Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Who needs a heat gun?

I had some heat-shrink tubes to shrink around a connector for the wiring for lights my new bicycle, but no heat gun. Since I almost never need to use a heat gun, and didn't want to spring for the expense, and was too shy to ask my handy neighbor if he might have one that I could borrow, I wondered if it might be possible to use an ordinary magnifying glass to concentrate the sun's energy on the tubing and thereby shrink it.

Not owning a magnifying glass either, I purchased a $4 folding one from the local drugstore, which was about 2 inches in diameter, so not terribly large. I figured, if my idea didn't work I'd still use the magnifying glass when I got older and my eyesight deteriorates.

About 2 pm on a sunny and somewhat cool fall afternoon, I wheeled my bike out into the sunlight and angled the magnifying glass to focus the sun's rays on the heat-shrink tubing. I held the magnifying glass toward the sun a few inches from the tube and moved it around until I could see a bright spot of light focused on the tubing.

To my amazement and glee, it worked like a charm. In fact, I was worried it was working a little too well because I could sometimes see wisps of smoke coming off of the tubing. I rotated the wire around and up and down to get the tubing shrunk all the way around the connector and kept the connector moving so as to not let any part overheat and catch fire.

I'd never played with magnifying glasses as a kid, nor ever used a heat gun to shrink heat-shrink tubes. So it is hard for me to compare the actual experience with that of using a heat gun, but in any case, my scheme worked. The tube shrunk quickly before my eyes, and made a tight seal against the connector. It took a minute at the most to get the whole job done.

It was neat to harness the sun's energy in this way. It definitely underscored for me the power of the sun and the danger of letting kids play with magnifying glasses. I was smug with my own ingenuity at saving money and not having to find space to store yet another large and seldom-used gadget at my house, which would have been the case if I'd gone out and bought a heat gun. I felt like a super environmentalist, not having to use electricity, doing what many folks might not have thought possible, etc.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Fixed my toaster -- how I did it

Our Rowenta toaster broke. When you pushed the lever down it wouldn't stay down; the toast would pop back up. I would have to hold the lever down the whole time to get toast.

This is the story of my toaster triumph. How I managed to fix my broken toaster for under $5 and in under an hour. Hopefully this will help others with the same predicament.

I wanted to fix the toaster rather than throw it away and get a new one. Wanted to be kind to the environment and save money. Thought of all the landfill space the toaster would take, all the minerals mined and oil pumped that went into making the toaster, and the people whose quality of life might have been negatively impacted by the pollution from that process.

I called a few appliance repair shops. They either said I was silly for not buying a new one or else wanted $45-50 to fix it.

My toaster has the traditional dial-knob and lever. If you have the new-fangled $150 electronic ones that don't have knobs or even levers, that are computer-controlled with little buttons you press, basically you need to get the PC board replaced at an authorized service center for $50. Knowing that now, I think I prefer the old style.

My Rowenta toaster is a model TP-5, I think about 10 years old. The manufacturer doesn't sell parts for it anymore. As it turns out, the parts weren't broken. Rather, all I needed to do was open it up and clean off the contacts and voila, it was fixed.

The bottom of the toaster has 3 torx-head screws. I biked over to Sears with the toaster and figured out I needed to buy a size 10 Torx screwdriver for $3.99 plus tax.

At home, I took the screws out. I removed the rotating dial that specifies how brown you want your toast by pulling it straight out away from the toaster. I also removed the lever that you push on to put the toast down, by firmly pulling it away from the toaster in the same direction I pulled the knob to get it off.

Then came the tricky part. The inside still wouldn't disengage from the outer white plastic cover. I ended up having to hammer down on four pointy plastic bits that were jammed through little holes in the bottom plate, in the process breaking off 3 of them, as well as work on prying the plastic cover from the metal plate off with screwdrivers. No sweat about the broken plastic pieces, since they weren't critical in holding the cover on -- still had those 3 screws and some other retaining tabs along the edges.

I inspected the innards and found that the underside of the metal plate that comes down when you push the lever to get the toast down, had a thin layer of sticky brown goop on it. No doubt that it came from some piece of bread that had gotten lodged there one time when I was shaking the toaster around to get the crumbs out in addition to pulling out the crumb tray. I think this is why the manufacturer advises against shaking the toaster upside down and so forth, but rather recommends just pulling out the crumb tray and keeping the toaster level. I'd messed up my toaster by ignoring that advice.

The part that the metal plate contacts, which looks kind of like a bunch of staples stacked together, also had a very thin layer of goop on it and was a bit rusted. This part is magnetized when you plug in the toaster and get electricity going to the solenoid when you push down the lever, thus holding down the lever. I cut a small piece of medium-fine grit sandpaper and sanded away the goop.

For good measure, I also lightly sanded the other contact points for the copper strips that move and make contact when you push the lever down. I also vacuumed away most of the crumbs using a mini-vacuum attachment that you use for cleaning computers.

I reassembled the toaster, plugged it back in, and voila, working toaster, practically as good as new. No replacement parts were necessary, just cleaning the contacts.

If you are having problems with controlling the toasting level, you probably have a bad thermostat. It is an inexpensive part but does require some soldering to replace. The other part that can go bad, apparently, is the solenoid. In really cheap toasters it seems the parts do go bad. We received the Rowenta as a gift from my in-laws and I guess it is a quality toaster where the parts hold up. It was not the toaster per se that was at fault, it just required a little cleaning.