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Funky remote control repair leads to electronics interest


In response to our “Make and Mend” theme, reader Josh, aka Funky Space Cowboy, posted this story about fixing his TV remote control in the theme announcement comments. This is exactly the sort of content we’re hoping for. Thanks, Jason! If you have a repair/maintenance story, please share it in the comments below or email me.

A few years ago, the remote control for my stereo receiver started acting wonky, needing frequent technical taps to motivate it back into usefulness, even with new batteries. Eventually, it stopped working altogether. Taking a closer look at it with the batteries out, I 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 holder 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 go.

Then, I inspected the damaged transistor (didn’t know what it was at the time). It was beyond repair from its 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 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 placed 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 that 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 the interest in small electronics that I finally started developing recently with the help of the Make: Electronics book.

Make and Mend month

12 thoughts on “Funky remote control repair leads to electronics interest

  1. Funky Space Cowboy says:

    Gareth I’m glad you liked my little remote control story and I’m real happy to have a comment of mine highlighted on the blog, but my name’s Josh, not Jason ;-)

    No biggie just thought I’d mention it.



  2. Gareth Branwyn says:

    So sorry, Josh! Fixed! (He says, slightly red with embarrassment.)

  3. Shadyman says:

    Nice, Josh!

    Thumbs up for trying something a little out of the ordinary, even a little out of your comfort zone at the time.

    These kinds of stories are always great to hear :) I’m sure many people would just toss the entire (perfectly good) receiver system away and buy a new one.

  4. Andy Johnson says:

    A few months ago, I bought a soldering iron and solder for my best friend on his birthday. Knowing I probably created a monster, I was elated to hear from him a few weeks later that I’d saved him $100. How? His car remote key fob had stopped working, and instead of throwing it in the landfill and buying a new one from the dealer, a simple solder reflow saved him $100 and strengthened our friendship.

    1. Gareth Branwyn says:

      Great story, Andy. It’s amazingly addictive to start seeing how much money you can save affecting these sorts of simple repairs. Kudos to your bud.

  5. Andy Johnson says:

    Thanks Gareth. I would be selfish to be stingy about sharing the fun. I make things because it gives me pride and makes me happy to create something. Seeing that same happiness in my best friend is a great thing. We have plans to build “Most Useless Machines” together. I can’t wait… our wives can’t wait until its over. :)

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

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