Introduction: INTEG 375: I'm a Big Fan!

The Motivation

In September, I enrolled in this class. An academically inclined, entirely not handy student who was lacking DIY confidence. I was interested in learning how things worked and gaining some confidence and independence in fixing and repairing different objects. Over the last 3 months, I've taken things apart, been frustrated by a mystery of how things are put together and why they don't work, and I've also learned a couple of things. This Instructable is a little summary of a cumulative project that was preceded by a number of 'runway projects'. These were little projects, or unsolvable projects, that still taught me lots and contributed to what I learned in the class! I'll talk a little about them throughout the following instruction! This Instructable was prepared as a project for the Fall 2018 offering of INTEG 375: Hands-on Sustainability, a third-year course in the Knowledge Integration program at the University of Waterloo.

The following is the project that fit my "multi dimensional goldilocks zone": A tower fan that needed it's bearings greased and a good cleaning. This involved disassembling the fan, cleaning, greasing, and reassembling.

The Project

Someone else in the class brought this fan in. It was screaming when it was turned on and did not spin well. It was likely discarded because of the complex nature of the disassembly, or even just the time or tools it would take to pull it apart to do this simple maintenance. The good news was it did turn on, meaning I would not need to attack a complicated electrical problem. This was a positive for a new DIY'er. It's held together by clips, screws, bolts, tabs, hinges and hooks. It needed disassembly, cleaning, greasing and then reassembling. Sounds simple, but it was challenging and curious. I learned a lot.

The fan was also missing a base. I initially intended to also build a base for it. This would have been a simple task and I may still get to it, however it's not included in this instructable.

The Process

The process that follows recounts the order I took, the steps I took, and the challenges I had. Hopefully it provides a rough outline for the maintenance. But what I really want any reader to see in this Instructable is the possible value in taking on something new, something unknown, and something challenging. I learned from my mistakes and challenges and will be able to apply these skills and troubleshooting to future projects and problems. The steps below aren't in a textbook order, but hopefully you can learn from my successes and my mistakes! Good luck!

I needed:

  • a medium Phillips-head screwdriver,
  • masking tape to hold screws and hold parts together as I reassembled,
  • some bearing grease,
  • and some paper towel to apply that grease
  • some extra screws for when there were some missing from a previous maintenance attempt.
  • lots of patience and good observation skills -- look for hooks, clips
  • gentleness: try your best to be gentle while you learn how things are joined and hooked so you don't create extra repairs.

You might value (a.k.a things that I missed):

  • a sharpie to mark the order of disassembly (on masking tape)
  • another set of hands for replacing the metal case (I got help)

Step 1: Taking Things Apart: Tips and Tricks for Cleaning a Tower Fan

This is a tower fan, it's a three foot tall cylindrical air mover. You'll notice that it's not standing right now -- it's missing a base, but we'll get to that later. Now, the fan works, but it desperately needed a cleaning, there was a thick coat of disturbing detritus on all the internal components. It also screeched, so once it was deconstructed I looked to grease the bearings. I had 4 goals, figure out how to take the fan apart, figure out how and which bearings needed to be greased, figure out how to put it back together, and to create a base. The most surprising thing for me here was that the disassembly and subsequent reassembly were the most challenging parts. I didn't do this in the most systematic way possible, but I learned a lot. I'll share here what I did, what I learned, and what I might do differently next time so that another rookie tower-fan-disassembler or eve DIY-er might learn from my investigation or learn to notice clues about taking things apart.

I've included the steps in different categories because it seemed to me that there wasn't a perfectly ordered way of doing this. I'll share what I feel like I learned about order, but I don't think there was a pre-determined order for success in this project.

Step 2: Disassembly: the Top

I didn't quite know where to start, so I looked for exposed screws and started loosening. Where there were no screws, I tried to pop things off with force. Usually this was perfectly effective. I started from the top of the fan, near the control panel. I needed to do this to expose the top bearing, but also it turned out, to get the fan's casing off. The control panel popped off without too much coaxing and exposed three screws to remove the plastic panel that held the top bearing.

I soon found out that it wasn't simply screws holding that plastic panel

Step 3: Disassembly: the Base and the Case

Being new to this whole 'taking complicated things apart' buisness, I started where I could find screws. The black plastic casing had two recessed tubes. Assuming there were screws inside, I attempted to remove them. Success was had! Once those were removed a number of other internal screws were exposed. Removing those loosened the two part casing a little bit, but didn't release the pieces of the casing. I was at a loss -- pressure didn't work, I was scared I was going to break it. At this point I found two new types of joints. A learning moment in this process. The first joint was a hinge at the back that needed to be slid out. So not only pulling and pushing to bring things apart, but also sliding. The second was a pin on the outermost piece of the casing that nested into a deep depression holding a screw. Removing those pieces required lifting up the fan and dropping the bottom piece off to free-up the nested piece.

The next big step was removing the metal casing. I started with my default: go for the screws first. I removed the six screws to release the casing from the base. Before I could entirely remove the case, a new challenge presented itself: two long plastic rods that covered the edges of the casing and the long of the fan. They had to be removed first to release the case. Like the nesting, I couldn't initially figure it out. In the end, the they slid out to release a hook. These gave me trouble in the re-assembly, but I'll talk about that in a bit.

Step 4: Disassembly: Things I Learned and Things I Would Do Differently Next Time

To get the fan apart, I had to ask for help and try new techniques without breaking the plastic! I learned that things unscrew and pop out, but they also slide, hinge, and press-fit. Trying all these methods before trying force would have prevented me from breaking a couple of small pieces of plastic off.

Every time I took a set of screws out, I taped them to the piece that they originated from. This was hugely helpful for reassembling the fan! I learned to see different types of joints, attachments, and understand how to take these apart without making damage.

Next time I take something complex apart I will use a piece of masking tape on each piece of the item to know in what order I disassembled in. The absence of this order made re-assembly all the more complicated!

Step 5: Cleaning

The fan was dusty on the internal and external pieces. I dusted all of these down then cleaned them with a generic spray. Complicated, no, but the fan was much cleaner at the end of the process. You could so this with any cleaner. It's a little tedious, and I'd recommend using an about-to-be-discarded toothbrush or some other similar cleaning tool to get into all the small crevices and gaps on the casing and on the fan!

Step 6: Greasing the Bearings

I disassembled the fan to grease the bearings in the hopes of decreasing the noise of the fan and helping it run smoother. I cleaned and greased the bearings on each end of the fan housing. First, I used the grease itself to clean off the bearings. I simply put a little on a paper-towel to de-gunk and wiped off the bearings. From there I added a little more grease onto a new piece of paper towel, re-greased both bearings.

Then I was ready for what I found to be the most challenging part: reassembly!

Step 7: Reassembly

This was tough! As I expressed in the reflection on disassembly, I wish I had marked the order I took things apart in. It REALLY mattered for reassembly, and I spent a lot of time trouble shooting and confused that would have been solved by the order.

I started with the base, this wasn't too complicated. I slid the casing back together, re-screwed the nested pieces to each other, and then screwed the final pieces back on. But oops, I'd forgotten there were screws to put the metal casing back on. I had to unscrew the base case and then address the metal casing. This was a whole other challenge. The case slid off nicely in disassembly, but it became clear that placing it back on would be challenging. It had to hook onto a recessed groove the entire length of the body of the fan. I ended up needing help from an extra and larger set of hands to place this on. To hold it in place while I replaced the screws in on the base I used masking tape to hold the hook into the groove (thanks for this genius suggestion, Paul!).

Case on and base together, I had to replace the long plastic pieces that covered the edges of the casing. These keyhole hooks had given me a hard time in the disassembly. The hooks had to be placed then pulled down to join. I tried this and was successful, but I didn't know the order! When I went to replace the top piece I couldn't join the pieces together.

It turned out that I needed to remove these long plastic bars, then replace the piece at the top of the fan that held the bearing, and reaffix the bars. However, I continued to have trouble. The order was right, but they weren't fitting correctly. By complete chance I noticed an 'R' on the inside of one of the pieces. THEY HAD SIDES! Taking them apart, I didn't pay attention to whether or not the side mattered. This was yet another thing that I learned in my 'how to take things apart' journey of this fan. The details in the disassembly matter.

The final challenge was replacing the control panel. First, there was a hinge structure to attach it at the front. Look for little tabs and slots for the tabs I learned. Once I had identified that, I couldn't securely re-attach the top. What I didn't know was, when I took the fan apart, someone else had already attempted it and not replaced key screws in the top panel. There were 3 recessions for screws to adhere the control panel, I replaced these with new screws -- then the fan was clean and back together.

Step 8: All Done!

The fan was back together! Lessons learned and new fasteners discovered, I had finished the cleaning and greasing. This was a process, a runway of projects to a turbulent flight, but I landed with a new experience and a budding expertise in assembly and disassembly that has potential to be applicable to many objects and projects, diverting things from the waste stream and back towards those who could use them.

Step 9: The Recipient

The Recipient

I undertook this project without a recipient in mind. However, now clean and well functioning, the fan could be given to a thrift store like MCC's Thrift on Kent or it could be given to one of the refugee resettlement agencies that accept small appliances for those resettling in the region like. It should not be hard to divert this from the landfill!

Additionally, I am the recipient of the knowledge that this fan provided to me. This fan might not have a clear home now, but I now posses the knowledge to keep it and many more of it's species out of the landfill. This too is immensely valuable since fans are a common household appliance that also like to fail.

Step 10: The Learning

The Learning

I've expressed periodically the technical learning from this fan, I won't bore you with hinges, tabs, fasteners, and screws again. On the runway to this project I learned about trouble shooting. With the first fan I learned about taking things apart, looking where materials could have failed, and how to look for visible problems first. With the headphones I learned that taking everything apart is not necessarily the best way to start. I learnt to move slowly and iteratively, to trace an electrical pathway slowly, to not assume where the problems are, and to see how individual pieces make up a whole item.

These two 'runway' projects helped me tackle the tower fan piece by piece but also to see the whole picture. They taught me about order and detail. I still made mistakes in the tower fan project, but I've learned from them and will be able to use these in future repair and repurposing projects outside of class.

Next time I would mark the order of disassembly. I would be more careful taking apart an unknown object to prevent small damages. I would get better cleaning projects. For the runway projects, I would ask for help earlier when I was confused. However frequent were the mistakes I made and the detours I took, they were all infinitely valuable in the process of learning that I experienced.