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My Personal Rules For Undertaking An Attempt To Repair A Piece of Tech Without Expertise

Sometimes it feels worth making an attempt to repair some piece of technology even if I don't know anything (or not much) about how exactly it works or what's broken. Either something that used to work until I broke it or something that I picked up from the street because I didn't think it should be thrown on a pile of scrap and dismantled. A vintage kitchen helper found on the street, an expensive looking radio from the 1980s a friend wanted to throw away, an electric saw that worked for two weeks before breaking (which is when I understood why it was so cheap), a remote control that was powered while wet for a while, an annoying printer that tasted my boots to give it a reason not to work properly; You know, some thing that you don't know anything about, but since it's already broke, you may as well ruin it completely by taking it apart and not remembering which part goes where. I like taking that stuff apart (if I have the time) right after deciding to throw it out. That way it doesn't feel like I'm loosing anything except time, but I may gain knowledge of how it used to work and experience in taking apart devices.

Over time I gathered rules that I give myself when doing this, to minimise the possibility of wasting time and an easily repairible device. I ususally ignore at least some of those rules. But I believe that they are good and make sense. They are no special insight and nothing you couldn't come up with yourself. But I needed to think of them consiouly before I was able to take advantage of them. So I recommend adapting them when doing similar repair attemps that are above ones experience level.

1 - Wait until you have the (right) time.

If you're stressed, don't have a few hours to waste, can't stop thinking of something else, etc. then it's not the right time to make an attempt to repair a device that you don't know. Without taking my time, I tend to ignore the rest of the rules and end up with a pile of frustration and 20 pieces of an even more broken device than before.

2 - Clean your workbench before starting.

Whether you have an actual workbench or use a table or the floor, make sure you have the necessary space to line up different pieces, modules, boards, plates, springs, cables, etc. in an orderly fashion, the extra room you may need for a soldering iron and other large tools as well as a collection of smaller tools and then have enough space left to comfortably work on the device from all angles.

3 - Prepare a container for screws and other small parts.

It doesn't have to be one of these magnetic dishes. Sometimes it shouldn't be one, because cetain parts shouldn't be magnetised. But it should be capable of keeping at least 5 or 6 groups of parts separate. A medizine magazine works. Don't forget to label which screws are for what. That container should be out of reach of your elbow, tool's cables, etc. For large enough screws you can stick them in a piece of blank cartboard and scribble any sort of description, grouping information or remarks on it.

4 - Take pictures. Take more pictures. Take better pictures.

You may be able to remember how any part was positioned before you started working on it. But you may not remember all of them after an hour or two of tinkering with and looking at a completely different part. Also it's not uncommon to overlook a possible ambiguity in how parts go together. When you notice during re-assembly that you aren't sure which way an almost symmetrical piece of metal goes into another piece of mechanics, then you'll be happy to have good pictures.

5 - Make sure there is good lighting onto the work area.

This means more light than you would be comfortable with/need for watching something on a screen or navigating the room as well as light from the right angles (and not only from one angle). This helps with seeing small details better (or at all), increasing contrast between different parts, seeing e.g. markings and labels more easily. Thereby it prolongs the time it takes for you to become frustrated. If there isn't good lighting at your work area, best fix something up before you start so you don't have to fiddle with torches and phones jammed between books and a water botter or something while trying to do the actual work on the broken device.

6 - Stop before you're frustrated.

If it turns out to not be simple and quick to fix something (as it usually does) then it can be helpful to recognise the moment in which motivation starts for fall beneath the threshold that you require to continue working on the device properly. If you're getting sloppy it may be better to stop for now before you bend something out of shape, loose a tiny screw, fry some electronics or something like that. Especially if you're working on something that isn't completley broken, it's important to spot your frustration in time so you can still put it back together without breaking more than you were able to rapair.

7 - Do research before you start.

Even if you can't find any information at all about the specific device you have, there might good guides on how to do something on similar devices or you can look at people repairing the general kind of device that you want to work on, or read about common causes for your issue or similar issues. There usually are some tips to be learned from other people's experiences; Even if they were as inexperienced as you before they made a repar attemps. Nowadays most of those experiences are found on YouTube. For some areas it makes sense to search web forums or Reddit as well. Sadly, information on personal web sites are rearely presented by search engines.

An Example

I picked up a car radio with tape drive and 5x CD changer from a curve. After drying it (it was filled with rain) it worked, but the magnetic head sounded dirty and CDs weren't always recognised. After being annoyed by not being able to listen to CDs for the enoughth time, I opened up the device, cleaned the laser's lens, and it worked. That was lucky and I was glad that I ignored the advice from a more experienced person who said: "If you don't know exactly what you're doing, don't try to repair a CD player. You'll brek it even more." Then I started putting it back together because I had to remove some metal pieces to get to the laser lens. The phone that I used for lighting fell from the bottle I balanged it on and tipped a glass of water with the intention of destroying my laptop. Because I had put all the metal pieces onto one pile (onto other things on the desk), I wasn't sure which one I had to put on first. Since I hadn't taken any pictures I just tried it the wrong way first. Then I had to take two pieces off again because the order was wrong, during which I lost a spring of uncertain importance. When I wanted to put the last piece back on I noticed that I didn't have enough screws of the right size. Neither in the pile on the desk nor on the floor. After replacing some of the screws and distributing them in a way that made the whole thing look sturdy enough I put the lid back on, turned the device on again and was thanked by a crying DC motor that tried to rotate a long chain of gears, of which one seemed to be stuck. I tried to find which part blocked what by touching the gears in question while it was trying to move. There would have been safer ways to find the cause of the new problem. But I didn't have the patience. I touched the caseing with a PCB, the device went off and never back on again.

I think I don't have to list or point out how abiding to the above rules would have helped in this example.

I hope that you find joy in learning something from failed repair attempts wether you abide any of these rules or not.

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