Less is usually more. Simpler devices can mean repair is more likely in the event of failure.
I keep a model of a Citroen 2CV car on my desk at work. It’s about 30-odd years old and it’s a bit battered due to an incident involving a shelf, my old cat and an 8ft drop, but that’s another story.
The 2CV is there to remind me to keep things simple, to the point.
To me (and many others) the 2CV represents pure function over form. Nothing on the car is superfluous to its function as a capable load lugging, robust, ever-repairable and frugal vehicle. I have a soft spot for these cars. They encapsulate the phrase ‘less is more’.
Not every story from the workshop is rosy and my heart usually sinks when I receive something to fix that has tiny printed circuit boards fitted inside that do ‘something’ and nothing at the same time.
What the Tin Snail do I mean by that? Many appliances and machines manufactured in the last 20 years or so often contain ‘mini’ circuits that control ‘something’.
Take an electric kettle, something that most people have in their homes. Kettles generally are a water holding vessel, a heating system, and an on/off switch with a boiling water state detecting negative feedback loop (it switches off by itself when the water boils). There’s also some wire and stuff.
Electric kettles haven’t really changed that much over the years, after all the basic need hasn’t changed: You put water in, you switch it on, you get hot water to make a drink. Nothing has changed. However, many offered these days are fitted with things like filters, LED lighting and other electronic temperature control systems with bells on.
Trouble is, all these (kettle) gadgets tend to be controlled by a small circuit board which isn’t repairable or even replaceable. It only takes an accidental water spill, some static electricity or bump mishap and that tiny circuitry is toast. Not even a professional circuit repair agent, let along home spanner wielder would have a chance of repairing the broken circuit. When failure occurs, many will just discard the appliance and go and buy another one, quickly. Who wants to be without tea or coffee?!
The tragedy is that the rest of the (kettle in this case) appliance is, nine times out of ten, OK and if it was made with more traditional components that one could see with the naked eye, the appliance would stand far more chance of being repaired easily and economically. Something to think about, next time you’re considering a new purchase.
A small mix up nearly resulted in some body modification…
Make and model: Hetty Vacuum Cleaner (HET200-22)
Fault reported: Not working
Cost of replacement: £100-£140
Manufacturer support: 10/10
Cost of parts: £21.59, inc. carriage
Hours spent on repair: 1 hour with service
Tools needed: Screwdrivers, test meter etc
Sundry items: Silicone spray, cleaning materials
Repair difficulty: 4/10
Cups of tea: 1
Biscuits: Ginger Nut X2
If only everything was as well made and built to last as a Henry (or Hetty!) hoover. Simple as a knife and fork, with tried and tested technology, it’s a machine created by an engineer, for everyone to own, use and repair themselves, when needed.
A neighbour got in touch to say that their broken Hetty was about to be scrapped and asked if I could do anything with it. Of course, I said. To be honest with you all, I’m not that confident with all repairs, but I knew that in the case of this one, I should be fine as Numatic products are pretty well supported by the manufacturer. And this is the thing:
How many purchases do we make that consider; “will I be able to get parts for that one day”?
We all do it, but as a tinkerer I try and consider the longevity and likely need for replacement components when I’m considering handing over my hard earned wedge, at point of purchase.
The Hetty had been working fine, but had then conked out, mid clean. No drama, no noise, no smoke, it had just stopped. The owner had already checked the fuse, but that was fine (as they often are).
When things just stop and won’t restart, that symptom is often trying to tell you something and if you’re listening, capturing the way something fails and acting on the information can save you time and often money. It’s a trick I’m always trying to perfect, although one can be caught out anytime- but that’s half the fun.
The machine stopped suddenly…
Maybe the cable broke?
Maybe the plug is damaged
Maybe a component failed quickly
Expensive things like motors tend to start making noises, run slower than usual or smell bad before failing. They can ‘just stop’ of course, but it’s likely that there will be a build-up, so I proceeded with some confidence that the motor was probably fine. I always check motor bearings and brushes anyway, when servicing this type of thing.
Since the mains cable and plug were fine, it was time to delve inside. The Hetty top is simply held together with a few screws (normal cross head) which then frees the cable winder and motor assembly, when undone.
I suspected the two-speed control PCB as these can fail suddenly without warning and since I have no Numatic PCB tester (if there is such a thing), all I could do is prove the component as faulty, beyond reasonable doubt. A quick check with my multi-meter revealed that there was no output, when connected to the mains. Suspicious.
It is also possible to by-pass the speed control PCB on these machines, which I did. I connected the motor up without it’s 600W/1200W control circuit in the loop and the motor spun up just fine.
Often, I like to go direct to the manufacturer (where possible) for spare parts as you often get the truth about an appliance as well as the latest version of a part. Often, manufacturers continue to iron out bugs and develop upgrades for spare parts as these will be fitted to the latest models. A company such as Numatic seem to apply those upgrades retrospectively to older models too, so that all customers new and old, can enjoy the benefits. For information; UK spec speed controller part 208436 (red) replaces part 206735 (orange) for model HET200-22.
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, May’20, Numatic PCB old and new (back)
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, May’20, Numatic PCB old and new (front)
As I couldn’t find the part I needed on any website, a quick call to Numatic UK, gave me the information I needed. Even during Covid-19 lockdown here in the UK, the lady in Numatic’s spares department, working from her kitchen, was able to advise me on the upgraded part I now needed and arrange for it to be with me for the next working day. If that’s not good service, I don’t know what is. http://www.numatic.co.uk
With the new part installed, the motor spun once more, at the correct two speeds. Happy days.
All fine then. Not quite.
Hetty had been supplied with a red base, not the original pink one that Hetty should have.
As we all know… no? Just me then, Henry is red and Hetty is pink and there is a range of names and colours to choose from in the range.
When I tried to fit the Hetty top to the supplied red base, it didn’t fit. Quite a head-scratching moment, if I’m being frank with you. Had it never fitted? Had the owner simply just put up with it the way it was? Had there been some kind of strange swapping incident that I wasn’t aware of? Time to get some answers!
It turns out that my neighbour have both Henry and Hetty models and had given me the wrong base. They had assumed they are all the same. They’re not actually, see below.
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, May’2020, Numatic Hetty & Henry backs
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, May’2020, Numatic Hetty lid without cut-out
The latest Henry and Hetty tops have a cut-out for the tool storage bracket moudling as shown on the red base above. The earlier Hetty I had in the workshop had no such bracket in the plastic. I did offer to modify the Hetty top I had with my Dremel saw, but this offer was declined!
With the right top and base paired up once more, I was happy, the neighbours were happy and another vacuum cleaner had been saved from being scrapped needlessly.
You’ve got to be in the mood for certain repair work.
A friend of ours dropped in a ‘dead lamp’ to the workshop with a message: “Matt, can you mend it”? I then sort of forgot about it for er, nine months. Whoops. I need to focus on the workshop more.
The lamp was much loved by its owner and its current lack of light was leaving her in the dark.
Make and model: Endon Touch Control Dimmable Lamp
Fault reported: Not working
Cost of replacement: £30ish
Manufacturer support: 0/10
Cost of parts: £3 approx.
Hours spent on repair: 30 minutes
Tools needed: Screwdrivers, test meter etc
Sundry items: None
Repair difficulty: 2/10
Cups of tea: 1
Biscuits: Wagon Wheel (Jammie)
These touch lamps were a bit of a novelty back in the day and seem to have fallen out of favour in recent times. However, the owner of this one was a bit upset when suddenly one day, it wouldn’t work.
When working on anything mains operated, I always start with the basics:
Is the bulb working? Yes.
Is the mains flex OK? Again, yes
Is the fuse (UK) intact? All OK
Lamps like this are pretty simple; there’s a mains wire, there’s a bulb and holder, a switch and the main lamp unit itself. Some dimmable lamps, like this one, feature an electronic dimming module, which in this case was built into the base of the unit.
First step: Remove the base cover
Removing the cover was fairly straightforward and only involved a few self-tapping screws, under the felt pad base. This exposed the dimmer module, which when tested with the meter, was not outputting any current to the lamp circuit.
Second step: Dismantle the dimmer
Dimmer modules like this are not designed to be repaired and contain no user-serviceable parts (don’t get me started on that!). But in the past, I’ve had some luck cleaning components and re-heating the odd dry joint with a soldering iron. In this case, it was no joy. A replacement module was needed.
Third step: Find a new dimmer!
I can’t remember what I used to do before finding specialist electronic suppliers on eBay and alike. Oh yes, I just remembered: I struggled!
It didn’t take long to find a new (almost identical) dimmer module on eBay for about £3, delivered. How do they do it for the money?
After 2 weeks of waiting, the new module arrived in the post, hand delivered by our usual friendly posty, Keith.
Forth step: Fitting the new module and test
Comparing the dimmers side-by-side revealed that they were more or less the same, using the same wire colours…but in a different combination. This meant that it wasn’t a simple ‘cut and re-join’ the new dimmer to the existing wiring. Oh no, it meant cutting everything out and starting again. Still, with only four wires, it didn’t take long. With a little soldering and heat shrink, one would never know I had been tinkering.
A good job, jobbed, even if it did take me months to get ‘aroundtuit’.
Now, before I start the story, I have a confession. I technically stole this room fan. I didn’t pay for it, I just took it.
Just before Christmas 2017, I noticed that a room fan had been dumped in the small carpark at the end of my road. At first, I assumed that it was being left on a temporary basis, ready to be taken to the tip in a responsible manner, but as the days and weeks rolled on, it became clear that someone had carelessly left it there to turn to rust, which seemed a shame.
I did the only responsible thing; pick it up off the ground and take it back to the workshop in broad daylight.
Once I’d allowed it to dry out, I plugged it in and guess what, it powered up and ran on all three speeds without an issue. Its operation was very smooth and quiet. On closer inspection, it didn’t seem that old to me. How strange.
The major problem with the fan was that it didn’t stand up properly, in fact it would fall over easily. The fan’s base stand was a simple cross-section of metal feet, supporting the main pole which holds the fan itself. The whole assembly was loose and being held together with masking tape, which was far from ideal.
FixItWorkshop, Jan’18, fan repair, stand.
FixItWorkshop, Jan’18, fan repair, stand underneath.
Once I’d removed half-a-roll of masking tape from the stand, it revealed that one of the screws that holds the main pole to the stand was missing and the remaining three were loose. Could it really be that simple?
Once I’d straightened the slightly bent metal work in the vice, replaced the missing screw with one I already had in my nut and bolt pots, tightened the rest up, the stand performed as a stand once again and the whole thing worked without wobbling in a drunken manner.
FixItWorkshop, Jan’18, fan repair, stand repaired.
FixItWorkshop, Jan’18, fan repair, stand reassembled.
FixItWorkshop, Jan’18, fan repair, stand, missing screw.
Now, this probably wasn’t an expensive item. It’s not the finest example of good design or build quality. But it struck me then that the otherwise fine fan had been condemned on the one missing screw and the owners’ simple lack of screw driver aptitude. Crazy. I find it very sad that something with plenty of life left in it ends up dumped in a car park over one missing screw. Some people have a very disposable and wasteful view of everyday items.
I did repaint some of the rusty metal work after these photos were taken.
Cost of a new fan: £15 to over £100. Cost of repair; 5p.