in Mike and the Bush Mechanics on 7 July 2010
ON SUNDAY night, Green’s Guess Appliance Repair spluttered into action. Two foolhardy customers had emerged after my initial post, proffering three broken toasters and one silent doorbell.
So I called on my friend Craig, who is a mechanic and knowledgeable fix-it man, far more comfortable in the real world than I could ever daydream to be.
When I arrived at his house down along the bay, I found him in conversation with his neighbour Chris, who happens to be an electrical engineer. On this particular evening, Chris’s feet were unsteady and his eyes akimbo. I deduced that the stubby of cider in his hand was contributing to the malfunction. First puzzle solved.
On learning of my quest, Chris was eager to pass on his wisdom in all matters electrical. He fixed me in his sights, and pointed at me: “The most important thing, the most important thing in the whole deal is this...” he began, then gripped my shoulder and paused dramatically, in the manner of fine Irish storytellers the world over. “Electricity will fookin‘ kill ya.”
Good advice, and I won’t forget it: don’t mess with anything that is plugged in.
With safety in mind, Chris refused to let me work on the oldest toaster, which had a melted power cord. (One down, two to go.) A close inspection of the next one revealed a tamper-proof screw for which we did not have a suitable screwdriver. (Two down, one to go.)
The third and final toaster had a broad, angled face and separate levers that reminded me of aircraft controls. We tested it using a multimeter, displaying ohms, which are a measure of electrical resistance – sort of like friction, but for electricity. By placing the two probes of the multimeter on the prongs of the toaster’s plug, we could see how the current was travelling round. It wasn’t.
We then plugged it in, switched it on and eased the levers into flight mode. No take-off. As Craig unplugged it and set about removing the cover, I remembered David from Swann’s Small Appliance Repair warning me that manufacturers make it extremely difficult to dismantle their goods so that people can’t electrocute themselves. He also warned me that toasters were often unfixable these days.
While Craig prised, I practiced connecting and soldering wires, according to his instructions. “The secret to soldering is to heat the wire, then touch the solder on it,” he said. “And you should never leave wire exposed, so use electrical tape or heat shrink to cover the connection.”
On contact with the hot copper wire, the solder looked like mercury: a silver shimmer encasing the orange strands.
After much twiddling, Craig announced: “All right, we’re in!” Then, ten minutes later, he finally removed the cover. We blew out crumbs, analysed the mechanism and used the multimeter probes to test the resistance at various points of the circuit, but after an hour, still couldn’t find the glitch. (Three down.)
The doorbell, however, was a ringing success. We used the mulitmeter, set to volts, to confirm that the battery was charged. Then we took all the parts out, tested the switch on the circuit board, and put it all back together. And … ding dong!
I am emboldened by my attempt. I’ve resolved to procure a multimeter and a set of screwdrivers for tamper-proof screws. So give me your tired toasters, your poor gadgets: Green’s Guess is marginally better than ever before.