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Good morning, Happy Nearly New Year, and welcome to Saturday Morning Home Repair Blog.

SMHRB is a group of skilled and experienced Kossack DIY'ers who come together once a week to chat, describe the projects we're working on, talk about "fixin stupid" (AKA "the mess the previous owner left behind"), and most of all, offer our help to answer questions, provide what guidance we can, and generally encourage anyone who comes here seeking help with, well, just about anything...so don't be hesitant to ask!

Plus, we drink a lot of coffee, tea, and other herbals, kid each other, and sometimes just shoottheshit while we're here.

CodeTalker here; after we jump the dKos curl I'd like to share some tips on tackling "odd" Fix It Yourself (FIY) projects you might never think of taking on.


You must enter an Intro for your Diary Entry between 300 and 1150 characters long (that's approximately 50-175 words without any html or formatting markup).

I've been a tinkerer all my life; began taking things apart as soon as I learned to spin a screwdriver. I haven't always been so hot at putting them back together in working order, but I've gotten better over the years, and I'd like to share how I troubleshoot, plan repairs, and carry out a successful "rescue" of some odd items that have been dropped in my lap over the years.

First of all, you need to troubleshoot the problem. Thoroughly. I can't stress that enough. If you don't know exactly WHAT'S wrong, you won't know how to fix it, right? For me, this involves examining the thing, running tests on it, scouring the Web for information, guides, manuals, flowcharts - anything that will help me get a clear picture of the actual problem, and hopefully, ways to fix it. I take notes, make diagrams, list parts, gather tools - even take pictures; anything that will give me a clear understanding of what I'm up against and how to proceed.

Simple, right?

It should be, if you start with the golden rule of FIY; namely, RTFM! (Read The Freakin' Manual!) - for me, that includes any other information you can find about the problem device, to familiarize yourself with WHAT it does, HOW it does it, and HOW to fix it. There are places online, for example, that might even give you step-by-step guides to fixing nearly anything, with exploded assembly drawings, parts lists, even photos. (Hint: try the manufacturer's website first) Start your googlin' by using the model number; if it's too old to be on their current active list look for archives of out-of-production models. Keep digging - I once found everything needed to repair and adjust my neighbor's 1940's era riding lawn mower; factory manual, parts list, instructions, photos and drawings for the machine AND the engine. (Tip: every Briggs and Stratton engine ever made is online now)

Also, you'd be surprised at how many ingenious ways people have posted to save things from being trashed. For example, you can repair almost any touch-lamp dimmer with a simple solder-in triac replacement, instead of throwing it out? I've done that several times; better to spend $1 for a triac on eBay and 20 minutes replacing it, than $10 and up for a new dimmer, or $30-$100 for a new lamp. And why, when the triac is the most common failure, which I found out by researching dimmers online. (Tip: you can even substitute a higher rated triac, helping to ensure a long life for your newly repaired dimmer)

Or take a vacuum - the most common problems are simply dirt, stretched belts, and brush/roller wear. All are cheap fixes compared to replacing a vacuum, and it's easy enough to fix nearly any one of them (except maybe a new Dyson - you DO have some kind of warranty, right?) That used to be one of my duties when I worked for hotels; we'd have a schedule of cleaning and maintenance for all the house appliances, including replacing worn parts, and despite the abuse they're subjected to, most of them lasted many years - for a lot less than replacement costs. Another example? Those square window or "box" fans - just clean and vacuum them every season. Most fans come apart with just a screwdriver for the grills and a well-placed tug on the fan hub, or you might need to loosen a set screw; add a little drop of oil in the motor bearings and it's as good as new. I wish I had a dollar for every fan I've seen discarded because the motor was so full of dirt the bearings went dry and it would no longer spin freely, which burns out the motor windings - and THAT is beyond my skills to fix - when just 20 minutes a season is all it takes to get many extra years out of them!

Also, I just hate to throw away a perfectly good tool with one broken part just because I can't find a replacement for that part - so I've made them myself. I still have a jigsaw that's part of the first set of power tools I ever bought (Tip: don't suggest how long ago THAT was), and the collar that holds the blade in place snapped in two. The fix? A large hex nut that I altered with my "needle" files to have a flat spot inside to snug against the blade, then drilled and tapped for a set screw. 30+ years and I haven't broken that yet!

Another odd FIY example - I just repaired my SO's hair dryer (Tip: don't point out that I don't have enough hair to need one, ok), which had only one fan speed left, and no heat. The problem was soon apparent when I disassembled it - a loose connection in the heating coil frame wiring, that had built up heat, oxidation, and resistance, until the wire melted at the ring terminal. All it required was a thorough cleaning, then clip the end of the melted wire (Tip: never re-attach a burned wire without clipping the burned end off), carefully opening the existing wire terminal, cleaning with a wire brush to remove the oxidation, pre-tinning both wire and terminal, crimping the fresh end in, then soldering the wire back in place. (NEVER trust a crimp alone with fatigued terminals, the metal will NOT hold) I would have replaced the ring terminal, except it was riveted through the mica board frame that holds the heating coils, and I won't risk breaking that, plus I also know it won't get hot enough to melt electrical solder (400 degrees and up for the most common alloys). Result? The hair dryer works like new, for an hour of my time.

I've done the same kind of repair on crock pots, heaters, coffee pots, a clothes iron, and a big old electric soldering iron. Most devices with heating elements suffer from the same problem - one connection will burn out, and many times that's all the repair it needs to be completely serviceable again. You'd probably be surprised at some of the odd things I've revived with fairly simple repairs, like our old octopus coal-converted-to-gas furnace flame safety control with its' wooden rod switch activator (YES, it's WOOD!), which was 1/8" too long to adjust properly to keep the main flame on to my satisfaction when I rebuilt the furnace (Hint: I can be picky about such things) - I clipped and sanded the end, and it's worked perfectly for 15+ years. And most of those other electrical repairs have lasted for years, with no further troubles.

Use common sense, whatever odd repairs you try to make - especially if you want to fix something you've never worked on before. Prepare yourself with all the information you can find, first and foremost! Get all the directions you can and make a plan for the repairs, hopefully a kind of step by step thing you can refer to, and work slowly, taking notes as you go; there are few things worse than having to take apart and redo a repair you just made that didn't work, because you left out a part, or put a piece in the wrong way, or even connected two wires backwards and melted a brand new dimmer when the last part of the instructions CLEARLY warn about that very problem but somehow you missed that warning. (Tip: don't ask me how I know that one) I've also been known to actually draft complete plans, take pictures of every step, and make copious notes, match-mark pieces for easier re-assembly, print lists of part numbers, lay all parts out in marked trays, set up a tool box just for that job, even enlist the help of friends - in short, I'll do whatever I think will help get me through. (Hint: got a noisy or dying hard drive you need to copy irreplaceable data from but can't get it spinning? Remove, seal in a DRY, HEAVY zip-lock bag and put it in a refrigerator, or even the freezer, overnight; then remove from the bag and wrap in a small towel before you connect to an external USB drive connector and power it up again - works almost every time, at least long enough to grab the data)

And above all, know when to walk away - don't keep trying when you get stonewalled; just go away, get more information if you need, or grab a cuppa and think it all through again, step by step. Whatever you do, it's not worth trying to force a job to the finish if it isn't working; that's a sign that you need to break away and regroup before you make things worse. (Hint: don't ask how LONG it took me to learn that) Another tip here - if it seems to be getting really, really, complicated, or even harder to figure out as you go, you probably need to rethink your repair plan; believe it or not, designers don't usually make most things difficult to build OR repair.

I should also mention odd tools here, because if you get into fixing gadgets and devices you'll probably need a few specialty tools - the kind you have to have to get cell phones apart, for example. I replaced the touch screen on a Samsung phone, but had to get some special tools for that, including VERY small Phillips and Torx screwdrivers, and plastic pry tools to "encourage" the case to open, and separate the screen from the frame. (Tip: they're glued on in most screen devices, some heat on the glue helps a lot, and double-sided tape like the kind used for plastic storm windows can replace the original sticky stuff for longer than you'll keep the phone)

Another good investment is a set of drive bits for odd fasteners - not all devices use Philips headed screws; there are so many types, like wing, delta, tri, Torx, anti-theft, security Torx, and many more; I got a set of security bits from HF (one of the few tools I'd buy there!) with 100 types and sizes for a few bucks, and AFAIAC they paid for themselves with the first repair I used them on, a pair of humidifiers with "dead" fan motors that just needed cleaning and oiling to turn freely again. After all, if you can't get the thing apart, you can't fix it, or you might end up so frustrated you simply break it apart with a pry bar. (Tip: don't ask why one of my window fan cases is glued back together)

With a little bit of thought, some advance work, and a methodical, step-by-step approach, there's no reason you can't be an ODD FIY'er like me (hmmm...did that come out right?), even with odd projects you've never tackled before, using odd tools you've never seen before. I'd guess that almost a third of the stuff I fix are odd things I've never worked on before, but years of learning HOW have made me confident in my ability to figure the problems out and make a good repair. Practice makes everyone better at oddball repairs, you'll see!

OK, I'm odd enough now, the floor is open, grab your cuppa whatever and a comfy chair, and spill - got any ODD FIY tips of your own? Or, tell us what's on YOUR to-do list this weekend. Take it away, fellow Kossacks...

11am - edited to properly name dimmer component a TRIAC, not a triode, as noted by Rashaverak in the comments - thanks! I blame weak coffee and lack of sleep and a 6am rewrite and.....

(PS: We need folks to submit diaries for Feb and beyond - any takers? Let me or CJB know asap, and thanks!)
Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to CodeTalker on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 06:00 AM PST.

Also republished by Saturday Morning Home Repair.

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