Get power tools for free and save the earth at the same time!
It's super-easy to fix power tools now. Thanks to online manuals, part searching and ordering, you can get the replacement parts you need and install them in mere minutes of labor.
Dead power tools are free in the trash if you can spot them. Get known as a scavenger and people will give them to you.
Power tools die only in certain ways. Usually it's one of these:
Here's how to fix one of each.
If you've got a tool with a dead Nicad battery pack, here's how to zap that back to life.
Tool Repair is Easier than Ever Before
The ease of finding, getting, and replacing these parts represent a whole new economic phenomenon.
In the past the economies of mass production VS. hand repair drove a trend where manufacturing got cheaper and cheaper and repair got more and more expensive. So broken devices were getting dumped and replaced instead of fixed.
But now the labor savings of e-commerce and online manuals make repair a real cheap option. Design-For-Manufacturing (DFM) practices such as snap fits and single-type fastener assemblies can speed repair as well as manufacture.
Woohoo! Could we be seeing a correction of the mass-produced trash problem?
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Step 1: New Drive Belt
Any tool that has a drive belt usually dies first from that.
Planers, beltsanders, and rug-beater style vacuum cleaners for example.
The motor will still spin but nothing much else will happen. The motor will seem to have no load.
This planer had a stripped and shredded belt when I first opened it.
Take the side cover off and you'll see pieces of broken belt, or a lacking belt if someone else has opened it first. I wrote "needs belt" on the tool with sharpie to remind me.
Do an online search for your model number and "drive belt" or "belt" or "replacement parts".
Once you find the parts diagram and part number, do a search for that part number to find a good price from a good vendor. Black+Decker and Dewalt often use the same parts. This belt was a Dewalt part that listed this Black+Decker model as compatible.
My belt cost $6.50 plus $1.99 usmail shipping, for a grand total of $8.47. When the part arrives, don't do anything with it until you need a big emotional payoff. Then,
Your planer will also probably have chipped blades or "knives".
I've found cheap planer knives on ebay.
The knives on this unit and most are double-edged, so you can turn them around for a second life if you didn't break them.
In the future use a slow feed rate if you suspect you'll hit a nail.
Step 2: How It Used to Be
Here's my old Ryobi belt sander. It was friday evening and I was beltsanding away, excited for a long weekend of boatbuilding. Then this photo happened. No more teeth on belt. No parts suppliers would be open til tuesday. I finally found the part on the primitive interweb of the day for $30 with "allow 6 weeks" shipping.
Damn. I couldn't find any belts in my own bins with the right pitch, thanks to their weasel ways.
Aha! I thought, I'll make it a chain drive. So then I wasted a vast amount of time destroying the tool with a chain drive mechanism that never worked.
Don't do that. Get the real parts. These days it's fast and cheap. Those are quantitative improvements that have made a huge qualitative difference. Welcome to the new (but better) economic reality of tool repair.
Step 3: What Screwdriver Was That?
Here's the best kind of screwdriver to get. The blades all turn around so you get four different blades and two sizes of nut driver. They store in place so you don't lose them. These cost $4 or so at Harborfreight and are on the counter of most hardware stores for $7. Buy a big one and a little one. This is the big one. Oil it well, or when it lands in the bilge it will rust in place and will take some wiggling to get it open again.
Step 4: New Brushes
Body Grinders, routers, and other tools that run at high loads for a long time wear out their brushes quickest.
Brushes usually don't die suddenly.
At first you'll have to shake or twist the tool to get it to start.
Then maybe you'll have to push the wheel with a stick to get it to start.
Eventually it won't start at all.
Brushes are really easy to check on a good tool.
They're under the little "frankenstein neck bolt" plastic covers. Be careful because sometimes the springs jump and throw stuff away stuff you want.
One of these brushes is obviously messed up, looks likethe spring broke, shorted, and lost its springiness.
Don't buy a new angle grinder that costs less than $15. This one was $17 and it's fabulous. It came with spare brushes.
Step 5: New Power Switch
The more powerful the motor, the more likely a bad switch is. Circle (a.k.a circular, Skil) saws almost always die from a switch failure. Body grinders pretty often also.
Feels similar to bad brushes, but spinning the motor with a stick does nothing. Messing with the switch makes the motor jump.
This switch has a rubber cover. I peeled it for visual inspection and see broken parts inside and charred contacts. A continuity test also reveals a bad switch.
I do an online search to find the parts diagram and part number. A price search, $10 (including shipping) online order, and a few days go by, and I've got the part I need.
I detach and push out the old one. I push the new one into the plastic clips and wire it up just like the old one, and Bob's my new grinder! I mean Uncle!
Step 6: New Power Cord
Old tools and drills in particular tend to die from power cords. Here's how I put one on a Bosch jigsaw.
Power cords can be tricky to diagnose. Which is a good thing, because you'll get tools for free and they're easy to fix with random power cords.
I used to do a continuity test by shoving needles into the cable and hooking my meter's clips to those. That way I could find out just where the break was without messing up the insulation.
If it's just the plug at the end you'll want to replace that.
It's also easy to cut the cord and splice a new one on halfway.
Vincent gave me this one with no cord at all so the decision was already made.
I had a scavenged power cord, probably from a computer with the computer end cut off.
I wired it in. This tool had a clamp for keeping the cord from pulling out. If there isn't one of those you can improvise with wire ties or tying a knot in the cord.
Once I looked inside I saw it was an insulated case with no place for a ground attachment. So I cut the green ground wire off my cord. Then I broke off the ground pin from the connector so no one would get confused.
Older tools sometimes have a metal case that is grounded through the third pin. The theory there is that if any wires get loose and short inside, they'll short to the case and blow a fuse instead of electrocuting you.
Step 7: Zap NiCad Batteries Back to Life
If it's a NiCad battery pack, you can usually make it work again by zapping it as shown here.
There's usually nothing else wrong with the tool. Thank you "Garbage Santa"!
If your battery pack doesn't come back to life you can take it apart and zap or replace individual cells.
If your battery pack is made of something other than NiCads, don't despair.
You can take them apart , replace individual cells, or empty your dead pack and wire that connector to a different battery pack that is good. Laptop computers are a good source of battery packs also! All you have to do is make sure you assemble a pack with a voltage close to what your tool needs, and the charger is intended for the battery chemistry you end up using.
Be careful with the wiring. A reverse voltage will burn out the speed controller of your tool.
WARNING: Read about the dangers of the type of battery you are using. Ignorance is no defense against anything.
Watch the video and see how zapping is done.
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