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February 21, 2016

Repair of a Food Saver model V845

I had a great time doing some interesting repairs at the Repair Cafe event in Campbell River yesterday. One of the most interesting and challenging repairs was that of a Food Saver plastic bag vacuum sealer, for which the heat sealing wasn’t functioning, but the vacuum function was apparently OK. In this case, the problem was not apparently common heat strip failure, but rather a failed vacuum activated switch. Here’s what I did to diagnose and repair it.

the patient

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November 14, 2015

Repair of a Traynor YGL3 Mark 3 Guitar Amplifier and Accusonic Reverb Tank

This post is about a fun, relatively easy repair/restoration project on a classic piece of electric guitar/music gear: a Traynor YGL3 Mark 3 amplifier. The YGL3 is a vacuum tube -based piece of rock/music history. This project grew out of the Repair Cafe event in the Campbell River Sportsplex last month that I was a volunteer repair person for. A new friend, Joedy W, had brought this amp in to the Repair Cafe, but I didn’t have the time or the parts during that busy day to do the full repair. After I got back from some travels, we were able to re-connect yesterday and I could get to work on the amp. The whole repair/restore operation had four distinct elements to it. This was a pretty interesting project for me because I had never worked on a musical instrument amp before (that I can recall), but the repairs needed were fairly easy, requiring diagnosis mainly by observation with ears and eyes and ultimately just one test instrument, an ohmmeter.

Traynor YGL3 Mark 3 amplifier

The Patient: Traynor YGL3 Mark 3 amplifier

(more…)

September 13, 2015

Fixing a Hamilton-Beach Coffee Grinder

Our coffee grinder had stopped working. Now that for me is a near-emergency situation demanding repair. This is the grinder, brand “Hamilton Beach”

the dead grinder

(more…)

August 25, 2014

Granularity of Repair: fixing the volume control potentiometer in a Pioneer VSX-3800 receiver

Filed under: blog,electronics,environment,repair,Uncategorized — admin @ 5:14 pm

For several months, the primary audio system in Gimli’s media room (well, the couch is Gimli’s)  has had the annoying problem of an intermittent left channel due to a problematic volume control element, one part in a triple-ganged, motorized potentiometer in an otherwise great Pioneer VSX-3800 receiver . I’d tried the usual fixes such as a couple of “control cleaner” sprays, a few times, with only temporary success at best. So, based on previous similar experiences, this electronics doctor decided that it was time to operate on the patient. This time, I had no replacement part on hand, and it was looking impossible to get one shipped to me quickly. Here’s the procedure:
Pioneer VSX-3800 the problem pot (more…)

July 19, 2014

Windsurfer Centerboard Gasket Replacement

Filed under: repair,Uncategorized,windsurfing — admin @ 5:20 pm

Recently I found that the centreboard (or daggerboard) gasket on my 1990′s vintage AHD Eliminator classic windsurfing raceboard had almost completely disintegrated. Here is what it looked like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s what I did to replace it. (more…)

July 7, 2013

Dodge Caravan NipponDenso Starter Motor Contact Repair

I’ve now seen the same starter motor failure in three different vehicles, a 1996 Plymouth Vogager (same as Chrysler Town and Country or Dodge Caravan), 1988 Toyota van, and 1987 Toyota Tercel, over the past 15 years, in what looks to be the same model starter motor. The motor appears to be made by NipponDenso. Essentially, the copper contacts inside the high current switch that turns the motor on erode (possibly by spark erosion) to the point that contact across them is no longer made by a solenoid-driven plunger, and as a result the starter motor gets no power and won’t crank the engine. Typically, these contacts can be easily and cheaply replaced. Here’s how I did this repair in my 1996 Plymouth Grand Voyager LE (3.8L V6) (more…)

January 13, 2013

How to Replace the Serpentine Belt in a 1996 Dodge Caravan / Plymouth Vogager 3.8L V6

Recently I had to replace the serpentine belt in my 1996 Plymouth Grand Voyager LE. These belts used to be called “fan belts” in olden times when they used to mainly drive the fan, and sometimes are also called “accessory belts”. This same van. Pretty much the same vehicle as a Chrysler Town and Country or Dodge Grand Caravan of the same era. Mine has the 3.8L V6 engine. Belt replacement procedure is apparently similar to what is needed for the 3.0L but the 2.4L version will be different due to a different belt tensioner and different accessory pulley layout. “Serpentine” is a good adjective for the belt in the 3.8L since it takes a tortuous path around no less than 7 pulleys. And yes, the first three people aware of this repair all immediately thought of this great flick, re Serpentine! Serpentine!. (more…)

September 17, 2012

Harvesting and Re-using Lithium Cells from Laptop Batteries

For more than a decade, I’ve been using a series of HP and Compaq laptops and as a result, I had accumulated a pile of expired, apparently dead batteries composed of lithium-based cells. I decided to resuscitate a couple of the old laptops for a project in Campbell River, and needed a couple of working batteries. Rather than buy new ones, I decided to crack open a few of the old ones to see if they still had any working cells that I could re-use. (more…)

April 6, 2012

Modifying A Hamilton Beach Single-Cup Coffee Maker To Make Real Coffee

Hamilton Beach single cup coffee maker

Hamilton Beach single cup coffee maker

In my quest to make our coffee drinking more coffee-efficient, I recently purchased a single-cup coffee machine by manufacturer Hamilton Beach, when it was on sale for $49.95 at Canadian Tire. Unfortunately, after some testing, I found that this coffee maker made coffee far too weak for my taste, even using its “bold” setting. It was forcing water through the wire mesh filter system at too high a flow rate. Here’s the modification that I did to it to cause it to make better coffee.

(more…)

March 23, 2012

Replacing Oxygen Sensors in a 1999 Honda Civic

expired oxygen sensor

expired oxygen sensor

Recently the “Check Engine” light came on in a vehicle sometimes known as  “Gimli’s Beach Chariot” , actually my wife’s 1999 Honda Civic. The car has about 200,000km on it (and not much rust, being a BC vehicle.) An OBDC II code reader showed the problem code as Power Train 0141, related to the lower oxygen sensor. This turned out to be a pretty simple repair (nice when that happens). The hardest part, no surprise, was getting the old corroded parts out. Here’s what I did. (more…)

Innovative Kite Repair by Greg Knowles

Filed under: re-use,recycle,repair,Uncategorized — Tags: — admin @ 11:03 am

I like to see the innovations that come from people who tinker with repairing things. Here’s one great example that I’m particularly happy to cite: My old friend Greg Knowles has recently launched his new kite repair business, Comox Kite Repair. Greg is a master at repairing plastics and fabrics, as I’ve witnessed from his years of windsurfing sail and board repair, and he has developed some great techniques for fixing torn kites and kite bladders. Go Greg! Kiteboarders should take note of his site http://comoxkiterepair.ca!

Kite Bladder repair by Greg Knowles

Kite Bladder repair by Greg Knowles

January 28, 2012

Fixing Old Speakers – The Common Woofer Foam Rot Problem

Audio Research freebie speakers

Audio Research freebie speakers

Got an old pair of speakers that don’t bark as well at the low end as they did in their younger days? You might be suffering from the dreaded woofer foam rot. Recently, I had been hunting for a good, cheap pair of speakers to partner with my newly repaired Hitachi receiver. I luckily found some free on Craigslist; someone just 2 blocks from me was giving away a great pair of 4-way Audio Research speakers with massive 12″ woofers, probably 1980′s vintage. They were “great”, that is, except that the suspension foam surrounding the woofers had almost completely decayed away.

Foam Rot

Woofer Foam Rot

This is the well-known “foam rot” problem seen in woofers and other high-compliance drivers of similar age. A few decades ago, speaker manufacturers started using a glued-on ring of shaped foam in place of the concentric corrugated cardboard surround on hifi speaker woofers, presumably to reduce distortion, especially at high excursion amplitudes. Unfortunately, the use of this foam has a recomplicating effect; it tends to decay away in 20 or so years, rendering the woofers useless. (The foam is apparently far from stable, which is good reason also to wear gloves when doing this repair; I don’t know the composition or the decay products.) Fortunately, there is an easy solution; there are many vendors of new, precise-fitting woofer foam, and the repair can be done quickly. (more…)

January 26, 2012

Most Repairs are Easy – Fixing an Old Hitachi Receiver

Filed under: repair,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 1:34 pm

As you can see throughout this blog, I do a lot of repairs of durable goods ranging from cars to electronics. I’m writing a book on closely related topics now (stay tuned here for publication news). One of my contentions is that most repairs are quite easily accomplished with only a small set of tools and rudimentary expertise. In addition, often, the source of the problem can be found by simple visual inspection. Here is one such example.

The Failed Switch

The Failed Switch

I had in my electronic “junk pile” an old Hitachi SR-5150 stereo receiver that a neighbour had discarded in the fertile back lanes of Vancouver, BC. The SR-5150 is roughly early 1970′s vintage; it is all solid state and has all discrete transistors (the power transistors are even Hitachi’s own), and an analog FM tuner driven mechanically with pulleys and a flywheel. Nothing high end, maybe 20-30W per channel judging from the power supply. The receiver was dead to the world; it would not show any signs of life when turned on. I was motivated to fix the thing because I was looking for a decent amp to use as part of a new sound system centred on a home computer. (more…)

December 24, 2011

How To Change The Fuel Pump In A Dodge Caravan

fuel pump

fuel pump

Recently, I needed to replace the fuel pump in my 1996 Dodge Grand Caravan. (Well actually, mine is a Plymouth Grand Voyager, same van but “Plymouth” no longer exists thanks to the Chrysler finance debacle and subsequent brand elimination. Pretty much the same vehicle also exists as a Chrysler Town and Country, another triumph of marketing, or something). Mine is the LE version, 3.8L V6 engine, but the procedure for other related models should be just about the same.

In these vans, the fuel pump sits in the fuel tank, and is mounted there via a port at the top-front of the tank. You’ll need to raise the back of the van and then lower the tank, to get at the pump and do the repair. (more…)

December 16, 2011

In Praise Of Programmable Thermostats

Programmable Thermostat

Programmable Thermostat

About 2 years ago, I installed programmable thermostats throughout our house, which has electric baseboard heaters. Now I have enough data to see the savings from that effort. Overall, I’ve been able to cut our electric usage by 30% to 50% during the cold months of the year in Vancouver (the larger number in the coldest months, November-February essentially). Compare the usage shown in the graph before and after fall 2009 when the programmable units were installed to see this. (Thanks BC Hydro for the graph!)

(more…)

November 19, 2011

How to rejuvenate rechargeable NiCd batteries

NiCd battery pack, assembled

NiCd battery pack

This post is about a method to restore (rejuvenate) NiCd (NiCad) battery packs that are failing to charge. I have 2 sets of cordless tools (drill, circular saw, reciprocating saw and more) that use rechargeable NiCd battery packs. Three of the battery packs were failing to charge. Having had some previous success with rejuvenating apparently expired NiCd cells, I decided to do some tinkering, and I was able to restore the packs such that they will now charge to a usable level. I’ve previously used the same procedure, at lower current, to rejuvenate NiCd cells for cordless phones.

These tool sets and battery packs are very common. Mine were MasterCraft brand purchased from Canadian Tire, but there are many similar ones on the market with other branding. I’d guess millions of similar cordless sets have been sold, so maybe someone else can benefit from this post and save a few $ on new batteries. Perhaps more significantly, maybe this will save some battery packs and even the tools themselves from adding to our garbage output; the Cd in the cells is very toxic, so the less of it we put into use and the less that goes into the waste stream, the better. (more…)

June 18, 2011

New stairs for the old house

Filed under: photos,pictures,repair,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — admin @ 12:39 pm
New stairs for the old house

New stairs for the old house

Our old house (100 years old this year -stay tuned for the birthday party!) in Kitsilano needed some new entrance stairs. Some of the old stairs were loose and rotted, and the underlying “stringers” of the framework were badly rotted. I’m surprised after looking at them that no one broke through. So, I built some new stairs. It was a big job to tear the old ones apart but the new construction was OK. The biggest job was cutting custom stringers. I used more stringers than the original design, which seemed a bit flimsy, and added a central support pillar. Here’s a photo of the new construction, nearly done. (more…)

June 16, 2011

Don’t wash your paintbrushes!

Used paintbrush, still wet from use.

Used paintbrush, still wet from use.

If you do a lot of painting and staining around your home like I do, you’ve probably gone through quite a few paintbrushes and may have tried to clean them after use with various nasty solvents or water. Here’s a simple tip to avoid using those solvents entirely, while keeping the brushes ready for next use. Just seal the used, still-wet brushes in plastic bags. I tend to use old bagel or bread bags since they are about the right size. Make sure the bag is airtight. Just flatten the bag to remove excess air, and knot or secure the bag opening once the brush is in, then store it. With this trick, I’ve found I can keep brushes ready-to-use for many months. This pretty much limits you to using the brush with one paint color or stain, but brushes themselves are pretty cheap. A fairly obvious tip and surely not a new idea, but given the benefits of reduced solvent use, and even time saved, this is probably worth posting.

(more…)

September 19, 2010

My Subaru Outback Head Gasket Repair


Don't try this at home.

This could be your Subaru (parts).

I have a 1997 Subaru Outback with about 280,000km on it. It began showing the head gasket failure symptoms so typical of the Subaru boxer 2.5L engine of this series of cars: foaming/bubbling in the coolant (the reservoir actually looked like a boiling kettle when the engine was running), brief random apparent spikes of the temperature gauge, and coolant loss. Much has been written elsewhere about this issue, and there are a few references about the problem and some repair examples at the end of this blog. Known model years affected by this problem are at least 1996-2002, so be aware of it if you are looking at a used Subaru of that age. I decided to do the repair myself, being very inclined to tinkering, foolish enough to attempt it, and also being unwilling to spend about $2500+ for a shop mechanic to do the job.

Edit Oct. 2011: A few people have asked me about the “head gasket sealer in a can” products. There are a few on the market. I actually had tried one of these, Bar’s Leaks, before I did the real repair, with no success. What I’ve seen in other reports is that they simply don’t work on “internal” head gasket leaks such as what this series of Outbacks gets. Furthermore, given how severe the gasket damage tends to be, I don’t have much confidence in them. The gasket replacement job looks to be the only option, if you want to keep the engine. The good news, though, is that you don’t need to remove the engine from the car to do this repair.

Here are some details of the head gasket repair that I did, in case it helps anyone else trying to do the same thing. Note that this is a big job, (more…)

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