the world of waste was a murky business and, in many ways, it still is – and that’s a subject for another day!  So, unless you took the time to dispose of your old vacuum cleaner or hairdryer at a specialist scrap dealer back in the bad old days, the chances are that it still exists in some form, buried deep in the ground somewhere.

Remember Time Team on Channel 4 in the 1990s with Tony Robinson?  I can see a new version of that show in years to come, featuring the modern equivalent digging sections of landfill sites, unearthing an abundance of 20th Century, often perfectly preserved, now ‘classic’ items.  You never know, maybe one or two will still work?

So, where am I going with all this? Well, it’s the same old message I guess really. Hang on to your stuff, look after it, repair it if you can and love the signs of wear and tear.  This will give the item, however cheap, expensive, rare or mass-produced more worth, whether sentimental or monetary. When the time comes and no matter how ‘grand’ the thing, pass it on to someone else who will cherish it too, after you’re done with it. You never know that one day, your faded and battered sandwich toaster be serving up a slice of nostalgia as well as a yummy retro treat in 2060!  What a thought!

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, July’22, toastie anyone?

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.

Classic (asthmatic) Dyson DC01

A tired DC01 gets some TLC

Starting a new job is always fun and when a new colleague of mine mentioned that the office vacuum cleaner had packed up, I rose to the challenge.

I’m quite fond of Dyson products as some of you know, mainly because:

  • They’re well-engineered, by engineers
  • They’re designed to be repaired easily with simple tools, which is better for everyone
  • Parts are readily available at reasonable prices

The DC01 was launched in the early 90’s and was Dyson’s first market clean-up, competing with the established market leaders.  Although this machine is over 20 years old and Dyson no longer supports it directly, reasonable quality pattern parts are available on eBay.  If you have one, love it and keep it going.

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, November’18, Dyson DC01

This one is actually an ‘Antarctica Solo’ model (grey and light blue instead of yellow), which commemorated Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ solo trek across Antarctica and raised money for Breakthrough Cancer.  It had been abandoned and was moments away from the skip.  I felt quite sorry for it.

Faults reported included; no suction, excess noise and smell!

The first thing to check on the DC01 is the filters, as like many other Dyson products, people forget to clean or change the filters.  Both filters were totally choked and full of all sorts of detritus.  A quick shake out and wash with warm soapy water and they were as good as new.  Following that, I inspected the seals around the join between the cylinder and the main body.  All the seals were dirty, so a clean up and quick spray with silicone spray and they were as good as new.  Great.

The noise seemed to be coming from the front beater/ rollers which usually means, noise bearings.  The beater on this model uses a two bearing set up.  One was fine, but the other was seized.  As I didn’t want to spend any more than I needed, I cleaned the bearing, after removing it and the dust cover, re-greased it with LM High-Melt Point grease (general automotive stuff) and it was ready to roll and beat again.

 

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Once the filters were dry and re-installed, the Dyson ran like new again.  Very satisfying.

Cost of replacement:  £15 second hand, £100’s for an equivalent-ish new model.

Cost of repair:  Patience, washing up liquid, two cups of tea.

Nearly flaming 1986 Yamaha XT600 Ténéré

Beloved Yamaha XT600 Ténéré nearly goes up in smoke.

I’ve had my beloved Yamaha XT600 Ténéré for about 8 years and have deliberately kept it away from these pages as I’m always doing something to it.  It could have its own website with the amount of time, not to mention money and effort I’ve spent on it.

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FixItWorkshop, Jan’18, Yamaha XT600 Ténéré.

This story is note-worthy as it’s a lesson for me and others who ride and maintain old bikes!

I don’t use the bike that much at the moment, but I always keep it ready for the road, just in case I get a chance to take it out.  Whilst doing a few checks recently, I decided to fire it up and get the oil pumping around the engine, so that things don’t seize up.

The tank was pretty full (over 20 litres) and upon opening up the manual fuel valves, giving it a bit of choke, the engine fired-up on the second crank.  It sounded quite sweet.

However, after about 30 seconds, I heard ‘running liquid’ before smelling the intense scent of super unleaded.  Looking down, I was standing in about 2 pints of fuel, on the wooden shed floor with a hot exhaust casually burning the fuel that was dripping on to it.  Nasty.

I won’t repeat what I said, but suffice to say, I hit the bikes’ kill switch virtually instantly.  I shut the flowing fuel off and wheeled the bike out in to the open air.

After several cups of tea, I found the cause of the problem.  The small fuel feed pipe which runs from the float chamber to the main jet on the carburettor had failed causing the leak.

When I bought the bike, I thought I’d changed all the fuel lines, but I’d missed one, quite an important one as it turned out.  It goes to show that even enthusiastic mechanics make mistakes.

The cost of the repair was £1 for a new piece of fuel hose, but the point of this story is:  If you have any petrol-powered things, especially old motorbikes; don’t run them in an enclosed wooden space.  Always run them outside.

Gaggia Classic machine wakes up to smell the coffee.

A Gaggia Classic Coffee Machine repair…

A simple repair…. That’s what I thought when a friend asked if I could look at his Gaggia Classic Coffee Machine, which had developed a nasty little leak when in use.  The coffee wasn’t all that good either, due to the lack of pressure available, caused by the leak.  In short, it needed attention.

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FixItWorkshop, Oct’17, Gaggia Classic Coffee Machine, with a leak.

The owner had already bought a repair kit consisting of the main seals/ gaskets that commonly fail, so I thought no problem, take to pieces, replace seals, happy days.  Er, not quite.

Once I’d stripped the machine down, pretty straightforward on these machines, the bare parts were exposed, which revealed the problem.  After being fired up briefly, not to make coffee I’d like to point out, water could be seen escaping from the boiler unit, a alloy bodied lump of metal, split in two halves, held together by 4 screws.  The boiler, as the name suggests, heats the water up with one heating element  and creates steam for the steam wand, with another element, all part of the same module.

After separating the boiler halves, I traced the leak to a faulty gasket, but crucially, one side of the mating faces was heavily corroded and unlikely to re-seal with a new part fitted on its own.  Remedial action was required.

This model is a few years old and a replacement boiler is still available on a few websites and prices vary from £40 to £60 at the time of writing, so at that price, starts to make the cost of repair unviable.

I decided that the face with the corrosion had enough material to withstand loosing some, so went about sanding the worst of the corrosion away before gradually moving on to  smoother and smoother sandpaper.

Because Gaggia Classics are fairly common, I decided to video this repair process as I suspect the corrosion affects many machines with age and just fitting a repair kit won’t cure the problem on its own.  See below.  I hope it helps anyone else with the same machine facing the same problem.

 

Once I was happy with the new finish, I fitted a new gasket and reassembled the boiler.  After putting it all back together, I purged several tanks of water through the system to remove debris, before attempting a cup of coffee.  Once filled up with my favourite Lidl coffee, the machine performed well once again with no leaks and the end product tasted great.

Cost of a new machine:  £249.00.  Cost of repair:  £4.50, plus time.

 

 

fixitworkshop.co.uk repair service and blog

The diary of a tinkerer: Stories, advice, tips and sometimes the odd failure to inspire your own repair.

The diary of a tinkerer: Stories, advice, tips and sometimes the odd failure to inspire your own repair.

Matt and a few food mixers
  • I write about things I fix and even those I can’t
  • I offer a repair service for a small fee
  • I occasionally volunteer at Repair Café and similar events in Sussex and surrounding area

The tinkerer at FixItWorkshop.co.uk is Matt Marchant

I love repairing things and hate throwing things away that can be saved. There’s far too much waste in the world.  Many things that can sometimes appear unrepairable, are indeed repairable, with a little tinkering. I want to encourage people who doubt their own ability to repair their things, to give repair a go.  After all, if ‘that thing’ isn’t working, grab a screwdriver, take it apart and investigate.  What have you got to lose? I’ve been tinkering with bikes, cars, coffee machines, toys and vacuum cleaners and pretty much anything that can be dismantled since I could hold a screwdriver.  I’ve worked for BT as a senior engineer, and I’ve studied design, business and electronics. Enjoy the repair diary of a tinkerer.  I hope it gives you a nudge to repair your broken thing.  If you can’t, I might be able to help.

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