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.

Repair, kettles and er, the Citroen 2CV

Less is usually more. Simpler devices can mean repair is more likely in the event of failure.

I keep a model of a Citroen 2CV car on my desk at work.  It’s about 30-odd years old and it’s a bit battered due to an incident involving a shelf, my old cat and an 8ft drop, but that’s another story.

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, July’20, The 2CV (AZ series)

The 2CV is there to remind me to keep things simple, to the point.

To me (and many others) the 2CV represents pure function over form.  Nothing on the car is superfluous to its function as a capable load lugging, robust, ever-repairable and frugal vehicle. I have a soft spot for these cars. They encapsulate the phrase ‘less is more’.

Not every story from the workshop is rosy and my heart usually sinks when I receive something to fix that has tiny printed circuit boards fitted inside that do ‘something’ and nothing at the same time.

What the Tin Snail do I mean by that? Many appliances and machines manufactured in the last 20 years or so often contain ‘mini’ circuits that control ‘something’.

Take an electric kettle, something that most people have in their homes. Kettles generally are a water holding vessel, a heating system, and an on/off switch with a boiling water state detecting negative feedback loop (it switches off by itself when the water boils).  There’s also some wire and stuff.

Electric kettles haven’t really changed that much over the years, after all the basic need hasn’t changed:  You put water in, you switch it on, you get hot water to make a drink. Nothing has changed. However, many offered these days are fitted with things like filters, LED lighting and other electronic temperature control systems with bells on.

Trouble is, all these (kettle) gadgets tend to be controlled by a small circuit board which isn’t repairable or even replaceable. It only takes an accidental water spill, some static electricity or bump mishap and that tiny circuitry is toast.  Not even a professional circuit repair agent, let along home spanner wielder would have a chance of repairing the broken circuit. When failure occurs, many will just discard the appliance and go and buy another one, quickly. Who wants to be without tea or coffee?!

The tragedy is that the rest of the (kettle in this case) appliance is, nine times out of ten, OK and if it was made with more traditional components that one could see with the naked eye, the appliance would stand far more chance of being repaired easily and economically. Something to think about, next time you’re considering a new purchase.

 

 

 

Hooray for Henry!

A Numatic Henry vacuum cleaner gets the kiss of life…

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, March’20, Numatic ‘Henry’ vacuum cleaner HVA200a (to be exact).

There are times when only no-nonsense suck will do.  Other vacuum cleaners offer the moon on a stick, but rarely live up to the repeated abuse of everyday life.  Henry on the other hand is tough, no-nonsense and above all, reliable.

Reviewers of this kind of thing, seem to agree.

Make and model: Numatic International ‘Henry’ vacuum cleaner HVA200a

Fault reported: Dead/ not running

Cost of replacement: About £130, give or take

Cost of parts: £17.25

Hours spent on repair: 1

Tools needed: Cleaning tools/ cross-head screwdriver

Sundry items: Silicone spray/ cleaning rags

Repair difficulty: 2/10

Cups of tea: 1

Biscuits: 1 bourbon, I think

I have friends in trades who will only buy and use Henry ‘hoovers’ as they last, always work and are easy to use. And above all, who doesn’t like an appliance with a smiley face?

The example in the picture above had been used by a local Worthing taxi driver everyday for the last 15 years without any problems and was in pretty good nick.  The filter was clean and apart from some wear and tear scratches, still looked like the current model.

One day, Henry failed to switch on and after the owner had checked the fuse in the plug, he decided to get in touch with the workshop.

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, March’20, Henry’s on switch.

The HVA200a has two speed settings, one at 600 Watts power and one at 1200 Watts power, selectable by a red switch and indicated in a red tell-tail lamp.  When plugged in, nothing was happening.

Time to perform surgery.

Opening up Henry’s casing was straightforward and top marks to the designers for creating sensible parts that fit together logically.  Henry is designed to last and be repaired.  All very pleasing.

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With the lid removed, all electrical checks were made from the plug to the end of the flex, down to the motor.  The flex was in good condition with no snags, shorts or earth faults.  The cable winder on this model is a simple handle operating spindle and was a bit sticky.  The contacts inside the gubbins were also tarnished, so while it was all in pieces, I decided to clean all of the electrical contacts with cleaner and make sure all the sliding parts of the cable winder were clean and had a small dab of silicone spray for smoothness.

Testing for current around the circuit revealed that the speed control board was where things stopped.  The speed control board was dead and required replacing.

To prove this fact, I was able to temporarily by-pass the controller and connect the mains switch to the motor, which revealed that the motor was strong.

A quick bit of shopping with my favourite parts suppliers yielded a replacement (updated) speed control PCB for under £20, which seemed like good value to me.  After making a note of the wiring (see slideshow), the new PCB was connected up, the casing back together and Henry was ready to run, once more.

I also decided to give Henry a little polish too, just because.