My first job out of high school was in a TV shop. I was hired mainly for muscle; this was the early 1980s and we sold a lot of console TVs that always seemed to need to be delivered to the third floor of a walk up. But I also got to do repair work on TVs and stereos, and I loved it. Old TVs from the 60s and 70s would come in, with their pre-PCB construction and hand-wired chassis full of terminal strips and point to point wiring that must have been an absolute nightmare to manufacture. We’d replace dodgy caps, swap out tubes, clean the mechanical tuners, and sometimes put a new picture tube in – always the diagnosis that customers dreaded the most, like being told they’d need a heart transplant. We kept those old sets alive, and our customers felt like they were protecting their investment in their magnificent Admiral or Magnavox console with the genuine – and very, very heavy – walnut cabinet.
I managed to learn a lot from my time as a TV repairman, and I got the bug for keeping things working well past the point which a reasonable person would recognize as the time to go shopping for a new one. Fixing stuff is where I really shine, and my house is full of epic (in my mind, at least) repairs that have saved the family tens of thousands of dollars over the years. Dishwasher making a funny noise? I’ll just pull it out to take a look. You say there’s a little shimmy in the front end when you brake? Pull the car into the garage and we’ll yank the wheels off. There’s basically nothing I won’t at least try to fix, and more often than not, I succeed.
I assumed that my fix-it bug made me part of a dying breed of cheapskates and skinflints, but it appears that I was wrong. The fix-it movement seems to be pretty healthy right now, fueled in part by the explosion in information that’s available to anyone with basic internet skills.
[Simon] has been using his home alarm system for over six years now. The system originally came with a small RF remote control, but after years of use and abuse it was finally falling apart. After searching for replacement parts online, he found that his alarm system is the “old” model and remotes are no longer available for purchase. The new system had similar RF remotes, but supposedly they were not compatible. He decided to dig in and fix his remote himself.
He cracked open the remote’s case and found an 8-pin chip labeled HCS300. This chip handles all of the remote’s functions, including reading the buttons, flashing the LED, and providing encoded output to the 433MHz transmitter. The HCS300 also uses KeeLoq technology to protect the data transmission with a rolling code. [Simon] did some research online and found the thew new alarm system’s remotes also use the same KeeLoq technology. On a hunch, he went ahead and ordered two of the newer model remotes.
He tried pairing them up with his receiver but of course it couldn’t be that simple. After opening up the new remote he found that it also used the HCS300 chip. That was a good sign. The manufacturer states that each remote is programmed with a secret 64-bit manufacturer’s code. This acts as the encryption key, so [Simon] would have to somehow crack the key on his original chip and re-program the new chip with the old key. Or he could take the simpler path and swap chips.
A hot air gun made short work of the de-soldering and soon enough the chips were in place. Unfortunately, the chips have different pinouts, so [Simon] had to cut a few traces and fix them with jumper wire. With the case back together and the buttons in place, he gave it a test. It worked. Who needs to upgrade their entire alarm system when you can just hack the remote?
[Eric] has an Atwater Kent 55C AM radio from the early 1900’s. He’s been trying to restore the radio to proper working condition. His most recent pain has been with the rectifier tube. The tube is supposed to have a complete vacuum inside, but that’s not the case here. When the tube is powered up, it glows a beautiful violet color. It may look pretty, but that’s indicative that gas has leaked into the tube. It needed to be replaced.
[Eric] had a tube that would serve as a good replacement, but it’s plug didn’t fit the socket properly. He was going to have to use this old broken tube to make an adapter. Rather than just tearing the old tube apart, he decided to have some fun with it first. He hooked it up to a variac, an ammeter, and a volt meter. Then he slowly increased the voltage to see what would happen. The result was visually stunning.
The tube starts out with the same violet/blue glowing [Eric] experienced previously. As the voltage increases, it gets more and more intense. Eventually we start to see some green colors mixing in with the violets. [Eric’s] reaction to this unexpected result is priceless. As the tube gets increasingly hot, the anode starts glowing an orange-red color. Finally, the filament starts to crackle like a sparkler before the tube just gives up and completely fails.
After the light show, [Eric] moves on to replacing the tube. He begins by tapping on the old tube’s socket with the end of a screwdriver. After much tapping, the glass starts to come lose from the socket. After a bit of wiggling and twisting the tube finally came free from the socket. [Eric] luckily had an unused octal socket that fit perfectly inside of the old socket. All he needed to do to build his adapter was to connect the four pins from the old adapter to the proper pins on the octal socket. Piece of cake.
…Or so [Eric] thought. After testing some new tubes with a tube tester, he realized he had soldered all four pins incorrectly. On top of that, he had super glued the adapter together. He eventually got the two pieces apart. This time he removed all of the unused pins from the octal socket so he wouldn’t get it wrong. Another run on the tube tester confirmed that everything looked good. After plugging the tube into the radio, it worked just as expected
[Starhawk] had an old Pitney Bowes G799 postage scale that wasn’t working as it should. After years of faithfully measuring packages and cooking ingredients, the scale stopped working. At first it fell out of calibration. Then the power up sequence stopped working. The scale normally would turn on, light up the entire display, then change to dashes, and finally set itself to 0.0 lbs. In this case, it would get stuck at the dashes and never change to 0.0.
[Starhawk] ended up purchasing another duplicate scale from eBay, only to find that when it arrived it had the exact same power up problem. Using deductive reasoning, he decided that since the scale was broken during shipping the problem would likely be with a mechanical component. He turned out to be correct. The cheap momentary power button was at fault. When pressing the button, the contact would get stuck closed preventing the scale from zeroing out properly. [Starhawk] easily fixed his problem by replacing the switch.
Next [Starhawk] replaced the old scale’s LCD module with one from the new scale, since the old one looked to be on its way out. The scale still had a problem correctly measuring weight. [Starhawk] tried swapping the load cell from the new scale to the old one, but he found that the new load cell had some kind of problem that prevented the scale from zeroing out properly. The solution ended up being to use the newer “analog board” as [Starhawk] calls it. The end result was the old scale with two newer circuit boards, an older load cell, and a new power switch. Next time it might be easier to just build his own scale.
[Martin] seems to have a knack for locating lightly damaged second-hand audio gear. Over the years he’s collected various types of gear and made various repairs. His most recent project involved fixing two broken tweeter speakers.
He first he needed to test the tweeters. He had to remove them from the speaker cabinet in order to gain easier access to them. The multimeter showed them as an open-circuit, indicating that they had likely been burned. This is an issue he’s seen in the past with this brand of speaker. When too much power is pumped through the speaker, the tiny magnet wire inside over heats and burns out similar to a fuse.
The voice coil itself was bathing in an oily fluid. The idea is to help keep the coil cool so it doesn’t burn out. With that in mind, the thin wire would have likely burned somewhere outside of the cooling fluid. It turned out that it had become damaged just barely outside of the coil. [Martin] used a sharp blade to sever the connection to the coil. He then made a simple repair by soldering the magnet wire back in place using a very thin iron. We’ve seen similar work before with headphone cables.
He repeated this process on the second tweeter and put everything back together. It worked good as new. This may have ultimately been a very simple fix, but considering the amount of money [Martin] saved on these speakers, it was well worth the minimal effort.
After some investigation, he narrowed the problem down to a bad keypad membrane. Unfortunately for him, this model of microwave was never sold in Brazil (who knows how it got there) and the only membrane he could track down had to be shipped in from the US at a cost of $80.
Rather than pay such a high price for a simple membrane, he opted to fix the microwave himself. He dismantled the control panel and thoroughly traced the keypad matrix to get an understanding of which pins toggled which functions. With a piece of protoboard and almost two dozen push buttons in hand, he built his own keypad and wired it directly into the microwave’s control board.
With labels written in marker it might not be the nicest looking thing you have ever seen, but it works a treat and is a great money-saving hack.
[Craig] had a busted 2nd Gen iPod Nano that was well out of warranty. The play/pause button no longer worked, leaving him unable to play or pause music, nor power off the device. He didn’t want to scrap the iPod, so he figured out a way to add an external play/pause button instead.
He ordered an iPod dock connector from SparkFun and found that it had just enough space inside for the electronic components he would be adding. He consulted some online references for pinout information, then got busy cramming an ATiny13 and a pushbutton into the dock connector.
To minimize the drain on the iPod’s battery, he puts the ATiny into sleep mode when it is not being used. When the button is pressed, it wakes up the microcontroller and sends the proper signal to the iPod. Based on his estimations, it would take nearly 250 years for the ATiny to drain the iPod’s battery completely, so he’s pretty comfortable leaving the dongle attached at all times.
If you have an iPod with similar issues, he has made his source code available so you can save yours from the trash heap as well.