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…

What’s in your man-drawer?

I discuss some basic tools that should be found in every home…

I think it was Michael McIntyre who first referred to the man-drawer as ‘the funniest drawer in the kitchen’, full of all the ‘that’ll come in handy items’ that we accumulate over time.  It’s brilliant observational comedy, and he nailed it so well that today, we often refer to the ‘man drawer’ as a thing in our homes.  The reason that the joke still resonates today is that it’s true.  But, what should be in a man (or woman) drawer for the conscious home maintainer?

Toolbox talk!

I want to talk about the tools that I think every home should have. Tools that could empower you with a fighting chance of having a go at fixing something yourself. The tools that will help you get the best from your appliances, make things last longer and help save you money.  If you already have a good selection of tools, skip the next paragraph and head straight to the ‘common jobs, useful tools to have’ section.  If not, do read on.

Let’s bust some tool-related myths. Firstly; tools are expensive.  Sure, like anything in life, you can pay through the nose for a set of screwdrivers or spanners if you want to, and there’s a tool quality to suit all circumstances and pockets.  But here’s the thing, for most DIY purposes, a reasonable set of basic screwdrivers costs less than a tenner and the best part is that you’ll get that money back again and again when they’re put to use.  Secondly, you need to be an ‘expert’ to use tools.  Well, a knife and fork are tools and we all (hopefully) use those, so don’t be deterred by people who might dissuade you from tackling jobs yourself.  I’m wary of the term ‘expert’ anyway.  In my experience, experts are a rare thing. Luckily, these days, most of us have access to YouTube.  Search for the thing that’s foxing you and the chances are that one of the 2.3 billion users have an answer. 

Before you reach for your phone to fix a dripping tap, if you haven’t got some already, you’ll need to arm yourself with some basic tools.  Below is a brief summary of tools I think every home should have and what I think they can be used for.  Some jobs are obvious, some less so.

Common jobs, 6 useful tools to have

1:  Small flat-blade electricians’ screwdriver. I think it’s possible to write a thesis on the usefulness of a small flat-blade screwdriver, but I’ll spare you that for now.  For small change, you can buy one and use it to: Wire a plug, adjust light fittings, get batteries out of a gadget, scrape-off old paint from a surface, prising something open, cleaning nooks and crannies. A screwdriver like this has uses beyond screws.

2:  Pliers and cutter combination tool.  Really useful for cutting and shaping garden wire, fixing Christmas lights, fixing kids toys, recovering items that have ‘fallen down a gap’ not forgetting cutting and trimming wire.  If you have a bike, a lawnmower, taps or doors in your life, then you need pliers and cutters as adjustment of those items will be needed from time to time.  Do it yourself, and you’ll save yourself time and money.

3: Adjustable spanner. If you don’t have space/ need/ cash for a full spanner set, consider an adjustable spanner instead.  OK, so they’re not ideal for regular nut-spinning, they are useful for those less frequently required tasks such as; adjusting a bike saddle, tightening a tap and adjusting a radiator valve.

4:  Cable ties and electrical tape. OK, not strictly tools, but honestly, I can’t think of more useful tool/fixings to have in your own man-drawer.  Cable ties and electrical tape has a million uses, are cheap, readily available and can fix so many things either temporarily or permanently including; tying cables, mending a broken handle on a hoover, fixing a backpack strap, mending a buggy, making a hook loop, tying a door back.  I always keep both in my mobile tool wrap to fix something, on the go. Get some today.

5:  Screwdriver set. If you’re going to tackle more jobs around the home, invest in one that contains at least; big and small flat blade screwdrivers and large, medium and small cross-head screwdrivers. From kitchen appliance maintenance, kids toy adjustment, door hinge fixing to furniture assembly, a basic screwdriver allows you to keep things running for longer and to do the job properly.

6:  A small set of Allen keys.  Allen ‘hex’ screws are used on lots of things now including bikes, home appliances and children’s toys. As with the other tools mentioned here, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get a set of keys that will open many common household objects.

Don’t worry if you don’t yet have the knowledge to fix your coffee machine, just a quick search on YouTube will show you how to remove the doofer to access the widget to clean the thingy. Using a few of the aforementioned tools will allow you to complete the job like a pro, saving you cash, saving the appliance from landfill and giving you the power to do more.  Just remember to unplug from the socket first.  Tools also make excellent gifts, so the next time you’re wondering what to buy a loved one, have a sneaky peek in their man drawer, make a note of what’s missing for your gift list.

Until the next time… Do you have a DIY fixing related matter that you’d like me to explore in this section?  If so, please get in touch.

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!

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.

Inside The Real Repair Shop 2

Practical vacuum cleaner maintenance advice from the workshop!

I have 5 vacuum cleaners, each kept for specific tasks, as you can imagine.  No, seriously I love vacuum cleaners.  From friendly faced Henrys and Hettys to ‘frickin’ Sharks, I love ‘em all.  Why you ask? Well I guess that using a hoover is sheer joy to me.  You take your machine to a grubby area, run it around the floor, and you are rewarded with instant gratification! The carpet is returned to near pristine condition.  Better still, with many machines, you can see all the muck that was once on the carpet, swirling around in mesmerizing dust-storms, in the see-through debris collection bin!  Cosmic stuff.

Decent vacuum cleaners cost a few quid and far too many repairable machines end up at tips across the country, prematurely.

I suspect that many machines could be saved with basic skills. Most people could manage light servicing with basic tools and a small dusting of knowledge so here are some top tips to help you keep your hoover running well for longer.

Models vary, but you are likely to need the following: 

  • Big flat-head screwdriver
  • a cross-head screwdriver
  • damp cloth bowl of hot soapy suds

Before you start work on any appliance, always unplug from the mains. 

Brush heads: Upright vacuum cleaners probably have a rotating brush head. Remove any dog, cat, child hair, Lego etc from the brushes, especially the stuff stuck at the sides, where it can cause damage to things like bearings.  Use a knife or some old scissors to cut-away trapped hair etc.  This will improve performance and prevent damage. 

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, January’21, Dyson DC07 brush head- looking clean.

Filters:  Many vacuum cleaners have at least one, sometimes three filters to prevent dust entering back into the environment it was sucked-up from, preventing sneezes.  Usually all you need to do is see where the filters are located and to remove any retaining clips/covers.  Some machines use screws to hold the filters in-situ, so you’ll need to familiarise yourself with your instructions. 

If you’ve held on to your instructions, well done.  If you’re like most people and have chucked the instructions away, you might need to Google your model and download them. These filters need to be cleaned every three months in warm soapy water and left to dry for at least 24 hours or until bone dry.  Clean filters not only prevent dust build-up in the air, but are essential for the free flow of air into your machine and out again.

A blocked motor filter could cause overheating and damage to the motor bearings and brushes.  Suction can be reduced by a blocked cylinder filter. HEPA filters need to be replaced and can’t be cleaned, however eBay is awash with good quality, cheap alternative filters, so there’s no excuse for not lavishing your machine with some filter-love to let your machine breathe easy.

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, January’21, old and new filters.

Seals:  All vacuum cleaners rely on good seals between joints to ensure perfect performance.  Rubber and foam seals need to be cleaned regularly to prevent the build-up of dirt. Get a bowl of hot soapy water and an old cloth to clean up joints and seal-like surfaces, no special skills required.  Don’t scrub too hard as you might damage the smooth surfaces, just a gentle clean is all that’s needed.  Remember, dirty seals equal vacuum loss.

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, January’21, keep seals clean with a damp sponge or cloth.

Just a small tune-up in the way of basic servicing will mean that your trusty vacuum runs sweeter for longer, saving you time, money and valuable resources.  You’ll also bond with your machine, which is a good thing.

After all that cleaning, you’ve earned yourself a cup of tea. Time to put the kettle on, make a brew and grab a custard cream.

Atco Consort 14 (CT14) self-propelled lawnmower repair

A mid-90’s take on a classic design, dodges the tip

When they say; “they don’t make things the way they used to”, they’re right… sadly.

With many repairs that I do, half the battle is identifying the correct or closest-match replacement part.  Half the fun is finding a part to do the job, when the original manufacturer can’t or won’t sell that part.

IMG_2260
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, May’20, Atco Consort 14 (CT14)

Make and model: Atco (Qualcast) Consort 14 (CT14- 002107A)

Fault reported: Intermittent running

Cost of replacement: £300 (approx.)

Manufacturer support:  0/10

Cost of parts:  £24.44, inc. carriage

Hours spent on repair: 1 hour

Hours spent on finding parts: 1 hour

Tools needed: Screwdrivers, spanner, pliers

Sundry items: Silicone spray, WD-40, cleaning materials

Repair difficulty: 3/10

Cups of tea:  X 1

Biscuits: Custard Cream X 1

Some things are just a joy to work on because of the way the original design and engineering teams that came up with the product, saw their machines being used in real life.

Even though this machine was built in the 1990s, the Consort 14’s DNA comes from a long line of designs that include the famous ‘Suffolk Punch’ lawn mower created by Suffolk Iron Foundries of Stowmarket in 1954.  This machine is badged as Atco (and Qualcast in places) but the electric motor was made in Stowmarket, England.  The original factory had a reputation for making everything, literally everything, for its machines, right down to the nuts and bolts and this ethos lives on in the CT14.

I’m not going to bang on about sustainable design and circular economy here, but today, unless one pays serious money, garden equipment is simply not built to last any more than a couple of years.  Many of the mowers and strimmers you can buy for under £100 in B&Q, Tescos (here in the UK) and alike have a built-in obsolescence factor measured in months, not decades.  Personally, I believe that products like this should be banned.  Too many end up at my local tip with the price label still attached…

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A neighbour asked me to look at their Atco lawnmower, which had stopped mowing recently.  They were wondering if it was worth bothering with a repair, I of course said that the machine that they had was better than many machines available now, so it was absolutely worth repairing!

The mower is a self-propelled, cylinder type with speed control and clutch to engage the propulsion system, as desired.  It’s a neat design that’s hard to better.  The next time you are at Wembley or Wimbledon, just look at the mowers still used by professional grounds maintenance teams.

The Atco is designed to receive occasional maintenance and all items which might require the owner or maintenance engineer to inspect are easy to access.  Forward thinking again, shown by the designers.  The main issue in 2020 is that parts are only available from aftermarket suppliers and although there are still (thankfully) specialists ready to supply, part numbers and cross-referencing is a nightmare and despite me doing this work in the UK and this machine being made in the UK, the repair required a degree of investigation and sleuth work to get the parts needed.

The motor was my first port of call and with only a couple of bolts holding it in place, the motor was soon removed.  It was in good overall condition but the carbon brushes were a little short and needed replacing. This explained why the motor had suddenly cut-out.

You might think that finding carbon brushes for a UK made motor, might be easy.  You would be wrong.  Despite several conversations with mower experts, these brushes were seemingly unavailable, off the shelf.  I did order some brushes for an equivalent model produced a little later, but these were too large.  I could have filed them down to make them fit, but after rooting around in my collection of brushes (as one does) I found that a new pair of brushes from a Kenwood Chef A701 fitted perfectly.

While I had the mower in pieces, I decided to inspect the drive belts which were both in poor condition.  One was split and one had stretched badly.  For smooth, reliable operation, both required a replacement.

Again, the Consort 14 was not on many mower supplier inventories, so finding the correct belts required cross checking with other Qualcast and Bosch (Bosch later acquired Qualcast) models and a little bit of luck to match them up.  Fortunately, eBay sellers came to the rescue again and I managed to find the correct belts which fitted perfectly.

With the mower back together, it was ready to run for another 30 years.  Time for another cuppa.

Footnote:  I’m very aware that I sound like a stuck record…

Look, many products made and sold nowadays are much better than older ones.  I’m not saying that all old things are better. Take old cars for example (although I have a soft spot for old cars):  They were polluting, they didn’t have safety built-in (in general) they rusted-out and broke down, all the time.  New ones generally don’t break down, last for longer and you’ll walk away from many crash situations.

New things are usually safer, more efficient and capable.  However, many older machines were designed to be serviced, repaired and re-used over and over, which in my opinion, is more sustainable.  Many products today, especially mowers and alike are designed to last for 18 months hard-use and then the whole thing is scrapped, but it’s apparently acceptable to society as it ‘only cost 40 quid- I’ve had my monies worth’.

It’s this notion that doesn’t sit well with me and I see a growing cohort of people who are not prepared to accept this waste of resources either.  What say you?

 

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.

Old school iPod Nano battery replacement

Apple really don’t want you to get into their products- but they’re not alone.

We have two Apple products in our house from the early 2000s; one iPod Nano 1st generation and the 1st generation iPod colour.

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, August’19, Apple iPod Nano.

Apple tech polarises opinion as it’s always premium priced and is quite locked-down to ‘Apple only platforms’.  Some people love the ease of use that their products seem to offer, others get frustrated with the lack of integration with other products.

Despite being an Android house, we keep the iPods as they are quite robust, but due to age, battery life has recently become an issue.

Make and model:  Apple iPod Nano

Fault reported: Battery not holding charge

Cost of replacement:  eBay, loads out there

Cost of parts:  £8.00

Hours spent on repair:  1

Tools needed:  Spudger, small flat-bladed screwdriver, soldering iron

Sundry items: None

Repair difficulty:  4/10

Cups of tea:  1

Biscuits:  2 (Custard Creams)

Let’s just get it out of the way now.  Apple really don’t want anyone opening up their devices and it was a wrestle to open up the casing, without snapping something (the iPod, not one of my nails or something).

The battery in the Nano is situated beneath the metal cover, which must be removed using a spudger.  A spudger is a small lever with a fine edge that can be used to gently open up small, usually plastic, push-fit, ‘clicked-together’ things.  Spudgers are kind of disposable and I always seem to break one on each job.  I must look out for a strong, stainless steel item.

Using the spudger on the Nano isn’t easy, since (as I later found out) all of the metal tangs located around the metal casing, dig in to the plastic face.  Trying the separate the two halves is a real battle and there’s a real risk of damage should you use too much force.

After a good 15 minutes of wrangling with the Nano, the casing popped off.

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The battery on this model uses a small fly lead which is soldered to the main PCB, again more evidence to suggest that Apple had no intention of making the Nano’s battery replaceable by most users.  Extreme care had to be taken with the soldering too since the PCB’s components are so close and small, making it too easy to use too much heat, causing irreparable damage.

I took my time and was able to fit the new battery (push fit) and solder the connections OK.

The cover popped back on and fortunately, the screen lit up once more, when the menu button was pressed.  Phew. Tea time.

 

Dyson DC25 with various problems

Another Dyson dodges the dump

An email dropped into my inbox about a poorly Dyson DC25, that needed a bit of a clean up.  I said no problem, I’ll take a look.  What turned up was a vacuum cleaner that needed a bit more than a quick clean up with a J-Cloth.

Make and model:  Dyson DC25 (blue/ grey)

Cost of replacement:  £N/A, price when new £300

Cost of parts:  £6.89 (plus my time)

Hours spent on repair:  2.5 (plus testing)

Repair difficulty:  5/10

It soon became apparent, that the Dyson was quite ill.

Here’s a summary of the problems:

  1. The mains cable flex was split, exposing the internal cables risking electric shock
  2. The roller beaters would not spin
  3. Suction was limited

None of these features were useful in vacuum cleaner, so out came the screw drivers.

The mains flex damage was about 90 cms from the handle end, so rather than replacing the whole cable at about £30, I decided to shorten the one already fitted on the Dyson.  This involved removing three screws on the reverse of the handle to expose the wiring.  From there, the broken flex could be cut-out and the sound part of the flex, reattached to the Dyson’s wiring.  See below.

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The DC25 features a roller-ball, enabling the beater head to twist and turn in to tight spots on the floor.  This means that mains power must navigate the various joints and hinges on the way from the main body to the roller beaters.  A quick test revealed that the power was not getting through.  After removing one of the side covers, there was evidence of a previous repair.  One of the mains cables had broken and had then been twisted back together.  Clearly, an improvement was needed.  Using a section of repair cable, a small joint was soldered back in to place with some mains-rated heat shrink around the connection for insulation and reinforcement.  See below.

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The beater head also needed a good clean, which meant a strip-down and re-build.  All parts were cleaned, inspected and reassembled.  During that process, a small break in the beater head wiring was found, repaired and put back together.  See below.

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Finally, the machine needed a good clean up.  The main cylinder was washed, the filters washed (although I later decided to replace these) and the main seals on the vacuum system, cleaned and silicone sealed.  See below.

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During clean up, the spigot-yoke that holds the roller ball in place on one side was found to be missing.  Luckily the owner had kept this and dropped it back to me to re-fit.

This Dyson was on the brink, but with a little bit of spanner-time, it’s now ready to serve many more years.