Inside The Real Repair Shop 5

Why do people get things repaired? Some thoughts shared. One day, I’ll write a book on the subject.

What makes something cool and just maybe worth hanging on to? Is it good design? Is it great functionality? Is it celebrity endorsement? Is it scarcity? Is this a list that could go on forever? Yes, probably.

Some stuff is just cool and loved from the off, and some things take a while longer to enter the hall of fame. But why is that? Why does it happen?

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, September 2021, the mug

I was pondering this while going through my workshop enquiry inbox recently, and began wondering what motivates people to get something working again or restored to its former glory. The subject is probably a study in its own right, but I thought I’d share my own thoughts on the subject here.  Now might be a good idea, assuming you fancy a drink, to grab a cuppa.  Please come back as soon as possible.

One of the things I get asked to repair frequently is food mixers, especially Kenwood Chefs.  Like the original Mini, AEC Routemaster London Bus and K6 Phone Box, the Chef in its many forms has become a design icon.  It also helps that the mixer excels in function and is timeless in design. Many Chefs that I receive come with an interesting family backstory.  Recently, one such example involved a 1964 machine which had travelled the world, after being originally purchased in South Africa. It had accompanied an army family each time my customer’s husband had transferred to start another tour.  The Chef had grown up with her family making cakes, treats and dinners for over 60 years and had visited over 15 countries and was now worth way more to its owner than the sum of its parts.  After the mixer was repaired and returned, I was told that the Chef would be passed down to the next generation to enjoy, when the time came. This particular Chef was, quite literally, one of the family.

Luckily, many Chefs new and old have spare parts readily available with straightforward access to technical information, making repair possible, and I was able to fix this one which only needed a motor overhaul and gearbox re-grease. Not bad service really, considering its age and life!

Old toys are another ‘workshop favourite’ enquiry. Many toys from the 1970s and 1980s have seemingly survived playtime to then be laid up in attics and cupboards for many years, only to be rediscovered when children move out or something similar is spotted, while browsing eBay! Toys from this era which take batteries, tend to have traditional electro-mechanical parts (switches, motors and bulbs etc) which if broken, can be repaired or replaced.  By comparison, later made toys with microprocessors and micro components are sometimes very difficult to reboot without donor parts. A few months ago, I repaired a motorised ‘Tomy Kong Man’ toy for a customer who had found it in his parents’ loft.  The toy was in good condition, but wasn’t working.  The Dad wanted to get it working for his kids as he remembered having so much fun with it, when he was their age. After a good hour of dismantling, cleaning, re-lubricating and a touch of soldering, the toy was working well once again, ready to be enjoyed by the next generation.

The great thing about the repairs recalled here is that the owners all had a connection with their item and were prepared to preserve it for future generations. For whatever reason a strong bond had formed between item and owner, established over many years and incorporating many shared experiences.  It’s programs like BBC’s The Repair Shop and Drew Pritchard’s restoration TV which draw out those backstories to bring tales of product ownership to life.

Sustainable is probably an overused word at the moment, but in order to really live more sustainably and reduce our impact on our environment, we need to buy less stuff, love the things we already have for longer and lobby decision makers to assist when repair barriers exist.  So, the next time you’re thinking about binning your old Hoover, just think about all the fun memories you’ve had together and consider repairing it.

For ‘The Workshop’, it’s about preserving an item, with its story intact, keeping it going, providing good service and enjoyment for as long as reasonably possible.  Until the next time.

Swan tea urn off the boil

A cheap fix gets this essential tea making machine back in business…

I admit it. I do get some satisfaction when I divert an appliance, on a journey to the bin, to my workshop for repair.  I have been known to collect the odd item from skips or just dumped on the pavement while supposed to be doing something more productive. I think I just feel sorry for things. Weird, but true.

Make and model: Swan Hot Water Tea 20L Urn

Fault reported: Not staying hot

Cost of replacement: £80ish

Manufacturer support:  3/10

Cost of parts: £1.70

Hours spent on repair: 45 minutes

Tools needed: Screwdrivers, test meter etc

Sundry items: Cleaning materials, heat transfer solution

Repair difficulty: 2/10

Cups of tea: X1

Biscuits: Malted Milk X1

This Swan hot water tea urn was one of those items.  Spotted during an office reorganisation in the ‘scrap pile’, it had been put there as it wasn’t working properly and a new one had now been ordered.

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, July’20, Swan Hot Water Urn… shiny!

 

Being fairly light-fingered, I spirited the urn away to the workshop for some tinker time.  Not strictly staff policy, but you know, seek forgiveness after etc.

An urn is really just a big kettle.  This one has an all metal 20 litre tank with bar-style tap to brew up, when needed.  There are no real controls as such; just an on/off switch with neon light and two tell-tail lights to indicate boil and keep warm.  Keep warm is usually on all the time when switched on.

The fault seemed to be that the urn reached boiling temperature when switched on, but then switched off totally, allowing the water to cool again excessively.  Timing the switching intervals of the thermostat, 20 minutes or so, and a 15-200 hysteresis confirmed a fault. There was also no ‘keep warm’ green light on, when in use.  To push the thermostat further, I poured cold water into the urn to see if that sped up switching between hot and cold, it didn’t.

Opening up the urn’s base involved just three screws, allowing access to all components.  Such a nice change to not have layers of covers and things to move out of the way first!

Checking the wiring out for logic revealed that someone had been here before! The wiring was incorrect and the ‘keep hot’ element was not wired up correctly and effectively not in circuit with the power source. A small wiring change corrected this and meant that the ‘keep warm’ element was now working again.

The thermal reset fuse/ button seemed to be working OK- proved with a test meter and the thermostat did seem to switch on and off, albeit with excessive hysteresis.  Time to fit another one! Luckily, these thermostats are very common and I managed to get one from eBay, rated at 1000 (a couple of degrees over the one fitted) for less than £2. Fitting a new thermostat only involved a couple of screws, a light smear of heat transfer solution and reconnecting back into the wiring harness.

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With all wiring back in place and the cover refitted, it was time to test and brew up.  This time, the urn boiled, switched off and then stayed warm on the secondary ‘keep warm’ circuit.  To prove that the new thermostat was an improvement, I then topped up the urn with cold water and within 5 seconds, the thermostat clicked in and the boiling process started again.

Time for a brew.

(PS, the urn has now returned to its normal place of work)

Repair, kettles and er, the Citroen 2CV

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.

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, July’20, The 2CV (AZ series)

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.