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The term “make and mend” is a military one, most notably from the Royal Navy, and refers to a day, usually a Sunday, where the sailors would have some down time to fix their kit, mend their uniform, make other repairs, and more importantly, lay around on the decks of their ships, soaking up some rays. This month, we don’t want you sunbathing (not on our time, anyway), but we do want to see you taking some time for repairing and maintaining the tech in your life. And telling us about it.

Even many of us makers are still prone to tossing out perfectly good appliances, computers, gardening tools, and other tech or tools that die or get worn out. I had an espresso machine that had a broken part (the filter holder). I came really close to throwing the whole unit out, using it as an excuse to get a newer, swankier model. But I decided to go ahead and fix it. I went to the manufacturer’s website, found their parts catalog, and bought the part (for under $10 incl. shipping). Inspired by the arrival of the shiny new part, I thoroughly cleaned, checked the wiring, etc. on the rest of the machine, and put it all back together. It wasn’t a big-deal repair, but that’s kind of the point. It didn’t take much, and I had a good-as-new machine. And since then, as fate would have it, I’ve stopped drinking a lot of espresso, so I didn’t really need a new machine — this one will serve my limited purposes for years to come. I didn’t have to blow $200 on a new model and this one didn’t end up in a landfill.

This month, we’re going to be “celebrating” the humble arts of maintenance, repair, making do with what you have, and learning more about the gadgets in our lives and how to keep them running.

We’d like to hear from you; have you share your maintenance and repair stories, ideas, and tips. We’re especially interested in stories about any modern technology you’ve discovered that was obviously designed with opening and fixing in mind. On an episode of Make: Television, Mr. Jalopy talked about discovering the circuit diagram and parts info inside of a radio pulled from his Chevy Camaro. In the piece, he talks about repairability as a design ideal (and how that designed-in repairability allows for modifiability). As he puts it: “This isn’t going to be a maker revolution started from corporations. This is going to be from the compassionate engineers, exhibiting extraordinary grace, to know what we are looking for and to bring us the products that we need.”

We want to hear about your discoveries of such compassion and designed-in repairability (or the inverse — products that were designed to keep you out that you overcame and fixed anyway). Leave your stories and ideas in the comments below.

What’s with the photo?: The picture above is of the infamous “Asus Repair Kit” (as in Asus motherboards). While “percussive maintenance” (whacking the devil out of a machine to bring it back to life) is a technique that works in a surprising number of cases, a sledge to a mobo is not considered a “make and mend.”

Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelancer writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture, including the first book about the web (Mosaic Quick Tour) and the Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots. He is currently working on a best-of collection of his writing, called Borg Like Me.


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Comments

  1. Alan says:

    I’ve long thought that a magazine called “Fix” would align with my interests even better than “Make,” as extending the lifespans of products I already own is much more interesting to me than generating new ones. In the process, I’ve found tremendous variation in companies’ support for (or antipathy toward) fixers. One recent example: car maintenance.

    When my wife’s 2009 Honda was due for its first scheduled maintenance, it announced this need with a light on the dash. It wasn’t the usual “I will only reveal my secrets to the dealer” light, though. Instead, Hondas display a little wrench and a letter/number code. There’s a complete maintenance code list in the owner’s manual. While performing the indicated oil change, I discovered other little fixer niceties: an easy-to-access filter, and the word “OIL” with an arrow molded into the oil pan, pointing to the drain plug. I also checked the transmission fluid, using the easy-to-reach dipstick. It’s as if Honda expects home mechanics to be working on the car.

    This was all quite charming to me, as my other car was designed by the rabid anti-fixers at Volkswagen-Audi. The oil filter on my VW is buried inside a nest of hoses, and checking the transmission fluid requires a floor lift and a proprietary scan tool.

    1. https://openid.org/totalmonkey says:

      I have a 2004 Honda Civic Hybrid, and mine only has a generic “Maintenance Required”-type light and “car-with-popped-hood” light. I’d like the codes _much_ more.

    2. KurtRoedeger says:

      I have the opposite problems with my wife’s ’05 CRV vs. my ’98 Jetta and ’96 Golf. I can change the oil in both VW’s and have everything cleaned up in 20 minutes. The CRV is a half hour minimum. The oil filter on the CRV is behind the engine, directly above the exhaust pipe. If I want to change the oil when it’s hot so it drains better, I almost guarantee burning my wrist on the exhaust pipe because of the tight confines around the pipe. Also, because of the position I can’t get the filter off without being directly underneath it, so every oil change involves wearing the oil. It’s the only car I’ve ever owned where I take it somewhere for an oil change.

    3. Alan says:

      Very interesting. My VW is a 2001 Beetle, and the Honda is a 2009 Fit. Either Volkswagen regressed to an anti-fixer attitude while Honda matured into a pro-fixer company, or the radical variation in fixability for these cars reflects their different market segments. The Fit was only recently introduced to the US, but it’s been sold in other countries previously – probably including some with fewer Honda dealerships than we have here. The Beetle, of course, is aimed squarely at American women (it was my wife’s car before we upgraded her to the Fit).

      Perhaps Honda built its vehicle for serviceability in remote areas, while VW built the Beetle for folks who they assumed would take it back to the dealer for maintenance.

      In any case, I’ve learned my lesson. Before I buy my next car I’m going to inspect it on a service lift and insist on seeing the manual, to get an idea of how fixer-friendly it is. A few simple questions should suffice: how hard is it to change the oil, replace a headlight bulb, check all of the fluids, and inspect the belts and hoses, and can I get the maintenance and service codes?

  2. Funky Space Cowboy says:

    A few years ago the remote control for my stereo receiver started acting wonky, needing frequent technical taps to motivate back into usefulness even with new batteries. Eventually it stopped working altogether. Taking a closer look at with the batteries out quickly realized that the battery holder had just come loose from some other part inside the case and probably wasn’t making electrical contact anymore. Something like that should be an easy fix, even for someone that didn’t really have any experience with small electronics.

    Unfortunately the people who designed and manufactured the remote put it in a snap together plastic case with no screws or tabs on the outside to make it possible to open it for repair. I resorted to prying the case open with a flat head screwdriver and in the process brained a transistor. After much wailing and gnashing of teeth and cursing I calmed down and decided to repair the battery hold anyway. I broke out my mostly unused soldering iron and started melting solder all over the place and eventually got it to go where I wanted it to.

    Then I inspected the damaged transistor (didn’t know what it was at the time) it was beyond repair from it’s fight with the screwdriver but the part # was still intact so I hopefully plugged it into google and as luck would have it the first entry was to the product description page on Mouser.com, the replacement parts were very cheap so I order a five pack for like a dollar. When they arrived I carefully diagrammed how the dead one had been installed and removed it from the board and tried to solder one of the replacements in. Long story short I killed four of the five I had ordered with excessive heat thanks to my ham fisted soldering technique but I managed to get the fifth one place safely and the remote worked! That was eight years ago and that repair is still going strong, I’m happy to report.

    On the one hand I curse the manufacturer for building the remote in such a way that I broke it worse, trying to open it for a simple fix. On the other hand fixing the more complex problem I caused in the process sorta planted the kernel soldering and electronics weren’t a dark art and beyond me. Even though I didn’t do much with that kernel in the intervening years I still credit that one repair with giving me the idea and interest in small electronics that I finally started developing recently with the help of the Make:Electronics book.

    Cheers,

    Josh

  3. BigBertha says:

    This is right up my alley. I agree with Alan, I would like to see a “Fix” magazine. For me the thrill of bringing something back to life or making something better is very rewarding.

    I especially like to repair things for other people, it’s a great way to help other people. People get really excited and grateful when you can fix something for them. I spend a lot of time helping people fix their computers or cars.

    Fixing is not always as simple as replacing the offending part. Lots of the time fixing requires you to Make something, whether it be the parts don’t exist or the parts are too expensive to justify the repair.

    I have too many repair stories to count. The ones that give the most thrill are ones where you learn something by fixing something you have never fixed, or never thought you could fix before. For example, my 10 year old tube tv stopped working. I didn’t even think about repairing it, until someone who knows me well asked me why I hadn’t fixed it yet. Once I took it apart and had a look around, I found the dry socket. A little solder fixed it right up.