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.

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.

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.

Magimix 4200XL – safety as standard

A little bit of ‘shed magic’ to rescue a Magimix 4200XL

Like everything else, food mixers come in all shapes and sizes and there’s a make and model on the market to suit all applications, tastes and budget. Magimix have been around for a long time and make premium mixers for the wannabe chef. These mixers specialise in chopping and slicing and tend to be more specific in task over, say, a traditional bowl mixer. The Magimix 4200XL is a current model at the time of writing and is all yours for around £300. When whisking something delicious in the kitchen myself, I prefer a traditional Kenwood Chef, but if I was regularly chopping veg with NASA micron-precision, I can see why a mixer like this might appeal. Since I’m a bit of a salad dodger, the need for this has never arisen.

Make and model: Magimix 4200XL

Fault reported: Not running

Cost of replacement: £300

Manufacturer support: 4/10

Cost of parts (for this repair): £0.00

My time spent on the repair: 1 hour

Tools needed: Screw drivers, pliers

Sundry items: None

Cleaning materials: Silicone spray, damp cloth

Repair difficulty: 3/10

Beverages: 1 X tea

Biscuits consumed: 2 X custard creams

The owner of this mixer reported that despite every effort to press buttons and click the safety catch on the lid, the mixer simply wouldn’t comply when switched on. Dead as a dodo.

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, November’20, Magimix 4200XL, inside the mixer’s safety switch.
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, November’20, the 4200XL features a motor with oomph!
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, November’20, Magimix 4200XL, removing the base.
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, November’20, Magimix 4200XL, these little horrors are designed to deter repair- I dislike them immensely.
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, November’20, Magimix 4200XL, the repaired mixer.
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, November’20, Magimix 4200XL, the cheeky little safety switch.

The owner of this machine reported that their beloved Magimix 4200XL was playing up and despite trying to wriggle, jiggle, shake, rattle and roll things, it simply wouldn’t comply and work. They asked if I would take a look at it for them before it was launched out of the window. There’s nothing like a frustrated owner.

The Magimix 4200XL features a really rather elegant, totally passive, safety device to ensure that one isn’t tempted to operate the machine without the lid fitted correctly, risking one’s little pinkies. A simple sprung lever mechanism built into the lid and jug matches a small recessed switch in the machine’s base. The machine will only fire-up once the lid is in place on the jug, which must be correctly aligned on the base. It’s a nice touch that probably keeps Magimix out of the courtrooms.

On first inspection, I decided that this mechanism was a reasonable place to start my investigations. After you’ve checked things like ‘is the power on’ it makes sense to ‘start simple’ and go from there.

Taking the base cover off only involved four Torx screws, the damned anti-tamper kind. Luckily I have the technology to do this.

Taking the base cover off revealed good access to the safety switch mechanism. Thankfully.

The mechanism all seemed correct and present, which was a bit of a guess since I’d never worked on a mixer like this before. However, a lack of loose parts rattling inside is usually a good sign. Phew.

Despite appearing OK, the operating safety switch lever did seem stiff, so a quick spray with silicone lube had things sliding nicely once again. A quick continuity test of the switch proved that it was switching OK. Things were starting to look up for ‘Maggy’.

Since I had the lube out, it made sense to clean up the jug and lid mechanism and give that the same treatment. It all seemed to work better after and testing the lid and jug, refitted to the base with the base cover removed allowed me to visually confirm that the safety switch mechanism was indeed doing its thing correctly once again. A good result.

After carefully reassembling the base cover, taking care not to damage some of the more delicate plastic parts, it was ready for testing. There’s always a little moment of ‘will something go bang’ when I switch things on for the first time, but luck was on my side as the motor spun up as Magimix intended. A good result. All fingers intact.

Wired for sound: AKG Headphones repaired

A pair of decent studio headphones dodges the bin…

Headphones are big business and global sales of these devices reach over $500m per year in the U.S. alone (quick Google search, so it must be right eh). As I’m sure you do; When I read sales figures like that, I wonder what the average life expectancy of headphones is, as I’m sure that many sets are viewed as disposable items.

Bluetooth and other wireless headphones aside, most wired headphones are fairly straightforward to mend, assuming no damage has been done to the speaker or ‘phones’ part. You just need basic tools, some patience and a fair bit of nerve… See how I got on with this pair of AKG K92s.

Make and model: AKG Headphones K92

Fault reported: No left channel

Cost of replacement: £35 when new

Manufacturer support:  0/10

Cost of parts: £0.00

My repair time: 45 mins

Tools needed: Soldering iron, small screwdrivers

Sundry items: Insulation tape, holt melt glue

Cleaning materials: N/A

Repair difficulty: 4/10

Cups of tea: 1

Biscuits: No biscuits this time, as it was lunchtime. It was cheese on toast for me, with some chorizo on top as I seem to remember, maybe a dash, just a tad, of tomato sauce- from Lidl I think…

I’d just finished the last mouthful of tea, I was getting peckish, thinking about putting the grill on, when a neighbour of mine rang the doorbell, at lunchtime -of all times.

The conversation went like this; Matt, could you have look at these old headphones for me? I was about to chuck them out and I know you like playing with old stuff like this. They used to be good, but they only work ‘one side’ now. I mean, they’ve probably had it. …Hang on I said, let me have a look, leave it with me. Famous last words.

I was quite flattered actually, as I really do like receiving work this way. When there’s little hope for something that’s probably on its way to the great scrap bin in the sky, I must admit that I especially like taking on that challenge of making something work again. Diverting the once condemned item back into full service is the thing that keeps me motivated.

On with the repair. The fault reported was ‘no sound from the left speaker’. The first thing to check with anything corded is the cord/ flex/ wire itself. While a visual check of a wire is no conclusive way of proving that it works or not, tell-tale signs of bending and chaffing can save a lot of time elsewhere. Rule out anything silly before wielding screwdrivers, I say.

Since the wire looked OK and the plug wasn’t bent, it was time to take the headphones apart. The AKG K92 headphones are simple to dismantle; just pull-off the headphone covers and the speakers are held together with just four small cross head screws, each side.

Using a multimeter set to continuity test, I was able to prove each part of the cable. The main wire from plug to headphone set proved OK, which was a good thing as it meant no replacement required (these are widely available on eBay). The headphones’ over the head band, as well as keeping things snug on ones’ noggin, also carries the signal from one side of the set to the other. If you’re still reading, I hope that makes sense. Anyway, the meter proved that it was all fine.

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, AKG K92 headphones, left channel re-wiring.

In the end, the fault lay with the main wire to headphone speaker on the left side. To be honest, I should have checked that first as that connection is always under load as it crosses a pivot point, allowing a few degrees of movement and therefore comfort for the user.

On the subject of comfort, while doing the repair, I noticed that the headband was a little torn at each end, presumably a result from many intense sonic moments. The vinyl coated band was a tricky customer to repair, but a little hot melt glue along the torn edges, soon fixed things, giving the headphones a fresh feel.

A quick remake of the connection (cut cable, re-solder) and full hi-fi was restored and the headphones were ready to blast again. Turn it up to 11.

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)

Dinner will be served in a flash…

A Tulip A350T Electric Rice Cooker is repaired

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, June’20, Tulip A350T 12Y1EI (to be exact).

I particularly enjoy receiving something to fix that I’ve never come across before.  Indeed, I’d never used an electric rice cooker, let alone heard of Tulip, the manufacturer of this example.  To be frank, I haven’t often thought about the popularity of electric rice cookers in general as an additional labour-saving device in the kitchen.  Clearly, I must be slipping.

This actual machine was a family treasure, which had moved around a bit and had originally been purchased in Holland and had since been converted from using a standard Euro plug to IEC/ kettle UK mains plug at some point.  All very interesting you say (maybe), but how did it end up in my workshop?

Make and model: Tulip A350T Electric Rice Cooker

Fault reported: Not working

Cost of replacement: £30

Manufacturer support:  0/10

Cost of parts: £2.00

Hours spent on repair: 1 hour

Tools needed: Screwdrivers, test meter, heat shrink, looped crimps etc

Sundry items: Cleaning materials

Repair difficulty: 3/10

Cups of tea: 2

Biscuits: Custard Cream X 2

After many years of reliable service, poor old ‘Tulip’ decided it had had enough of boiling up pilau rice and assorted vegetables and conked out.  When the owner tried to switch the cooker on, nothing happened, no light, no heat, no hope.

Most people would then usually have thrown in the towel, reached for their phone and within a couple of clicks, bought a new one on Amazon to be delivered the next day.

Perhaps it was the thought of poor old Tulip being crushed in the scrap metal pile at the tip which made the owner go online and find my website of strange domestic appliance tales instead of Amazon*…  But I’m glad they did.  *other online electrical retailers are available!

The machine is basically a large kettle with a removable bowl that holds whatever you wish to cook.  It has a thermostat for temperature regulation, a switch to change modes (cook/warm) and a safety cut-out mechanism, should something go wrong.  It was this safety system which had operated and caused the machine to fail-safe.

The design of the machine is quite simple, dare I say crude in places.  Within a few minutes, I had removed the base, exposing the wiring, switch, thermostat and other gubbins.

The earth bonding cable had melted which was the first alarm bell to ring.  Digging a little closer, the main issue revealed itself.  The heat-proof insulation on the ‘over heat’ one-shot thermal fuse had shorted out via a cracked piece of wiring on the metal casing of the unit.  Surprisingly, this had not overloaded the main plug fuse, but had heated the thermal fuse and had blown that instead.  Flash-bang, kaput.

The cooker’s switch, thermostat, element and other wiring checked out OK, so it was now worth fixing the failed system.

After purchasing a suitable replacement thermal fuse for a couple of quid, I set about installing this in place of the failed one, taking the time to upgrade the wiring harness with heat shrink to avoid a short again in future.  I removed the damaged earth and replaced it with fresh wire, securing it on to a better earth-bonded location and after some careful wire re-routing and fettling, the base of the machine was ready to be re-attached, ready for testing.  With the cooking bowl full of water and power applied, the ‘cook’ light lit up and the machine started to work.  Utter joy.  After a few cycles of heating and warming, I was satisfied that my work was done.

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Even though this device wasn’t marked as such, it’s a metal bodied Class One device here in the UK and ideally required a thorough integrety test of the safety system.  Using my newly-acquired Megger PAT150 tester, I was able to prove that the machine was compliant with current UK legislation for Portable Appliance Testing.  Ricely done.

 

 

 

Fetch me a coffee Parker… Yes Milady!

A Gaggia Milady gets unblocked

Despite various warning labels and advice from manufacturers, sometimes it’s better to ignore official advice and just dive in, especially if something has stopped working altogether.  Gaggia coffee machines of this vintage are well supported by various online parts suppliers, so when your machine stops making the perfect brew, the chances are that it can be sorted out with a little know-how…

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, June’20 Aloysius Parker from Thunderbirds (picture from Wikipedia)

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, June’20, Gaggia Milady.

I couldn’t resist a reference to one of my favourite childhood programs…

Make and model: Gaggia Milady Coffee Machine

Fault reported: No coffee/ blocked group head

Cost of replacement: £300 (approx.)

Manufacturer support:  3/10

Cost of parts:  £0, inc. carriage

Hours spent on repair: 1 hour

Hours spent on finding parts: 0 hours

Tools needed: Screwdrivers, spanner, pliers, drill, tap set

Sundry items: Silicone spray, WD-40, water safe silicone lube, cleaning materials

Repair difficulty: 4/10

Cups of tea:  X 2 (and one coffee for testing purposes)

Biscuits: None (Ice Cream X 1)

Someone got in touch to see if I could repair their much loved Gaggia Milady, after receiving some unhelpful advice from the UK distributor.  A new Gaggia had already been purchased, but the owner was missing the ‘solidness’ of his original machine and wanted it back working again.

Fault reported:  Heater working, pump running, no water at all at the group head, therefore no coffee.

Opening the machine’s lid reveals lots of cables and pipes, so if you’re attempting this repair yourself, I recommend making notes and taking photos, carefully marking the location of all the positions.

I suspected a blockage from the boiler to the group head, as sometimes happens with older machines, as scale builds up on the inside.  In cases like this, de-scaler is usually no good and more drastic action is required.

Removing the boiler on this model is similar to many other Gaggia machines, the only variant differences usually being cosmetic.  Just four screws usually hold the boiler to the cabinet.  I suspected that there was a blockage between the boiler area and valve to group head ‘jet’ and in order to access it, a few layers of metal work needed to be removed.

 

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Just one screw holds the strainer, but removing the head involves removing two bolts, which secure two halves of the group head.  The trouble is that over the years, corrosion makes the two halves ‘weld’ together and the only way to split them is to use a little ingenuity.  Fortunately, there are four water holes in the head which make ideal leverage points and with a small M5 tap, those holes become anchor points for the two bolts holding the head together.  Winding those bolts into the new threaded holes forces the two halves apart…

…Revealing the brass valve base.  Using a 10mm spanner releases the valve’s spring and valve rubber.  In this case, it was full of scale and debris.  A thorough clean using WD40, wire brushes and wire wool and the group head was ready for reassembly.

All surfaces scrubbed, all rubber seals cleaned and treated to some water-safe lubricant, the group head back together, the boiler was ready to be re-installed into the machine.  After some careful re-plumbing and re-connecting, the machine was ready for testing.

Just one more job.  Make the coffee for Milady!

Another machine dodges the tip with only a small tin of elbow grease used. F.A.B!