Inside The Real Repair Shop 4

Free to take, but who bears the cost?

This time, I want to talk about something that’s seemingly become the norm for many streets up and down the land (in the UK for people reading this elsewhere).  The ‘free to take’ trend has arrived from somewhere, and I can’t quite put my finger on why it’s happened.

I have a few working theories, that I’d like to share with you.  Indulge me for a few minutes if you please.

With UK-wide social restrictions still in place and most of the high street closed at the moment, many of us are taking more walks locally to spend time, which isn’t only good for our health, it’s also much, much kinder on one’s wallet. Whilst out walking, have you noticed how many households leave small appliances and other domestic items out on the pavement on-offer to passers-by? I have. To be honest, I never know if the items are fair game, or if I should ask permission before taking something.  Whilst mulling this over, during the past few months, I’ve decided that it is OK to take discarded items, if it’s obvious that they’ve been abandoned and that I can do something useful with them. I suspect that there are many reasons why items are being abandoned like this, and I’d like to share my thinking with you.  If you’re still with me, I hope you’ll find it interesting.

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, March’21. An abandoned 4-slice toaster. It tested OK and looked in good condition after a wipe-down. Maybe it didn’t match the original owners’ colour scheme?

This year so far, I have acquired a cordless kettle, a 4 slice toaster, and two Dyson vacuum cleaners.  Why you ask? It’s a good question, but before I go in to why I think they were all left out for ‘Magpie Matt’, here’s another thing;  The kettle and the toaster worked perfectly, with a clean-up. The two Dysons needed thirty pounds’ worth of spare parts between them.  When new, the vacuum cleaners would have been worth about £300, each.

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, March’21. A Dyson vacuum cleaner left out by a bin, waiting for some love and a replacement (second hand) motor and upright chassis, all for under £20.

So, why do folk do it? Why leave items out, working or not, for others to take for free? Here is a list of possible reasons why.

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, March’21. The replacement motor required for the Dyson was under £10 and the plastic chassis required was £10. MUCH less than the price of a new machine and surely MUCH better to fix this otherwise working order machine and save it from the crusher.

1  Folk just get bored with an item, and see so little value in it any more that they want to get shot of it quickly but feel, possibly with some guilt, that they should give it away, rather than disposing of it. We’re bombarded with advertising that tells us to replace things often by retailers and manufacturers, so it’s hardly surprising that some people feel this way.

2  It won’t fit in the bin.  General waste bins should only ever contain non-recyclable plastics, polythene, some packaging, kitchen waste and a sprinkling of dust.  However, take a look at your street on bin day, and you’ll see other items poking out from under the lid. Vacuum cleaners don’t usually fit in a 140 litre bin, which could explain why we see them on the pavement, from time to time. The local amenity tip is an option for the responsible owner when looking for a place to offload items, but if you don’t own a car, the whole process can be a bit of a chore.

3  The value of the item, which may have broken is now low and not worth repairing or the expected cost of repair outweighs the cost of replacement.  This issue is as wide as it is long and could easily form the basis of a master’s degree.  I simply can’t do this point justice here.  What I can say here is that the value of a broken item, which might be repairable is often zero, many manufacturers don’t make enough effort to support products in-life and there are limited repair and knowledge opportunities for people locally.

Obviously, there’s more to it and these are only three examples of drivers that can influence what happens to an item, after it’s become useful or has broken.

However, there is hope. Repair Cafés have become very popular across the world, and we’re very lucky to have at least two well-run (Repair Cafés) in the Adur and Worthing area (UK). I believe that the BBC’s very popular The Repair Shop is changing attitudes too, and it’s theme of keeping things longer with repair and restoration is a winning formula. Indeed, my own waiting list for repairs grows longer by the day. The French Government recently implemented a scheme to appraise repairability on items sold there, and it was revealed recently that the UK Government plans to do similar.  I’m watching progress with a beady eye.

If you’ve been following my articles here, you’ll know that I advocate keeping things for longer, with good maintenance and the odd dose of repair. It’s usually kinder to our environment, our wallets and helps slow the march of discarded items going to landfill, which is better for us all.

What’s the strangest item that you’ve seen abandoned? Please get in touch- maybe this could be a new feature!

Old vs new, which is best?

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

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Believe it or not, people do ask me which is best:  New or old machines?

There is of course, no right or wrong answer and the answer will vary, depending on the product and application.

But since the question comes up from time-to-time, I thought I’d give my opinion on the matter and have a bit of fun with the subject, a kind of shoot-out if you will.

My illustration focuses on an old favourite of mine; the Kenwood Chef.  My chosen opponents are a model from the early 1980s, the ubiquitous A901 Chef, made in England, and the much later 2000s KMC010 Chef, made in China.

The Chef is a good example for the shoot-out as the machine’s purpose hasn’t changed since it’s introduction to kitchens in the 1950s.  Many Chef accessories produced over the years are interchangeable, owning to the foresight of good design.

Some people think that new machines are best and more capable while other people think older machines are best as they were built to last. Since I’ve dismantled, used and admired 100s of these machines, here’s my take.

Round 1 – Performance

Older Chefs are less powerful than newer machines.  For example, the A901 has a 450W motor, whereas the later KMC010 has a much more powerful 1400W motor.  This means than the newer machine will be more capable to mix more stodgy mixtures for longer.  Counter-intuitively, the more powerful machine may be more efficient for some loads, compared to the lower power one, although I’ve never measured this.

A901 – 0   KMC010 – 1

Round 2 – Noise (from the machine)

Kenwood has tended to favour evolution rather than revolution with their product progression.  Many models available over the years appeared not to change much on the surface, but under the skin, small tweaks and improvements were taking place.  So, in general, the newer the machine, the quieter they tend to be.  There are some model variant exceptions to this, but the KMC010 is much quieter than my own good condition A901.

A901 – 0   KMC010 – 2

Oh dear, new things might be better after all..?

Round 3 – Durability

Now this is where things get interesting.  Many of the machines I receive in my workshop for repair are getting on a bit. Some of them are over 40 years old.  The machines have served their families well with faithful service.

Faulty older machines can often be turned around within a few hours in the workshop, to be back with the customer, to make more cakes.  The A901 Chef is a tough old beast.  The materials and finish rarely give any problems and major components rarely fail it seems.

KMC010 Chefs (and all newer models) that I see in the workshop are obviously much younger than the A901s.  While very capable and powerful, sadly, they seem to have failed, often only with occasional light use.

Seemingly, it’s true what they say, the older machines were built to last and I base that purely on customer enquiries and items I see to repair every week.  The newer machines often have features and buttons that don’t serve any real advantage, but have associated circuits which can and do go wrong, rendering the whole machine useless, if they fail.

A901 – 1   KMC010 – 2

Round 4 – Repairability

Now obviously, I am ‘repairability-biased’, this is a blog about repair after all.  However, the facts speak for themselves.  Older Chefs can be repaired with basic tools, reasonably priced components and a little know-how.

Newer Chefs, like the KMC010 are more complicated and have less user-serviceable parts.  This makes otherwise serviceable machines far more likely to end up in the scrapyard with seemingly minor faults, that were too hard to diagnose and repair.  The A901 wins hands down in the repairability stakes.

A901 – 2   KMC010 – 2

The feeling is tense and there’s an air of excitement as I get to call the decider on this slightly odd dual.

Round 5 – Value for money (the decider)

A new KMC010 Titanium costs over £600 today and it should be said that all Chefs are great machines and a worthy addition to any kitchen.  However, a decent second-hand Chef from the 1960s to the early 1990s is a worthy contender for a tenth of the cost.

Have a look on eBay and you’ll see A701s, A701a, A901, A901E, KM200 model Chefs, starting at £40, often with many accessories.  They’re just as useful and capable to serve most home needs.  Indeed, I have a customer who uses her standard A901 in an industrial kitchen, every day, with no problems.

A901 – 3   KMC010 -2

The non-scientific conclusion…

  • Buy an older machine and take satisfaction that it will last generations, can be easily repaired and work with most accessories available now.  Buying an older machine is probably less environmentally damaging than the manufacture of a new machine.
  • Buy a new machine and take satisfaction with additional performance and a manufacturers’ guarantee for the first year…

You know which machine I would buy…

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Time to put the kettle on.

Alesis (DM Lite) Drum kit without kick

Alesis Drum Kit gets a cheap repair.

A neighbour of mine is a talented musician in a local band and also teaches school children various instruments.  Some of his students learn the drums, which is most parent’s nightmare as any notion of a peaceful evening is shattered.  Luckily, electronic drum kits are an excellent way to learn with headphones, while keeping happy parents and neighbours.

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, November’18, Alesis DM Lite Electronic Drum Kit

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FixItWorkshop,  Worthing, November’18, Alexis DM Lite main drum module

This kit was missing several beats and was hampering learning, so time for a visit to the workshop.  I’m no musical instrument repair specialist, but I thought that the drum kit must use electrical contacts, switches and rudimentary electrical components and I was right.

Two faults were reported; The kick/ foot pedal was intermittently not working and one of the drum pads was hardly working at all, unless you hit it with a sledge-hammer.  Time to see what was going wrong.

First up was the faulty drum pad.  Opening up the back of the pad was simplicity itself, just a few screws held the back to the pad.  Sandwiched between two halves was a sensor, a bit like a piezo flat speaker, similar to the type found in many toys with sounds.  I guess the principle here is that vibration detected by the piezo sensor is converted to analogue variable voltages by the drum kit’s circuitry.  While apart, I noticed that some of the copper detail tracks on the printed circuit board which had a standard 3.5mm jack socket (to allow a connection back to the rest of the kit) had cracked.  Looking again through my magnifying glass revealed quite a bit of damage, probably as a result of many Keith Moon wannabes.  Testing these tracks with my meter confirmed an intermittent fault, so out with the soldering iron, to repair the connection.  Plugging the pad back in, it was ready once again for more drum solos.

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Next up was the dodgy kick/foot pedal.  As the with the drum pad, the pedal would cut out intermittently.  A few screws held the pedal together, so only basic tools required.  See the slide show below for an idea of the construction.

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The fault with the pedal was similar to the drum pad.  Some of the copper detailing around the 3.5mm jack socket had failed and required some careful soldering.  I say careful, as applying too much heat at once would, likely as not, melt the casing of the socket.  One had to take care.

Once soldered, the pedal was much better.  I didn’t get a full 10/10 repair with the pedal since I think there was wear on the kick sensor, but it was an improvement none the less.

Cost of replacement:  £lots.  Cost of repair, my time, two cups of tea and some solder.