Inside the Real Repair Shop 8

From brand snobbery to The Queen – Matt’s talking about what lies beneath in some products and asks if they’re worth it.

Do you know a brand snob?  I bet you do. Maybe you are one yourself. Who knows, but let me tell you this; manufacturers and retailers have got you and me wrapped around their little fingers.  Of course, this is nothing new, and badge engineering has been going on, well, forever.  We tend to think of brand engineering as a relatively new phenomenon, linked to our fast-paced consumer led lives, but it’s just not the case. Indeed, preserved street food shop branding was found on previously submerged buildings in Pompeii, during a dig in 2020, having been previously covered by a volcanic eruption in 79AD. I mean, what have the Romans ever done for us‽

FixItWorkshop, Worthing – well, Pompeii – somewhere

Nowadays, a brand’s application, values, promotion and maybe even worship is a very sophisticated affair…see Apple’s iPhone! Allow me to explain. I might even make the odd reference to sustainability, repair and the forthcoming Jubilee, an odd combo I think you’ll agree.

Am I worth it?

A slight twist on a well recognised slogan there, but with a serious point. The well know French manufacturer of hair and skin care products that rhymes with ‘low-heal’ (sort of) sells high quality, well-engineered products at a premium price on the promise that said product will deliver benefits way above anyone else’s say, shampoo. And you can afford it, because ‘you’re worth it’, quite possibly the best marketing slogan of all time, in my humble opinion! However, they’ve been taken to task around the world by various agencies for making over ambitious claims about their products, which are potentially misleading. 

It’s something we need to think about when seeing adverts featuring famous film stars, endorsing the latest eyelash enhancing widget that they claim we all need in our lives. They don’t do it for the love and it must be said that one can have the same beautiful shining locks using a bottle of shampoo from Lidl.

Hang on Matt, what’s any of this got to do with repair or sustainability, anyway.  Good point. I must get back on track. But first…

Hands up; how many of you have bought a product on brand reputation alone?

I have, and I’m sure you have too, but have those purchases always lived up to the promises made on the packaging and propaganda that influenced our choices?  Sometimes. Here’s the thing though, many items such as toasters, kettles, TVs, lawnmowers, clocks, laptops, cookers, washing machines and irons (I could go on) are either similar or identical inside.  The makers’ mark, colour and name of the product may change on the outside, but the insides can be the same.

How do I know this?  Well, I must have opened up 1000s of products like this during repairs over the years, and have got to understand who really makes what.  It’s really nothing new and manufacturers have been doing it, since er, Roman times. Always in the interests of good value, I want to make sure I and others are not paying too much, if one must buy something new.

FixItWorkshop, Wothing, May 2022, A Smeg toaster in bits.

But how can you tell if two seemingly different toasters are basically the same without taking them apart, one at say £99, the other at £39? It’s very tricky. By having your wits about you and an interest in detail, can save you cash.  Pay attention to the position of the knobs, switches and dials and have a good look at the toasting slots especially.  If they look more than similar, chances are they were at least made in the same factory. At the end of the production line, one had an expensive badge applied, the other had the cheaper relative. If the expensive one comes with a longer warranty, then it may be worth it, if it doesn’t well, that’s for you to decide.

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, May 2022 – Queen in her trusty Land Rover Defender – or is it a Land Wind?

In other news, it’s the Queen’s Jubilee this year, and in case you didn’t know HRH is a big fan of the Land Rover, well, the Defender anyway.  As a lifelong devotee to one of most reverered motors of all time, maybe The Queen will be celebrating her time on the throne with a little bit of repair and maintenance by doing the odd oil change and tappet adjustment on her trustee motor.  Incidentally, the Land Rover marque is much admired and carries much kudos, so much so that manufacturers literally copy Land Rover vehicles in China, where intellectual property rights may not carry as much weight, in order to sell their cars. And that’s just another example of a brand’s power on the mind.

If you’ve read my articles before, then you’ll know that I’m a fan of good quality, simpler and supported repairable products.  In general, it means that one doesn’t have to keep replacing things like toasters every couple of years – wasting energy and materials.  However, in the interests of balance, some branded things are usually higher quality and perform better than the wannabes. Take a set of high-quality Bowers & Wilkins speakers or a Brompton folding bicycle*, both good examples of, repairable items made to last a lifetime. They may seem expensive in the first place, but will give many years’ service, perform well and still hold their value, when you come to sell them on.  Something to think about the next time you need to splash out.

*Not a brand endorsement, just an example.

As always, until the next time. Matt.

Inside the Real Repair Shop 6

If it looks like it might come in handy, then it probably will…

Rubber bands, toothbrushes and cat food

This time in the workshop, I thought I’d give you a behind the scenes glimpse into just some of my repair world, by sharing some of the shed-tastic-things that I do regularly to save things from the dump.

Before we start and without meaning to sound pompous, repair is sometimes a bit of an art.  When manufacturers no longer make something, or the part you need never existed in the first place, it can sometimes mean getting creative in order to make something function again.  This takes time of course and can even lead nowhere, but it ain’t half-satisfying when it all works out.  Google a problem and there’ll be a link, video or picture explaining an appliances’ issue and maybe a quick-hack repair (if you’re lucky), but it’s often the humble tricks of the trade, which breathe new life back into something. 

Hanging on to ‘useful’ repair nick-nacks also requires almost concerning levels of organisation, which can mean more expense on things like containers and storage. I’m allergic to more cost.  But by using ‘free’ packaging that comes with many everyday consumables, one can save cash by repurposing. Still with me, thought so.

As you might have guessed by now, I dislike waste immensely and will always do my best to avoid it.  So, here is my random, if not weird, top five cash-saving, waste-busting, possibly ingenious ideas even, that might just serve you well too.  And remember, if you don’t use any of the following suggestions for repair, there’s nothing like doing a bit of junk modelling to pass the time on a cold winters’ night.

Five – old toothbrushes

We all (hopefully) use them, but I fear that far too many only hang around in bathrooms. So, stop throwing them in the dustbin, when it’s time for replacement.  Why?  Well, where do I start, quite frankly.  Dirt and corrosion are the curse of many a broken lamp, bike and dust sucker. Toothbrushes make excellent cleaning tools by using the brush in small crevices, on bike chains, on electrical switches, or on vacuum cleaners.  I could go on.  Cut the brush bit off, and you have an excellent scraper, again, ideal for cleaning. Toothbrushes are usually made from high-grade plastics and have excellent properties. Many a time have I fashioned a plastic part from an old toothbrush handle.

It’s not just me finding new life in old toothbrushes. My good friends and fixing supremos, Danny and Karen Ellis (aka @menditaussie) in Oz, have also come up with some very useful re-purposing ideas. See video below. Give them a follow.

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, January 2022 – Featuring MendItAussie’s handiwork, with kind permission.
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, January 2022, Don’t forget your toothbrush.

Four – torn washing-up gloves

Stop sniggering at the back, old rubber gloves (the Marigold type) can be re-purposed for many useful things, where elasticity and waterproofness are two qualities needed.  I favour making rubber bands from them.  Yes, you heard correctly. The next time your favourite flowery rubber gloves spring a leak, why not cut the arm bit down into slices, and you have a healthy supply of rubber bands. I use rubber bands to neatly store appliance flexes, before customer hand-over, it’s just more professional. Neat eh?

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, January 2022, making rubber bands from old rubber gloves.

Three – take away pots and lids

Endless possibilities for these!  The plastic ones make excellent batch cooking meal containers for the freezer as many will know, but what you might not have considered is that plastic lids also make a really good base to cut out small plastic templates, brackets and covers for all sorts of small repair jobs.  Low-tech it may seem, but I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve made pretty decent replacement parts from old pots this way.  I’ve even made lamp shade brackets from shampoo bottles and cosmetic pots, which tend to be a bit thicker and can be used when a superior finish or strength is required.

Two – empty coffee tins

We’re all coffee aficionados these days, and manufacturers have responded to the market’s expertise and perhaps snobbiness with some very funky packaging. I love funky packaging and really enjoy the artwork and logos manufacturers have now put on these colourful tins.  They’re far to good to go in your recycling bin and can easily be rinsed out to make a handy storage container for all of those useful shed-trinkets. Many lids from Kenco and some of the supermarket-own coffee tins also fit regular tins of baked beans, tomatoes and cat food too, so save those lids to preserve a half-consumed tin of moggy grub. Waste packaging like this can even be educational! Coffee tins make excellent old-school string telephones for kids, teaching them how sound can be transmitted.  Cool eh?

One – a drinks can

Hopefully you’re not disappointed by the number one slot. I have been known to walk the streets in search of an old beer can if I have non in stock, for a repair, they’re that good! They’re usually made from aluminum, so won’t rust, are strong, abundant and effectively free. 

Using a pair of scissors or sharp knife, spacers (shims) and washers can easily be fabricated on your kitchen table, but do take care as the metal edges are always sharp. I’ve often used a can in this way to make a scooter steer correctly or a lawn mower switch on again. Material is sometimes lost as moving parts wear.  Sounds familiar right?  Sometimes, a small trimming of can metal, in the right spot on a broken item, is all you need to make the difference between bin or box fresh.

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, January 2022, old tins can come on handy when repairing things like scooters.

Just remember: Cutting things out involved knives, scalpels and scissors and any sharp implement that might come to mind. Once the item you need is cut out, that might be sharp too. So, take care and take your time.

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…

Bagpuss, oh, Bagpuss, oh, flat battery cat puss…

A much loved soft toy gets new (apparently non-replaceable) batteries…

For a change, this one’s just for me. I don’t often write-up repairs on my own items, but I couldn’t resist dedicating a few words to our beloved Bagpuss soft toy. He’s been around in the family for a good few years and when my youngest daughter decided to dust him down and make his voice work, I wasn’t surprised when no noise came out. Our Bagpuss has an electronic voice box which is activated with a gentle squeeze around the belly. After many years and many hugs, the batteries had gone kaput.

I grew up in the 1980s and remember watching Bagpuss on BBC1. I must have been about four I guess. Bagpuss lived in a shop window, a shop that was owned by a child, a shop that didn’t sell anything. Emily, the shop owner, would bring Bagpuss and friends broken objects to restore and explore. The story would begin once Emily had left and Bagpuss woke up…

Well, this Bagpuss wasn’t waking up anytime soon and to make matters worse, the batteries within appeared to be non-replaceable. Well, that’s not very good is it? So, in the spirit of the original TV program, I decided to take an unpicker tool to the cat and carefully dismantle his seams…See how I get on.

Make and model: Bagpuss talking toy

Fault reported: No talking, no sound

Cost of replacement machine: £10.00 if you can find one

Manufacturer support (in the UK): 0/10

Cost of parts (for this repair): £1.00

My time spent on the repair: 1 hour

Tools needed: Needle and thread, small flat screwdriver

Sundry items: None

Cleaning materials: Contact cleaner

Repair difficulty: 2/10

Beverages: 1 tea (as usual)

Biscuits consumed: No biscuits, just a slice of chocolate cake (I think)

There’s always that moment with a fix like this when you think; shall I just leave it as it is? I mean, it was still a loved toy right? But as my regular reader will know, that’s not quite how we do things in the workshop. Things must work correctly and if there’s a reasonable chance of success, then the repair must go on.

So, here it goes.

I knew that this Bagpuss ran on batteries, but had no battery compartment to gain access etc. He’s a soft toy, made from a mixture of polyester and cotton fabric, which is all neatly stitched together. All I could do is roughly locate the sound box within his chest and neck area and then chose a suitable seam to unpick, in the hope that it would allow me some access to the box without causing too much damage.

Using a standard stitch un-picker tool, I was able to gently cut into the neck and part of the chest area which gave me access to a small red and black smooth polyester bag, which contained the voice box. At this point, I was starting to feel a bit sick, I mean, what had I done!?

Moving on, the voice box just slide out of the red and black bag and from then on in, it was standard toy-fare. The plastic voice box had a switch on one side and a battery compartment on the other side, all perfectly normal. The battery door was held in place with a small screw and once removed, revealed three LR41 coin cell batteries. Very normal stuff, nothing non-replaceable here.

Luckily, I had some spare batteries in stock and with a little contact cleaner applied to the slightly tarnished battery contacts and the new cells fitted, Bagpuss’ voice was heard for the first time in ages.

Now it was just a case of putting the voice box back in the right place, so that the switch to make the sound work could be reached easily. Once that was done, it was just a case of carefully re-stitching the neck and chest bag together using white cotton thread and lots of neat tack-stitches that would be invisible, once tight.

After a few minutes of finger-pricking sewing, Bagpuss’ head was back on and it was time for a squeeze…

See what you think.

When a label or someone tells you that a battery cannot be replaced, ignore it and try anyway.

Once Bagpuss was back together, I couldn’t help but wonder why the manufacturer hadn’t fitted a hidden zip to allow simpler battery replacement. Perhaps it’s got something to do with safety standards. Who knows. What I do know is that Bagpuss isn’t alone, and I suspect that many toys like this are discarded needlessly each year due to short-term, lazy design.

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.

Magimix 4200XL – safety as standard

A little bit of ‘shed magic’ to rescue a Magimix 4200XL

Like everything else, food mixers come in all shapes and sizes and there’s a make and model on the market to suit all applications, tastes and budget. Magimix have been around for a long time and make premium mixers for the wannabe chef. These mixers specialise in chopping and slicing and tend to be more specific in task over, say, a traditional bowl mixer. The Magimix 4200XL is a current model at the time of writing and is all yours for around £300. When whisking something delicious in the kitchen myself, I prefer a traditional Kenwood Chef, but if I was regularly chopping veg with NASA micron-precision, I can see why a mixer like this might appeal. Since I’m a bit of a salad dodger, the need for this has never arisen.

Make and model: Magimix 4200XL

Fault reported: Not running

Cost of replacement: £300

Manufacturer support: 4/10

Cost of parts (for this repair): £0.00

My time spent on the repair: 1 hour

Tools needed: Screw drivers, pliers

Sundry items: None

Cleaning materials: Silicone spray, damp cloth

Repair difficulty: 3/10

Beverages: 1 X tea

Biscuits consumed: 2 X custard creams

The owner of this mixer reported that despite every effort to press buttons and click the safety catch on the lid, the mixer simply wouldn’t comply when switched on. Dead as a dodo.

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, November’20, Magimix 4200XL, inside the mixer’s safety switch.
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, November’20, the 4200XL features a motor with oomph!
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, November’20, Magimix 4200XL, removing the base.
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, November’20, Magimix 4200XL, these little horrors are designed to deter repair- I dislike them immensely.
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, November’20, Magimix 4200XL, the repaired mixer.
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, November’20, Magimix 4200XL, the cheeky little safety switch.

The owner of this machine reported that their beloved Magimix 4200XL was playing up and despite trying to wriggle, jiggle, shake, rattle and roll things, it simply wouldn’t comply and work. They asked if I would take a look at it for them before it was launched out of the window. There’s nothing like a frustrated owner.

The Magimix 4200XL features a really rather elegant, totally passive, safety device to ensure that one isn’t tempted to operate the machine without the lid fitted correctly, risking one’s little pinkies. A simple sprung lever mechanism built into the lid and jug matches a small recessed switch in the machine’s base. The machine will only fire-up once the lid is in place on the jug, which must be correctly aligned on the base. It’s a nice touch that probably keeps Magimix out of the courtrooms.

On first inspection, I decided that this mechanism was a reasonable place to start my investigations. After you’ve checked things like ‘is the power on’ it makes sense to ‘start simple’ and go from there.

Taking the base cover off only involved four Torx screws, the damned anti-tamper kind. Luckily I have the technology to do this.

Taking the base cover off revealed good access to the safety switch mechanism. Thankfully.

The mechanism all seemed correct and present, which was a bit of a guess since I’d never worked on a mixer like this before. However, a lack of loose parts rattling inside is usually a good sign. Phew.

Despite appearing OK, the operating safety switch lever did seem stiff, so a quick spray with silicone lube had things sliding nicely once again. A quick continuity test of the switch proved that it was switching OK. Things were starting to look up for ‘Maggy’.

Since I had the lube out, it made sense to clean up the jug and lid mechanism and give that the same treatment. It all seemed to work better after and testing the lid and jug, refitted to the base with the base cover removed allowed me to visually confirm that the safety switch mechanism was indeed doing its thing correctly once again. A good result.

After carefully reassembling the base cover, taking care not to damage some of the more delicate plastic parts, it was ready for testing. There’s always a little moment of ‘will something go bang’ when I switch things on for the first time, but luck was on my side as the motor spun up as Magimix intended. A good result. All fingers intact.

DeLonghi Magnifica S Coffee Machine

Repair for small beans: A magnificent brew from the DeLonghi Magnifica S Coffee Machine

With more knobs and whistles than the Star Ship Enterprise, it’s no wonder that coffee machines like this have become very popular among coffee lovers. From the comfort of your own kitchen, you can brew-up in much the same way as a skilled barista in your local coffee shop does. With a machine like this, you will rarely ever make a mistake, since all measurements and mixes are made at the touch of a button. It’s a compelling package for the coffee nerd.

However, as we all know from school, the more complicated we make something, there’s an increased likelyhood of it going wrong at some point in the future.

I mean, they’re just so darn complicated. Don’t get me wrong, I admire the mechanical packaging and clever processes within these machines, but if just one small part of the mechanism goes wrong, the whole thing fails and the machine is then useless. And these things are not cheap.

The Magnifica S is a premium machine and Delonghi have been making these products for many years, so luckily, some parts are available for when things fall over. In my experience, DeLonghi coffee machines are of reasonable quality.

Make and model: DeLonghi Magnifica S (ECAM 22.110.SB)

Fault reported: Major leak

Cost of replacement: £330-400 when new

Manufacturer support:  5/10

Cost of parts: £1.50

My repair time: 2 hours

Tools needed: Small screwdrivers, small levers, cutters

Sundry items: Cable ties

Cleaning materials: WD-40, damp cloth, soap and water

Repair difficulty: 6/10

Cups of tea: x2

Cups of coffee: x1

Biscuits: Ginger nut x2

The owner of this machine used it everyday and upon delivering it to me for repair, was anxious to get it back soon for his daily caffeine hit as soon as possible.

I had to explain that my ‘shed hours’ are part-time and that I would do my best, but that I would make sure the (assuming I could fix it) it would be returned soon, as good as new. I know how to set myself up (eek).

Appliances like this have lots of ‘vanity’ panels, pieces of trim and general niceties that ‘clip in to place’ without a separate mechanical fixing like a screw. When dismantling, it’s often these parts which take the longest to remove since there are rarely any notes available out there. It’s often the lion’s share of the overall repair time. You just have to go slow and take things easy. That moment when a small plastic tang or lug goes snap is heartbreaking.

Luckily here, the DeLonghi designers had some foresight and the product came apart with care, albeit with some hairy moments.

A water leak had been reported to be coming from the front of the machine during operation. With so many pipes in the machine, the source of the leak could have been anywhere, but fortunately the cause was soon identified. A small silicone (high temperature) hose had ruptured from the boiler valve area to the milk frother wand. Although it wasn’t always in use on every occasion, the pipe’s rupture seemed to be causing a consistent leak with any coffee brew operation. All other areas of the machine seemed dry. With a Chinese original supplier of coffee machine silicone pipe on eBay coming to the rescue, the part I needed was delivered in a week for under £5.00. Result.

The old hose simply came off by temporarily unclipping the metal spring clips at each end. The new pipe simply clipped into place, with a little attention paid to length, so that no pinch-points occurred.

Back to my original point about ‘complication’. I’d ‘got away with it’ on this repair, there’s no getting away from it. A small silicone hose was an easy fix, with just the overall repair made complicated by the machine’s packaging.

If a valve or plastic water vessel had failed, I suspect that the repair wouldn’t have been possible. As another part-time hobby, I source repair items from all over the world (insert environmental case study here!) and it’s usually tricky to get parts like that, if they’re available at all. When repairing, I use a mix of second-hand, generic and original equipment to achieve a balance of quality, cost-effectiveness and minimal environmental damage. It’s not easy. The problem for repair agents is that it takes time to work all of that out before the repair begins…it’s a constant dilema and blog article for another day.

When doing a job like this, it makes sense to make sure that all things that can’t be cleaned easily when assembled are inspected and washed as required.

The coffee group head was one such item. While it is possible to service this item with the machine fully assembled, it’s easier to clean it when it isn’t. I hope that the owner noticed a boost in coffee strength as many of the small water holes in the group head were blocked. Of course, I made sure that everything else was ship-shape too before reassembly.

After reattaching all of the appliance’s panels, it was time to give the machine a portable appliance test (PAT) and brew-up. A sucessful repair for small beans.

Wired for sound: AKG Headphones repaired

A pair of decent studio headphones dodges the bin…

Headphones are big business and global sales of these devices reach over $500m per year in the U.S. alone (quick Google search, so it must be right eh). As I’m sure you do; When I read sales figures like that, I wonder what the average life expectancy of headphones is, as I’m sure that many sets are viewed as disposable items.

Bluetooth and other wireless headphones aside, most wired headphones are fairly straightforward to mend, assuming no damage has been done to the speaker or ‘phones’ part. You just need basic tools, some patience and a fair bit of nerve… See how I got on with this pair of AKG K92s.

Make and model: AKG Headphones K92

Fault reported: No left channel

Cost of replacement: £35 when new

Manufacturer support:  0/10

Cost of parts: £0.00

My repair time: 45 mins

Tools needed: Soldering iron, small screwdrivers

Sundry items: Insulation tape, holt melt glue

Cleaning materials: N/A

Repair difficulty: 4/10

Cups of tea: 1

Biscuits: No biscuits this time, as it was lunchtime. It was cheese on toast for me, with some chorizo on top as I seem to remember, maybe a dash, just a tad, of tomato sauce- from Lidl I think…

I’d just finished the last mouthful of tea, I was getting peckish, thinking about putting the grill on, when a neighbour of mine rang the doorbell, at lunchtime -of all times.

The conversation went like this; Matt, could you have look at these old headphones for me? I was about to chuck them out and I know you like playing with old stuff like this. They used to be good, but they only work ‘one side’ now. I mean, they’ve probably had it. …Hang on I said, let me have a look, leave it with me. Famous last words.

I was quite flattered actually, as I really do like receiving work this way. When there’s little hope for something that’s probably on its way to the great scrap bin in the sky, I must admit that I especially like taking on that challenge of making something work again. Diverting the once condemned item back into full service is the thing that keeps me motivated.

On with the repair. The fault reported was ‘no sound from the left speaker’. The first thing to check with anything corded is the cord/ flex/ wire itself. While a visual check of a wire is no conclusive way of proving that it works or not, tell-tale signs of bending and chaffing can save a lot of time elsewhere. Rule out anything silly before wielding screwdrivers, I say.

Since the wire looked OK and the plug wasn’t bent, it was time to take the headphones apart. The AKG K92 headphones are simple to dismantle; just pull-off the headphone covers and the speakers are held together with just four small cross head screws, each side.

Using a multimeter set to continuity test, I was able to prove each part of the cable. The main wire from plug to headphone set proved OK, which was a good thing as it meant no replacement required (these are widely available on eBay). The headphones’ over the head band, as well as keeping things snug on ones’ noggin, also carries the signal from one side of the set to the other. If you’re still reading, I hope that makes sense. Anyway, the meter proved that it was all fine.

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, AKG K92 headphones, left channel re-wiring.

In the end, the fault lay with the main wire to headphone speaker on the left side. To be honest, I should have checked that first as that connection is always under load as it crosses a pivot point, allowing a few degrees of movement and therefore comfort for the user.

On the subject of comfort, while doing the repair, I noticed that the headband was a little torn at each end, presumably a result from many intense sonic moments. The vinyl coated band was a tricky customer to repair, but a little hot melt glue along the torn edges, soon fixed things, giving the headphones a fresh feel.

A quick remake of the connection (cut cable, re-solder) and full hi-fi was restored and the headphones were ready to blast again. Turn it up to 11.