Last summer an italian friend let me try his daughter's Decathlon Easy Breath full-face snorkel mask. Even though it was the wrong size for my adult head, I found the full-face mask to be game changer, especially after I had already given up on my somewhat expensive conventional 2-piece snorkel that was uncomfortable and seemed to always fog up, and which I think might have been better suited for diving instead of the surface-only snorkeling I was interested in doing.
So I was pretty excited this spring when I got my very own correct-size Decathlon Easy Breath full face mask. Unfortunately somewhere between the store and my beach destination, I lost 1 of the 2 paired silicone valves that flank the mouth area. I suspect it might have been yanked out by the wiry curls of my buddy's bushy beard when he tried it on for size. The day I went to use it in the sea, I was crestfallen, knowing that the nearest Decathlon store would have been a more than 3-hour round trip if I could convince my friend to drive, and a conventional beach store wouldn't likely have just that custom part. However, after a few moments of examining how it worked, I thought I might just try using some thick but flexible plastic wrapper held in place by gift-wrap tape, and it worked! But I knew that in a day or two the tape would become unstuck, and I also didn't want to leave tape residue on the mask's lens. I had a look around in my bare-bones travel tool kit and found everything I needed to do the task. Follow this Instructable, and you'll be back in business in short order, at least until you can get a replacement valve from Decathlon.
- A piece of bicycle inner tube, at least 60 x 60 mm. The piece I used came from a mountain bike 26" x 1.5" tube. I suppose a piece of vinyl from a inflatable pool float or beach ball would also work.
- A piece of cork, such as the cork from a wine bottle (not a plastic cork though!).
- A small Philips-head wood screw, less than 10 mm long, and less than 2 mm in diameter,
- A 2 euro coin or a washer nearly the same diameter (~26 mm)
- Steak knife or any knife with a sharp point and serrated edge
- Philips-head screwdriver to turn the small wood screw
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Step 1: Preparation and Some Notes About the Tools and Materials
- For the actual insertion of the makeshift valve, I used my lap to hold the mask steady, because you will need both hands to put the new valve in: one to hold back the seal, and the other to position the valve.
- I tried to use the most basic tools one might find in the kitchen utensils drawer or junk drawer of a summer rental apartment.
- The piece of rubber bicycle inner tube is considerably larger than the disk we will be cutting out of it, as it is often easier to trim a small item from a larger piece of material, and as a plus, if you make a mistake, you can try again.
- When there are tiny parts such as the small wood screws, I like to start out with a few spares instead of just one, in case I drop it, so that I don't have to interrupt the whole operation just to search for one small part. I've learned to always travel with at least a small selection of hardware, rubber bands and zip ties, but if I hadn't had the small screws, I probably would have used a nail or even a thorn.
- I chose cork for the receiver of the wood screw for 3 reasons: 1) it was easy to cut to size, 2) it was easy to drive the wood screw into it without having to drill a hole first, and 3) I knew cork would maintain a tight grip on the screw thread and not become loose, even after it became wet. Cork is great! Long live cork!
Step 2: Make the Rubber Disc That Will Be the Valve Flap
The disk part of the valve needs to be small enough to fit in it's valve seat recess but large enough to completely cover the pie-slice shaped holes in the air passageway. I found a good diameter to be 30 mm. A 2 euro coin is about 26 mm in diameter, so using the coin as a template for the circular shape, I cut the rubber about 2 mm away from the edge of the coin all around.
A note about the use materials used: The original valve is probably made of food grade silicone or something like it, and has no odor. The rubber from which I made my quick replacement valve had no odor that I could detect, but it was designed to do it's duty inside a bicycle tire and not 2 cm from someone's face, so I'm just saying that what worked for me over the span of 3 weeks might not be suitable for everybody, especially someone who might have an allergy to rubber.
Step 3: Pierce a Tiny Hole Through the Middle of the Disk.
Using the sharp point of the steak knife, pierce a hole in the middle of the disk. The position of the hole is pretty important to the function of the valve flap, so try to put the hole as close to the center of the disk as possible. I folded the disk in half, and then in half again to find it's center.
Step 4: Make the Cork Receiver
Using the serrated knife, cut a slice of the cork that is as thick as the wood screw is long. Then cut that slice into a smaller block that is big enough to serve as a nut to receive the wood screw, but not so big as to block the flow of air through the valve passageway. Find the rough center of the cork block and pierce it there with the point of the steak knife, so that the wood screw can get a foothold in it.
Step 5: Prep the Cork Block and the Rubber Disk
Test screw the wood screw into the cork block, then remove it and push it through the hole in the rubber disk so that the slight curve in the rubber disk is pointing up at the edges the same direction as the point of the wood screw.
Those parts are now ready, but we'll set them aside for a moment while we prepare the mask for their insertion.
Step 6: Prep the Mask
Normally the straps are located at the back of the mask, but if we leave them that way, we will have to fight them when we are inserting our replacement valve. So we have to move the straps to the front of the mask to make for an unencumbered path to the area where we will be working. The arrow shows where our makeshift valve flap will go. You will have to hold back the nose-mouth seal on that side while you install the valve-flap.
At this point, I was holding the mask in my sitting lap, where I could cradle the front of the mask with my thighs to make it easier to roll back the nose-mouth seal with one hand while I positioned the valve flap with the other. I have the mask cradled so that it's "forehead" is away from my torso.
In this position, within easy reach, you should have your rubber-disk and wood screw assembly, the chunk of cork "nut" and your Philips screwdriver.
Step 7: Position the Valve Flap Assembly in the Valve Seat
The arrow points to where the point of the wood screw should go through the tiny hole in the middle of the star-shaped passageway of the valve seat in the nose-mouth seal. Push the shaft of the wood screw as far as it will go from the face-side of the seal, so that the rubber disk is snug up against the valve seat, and the point of the wood screw is pointing outward towards the front of the mask's lens, (kind of like a wild boar's tusk).
At this point you should be able to release your pinch grip on the valve-flap assembly, as the much smaller holes in the rubber disk and the valve seat should keep the wood screw in place until you affix the chunk of cork in the next step.
Step 8: Securing the Valve-assembly in Place With the Cork "nut".
At this point I found it easier to rotate the mask 180 degrees so that it's "forehead" was now close to my torso. Since the valve-flap assembly is held in place pretty well by the friction of the snug fit of the wood screw in the hole in the valve seat, we need only to press lightly on it from the nose side while we push back the nose-mouth seal from the lens of the mask to access the point of the wood screw (the "tusk").
Push the cork onto the point of the wood screw and give it turn or two to get it going, then let the nose-mouth seal fall back into it's natural position and grasp the cork from the back while gently tightening the wood screw with the Philips-head screwdriver. Keep in mind that the silicone-like material will readily compress, so once the cork chunk just touches the valve seat on the lens side of the nose-mouth seal, that should be tight enough.
At this point the rubber valve-flap disk should be showing a small depression around the head of the wood screw.
Step 9: Check Your Work, Wrap Up and Testing.
The valve-assembly you just made and installed should be roughly the same diameter as the original manufactured one, and should work pretty much the same way as the original, despite the fact that it is put together from parts that were never designed to do that job.
You will have a somewhat funny looking cork "wart" in your mask that curious people will ask you about, but someone will really have to be right in front of your face to notice it, what with all the splashing and bobbing in the sea.
BUT you won't have to miss out on all the surface-only snorkeling fun at your vacation destination, and can afford to put off worrying about getting a real manufacturer's replacement to until after your vacation is over.
A note about testing: The place we were renting didn't have a tub or a pool, so I had to do my testing in the shallows of our nearby beach. I felt safe in that environment as I was with friends and there were lots of other people around. They say whenever you go in the water you should employ the Buddy System, and I endorse that view as it seems pretty logical if you are trying to avoid the risk of drowning (like me). That being said, if there had been a tub in our seaside rental, I would have done my testing there.
Step 10: Update: OEM Replacements Found.
After I got home, I sent Decathlon an email asking if I could buy replacement valves. Although I didn't hear back from their general website contact form, when I emailed my local store, I heard back within a day, and they said I could stop by and order the valves I needed at the store. When I went to the store to make the order, I found out that they actually had that item in stock, although I had to specifically ask for it at the product service desk. A replacement valve set that included all three valves and a new O-ring for the breath tube cost €1,50.