Cold War Telephone

I’ve been having a trip backin time to the cold war era today, trying to fix a 1960’s pendant telephone, as seen in military installations and control rooms of that era.

The phone comes in three distict parts. The handset / mount, a dial and a bell set. I didn’t have the latter, so a bit of improvisation was called for, using some parts from the spares bin to build what the GPO would once have called a ‘bellset 50B’. This involved a lot of wiring as you can see from the photo above. However after 4 hours and one mistake later, the thing was working.


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June Repair Cafe Update

Thanks to everyone who came along to our Repair Cafe at Strip the Willow last Sunday. After a bit of a slow start things picked up in the late morning with lots of visitors bringing stuff to fix, including this vintage electric clock shown above.

When the clock arrived it had a very plain paper dial. However once we started to dismantle it we found the much more ornate original painted dial beneath, which revealed the clock to be an advertising piece for Royal Typewriters. The story goes that the current owner’s father found it in a junk shop in the USA and gave it to his daughter as a gift. When she married she came to live in the UK and brought the clock with her, never knowing about it’s secret second dial. That is until last weekend, when the original dial was revealed for the first time in more than a quarter of a century! We are now doing some research on the clock to enable more work to take place on it at our next event at Heeley City Farm.

As always, a big thankyou to all the fixers who came to help, with special mention going to new faces Kath and Simon, who came along to do sewing and knife sharpening respectively.

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Toolbank Relaunch Report

A big Thankyou to everyone who came along to our extra Repair Cafe at Abbeyfield Park House to celebrate the re-launch of the Toolbank there, which is operated by our friends at Green City Action. An excellent day was had by all and it was a great oportunity to bring the Repair Cafe concept to a totally different area of Sheffield.

After a slow start we eventually got into the swing of things as a steady  stream of items were brought in for our fixers to look at. We even found a couple of broken chairs around the building which Alan and Gordon managed to repair quite easily.

Also a big thankyou to Emma, who has only recently joined us. This was her first full Repair Cafe. Despite claiming to have no repairing skills she still managed to diagnose and fix a table lamp with a little help, which is exactly the type of knowledge sharing Repair Cafes are all about.

Gareth took a break from his usual computer repairs to fix ‘big ben’. The Bluetooth speaker, not the bell from London.

Our next event will be at Strip The Willow on April 14th.

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Pictures from Heeley

We had another great Repair Cafe at Heeley City Farm yesterday. Lots of different items were brought along by their owners to be fixed, including a beautiful antique Singer sewing machine, an old wall clock, modern clockwork Radio, a mirror, an electric massager and lots more.

Our next Repair Cafe is a special one-off event at Abbeyfield Park House to celebrate the re-launch of Green City Action’s Community Toolbank which is based there.

Click here for more details.

Our Radio expert Peter, working on an unusual clockwork and solar powered example.

Gordon gets to grips with an electric massager.

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Repair Cafe at Abbeyfield Park House

Our friends over at Green City Action, based in Abbeyfield Park House in Burngreave, are holding a special event on Saturday 23rd March to celebrate the relaunch of their Toolbank project after a major re-vamp. As well as the Toolbank itself, varous other local organisations will be in attendance including Gareth and the team from BitFixIt, who often attend our Repair Cafes to offer repairs and advice on all things tech related.

Repair Sheffield will be holding a special Repair Cafe as part of the event, which brings out activities to an area of the city where we have not perviously operated. So if you live in the Burngreave area (or even if you don’t but can travel) why not come along and see how making and repairing can be a cost effective and environment friendly alternative to buying things new. As with all our Repair Cafes, the repairs are free unless parts are required. However a donation is much appreciated.

If you would like more information please see the link to the poster (.PDF file) below or get in touch via our contact us page here.

community toolbank event poster.pdf

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Oil lamp repair

Vintage oil lamp after repair to hole

One of the more unusual items to come into a Repair Cafe recently was this vintage oil lamp, which had been picked up by myself from an auction as part of a job lot of oil lamp spares. The problem with this one was that it had been converted to electricity and in the process someone had cut a hole in the brass font for the cable to pass through.

I hate the practice of converting vintage items into electric lamps. It devalues the item and often looks incredibly silly. I also have a 100 year old candle stick telephone that had the lamp treatment which I’m in the process of converting back into a phone.

Obviously this hole would need to be patched up before the lamp could hold oil again, so using a bit of scrap brass,¬† Gordon set about a solder repair. It’s not the prettiest fix ever. But I was more concerned about practicality and it not leaking than aesthetics.

I’m pleased to say the Repair was a complete success and the lamp is now awaiting the sourcing of a genuine vintage burner, glass chimney and shade.




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Yesterday’s Repair Cafe

We had another great Repair Cafe at Strip the Willow yesterday. Although we didn’t see quite as many items brought in for fixing as usual, there was still a good mix of things for repair. It was also the first event in a very long time where nobody Brough along a Roberts digital radio.

Highlights of the day included Gordon performing an amazing soldering repair on a brass oil lamp that someone had converted to electric. The hole they had drilled in the font to accept the cable has now been patched up with a small piece of brass, meaning it’s now a proper oil lamp once again. Also John ended up stripping down a classic Kenwood Chef food mixer as seen in the photo above.

Our next Repair Cafe is in March at Heeley City Farm.



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Coconut radio

We just finished the Repair Cafe at Strip the Willow. Thanks to everyone who came along today. One very unusual item that came in was the coconut radio pictured above. It stopped working and the owner was hoping we could fix it as a nice surprise for her partner. Unfortunately all the parts were glued into place, so we couldn’t get all the components out to test them. This made a Repair impossible, but we just thought you might like to see it anyway.


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Vintage video

Anyone who was around in the 1980s will most likely remember the video format war between VHS and Betamax. But did you know there were other formats around too? One of these lost formats was U-matic, which has a special place in history for being (possibly) the first cassette-based video system, introduced by Sony way back in 1969 and arriving in the UK around 1971.

U-matic was originally a consumer format. However the high price of the machines was prohibitively expensive for most people, so it would be at least another decade before VCRs were a common site in many homes.

One of the benefits of U-matic over later formats was a surprisingly good picture quality. This led to the format being adopted by television stations, especially in news departments, giving rise to the system we now commonly know as electronic news gathering.

The machine in the picture above is a Sony pro-sumer grade unit dating from the mid-70s. I got it because I have some U-matic master tapes that originated from Elstree Studios and I wanted to know what was on them. So I spent weeks scouring E-Bay before a suitable machine appeared.

When it arrived the VCR was in a fairly poor condition. One of it’s plastic feet was missing and when powered up not much seemed to happen. A motor started up inside and an internal light came on but that was about it. So an evening was spent freeing off all the moving parts that had jammed up through years of inactivity. This in itself is not easy. The presence of precision recording heads and delicate sensors means that squinting everything with penetrating oil is a definite no no. So every moving part was made to move again by carefully working it backwards and forwards.

Over the period of a few hours the machine gradually came back to life. First the eject mechanism was sorted. Next came the tape loading system that wraps the tape around the head drum. After a whole evening’s work the mechanics are now working as they should. That is as far as I’ve got for now. The next stage will be to couple it up to a TV to see if there is any kind of picture.

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Fixing wood finishes

One type of repair we sometimes get asked about is how to restore wooden furniture. Parts might be loose or broken, but most often the problem is some sind of mark in the finish, such as a scratch or a ring left by a cup or glass. There are various ways of dealing with these marks and a successful repair often hinges on choosing the right method for that particular case.

The finish on furniture can be many different things, all of which respond differently to treatment. Also the wood itself might be hardwood, softwood or engineered alternatives such as chipboard or ply.

Chipboard usually has some kind of surface applied to it to make it look like a natural wooden board. If you’re lucky the surface will be a thin veneer of natural wood, but modern furniture can have a paper or plastic overlay with a wooden design printed onto it.

The photo above shows a shelf from a 1960’s sideboard. Although it looked like real wood at first glance, it’s actually chipboard with a wood veneer. The problem was a lot of white ring marks, left by wet cups or glasses. These marks were most likely caused by water, but some ring marks, especially on tables, can be caused by alcohol eating away the polished surface.

As I wasn’t sure what caused these marks, I decided to sand down the surface and start again. This is quite easy with solid wood, but with chipboard you have to be very careful not to destroy the thin surface veneer.

Once the shelf was sanded, it was time to apply a new finish. You could wax it or even French Polish it. However as it’s not a particularly valuable piece and it needed to be functional and water proof, I simply painted it with a high gloss yacht varnish. Most of this will soak in during the first coat, but a very light sanding once dry and then a second coat will give a beautiful shiny finish which is almost impossible to achieve any other way.

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