More power please

Does your toy have enough energy?

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, March’20, testing a battery (featuring my retro BT multimeter).

I’m not a fan of batteries. They run out and always when you least expect it.

You know that anything with a battery, will need attention at some point.

Batteries either need to be replaced or better, recharged.

But often, replacement batteries are the only option for toys, which can mean high running costs. Especially when the toy is played with continually by an enthusiastic child owner!

Trouble is, a mixture of built-in obsolescence and poor design means that it’s just not obvious how one replaces duff batteries meaning that, I suspect, lots of toys get thrown away needlessly, but it’s not the owners fault necessarily.

Sadly, some replacement batteries cost more than the toy itself, which is just mad.

Make and model: toy radio control car (no brand or model)

Fault reported: Not working

Cost of replacement: £10ish

Manufacturer support:  0/10

Cost of parts: £5 (batteries)

Hours spent on repair: 30 minutes

Tools needed: Screwdrivers, test meter etc

Sundry items: None

Repair difficulty: 0/10

Cups of tea: 1/2 cup

Biscuits: None

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The owner of this toy had played with it non-stop wearing the batteries out.  Mum and dad had replaced some of the batteries in the car part of this toy, but still the toy didn’t work.  It wasn’t clear to the parents, which batteries in what part of the toy needed to be replaced, which meant that an email asking for help, popped in to my inbox.

At first glance, the car part of the toy had no battery cover or compartment, but on closer inspection, the car separated in to two halves, allowing access to the 4 X AA (1.5V) batteries.  Not a straightforward task for everyone.  Testing each battery revealed that they were all worn with an average of 1.3 volts (much lower under load) each.  I replaced these with fresh ones and put the car back together.  The car’s casing was simply held together with a clip and a couple of small screws.

However, the toy still wasn’t working, time to test the radio controller.  Again, a screwdriver was needed to open the battery compartment to access the battery.  Not all households have screwdrivers (even though I believe they should!).

Testing the 9V PP3/ 6LR61 battery revealed around 3 volts, 6 volts too low.  Again, a new battery got the radio controller working once more.

Doing this ‘repair’ got me thinking.  Batteries can be tricky things to manage.  New ones can go flat when not in use and old ones that have been kicking around in a drawer for a while can be fine to use.  One can replace batteries with ‘new’ ones which are no better than the ones fitted, leading a user to believe that the ‘thing’ must be faulty.  A false positive.

With a little basic training on multimeter use, hours and cash can be saved by testing pesky batteries.  At under £5 for a basic multimeter, it could be money well saved for any household.  Just a thought.

With both car and radio controller switched on, the toy sprung to life.  Of course, I had to test the car thoroughly before handing it back(!).

 

Magic Lamp

Rub the lamp release the genie, make three wishes (make ’em good)

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, March’20, Dimmable Projector Lamp

I’d say that 8 out of 10 repairs commissioned by folk who get in touch are for sentimental reasons.  Take this unusual lamp.  It’s not worth a great deal of cash, it doesn’t use the latest luminescence technology and it doesn’t even have a makers’ mark (we think it came from Aldi or Lidl).

Yet, it had been a family favourite for years and the owners were keen to see it light their world, once more.

Make and model: Dimmable ‘projector ball’ lamp

Fault reported: Not working

Cost of replacement: £30ish

Manufacturer support:  0/10

Cost of parts: £15.30 plus £3.25 for bulb

Hours spent on repair: 1 hour

Tools needed: Spanner, screwdrivers, test meter etc

Sundry items: None

Repair difficulty: 2/10

Cups of tea: 2

Biscuits: 1 Gold Bar

Firstly, we all make mistakes and here’s one of mine!

It’s easy to fall into traps or ‘snap diagnosis’ when doing a repair and I want to share a ‘little accident’ that I had with this one.  Even an experienced repair bloke can make mistakes.

Here goes.

After checking the mains plug (all fine) and cable to the lamp for continuity and potential shorts to earth, I was convinced that the supply lead was fine.  All good so far.

Next, I checked continuity from the dimmer module to the lamp socket.  Ah ha, that’s the problem, that link in the circuit is dead.  A quick repair job, on to the next?  Not quite.

As a temporary test, I decided to by-pass the dimmer and rig a temporary wire to the lamp, to prove the wiring was OK and that the dimmer was the fault.  Upon plugging the mains plug in, the bulb nearly exploded.  Bang!  My safety circuit breakers then stopped the power to the whole workshop.  I was now in darkness, but luckily, my heart was still ticking.

I had failed to realise that the dimmer on this light was actually doing two jobs; dimming the lamp as well as stepping down from the (UK) mains 240VAC supply to a safer 12VAC operating power.  I had connected 240 Volts to a 12 Volt bulb!  What a simple mistake to make.  If I had simply inspected the dimmer more closely, I would have realised this.  The original sticker and badges on this lamp had long disappeared.  An important lesson, relearned.  Time for a cup of tea and a biscuit.

The repair.

With the power back on, it was time to see what the original dimmer was doing.  Not much as it turned out and due to the tininess of the dimmer’s components and build type, I was unable to say why it had failed.  I suspect that one of the power sink control components (maybe a Zenner diode) had failed, causing an overload to the onboard one-time blow fuse.  However, that’s just an unproven theory.  The fact was that I now needed a replacement dimmer with step-down 240/12VAC capability.

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It turns out that only a couple of manufacturers make such a dimmer module and I chose one made by Relco as it seemed to match the original specification quite well.  It would have been tempting to convert the lamp to mains power and just fit a simple on/off switch, but I’m not keen on this as technically, the lamp would need to be re-subjected to British/ EN Standards, not something I was prepared to do.  Unless impossible otherwise, all kit leaving the workshop must be original specification or better.

With a new (correct) dimmer wired-in and replacement MR11 bulb fitted, the lamp came to life once more.  I’d also fitted a proper mains on/off switch, since the replacement dimmer did not have one.  The new switch would isolate the flow of power to the whole thing when not in use, hopefully prolonging the life of the dimmer module.

The owners of this lamp were very pleased to have it back as they had missed the lovely light patterns it projected on to their ceiling.

Horray 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.

 

 

Dyson: Please sell me the part I need

A DC32 Animal Vacuum Cleaner gets a second chance

One of these please, Dyson…

 

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, December 2019, broken turbine/ fan.

All things made, will eventually break.  Things that are made eventually wear out and either must be replaced or repaired.  However, some things wear out a little faster than others.

Planned obsolescence and manufacturing budgets mean that parts within products can wear out faster than reasonably expected and fail totally, rendering the rest of a perfectly working item, useless.

This is where us repair folk come in.  We refuse to accept this problem and work away tirelessly in sheds and lockups everywhere, working on solutions to problems such as this, keeping things going, a little longer.

A friend’s DC32 Animal cylinder vacuum cleaner’s roller beaters had stopped turning and made nothing but a horrible noise, when the cleaner was in use.  Not cool.

The roller beaters on this model are literally vacuum operated by a turbine/ fan which spins fast when air passes across it, driving the beaters by a toothed belt and gear.  There is no separate motor to drive the roller beaters, which is quite an elegant solution to a complex problem.

Fast forward to the issue and despite identifying the broken part and then contacting Dyson directly for a replacement, they would not sell what I needed, a part that would probably cost no more than £10 to supply.  Such a shame.

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, December 2019, Dyson website screenshot 22/12/19.
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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, December 2019, a copy item on eBay for under £20, screenshot 22/12/19.

The price of the (original equipment quality) complete Dyson Turbine Head, suitable for the DC32 vacuum cleaner, is £60.00 as a direct replacement from Dyson, but the part is now copied by other manufacturers.  A pattern part design is available for under £20 and if this was my machine, I’d be tempted at that price.  Pattern parts have their place, but I suspect that at this price, performance won’t be quiet as good as the original.

So, a choice:

  • Replace the part with a brand new Dyson part – too expensive
  • Replace with a non-original part, that will probably do the job – unknown outcomes, unsatisfying
  • Attempt a repair on the original part.  Of course it’s what I’m going to do!

On with the repair.  The Turbine Head is screwed together using Torx head screws and the side vents that secure the main drive unit, pop-off the main casing, with some encouragement.

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A picture paints a thousand words and the above slide shows the dismantling and reassembly process for the Turbine Head.  If attempting this kind of thing yourself, remember to keep all components free of dirt and grime.

In the absence of a replacement, I attempted a repair to the existing fan and since it was made of plastic (some kind of nylon derivative I think) it was going to be difficult.  Not many glues will stick this type of plastic well, so my choice was going to be ‘make or break’, literally.  I considered an epoxy resin, but opted for Gorilla Glue, since it expands slightly in use, to all of the microscopic gaps.  I also used it to modify the fan by filling-in around the spindle to try and prevent slippage, when spinning.  When dry, I lightly sanded any high spots of glue away.

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, December 2019, glued turbine/ fan.

Once the whole unit was back together and reconnected to the main vacuum cleaner, the head roller beaters spun once again without a horrible noise.  Question is, how long will it run for?  If anyone thinks they can make a replacement using 3D printing, please let me know!

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.

A broken massage belt, with a happy ending…

An Invitalis Massage Belt gets a simple repair at the workshop.

I was asked to repair a personal massage belt recently, which had developed an annoying habit of cutting out, mid-treatment.  Over email, I confessed that I did not know what a massage belt was, but was reassured that is was used to treat lower back ailments and nothing more personal.  Phew.

Make and model:  Invitalis Vitalymed Flexi massage belt

Fault reported: Cutting out

Cost of replacement:  About £40.00

Cost of parts:  £1.29

Hours spent on repair:  1

Tools needed:  Small flat-bladed screwdriver, soldering iron

Sundry items: None

Repair difficulty:  2/10

Cups of tea:  1

Biscuits:  1 Goldbar

 

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, August’19, Invitalis Vitalymed Flexi massage belt.

These devices are sold on Amazon and are usually available at events, such as the Ideal Home Exhibition and alike.  This belt offers the wearer a lower back massage by means of two rotating arms with smooth spheres, hidden behind a soft pad.  The spheres also emit infra-red, if required.

I don’t know much about this kind of thing, but I had noticed that the power cable for the belt was a standard female 12VDC connector, used on many types of domestic equipment.

With the power applied and with some wiggling, the belt would occasionally come on and then fail, indicating a loose connection.  The trick here was to find out where.

The belt is zipped together and access to the wiring was easy.  The belt’s power connector ran to a switch/mode box and then on to the motors and other gizmos within (see photos in slideshow).

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After cutting into the cable, testing continuity, I found two problems; A break within one of the cable cores and a faulty female power connector.  Luckily, connectors like this are abundant and a quick look on eBay revealed lots for under £2, delivered.  As it happens, I bought a high-quality connector and flying lead, intended for a CCTV camera, to fit the belt.

The last step was to reconnect some good cable, reconnect the new connector and make good with soldered joints and heat shrink, to keep everything nice and tidy.  Before I solder things, I always make sure I’ve not cross-wired anything, by proving continuity with a multimeter.  In the past, one has been known to blow things up by not taking this sensible approach!

After reassembly, it was just a case of powering up and switching on.  Gladly, I hadn’t crossed any cables and it now worked again, happily ever after.

Blinking GHDs!

A pair of GHD 3.1B hair straighteners gets fixed

GHD hair straighteners are not something I’ve ever had the need to use, but they are seemingly very popular among the long-haired kind, none the less.  There are cheaper alternatives out there, but devotes tell me that the ceramic plates seem to have a better finish and run hotter for longer, all essential features for taming unruly curls.  So they tell me.

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, August’19, GHD 3.1b hair straighteners.

Make and model:  GHD hair straighteners 3.1b

Fault reported: Buzzing noise, not warming up

Cost of replacement:  £97.00

Cost of parts:  £0.00

Hours spent on repair:  About an hour (ish)

Tools needed:  Cleaning cloths, small fine file

Sundry items: Contact cleaner

Repair difficulty:  4/10

Cups of tea:  2

Biscuits:  1 (Ginger Nut)

Someone got in touch to ask if I could fix their GHDs and to be frank, I’ve had mixed success with these repairs in the past as in general, the newer the model, the harder it is to fault-find and subsequently order parts for, something I find very frustrating.  However, the 3.1bs discussed here are pleasingly old-school.

Dismantling these GHDs involves just one small cross-head screwdriver and one small flat blade screw driver, none of your fancy Torx heads here, thank you very much.

Strangely, the GHDs made a disconcerting buzzing noise when switched on, which to my fairly trained ear sounded distinctly 50Hz-like.  That means that the mains electricity feed was causing some component to ‘arc’ or resonate- the buzzing noise, in plain English.

Fearing imminent catastrophe, I unplugged the GHDs and went to work.  The main PCB is pretty simple on the 3.1b.  Most of the solder joints were OK, but some of the joints around the switch had discoloured, showing that heat had built up, indicating a problem.  To be on the safe side, I re-soldered all the joints to avoid a dry-joint situation.

The buzzing noise still prevailed.  The switch seemed to be the next logical place to look and being of quality, the designers had provided easy access to the switch mechanism via a small metal cover with sprung tangs.  A quick bit of jiggery-pokery and the switch was in bits.

The problem was revealed in an instant.  Both switch contacts and corresponding wipers were burned and needed re-finishing and cleaning.  A quick whizz with a fine file and clean with special electrical contact cleaner and the switch was as good as new.  Since the GHDs were already in pieces, I gave the same clean up treatment to the 3600 flex mechanism, as a precaution.

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So, this set of GHDs were saved from the bin, ready to straighten locks once more, thanks to a few basic tools and cleaning.  Very satisfying.