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 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!

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.

Jonathan Deer the III

A Christmas novelty toy gets a new lease of life…

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, December 2019, Jonathan Deer III.

I meet some really interesting people with this hobby of mine with some quirky things to fix, often with personal and meaningful backstories.  This repair is one such item.

Make and model: Jonathan Deer III rubber deer thingy

Fault reported: Not running

Cost of replacement: About £0

Cost of parts: £0.00

Hours spent on repair: 2

Tools needed: Cutters, screwdriver and soldering iron

Sundry items: Contact cleaner

Repair difficulty: 2/10

Cups of tea: 2

Biscuits: 0

Someone got in touch to see if I could repair a festive family favourite Christmas novelty, which was a big hit with the children, back in the day.  Jonathan Deer III has become a family legend and Christmas simply wouldn’t be complete without him.  Intrigued, I agreed to see the injured deer.

A few days later, a parcel arrived and upon opening, I was greeted with a deer’s head made of rubber.  Not one’s average delivery.

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‘Jonathan Deer’ was available about 20 years ago in the UK and I suspect the US as a novelty singing Christmas toy, designed to hang on the wall, to bring festive joy when anyone walks past the deer’s motion sensor.

Sadly, or maybe fortuitously, depending on your perspective, Jonathan was now silent and despite new batteries, it was dead.

The thing about Christmas decorations is that they get used for about 4 weeks a year and then packed away, usually in a loft or alike where it’s not necessarily that warm or dry for the remaining 48 weeks.  Cold, damp and draughty conditions are not good for small electrical items.  Batteries left leak and metallic contacts corrode and these ailments had affected poor old Jonathan.

Repairs completed:

  • Battery terminals were corroded from battery leakage and therefore cleaned with a small toothbrush and protected with contact cleaner
  • Opening up the casing (several small screws) revealed a broken negative lead.  A Small re-soldering job fixed that

Still no action.

  • Lastly, the on/off switch didn’t seem to be working.  I was able to separate the small tangs holding the switch together and gently clean the switch wiper/ contacts with cleaning agent.  I didn’t replace the switch as it’s a bespoke item and getting a replacement would be difficult.  The repair I made seemed to work OK.

Once the switch was cleaned, Jonathan burst into life.  Upon switching him on in demo mode, he woke up by blaring out James Brown – I Feel Good.  Moving the switch to on mode, he worked as he should via the motion sensor.  Wonderful.

I was then able to return the deer to its owner to enjoy over the festive season.  Result.

Gaggia Espresso Machine with a nasty blockage

A Gaggia Espresso machine gets a rebuild.

Home coffee machines are very cool.  Home espresso machines are even better as they’re the closest you can get to a coffee shop brew, in my opinion.  Due to heat, water and coffee mixing up on a regular basis, they need ownership with care for long life.

IMG_9039
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, May’19, Gaggia Espresso Machine.

Top tips for longer coffee machine life:

  • Use filtered water, especially if you live in a hard water area
  • Clean the tank regularly
  • Keep all rubber seals, especially those around the main coffee making area, clean with a damp cloth

Someone got in touch with a machine that was a few years old, but had once made a lovely cup of coffee.  The owner had used it daily but recently it had begun to leak and not perform at its best.  The machine had also been to a UK repair specialist, but sadly, they couldn’t solve the problems.  I always test appliances when they arrive to confirm the fault and as expected, water came out of places it wasn’t supposed to.

I’ve worked on a few of these machines, so I know the drill.  Remove the lid, make a note of the wiring connectors, the pipes and remove the bolts holding the main boiler in place.  I also ordered a service kit (new seals) for a reasonable £7.99.

The main boiler separates into two halves which reveals the main boiler chamber and exit for hot water.

This boiler was in poor condition and years of corrosion and scale had built up and was probably blocking the main group head, the bit where you attach the group handle/ filter bit to make coffee.

Time for more dismantling.  The group head is held in position with a couple of screws, but years of corrosion had taken their toll and this head was going nowhere.  Great care was needed as the soft metal is easily damaged.

Thinking about this a bit more, I decided to cut a screw thread into one of the water holes in the head and use a bolt to lever the group head apart.  It worked.  Once off the head revealed loads of debris and scale.

The next job was to give all parts a thorough clean, re-faced with wet and dry paper as needed and use new seals as part of the reassembly.

Once back together, the boiler was reinstalled and reconnected.  After a few blasts of fresh water through the machine, it was ready to make its first proper brew.

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Cost of replacement:  £100-300.  Cost of repair:  £7.99, my time, one tin of elbow grease, one cup of coffee and a ginger nut.

 

 

JD Bug Scooter gets a light service

A bit of TLC to bring a scooter back from the brink.

We were very lucky to be given a ‘micro style’ JD Bug scooter for one of the kids, by a kind neighbour.  It features mini wheels, a solid metal foldable frame, which makes for easy portability and height adjustable handles.  It’s easy to see why loads of kids have these scooters as they’re easy to ride and very manoeuvrable.

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FixItWorkshop, March’19, JD Bug Scooter.

This one had been well used, but had been kept clean and tidy.  However, before issuing it to the child concerned, it needed a few ‘bugs’ addressing.

First and foremost was the wheels.  Both wheels are fitted with standard skateboard bearings (a total of four).  Both wheels were noisy and tight when spun, which would affect speed and handling of the scooter.  Now, I might eventually change the bearings as they’re pretty cheap and easy to obtain, but for now, I just removed the wheels, popped out the bearings and regreased them, once I’d removed the dust cover.  Refitted, they sounded much better.

Next was the frame and the locking mechanism.  It was rattly and weighward which again would have affected handling.  After a light application of spray white grease and a small adjustment to the lock, the frame was much more rigid.

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The last thing was the headstock, which is similar to those found on a bicycle.  This one sounded hideous and clearly had no lubrication whatsoever.  Again, access was straightforward and just involved basic tools, although I did have to dig out my 36mm spanner- serious stuff.  Just a couple of pinch clamps and two locking nuts held the headstock together and after a clean up with penetrating oil, an oily rag and some new grease, it was as good as new.

So after some light TLC, this scooter was ready for another child to enjoy, for little cash.

Cost of replacement:  £40.00  Cost of repair:  Some oil, grease and a bit of fettling, one cuppa.

Money, that’s what I want

A cool 1980s toy robot money box gets repaired.

Who doesn’t like a toy robot? I mean, everyone loves a toy robot, especially one with pop up eyes and one that eats coins.  No?  Well, you’re wrong if you don’t agree!

Money 2
FixItWorkshop, March’19, Tomy Mr. Money.

This is my own Tomy Mr. Money, which I’ve had since about 1988 ish, so it’s getting on a bit.  Like me.

Back then, I wasn’t that diligent about leaving batteries in situ for long periods and when I dusted off this piece of retro cool for my daughter to play with, we discovered that the passing of time had not been kind to the old battery or insides.  Which was a bit of a shame.

However, I wanted to show everyone that old toys are way cooler than new ones, so out with the screwdrivers, cleaning stuff and hammer (well, not the hammer) to see what could be done.

Luckily for me and Mr. Money, the battery compartment hadn’t fared too badly with just light corrosion to the battery terminals, which soon cleaned off with brake cleaner and some light filing to near good as new standard.

With a new AA battery installed, Mr. Money didn’t really respond that well to having money placed on his hand.  In years gone by, a coin placed on his hand would trigger his eyes to open, the hand to raise to his mouth, the coin to be eaten and lips to be licked, as well as doing a little side to side dance.  Mr.Money was now looking a bit arthritic.  Could it be that new money is a lot lighter than the 1980s money he was designed for or was it just that the battery corrosion had run deeper than first appeared.  I suspected the latter.

I took Mr. Money apart and found that the microswitch that triggers the mechanism was corroded and needed cleaning and that some of the moving parts also needed a quick brush up, all of which had Mr.Money back to rude health.

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FixItWorkshop, March’19, Tomy Mr.Money, in pieces.

While doing the repair, I decided that it wasn’t obvious how the toy came apart and that some owners might decide to scrap theirs due to similar problems.  So, I decided to make a little slide show of the dismantling, to help others.  Enjoy.

Cost of replacement:  £ priceless/ eBay if you’re lucky.  Cost of repair:  One IPA beer.