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Diary of a tinkerer

On this blog, I’ll be writing about the things I fix and those I can’t, or are just beyond economical help.  I hope my ramblings will at least inspire others to think twice before just accepting that something doesn’t work.

To those who doubt their own ability I say this:  If ‘that thing’ isn’t working, grab a screwdriver, take it apart and investigate.  What have you got to lose?

Within reason, I’ll try and repair most domestic items before condemning them to landfill or recycling and I hope there are many other shed-dwellers doing the same thing.

In our modern ‘throw it away culture’ one could be called ‘cheap’ for attempting to make-do-and-mend.  This is madness as often good quality items end up on the scrap heap with little required to get them back in working order.

While throwing things in the bin and buying new is good news for the economy, we live in a world where the strains on our environment are increasingly evident and repairing things that can be repaired usually makes economic and ecological sense.  I’m a Circular Economy advocate.

My aim here is to promote the art of repair and reuse.  I also offer a local repair service in Worthing, West Sussex, UK, for a small fee, if I can fix it!

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Ultimate Speed Battery Charger from Lidl, on standby

Battery charger repaired at the workshop

My in-laws have an ornament on their drive, in the shape of a 2001 MGF roadster.  I say ornament because it’s fairly stationery, all of the time.  Even so, it’s battery gets topped up once in a while and the engine turned over when the urge presents itself.  Because the car isn’t used, the battery’s only means of charge is via a plug-in charger, my father-in-law occasionally hooks up.

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FixItWorkshop, March’18, Ultimate Speed (Lidl) Battery Charger.

The battery charger in question is an Ultimate Speed (Lidl brand) universal battery charger.  They’ve been on sale in the UK for a number of years at the £15 (approx.) mark.  They’re really good value as they allow ‘smart charging’ of car and motorcycle batteries without the risk of damage at a fraction of the price of the ‘big brands’ or a replacement battery.

However, this charger decided that it wasn’t playing anymore and refused to offer it’s charging services when recently connected to the MG’s flat battery.  On it’s way to the great bin in the sky, I managed to divert the charger via the workshop.

Once connected to the mains, the standby light illuminated, indicating something was actually happening, but upon connecting the low voltage side to a battery, making a charge selection via the single push-button switch, nothing changed and the whole unit remained on standby.  Pretty annoying.

Luckily, I have the triangular screwdriver required to undo the six screws that hold the (IP) ingress protected casing together.  Triangular screw heads are annoying and pointless as they prevent, in my opinion, people with a basic tool set having a go at a repair like this.  If you do fancy getting one of these tools, they are easily available on Amazon and eBay.

On with the fix.  With the casing opened up, my first port of call was with the switch itself.  Past experience has taught me to 1; start with the easy stuff and 2; these push to make switches fail all the time.  They’re in everything from door bells to cookers at the moment and when faulty, make the most expensive item and expensive paper weight in the blink of an eye.

To test the switch, I connected the charger to the mains and hooked up the low voltage end to a battery and simulated the button push switch by shorting out the switches connections on the circuit board.  Hey presto, the charger worked perfectly, every time.  The switch either needed repairing or replacing.

Because I’m a skin-flint, I opted to see what could be done with the present switch.  With care, these switches can be prised apart, using a sharp knife and the insides cleaned.  I took the switch apart which revealed nothing more than slightly corroded switch surfaces.  I can only assume that the product’s bold IP rated claim is a little over exaggerated and that some damp had wriggled its way to the switch and mucked it up.  With a cotton bud and switch cleaner, the switch surfaces scrubbed up like new and I re-assembled the switch lever and securing plat using a soldering iron to re-melt the plastic nubs holding the switch together.  No one would ever know it had been in bits.

With the circuit board returned to the housing, all six screws done up, the charger was back to rude health once more and ready to tend to the stranded MGF.

Hybrid Hoover-VAX vacuum cleaner combination experiment…

Recycling vacuum cleaner parts.

A slightly unusual workshop repair this time.

My brother-in-law popped in to see us for a cuppa recently and mentioned he was off to the tip with an old VAX cylinder style bag-less vacuum cleaner, in pieces, not the carpet washer type.  It was on its way to the great scrap yard in the sky.  Luckily, I was on hand to divert the sick VAX via the workshop.

It was being disposed of due to the flex having gone faulty together with the opinion that it wasn’t working that well before the mains cable failed.  Well, I hate to see good machinery go to waste.

On this VAX, the mains flex is stored within the vacuum cleaner housing and is wound up on a spring-loaded coil during storage.  When in use, the user can pull the mains plug until the desired cable flex length is reached.  When the user is finished cleaning their carpet, a foot operated button causes the flex to speedily disappear back in to the vacuum cleaner.  My brother-in-law had already looked at the spring-loaded mains flex winding mechanism, which had resulted in the bi-metallic coil spring escaping from the enclosure, freeing itself in to an orbit.  It’s quite a shock and sometimes dangerous when this happens!

What to do.  I was very nearly tempted to dump this vacuum cleaner too as the build quality of the whole thing reminded me of the plastic toys one gets in Christmas crackers, but that’s not really in the spirit of The Workshop.

Then I remembered I had a defunct Hoover Telios that was minus a motor, perhaps this would be a suitable parts donor?  I liked the idea of making one working vacuum cleaner from two unhappy ones.

The Telios had a working mains lead flex, but the automatic spring loaded mechanism on that was past its best, so I decided to use the working lead on the VAX.  The VAX would be without its flex winding mechanism, but at least it would work.  I adapted a cable tie to make a cable grip, to prevent a user from pulling the cable from the VAX, when in use.  The cable would have to be stored, wrapped around the vacuum cleaner, after use, a small price for working machine.

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FixItWorkshop, Feb’18, VAX cylinder vacuum cleaner.

The other job was to address the poor performance.

This product is clearly an inferior Dyson rip-off and therefore has a couple of filters; one for the intake and one for the exhaust, like a Dyson.  As suspected, both of these were virtually blocked!  The filters on this model were not as easy to get at nor as easy to clean.  I’m not sure whether these filters are meant to be washed, but wash them I did and after 24 hours of drying on the radiator, they were as good as new.  Once refitted, full performance was restored, for the price of a bowl of warm water and Fairy liquid.

Finally, the VAX was missing its cleaning head for the hose, so I decided to use the Hoover one (which was quite a nice design) with the VAX’s hose.  After some jiggery pokery and some electrical tape, it fitted.

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FixItWorkshop, Feb’18, VAX cylinder vacuum cleaner- with Hoover parts.

What we’ve now ended up with is a working VAX vacuum cleaner, using some parts from a beyond economical to repair Hoover.  Whilst it’s not the most elegant repair I’ve ever completed, I now have  something working from two nearly condemned items and surely, that’s good thing?

Runaway Hillbilly Golf Trolley…

Golf trolley heads for the hills…

Readers of this blog (I know there are millions of you) will recognise this golf trolley and I’m pleased to report that my first repair, the one to the motor, is still working perfectly.  However, the owner of the trolley contacted me with a (funny) problem.  Whilst recently enjoying a round of golf on the local fairway, the trolley decided to, by itself, begin to edge away from the second tee and then with some speed, head off in to the distance, without any operation of the dial switch, situated on the handle.  Whilst this seemed funny at first, I remembered that the motor on this trolley had the kind of torque that, coupled to small gearbox and wheels on a heavy frame, could do some serious damage, left unchecked.

Original photo taken in Aug’17, below.

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, Aug’17 Hillbilly Compact Golf Trolley

Unlike many modern electric golf trolleys, it doesn’t feature GPS guidance, remote control or amazingly, a dead-man’s switch, which seems like a major safety oversight to me.  I’d have expected either a kill switch or dead-man’s switch* fitted to the handle on a trolley like this as the runaway scenario could never occur due to fail-safe nature of the switch being operated.  With one, the trolley would only run when the operators’ hand was on the handle or cut out when the kill switch is activated, as with the saftety cord mechanism, on a jet ski for example.  Perhaps the Mk2 Hillbilly Compact featured this.

*For example, a dead-man’s switch is usually fitted to something like an electric saw where the operator must old a handle-type switch to make it run.  Once the operator lets go of the handle, the motor automatically fails-safe and cuts-out.

On with the repair.  The trolley features some exposed connectors and cabling and it seemed sensible to check the continuity of the cables running up and down the handle shaft, as repeated trolley folding might have caused a problem with the wiring.  Fortunately, the cabling was OK.

The owner had mentioned that the handle, where the speed control switch is located, had got wet in the past, which made my alarm bells ring.

Opening up the handle, which only required a basic tool kit, revealed evidence of water damage and corrosion to the speed control terminals.  Luckily the owner of the trolley had stocked up on spare switches!

Removing the existing switch revealed intermittent continuity and varying amounts of resistance, which was not good.  A fault most likely to have been caused by water ingress or excessive shock.  The owner had supplied two ‘new old stock’ (NOS) switches.  Which one to fit?

From time to time, it’s downright sensible to either fit NOS or second-parts as they’re usually cost-effective and are more likely to fit over pattern parts.  But time can also affect apparently shiny parts.  This was a case in point.  I knew that the switch should vary resistance from open circuit to 10KOhms in either direction from COMM.  The old one didn’t and one of the ‘new’ parts only went to 2KOhms, so was not in specification.  Luckily, the remaining NOS switch worked fine and once refitted, and the handle reassembled, the golf trolley was ready to make the job of carrying clubs easier, once again.

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FixItWorkshop, Feb’18, Hillbilly Compact speed control switch, new and old- test NOS parts before fitting.

Cost of replacement trolley:  ££££ Cost of repair; £10 plus time.  Moral of the story; don’t assume NOS parts will work.  Test them first.

 

Nearly flaming 1986 Yamaha XT600 Ténéré

Beloved Yamaha XT600 Ténéré nearly goes up in smoke.

I’ve had my beloved Yamaha XT600 Ténéré for about 8 years and have deliberately kept it away from these pages as I’m always doing something to it.  It could have its own website with the amount of time, not to mention money and effort I’ve spent on it.

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FixItWorkshop, Jan’18, Yamaha XT600 Ténéré.

This story is note-worthy as it’s a lesson for me and others who ride and maintain old bikes!

I don’t use the bike that much at the moment, but I always keep it ready for the road, just in case I get a chance to take it out.  Whilst doing a few checks recently, I decided to fire it up and get the oil pumping around the engine, so that things don’t seize up.

The tank was pretty full (over 20 litres) and upon opening up the manual fuel valves, giving it a bit of choke, the engine fired-up on the second crank.  It sounded quite sweet.

However, after about 30 seconds, I heard ‘running liquid’ before smelling the intense scent of super unleaded.  Looking down, I was standing in about 2 pints of fuel, on the wooden shed floor with a hot exhaust casually burning the fuel that was dripping on to it.  Nasty.

I won’t repeat what I said, but suffice to say, I hit the bikes’ kill switch virtually instantly.  I shut the flowing fuel off and wheeled the bike out in to the open air.

After several cups of tea, I found the cause of the problem.  The small fuel feed pipe which runs from the float chamber to the main jet on the carburettor had failed causing the leak.

When I bought the bike, I thought I’d changed all the fuel lines, but I’d missed one, quite an important one as it turned out.  It goes to show that even enthusiastic mechanics make mistakes.

The cost of the repair was £1 for a new piece of fuel hose, but the point of this story is:  If you have any petrol-powered things, especially old motorbikes; don’t run them in an enclosed wooden space.  Always run them outside.

Outdoor LED porch light on the blink

Outside light on the blink

A couple of years ago, I made a light for our porch.  I wanted to ‘back-light’ the area under the porch with a subtle glow, when coming back home in the dark, handy when trying to find the front door keys.  I used a clear section of hose pipe, several clips and a strip of LED tape, commonly available from lighting suppliers.  I used a standard 12V power supply unit (PSU) from an electrical wholesalers’ and controlled the whole thing with a neat little PIR motion/ day-night detector.  It all worked quite well until the other day.

Whilst walking past the PIR detector the light came on in the usual way, but there was a strange ‘arcing’ noise, coming from the inspection panel, behind which I’d mounted the PSU.  The PSU seemed a sensible place to begin investigation.

It’s really irritating when manufacturers’ chose to make it so that a casing for something does not come apart, without breaking in to it.  This PSU was made this way and to gain access, I had to carefully lever the two halves of the glued casing apart with a screwdriver, breaking the glue holding it together.  It wasn’t working anyway, so what did it matter.

Looking at the printed circuit board (PCB) within the plastic casing revealed that the mains feed, presented as an IEC Kettle type connector in this case, had a ‘dry-joint’ and had begun arcing (small sparks) which left unchecked, would have caused permanent damage to the PSU.

With a small clean-up of the affected joint and a little soldering, the PSU was as good as new.  Sadly, the casing won’t be the same again, but as it’s hidden out of sight, I decided that a good wrapping of electrical tape around the two halves of the PSU casing was all that was needed.

Cost of a replacement PSU:  Circa £15.  Cost of repair: A bit of solder and my time.

Vedette Wall Clock ne marche pas

A little repair on a French wall clock

This lovely wall clock had been running perfectly fine until a friend of mine decided to move it temporarily from the wall, during a recent bout of home decorating.  Now, I’m no expert on French wall clocks, but we think this one is circa 1920s or 30s, but either way, it’s a lovely thing to have in the house.  This one is also fitted with Westminster chimes, so one assumes it was made for the English market as an export item, all those years ago.

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FixItWorkshop, Jan’18, Vedette Wall Clock (French)

Once the paint had dried, the owner decided to re-fit the clock to its hook on the wall, but it simply didn’t run, even when fully wound-up.  Strange, what had happened?

Having a quick look at the front of the clock revealed nothing much.  The pendulum was where it should be and appeared to swing freely, as a pendulum should, but there was a slightly strange ‘double-click’ tick-tock, indicating something wasn’t right.  Clocks of this type should emit a definite even tick – tock -tick-tock.  This one wasn’t. Hmm.

Before going to see the clock, I had already decided that the small spring that suspends the pendulum could have been broken, so I packed a few spares I happened to have, just in case.  Opening up the mechanism revealed that the spring was actually intact, not bent or warped and therefore perfectly serviceable.  It was fairly obvious almost immediately that the small clasp which secures the pendulum to the escapement lever was bent and the probably cause of the problem.  All that was needed was a small amount of tinker-time to fix that with a small pair of pliers.  However, that wasn’t the end of the story.  Having undergone a ham-fisted removal from the wall, the escapement pendulum lever was now in a slightly different position and some more fettling was required to get the clock back ‘in-beat’, a common requirement on this mechanism type and often the reason why a clock won’t run, even when fully wound.

As the clock mechanism was out of the main casing (see photo) I decided to prop-up the mechanism on two tins of beans to allow the pendulum to hang over the side of a level table.  This allowed me to access to the clock’s mechanism and hear what was going on clearly.  A slight adjustment on the main pendulum lever to the right on this mechanism and the clock was back ‘in beat’, keeping good time.

After giving the case a general clean up and polish, I refitted the clock mechanism back inside it and hung the whole thing back on its hook, back where it belonged, on the wall.

Cost of a replacement: Sky’s the limit. Cost of repair; 1 cup of tea and 1 chocolate digestive.

A fan with a wobbly tale…

A fan with a wobbly tale…

Now, before I start the story, I have a confession.  I technically stole this room fan.  I didn’t pay for it, I just took it.

Just before Christmas 2017, I noticed that a room fan had been dumped in the small carpark at the end of my road.  At first, I assumed that it was being left on a temporary basis, ready to be taken to the tip in a responsible manner, but as the days and weeks rolled on, it became clear that someone had carelessly left it there to turn to rust, which seemed a shame.

I did the only responsible thing; pick it up off the ground and take it back to the workshop in broad daylight.

Once I’d allowed it to dry out, I plugged it in and guess what, it powered up and ran on all three speeds without an issue.  Its operation was very smooth and quiet.  On closer inspection, it didn’t seem that old to me.  How strange.

The major problem with the fan was that it didn’t stand up properly, in fact it would fall over easily.  The fan’s base stand was a simple cross-section of metal feet, supporting the main pole which holds the fan itself.  The whole assembly was loose and being held together with masking tape, which was far from ideal.

Once I’d removed half-a-roll of masking tape from the stand, it revealed that one of the screws that holds the main pole to the stand was missing and the remaining three were loose.  Could it really be that simple?

Once I’d straightened the slightly bent metal work in the vice, replaced the missing screw with one I already had in my nut and bolt pots, tightened the rest up, the stand performed as a stand once again and the whole thing worked without wobbling in a drunken manner.

Now, this probably wasn’t an expensive item.  It’s not the finest example of good design or build quality.  But it struck me then that the otherwise fine fan had been condemned on the one missing screw and the owners’ simple lack of screw driver aptitude.  Crazy.  I find it very sad that something with plenty of life left in it ends up dumped in a car park over one missing screw.  Some people have a very disposable and wasteful view of everyday items.

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FixItWorkshop, Jan’18, fan repaired.

I did repaint some of the rusty metal work after these photos were taken.

Cost of a new fan:  £15 to over £100.  Cost of repair; 5p.