Use it up, wear it out, make it do!

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The poster above was issued by the US Government in 1943 to remind citizens to be frugal and resourceful at home to help the war effort abroad. The North Texas Institute for Educators on the Visual Arts has an article that provides some context:

Civilian rationing was necessary in order to supply the military. Rationed items had to be used sparingly and included shoes, coffee, butter, gasoline, and nylon hosiery. Recycling was introduced and civilians were exhorted to save cooking grease (which was used in the manufacturing of explosives), rubber, scrap metal and even rags. Victory gardens began to replace commercial produce and provided 40% of the fresh produce consumed by civilians during the war. Women were encouraged to can vegetables to be used during the months when no produce could be harvested. Families even gave up pet dogs to the military to be used as sentries. War posters encouraged citizens to willingly bear these hardships through images of civic-minded individuals cheerfully adapting to this new way of life. The poster, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do!” provides a humorous image of a woman mending a pair of pants in order to save the labor and goods that would be required to replace them.

Today, there's no rationing in the United States. You are free, encouraged even, to buy as much stuff as you can afford, and throw it out as soon as next year's models are available. There's a certain kind of fun in getting the latest and greatest, but I've also learned that it's often rewarding to fix broken things instead of buying replacements. Recently, my Blue Snowball USB microphone stopped working. Troubleshooting it led me to discover that one of the metal tangs in the USB input jack had bent out of place. I tried to bend it back and it snapped off. That's it, I thought, and got ready to toss it into the trash like a moldy grapefruit. I was about to buy another one on Amazon. But then I decided to try to fix it myself.

I unscrewed the two hemispheres of the microphone and found a small circuit board. Four colored wires led from the board to the USB jack. I took the USB cord and snipped off the end, and found four similarly colored wires. It took about 10 minutes to strip the insulation off the wires and solder them to the pads on the circuit board. I made a makeshift strain relief on the cord and screwed the shells together. I tested the mic and it worked perfectly. I'm happy I didn't waste money buying a new mic, and I feel more attached to my old one because I invested effort in fixing it and feel a sense of ownership of it. I recommend you try fixing something the next time something of yours breaks.


  1. Did they ever actually use any of that cooking grease? Or was it all just a psychological thing?

    1. This is a good question, but yes, absolutely. (You can recycle cooking grease for purposes other than munitions-making, and people were doing it before and after the war, too. The difference here is that it was being donated, rather than sold.) Rationing and scrap drives were never 100% efficient–and only occasionally kinda efficient–but they were definitely not just an elaborate head-game. One of the first things to be rationed was typewriters, which seems a little obscure, until you realize that before you can raise a giant modern army, you need to raise an even bigger bureaucracy to fill out the purchase orders, and bureaucrats need typewriters.

      Which is not to say there weren’t elaborate head-games played to get the general public foursquare behind the war effort–of course there were. WWII propaganda is kind of awesome in its overtly manipulative majesty. If FDR wanted a racist Bugs Bunny cartoon to get people fired up about the Jap Menace, by God there’d be one showing in that Saturday’s matinees.

      But it goes to show how foreign a country even the recent past can be. Those “Loose Lips Sink Ships” posters were intended to create a genuine military advantage: if you can keep secret the fact that the U.S.S. Such-and-So sailed out of San Francisco for even half a day, it can materially affect the enemy’s strategies. These days there’s not much point in that kind of secrecy, but could you imagine a million people voluntarily not tweeting that kind of thing? Inconceivable!

    2. The term ‘slush fund’ comes from the practice of collecting fat from cooking for sale or re-use.  It’s a practice that predates WW II.  The ownership and disposition of this resource often had established rules.  Sometimes it belonged to the cook.  Sometimes the proceeds were shared with war widows and orphans.

  2. The phone I used up until a couple of years ago (when I stopped paying for phone service for a phone you have to plug into a wall) was one that broke back in 1990, and that I fixed randomly.  It fell off a shelf and hit a floor.  Thereafter, it could still make calls, but it was *extremely* quiet.

    I opened the thing up, and looked at the circuit board.  Everything looked fine, as far as I could tell.  I asked myself what was most likely to break when it hit the ground, coupled with what would cause the symptoms I saw.  There was this transformer soldered on to the board; it was the biggest thing there, so I figured chances were that the impulse needed to stop it (which would have been supplied by the solder joints) when the phone hit the floor was probably the largest of anything on the circuit board.  Unfortunately, there were no markings whatsoever on it.

    I went to Radio Shack, and they had this thing called an “audio output transformer”.  I figured, what the heck, I have nothing but a few bucks to lose.  I picked it up, and soldered it on the phone in place of the old one.  The phone has worked fine since.

    Alas, most of the time when something breaks I fail to fix it.  I guess that makes me a good consumerist American or something.  For instance, My Xbox360 went Red Ring recently.  I cruised the web, and it sounded like it was a heating problem that could be fixed by getting some new compound for joining heat sinks to CPUs and GPUs, and changing the way that the CPUs and GPUs were held to the board.  Alas, when I was trying to take the thing apart, my hand slipped and my screwdriver scratched several traces on the motherboard.   (Being over 40, I had to get a magnifying glass to be able to focus on the small traces they have nowadays.)  Once that happened, there’s no going back without a whole new motherboard.

  3. Let’s share fixing stories in these comments.

    I fixed a small coffee grinder with a toothpick. The plastic lid had an integrated tab that pressed down on a recessed button to turn the grinder on. The plastic tab eventually got fatigued and broke off, so I cut a saw kerf into the side of the lid and pressed a toothpick into the kerf. The toothpick is held in place by friction.  It’s just wedged in there. Now the toothpick pushes the recessed button and the grinder works perfectly. This fix was done about 15 years ago, and the grinder is still going strong.

    1. Let’s share fixing stories in these comments.

      Man, I’d need a lifetime.  It’s pretty much all I do.    Here’s a link to a photomicrograph of a solder repair that I made to the voice coil of a vintage JBL tweeter.  it’s about 100 microns.

      ETA: sorry the link’s failing. I don’t know why. Here’s the pic alone. The related article is on Gareth Branwyn’s Street Tech site.

      1. Your link didn’t work (edit..but your picture did, total props on that repair), but I totally agree with you.  I hate buying new things for the sake of buying something.  I’d be happy to pay more for a solid quality product that I can fix (or at least get replacement parts for many years).

        One of my bigger complaints is push lawn mowers.  I know a lot of city dwellers have no use for them, but they are one of the few products that have gotten consistently worse/more expensive in the last 30 years.  My father had a little green one with a briggs & stratton engine that lasted 22 years until he ran over a large rock and ended up bending the crankshaft.  When he finally got rid of it the deck still had little to no rust.  He bought a new one, and within 6 years the deck was rusted out.  And now when you buy a new mower you get to spend even more money to get one that has a throttle…  My second hand mower has had a throttle modified and installed by me, and soon will have parts of the deck replaced and welded in because of rust.  I’d probably pay $100 if someone could stamp me out a 1/4+ inch aluminum deck.

        1.  Yeah.  I had to pay a lot more to buy a lawnmower with an aluminum deck.  They aren’t common.  Toro was the only company that sold a homeowner grade lawnmower with an aluminum deck when I was shopping several years ago, and it was about 3 times the price of the cheapest new mower you could buy.  Excellent mower though.

          1. Lawn Boy used to make 2-stroke mowers with cast alu/mag decks.  They were very light and a pleasure to use.  These days I use an electric mower with a molded polyethylene deck.  Plastic works fine for this low temp application.  And the polyethylene is recyclable.

          2. I grew up pushing a magnesium deck mower.  I had no idea how good I had it until dad replaced it with a steel mulching mower  (in actual fact a Sherman Tank that had been refitted with a push handle for civilian use.)

        2. The cast aluminum ones were good, but you really want stainless or galvanized in a stamped deck.

          Some people have them on their Elec-Traks.  I believe they cost quite a bit more than a C-note!

    2. When we first moved into our house, I replaced the light fixtures in the upstairs hallway with a couple new fixtures from the Home Despot. The house is old, and the fittings and adapters needed a bit of care, coaxing, and creativity to get into place, but everything worked…

      …for about two months. Then one of the lights on one of the fixtures went out. I pulled it apart and ohmed out the socket – no connect on the neutral. The socket was two molded plastic halves riveted together. Due to the rivet, I chalked it up as unfixable. We liked the fixture, but it was discontinued, so we couldn’t replace it. It sat half-dark for years and years.

      I finally got fed up with it a few months ago and figured I couldn’t break it any more. I pulled it down, took it apart,  put the plastic socket under my drill press, and bored out the rivet. No turning back!

      It turns out that inside the socket, the two metal contacts were connected to the lampcord only by little metal teeth pushed through the insulation. The teeth were not nearly as long as they needed to be, so they barely made contact in the best of situations. Unfortunately, the one on the neutral had bent over during manufacture, and the high resistance of the minimal contact had burned away a little chunk of metal until it wouldn’t pass current any more.

      I stripped away the insulation and soldered the metal clip to the wire, covered in electrical tape.  It took some doing to make sure everything would still fit in the tight quarters of the plastic connector, but it did. I replaced the rivet with a bolt, a couple small washers, and a nylon lock nut. Put everything back together, installed it, good as new. Hallway never looked so bright.

      Ok, pretty simple repair…but I like to tell this story because after I had just tested the light fixture, I was stepping down from my ladder and I noticed the hallway to my right get darker all of a sudden. A bulb had gone out on the second light fixture just at that moment. Odd…except it wasn’t the bulb. It was the socket, choosing that moment to fail in the exact same way as the first (only it was the hot, not the neutral, that had the bent tooth).

      It took me a couple weeks to get around to it, but it was pretty much the exact same repair. A little trickier because it was the ‘inner’ tooth on the wire, but at least the construction and principle were the same.

      1. Having heard this story, a friend of mine asked me to help with a repair on a standing lamp of his. It worked, but it would randomly go out, and the slightest of touches would turn it back on again.

        I went over with a bag of tools, and we took it apart. The socket at the top had a couple screw terminals, and the wire from the lampcord was not properly ‘hooked’ before it was screwed in. Several house moves and random ambient vibration had backed the screws out. Hot and neutral were basically just resting against the terminal. Sometimes they’d stop making contact, and a slight touch would put them back into place for a while.

        They’d been just about ready to get rid of it in frustration for its going out all the time, but it was about a five minute fix with a screwdriver.

  4. I’m glad you were able to fix your mic, Mark.  I’m frequently surprised at how simple a repair turns out to be once I open the case.  Just a spritz of Caig D5?  That’s all?  It was dead and now it’s alive!  80% of the battle is just deciding to take a look and see what’s wrong.  Busted stuff is my hobby and career but I think anyone should be proud of being able to understand how things work and make basic repairs.

    1. Actually there is rationing but it is performed by the market through pricing–not by the government.  During the war market rationing could’ve been used instead but the government would’ve have to pay many more dollars for its military supplies.

      1. Rationing distributes goods equally and according to relative need. How does the market perform the same job? Obviously all those bankers must be desperately needy and me I’ve never had it so good on my minimum wage.

        1.  Rationing may be based on relative need or it may not.  It depends on who is doing the rationing.

          1. Sure. But there is no suggestion that the US government was hoarding for its own personal use. In this case what I said applies, I think.

      2. Afraid not. “Rationing” means being allowed a fixed amount of goods. You’re allowed 1 apple, 1 pear, 1 orange. Even if they all cost the same, you still can’t get 3 apples and no other fruit on the white market. “Market rationing” doesn’t mean much beyond its colloquial use in discussions about modern health care (where “triage” would actually be a more apt word than “ration”).  I’m not trying to nitpick, but there is a major difference in purpose and implementation. A short coming of free markets (among other things) is their inability to rationally (get it?) distribute goods in the short term following a spike in demand. War causes spikes in demand for many goods, and rationing is used as an attempt to maintain a better distribution of goods for the interests of the nation (i.e. you’re not allowed to sell all your old baseball cards to buy a warehouse full of paracord). 

        Also, isn’t the expression “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without?”

        (This comment brought to you by File Your Own Damn Taxes Its Really Not That Hard.) 

        1.  I see we disagree on what rationing means.  However, by your definition the USA didn’t have rationing during WWII.  Everyone wasn’t allowed a fixed amount of something.  People whose needed more of something to support the war often got more.

        2. Yeah. The concept of ‘market rationing’ seems oxymoronic to me. It is used to avoid the more truthful but too dodgy sounding ‘redistribution’.

  5. I agree, Mark! It’s fun and gratifying to repair things. I’m not very handy by nature, but the internet makes it easier than ever to find guidance on how to rebuild a lawnmower carburetor or troubleshoot a leaky faucet. Whenever I run into an issue, I research it first to see if this is something I can fix on my own. It’s amazing how many people will throw things out without trying to do a repair first. I picked up a $300 lawn vacuum for $10 on Craigslist because “it just stopped working”. I did some quick research and discovered that it needed a $6 carburetor float. Two hours later I was using it to clear the leaves off my lawn.

  6. I rarely break things or buy new things, but while helping my Dad clean his office I discovered an old “moving picture” frame that I remembered from my childhood- basically a picture frame with a special box full of lights and turning polarized plastic wheels that made the water in the picture appear to be flowing while the sky turned different colors.  That was my first experience fixing anything more complicated than a loose screw or burnt-out fuse, and it really was surprisingly satisfying, especially when I got it working properly again. Also, if you’ve never picked a lock before, I recommend trying it at least once.

  7. One thing it took me 25 years of repairing stuff to realize: failures of electrical devices are almost always mechanical failures.  Like the USB connector in Mark’s mic.  Or the broken transformer in the fellow’s telephone.  Or the toothpick repair to the coffee grinder above. Circuitry pretty much works until it’s let down by the moving parts.  I have a million stories like this.  Finally discovering this greatly sped up my repairs diagnosis because I begin looking for mechanical faults first and usually find the defect faster.

  8. The dog part is sad. But I agree-fixing things when practical is great! If you can open it, you might well be able to fix it.

  9. I got a good dose of this when living in Mexico for a year when I was 12. The ratio of time to money was much higher there, so people did what they had to in order to make their precious stuff function for a long time. 

  10. I think if the general American public had to sacrifice something–anything–for the current wars, they may not have lasted as long as they have.  As it stands, only a precious few outside of the military are paying attention.  My family has sacrificed more than most in the conflicts.  It would be nice for folks to stop waving flags and putting yellow ribbons on their cars and experience some hardship as well.  Then, perhaps, the “war-weary” public would demand an end to the insanity.

    I know that’s not your point in all of this.  I do love the idea of repairing things rather than replacing them or upgrading them all the time.  In the Impending Zombie Apocalypse, people who know how to use and repair what’s on-hand will have the best chances of survival.  :D

  11. I’m not really into repairing things (other than computers) myself.  But this slogan sings to me.  It sings to me because my mother was born in ’17.  As a child of the Great Depression, and as a woman who lived through WWII, she took this motto to heart.

    I can still remember the needle-point she had done with this slogan on it.  It hung on the kitchen wall until she died, and for all I know my step-father probably still has it hanging there as he’s changed little since her death.  My mom lived by this motto as her primary virtue, above all others she was a “Use it up, wear it out, make it do” kind of woman.

    -abs might well be the libertine profligate he is because of over-reacting against her in an attempt to better define his “self” during adolescence

  12. Y’all c’n fix tings? Y’all have soder arns and warstrippers ‘n’ tools ‘n’ stuff?

    If they want to lock down devices so you need a license to practice programming (pretty much all devices now being just computers), can making hand and craft tools illegal be far behind?

  13. I love the poster. I grew up with parents who grew up in the Depression, and we had that slogan on a cross-stitch in the kitchen. Except it had one more clause. 

    “Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do. Or do without.”

    That will bring out the Maker in anyone. Thanks for sharing the poster and a smile this morning. 

    1. Yes, I was about to add the same… it’s a saying from the Depression, and especially (still?) popular in New England.  I think it’s still worth remembering.  We all buy too much cr*p.

  14. I used to repair and sometimes modify bicycles when I was a kid. It was amazing to me the liberation I felt when I could tear something down to the ground and using parts from different sources put it all together again in a different way. I had no fear of messing it up because everything was so cheap and plentiful and, well, I was a kid. I went bikeless for a few years, and all of a sudden people need to pay money for tuning up their bikes now. Maybe that’s been around forever I don’t know. Maybe bikes, and cars and appliances and household items, are so sophisticated or so cheaply made or so plentiful that people don’t mess with them anymore they just chuck them or call a repairman if it’s a big ticket item.

    If I could find the moment in time (probably something to do with Reagan) where I stopped tinkering with things, and became either afraid of wrecking them or too lazy to bother, I’d really like to go back and smack myself upside the head.

    Also, a while back (probably pre-bubble) I read that in Japan people didn’t even wait for things to break down, they just discarded them in favor of something new or better. Supposedly they’d just leave the item out there for the trash collector. As a natural-born scavenger I of course saw dollar signs. Now, that goes on here. Luckily we have those darned industrious illegal immigrants and ultra-poor to come along and whisk them away before one can be made to feel too guilty. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside knowing I can help.

  15. Firstly, what is wrong with that guys head? It’s like it’s coming out of his belt buckle.

    Anyway, repairing broken stuff is awesome if a little maddening sometimes.

    Had a clothes iron give up the ghost about an hour before a huge meeting once. I figured I’d at least crack it open and poke around. Alas the jerks had used tri-bit screws and I did not have a tri-bit driver. The extra iron my mother gave me, which is probably older than I am, still works like a champ.

    Also, this laptop I use is a fixer-upper, had to tear it apart three times (all the way apart) to replace a bad fan (and heat pipe-radiator, and contact pad). But it has been a rock ever since, pity about the 2GB ram limit.

    Lastly, I always heard the saying with “.. or do without.” appended to the end. I like that because it really drives home the austerity aspect and illuminates (for me anyway) that lots of people all over the world make do or do without everyday. As a side note to the USian mode, most seem to still take the “use it up” part very seriously.

    1. Speaking of laptops, Lenovo/IBM seem to design for the Maker mindset. I’ve had the one I’m using now for about 6 years, and in that time, I’ve taken it apart repeatedly to varying degrees. The only security screws I’ve seen are the ones which would expose the hard disk platters to the air, which is entirely reasonable IMO — all the rest have standard cross-heads.

      Over the years, with their (free PDF) maintenance manual, I’ve replaced the optical drive, hard disk, & fan; upgraded the RAM; *completely* dismantled the keyboard for cleaning; and probably a couple of other things I’ve since forgotten. The manual also covers changing the processor, wireless card & antenna, LCD — heck, it even tells you how to replace the motherboard if you feel so inclined.

      The metal frame & keyboard spill tray/drainage holes are nice touches w.r.t. robustness, too.

      (Not a shill for IBM, honest — just really impressed with their laptops.)

  16. I still have my 4th gen iPod and it works just fine.  I was getting gas at a gas station, (in Oregon they pump your gas).  The kid at the gas station thought my iPod was so cool because it was “like an antique” (only from 2004!).   I’ve replaced the battery with a longer life aftermarket.  Yeah, it’s bulky, but who cares!  

  17. Yep, the internet is the best resource for repairing. I can’t stand to throw something away that is repairable. I had an early generation lcd monitor die after about 5 years. It turned out the back light died. I found a resource online that showed how you could repair it using a ccfl case lighting kit. I bought one for less than $10 and replaced the inverter in the monitor with the one from the kit. Monitor is still working great. Also picked up a 60″ rear projection TV for free from Craig’s list. It was very dim and reddish. After reading online, it turned out the coolant/coupling fluid was dirty and needed replaced. $30 in fluid and 3 hours time later, I have a big TV I have been watching for 2 years. I also refoamed my 25 year old Pioneer speakers.
    It’s not that I can’t afford new things, but I enjoy fixing and extending the life of things.
    I’m sure the government/economy doesn’t like that though. I repair when I can, and buy used if I need something “new” to me.

    1. I shudder to think how many decent vintage speakers have been binned when $10 worth of foam surrounds and glue could have kept them playing.  I refoam drivers all the time, even the tough ones like Bose 901s (18 tiny 3″ drivers per set).

      A great resource for DIY personal electronics repairs is  They’re devoted to helping people repair their own stuff.  Colossal amounts of info there.

  18. The guy in the picture is maintaining the push mower with an oilcan while the lady repairs his trousers — so they’re saving time, too!

    1.  I caught that oil can in the picture.  Notice the efficiency of all that.  A quiet push mower that doesn’t use gas, being maintained with a re-usable oil can.

      Reminds me of the fortune cookie slip that I taped to the wall in my shop,”do what you can, with what you have, where you are”.

  19. During World War II, with the various scrap metal drives, my mom, a kid then, was collecting a coffee-can full of old keys.    I think she went door-to-door in her neighborhood and asked if anybody had old keys.

    I’m not really sure what this was supposed to accomplish; it’d take a lot of keys to make a tank or whatever.  Seems like one fairly big piece of scrap metal would outdo all those keys.

    But, it was a moot point, World War II ended and she had never turned in the can of keys.  

    I always kid her that, if only she’d gotten that can of keys turned in to the War Effort, World War II would have ended substantially earlier.

    Of course, in the post-World War II boom, that can of keys came in handy when she became a burglar…

    1.  It’s at least one artillery shell’s worth of brass. So, ya know, multiply by a million industrious key collectors, etc etc. That’s a good deal of hardware.

      But yeah, the obvious route to take with a coffee can full of local keys is to try them out anywhere and everywhere for fun (and profit(optional)).

  20. They left out the final line “or do without.” My grandparents were tightwads from down east, and that was a classic.

    1. I think that the government was really trying to downplay “do without” since everybody was already doing without. Ask my aunt Betty about margarine some day.

  21. This and living through the great depression is why my grandma (and later my mom) would save crap like bread bags and twist ties. They definately made do with a lot of things, and this principle was picked up by my mom as well. Today I still have a very hard time getting rid of something that might be useful or valuable someday.

    1. These days saving things to be fixed can be a real hazard.  There’s just so much stuff in the world and it all breaks eventually.  I counted the defective record turntables in this room a few weeks ago and there were 35.  Now 6 of them work, and I don’t particularly even want to play records.  It just becomes an obligation.  What to do with the rest?  If the answer is to hang on to them, Cornelius Bear has a few words for you…

      1.  My dads old reel-to-reel doesn’t work right. Top of the line in the early 70s when he got it.  He want to give it away to some lady who repairs them for people, if she would pay the shipping to get it out there.

        1. RTRs are kind of a specialty item.  Lots of moving parts that can get gummed up.  Many rubber things that can age and dry out.  The repairs are pretty involved and most shops won’t touch them.  

  22. My husband and I own toaster that is more than 50 years old.  It has a long cord and makes great toast.  You can’t buy anything like it anymore because if you could, toaster sales would plummet.  Planned obsolescence is a fact of life today.  By the way, I am wearing a shirt that is at least twenty-five years old today.

  23. I love vintage audio gear (pre-1990). Garage sales, thrift shops and the curb have served me  quite well over the years. The older stuff, especially that made before 1980, is a breeze to fix. Every discrete component is out in plain sight, and they are usually standard, not proprietary. And if your town doesn’t have a for-real electronics shop (Radio Schlock doesn’t count!), check out,, or just ask that friendly TV-Radio-Hi-Fi repair guy, Mr. Google.

    If your town does have a for-real electronics shop that sells resistors, capacitors, shrink tubing and other ham/hardware geek merchandise, support it for all you’re worth. The Mall Pestilence is destroying many fine specialty shops. Don’t let yours be one of them!

    1. Two things every vintage electronics fan should have: Caig D5 contact cleaner and F5 Fader Lube.  These are used on metal contact switches and sliding contact potentiometers, respectively.  They work wonders.  I swear that these two cans do 75% of my audio repair work for me.  Many ‘defective’ audio components just have a dirty volume control or an intermittent switch that the spray will sort out in under a minute.  I’m using a fine old Pioneer PL-71 high end manual turntable this morning.  I bought it in ‘broken’ condition.  The power switch was dirty and needed a spritz of D5.  It works great now and sounds marvelous.

      1. ixnay alkingtay aboutway Ioneerpay PL-71 urntabletay!     (also, does yours have a spring-loaded NC power switch on the live side of the mains like mine does?  It *wants* to be hot. Wacky.)

  24. This is one of the qualities or ideologies that makes the so called “Greatest Generation” title very appropriate.  I think this is one of the reasons why.  People took responsibility for their stuff.  They did with less.  Consequentially, I think that actually translated into more happiness.

    It’s a feedback loop.

    1. This is one of the qualities or ideologies that makes the so called “Greatest Generation” title very appropriate. I think this is one of the reasons why. People took responsibility for their stuff. They did with less.

      That’s the generation that invented and sold us on disposable culture. The hippies rebelled against the “greatest Generation” because they were the ones who turned the US into a cesspool of pollution and trash.

      1. Right, and then the hippies promptly became their parents and fail even more.  At least cars in their generation were engineered to repair.  etc. etc.  Shit made in the 70s was way more salvagable than today’s “made to break” crapware.

  25. I love the gratification of having repaired something that otherwise would have been simply discarded and replaced.  I still recall being in my freshman year of college and repairing a broken trace in a friend’s SNES controller with the foil from a chewing gum wrapper and a bit of electrical tape.  It was a MacGyver moment to be sure, but it’s a fond memory to this day.

    That said, there should certainly be limits on what one attempts to repair oneself.  There are sometimes safety risks that come with self-repairs, and repairs to electronics can be dangerous if one isn’t careful or doesn’t really know what one is doing. 

    In your example, Mark, clearly you have electronics repair experience, but someone less savvy could have easily made matters worse; a blob of errant solder or a misaligned connector could have created a short that might have simply burned out the circuit board, or worse, could have damaged whatever the mic was connected to, or started a fire.  So I guess this repair/reuse mantra should also specify “…as long as you know what you’re doing.”

    Though really, I don’t think that any kid should be allowed to graduate high school without at least having learned basic soldering skills.

    1. Soldering is one of those things that sounds fairly straight forward, but I see a lot of cold solder blobs and the like from people who are first learning.  Which is fine, when I got my first solder gun at age 10 my repairs looked like I had taken solder chewed it up and applied it like gum…  How my r/c car hated me.

      I agree we should bring back a real home economics class and teach kids about real life skills – everyone should know how to change a tire (just as an example).

    2. I didn’t know how to solder “for real” until a couple of years ago. I had a soldering iron, and I’d tinned wires for connections, but the whole electronics assembly thing seemed beyond me.

      Then, near the end of Maker Faire, I wandered into the MAker Shed area and found a “learn how to solder” kit. I’d just spent two days seeing all sorts of cool DIY shit, and was feeling kind of down on myself, so I bought the kit and 3-4 simple projects (e.g., the Wee Blinky and the Hex Pummer).

      Big revelation: I needed to be using a soldering pen. My father always had an soldering iron around the house, but that’s like using dynamite to hunt bunnies.

      I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but I’ve put together a dozen kits now, and fixed a monitor with bad caps (see entry below).

      I could have learned this easily in High School, or earlier, with a little encouragement and the right tools.

  26. “The more stitches, the less riches. Ending is better than mending.” I’m surprised – no, saddened! – that no BoingBoing commenter has quoted “Brave New World” yet. :)

  27. I heard this growing up from my Mom, but the full saying should be:

    “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!”

    Besides completing the thought, it completes the rhythm of the phrase.

  28. My BMW was leaking coolant, and had a check engine light on.  Found a youTube on how to get the fan shroud out, found parts diagrams from a dealer, and rebuilt the cooling system to fix the problem in a day.  That one repair saved thousands from the dealer and pretty much covered the cost of my tools, including the two-stage air compressor for running impact wrenches.  I am fortunate to have a good space to work, and to be able to afford the up-front equipment cost:  it lets me drive nice cars with no car payments.  So what is my point?

    For those of you who are inclined to fix the coffee grinder or computer parts, I would encourage you to work on your vehicles if you don’t already.  Next time your brakes start squeaking, get a socket set and set of $30 pads, and read up on how to install them.  The hardest part is getting your wheel off.    If you don’t have a place to work, just do it in the side lot of your local Autozone.   They don’t care.

    1. It is true Autozone doesn’t care.  I did a set of struts one day in their parking lot.  That was a hoot.

    2. I agree.  OTOH, if you screw up fixing your coffee grinder, it’s unlikely that your entire family (and possibly innocent bystanders) will die horribly.  Know your limits.  :-)

      1. Yeah. Yeah.  That is what the auto repair professionals want you to think.   I had a tire come loose from the steering (tie rod) and skid me into a ditch, after a supposed professional forgot to put the cotter pin back in.  I would argue that 1) if you put it together and know how it works, you drive it better, and 2) I am way more concerned with my safety than the kid down at the service place. 

        But then some bozo forgets to tighten his lug nuts and winds up on Worlds Most Spectacular Car Crashes.

  29. Wait a minute.  There is a picture of a woman, on her knees behind a man who is bent over, with her hands on the man’s backside, and the comments are actually about fixing things?!

  30. i bought a record player from a jumble sale when I was 10 or 11 for 20 pence, it wasn’t working so I took it home to see what could be done – after some fiddling about I found a disconnected wire in the needle arm which when reconnected gave me a working and really cheap record player.

    after a fight with my elder brother he stomped on my record player until it was totally trashed and flicked me the 20 pence on the way out.

    grown up he is an investment bankster – pretty much sums up the banksters approach to other people in society I think – although I guess I should be grateful I got my initial investment back! 

  31. Three fix-it stories:

    1) Found a roller bag whose extending-handle-boom release button wasn’t working. I took apart the handle and found that a little dongle on the end of a metal cable had popped out of a fitting which turned when the release button was pressed. I pulled hard on the cable with needle nose pliers, and managed to get the dongle into the fitting.

    I’ve been using that bag for over five years.

    2) I found a wide-screen LCD monitor in the trash. The power light lit up, and the screen “blinked” when powered on, and the computer recognized the device, but . . . no picture!

    I’d heard about the “capacitor plague,” and having learned to solder (thanks to a Maker Shed kit), I thought I’d inspect the circuit board. Sure enough:

    The previous picture in the stream shows the result: A working monitor. It cost about $15 to fix.

    3) I have a pair of florescent-bulb braizer-style lamps in my living room. They use a pair of those circular florescent bulbs; a rotary switch changes between off and three brightness settings. One day one of the fixtures stopped working. They were old models, and it would have been hard to find a matching lamp, so I thought I’d try to fix it.

    I tested the bulbs in the other lamp. No problem. I didn’t see any real obvious problems with the circuit board. I was considering getting out the multimeter when I thought of an easier solution:

    I bought a replacement light bulb socket with an old-fashioned pull chain switch. After pulling out the circuit board I used a Dremel tool to carve a niche for the socket body and locked it in place with a couple of cable ties.

    I drilled a hole in the base of the “brazier” and dropped the pull chain through it.

    From more than a foot or so away you can’t tell that there’s a CF bulb in the braizer. Pulling the chain is actually nicer than the circular knob, because I can reach it while flopped on the sofa.

  32. In 2005  bought a lightweight scanner for around a hundred dollars. It worked pretty well for a few years, but I traveled with it a lot. I’m sure the bumps and bruises it received in my backpack led to the ‘crunching’ and ‘whirring’ sounds just before it stopped working all together.

    Now this is a pretty cheap looking scanner. There are no screws on the thing so I had to jerk it open with a screw driver not knowing if I’d ever be able to get it back together. To be clear, I know NOTHING about electronics–the head part that does the scanning had completely come off the thready thing that pulls it along (very technical sounding,  I know). After re-aligning it, ( I guess!) I neatly fit everything back together and used some smooth white tape to secure the pieces. It has not given me even the slightest bit of trouble since and I never had to spend another hundred or two on another scanner!

  33. Uh… I didn’t know I was tipping our hand.  Sorry.  Mine has a NO roller switch for the line power.  The 33/45 selector switch is a NO/NC roller switch.  Both are operated through a mechanical linkage from the shiny buttons on top.  The line switch was intermittent and caused speed instability. When I finish a few more tables (B&O 5005 and ELAC 50H on tap) I’ll come back to the Ioneerpay yank the funky linkage and switches and replace both switches with something more reliable.  I wish I knew what made this ‘table sound so good.  I’ve ordered a new Shure M97xE cart for it, the first phono pickup I’ve bought in 20 years.  And I’m building a nice passive EQ 40db RIAA preamp for it with OPA2134 opamps and battery power.Oh, and now I know what’s bothering me about that poster.  Who mows the lawn in white shoes?

    1. My Ioneerpay PL-41 sports an a/c synchronous hysteresis motor bigger than a soup can, which is an example of the sort of over-the-top late 1960’s Japanese engineering that seems to be all about subtly demonstrating technical excellence through seemingly humble consumer products.   My Morse sewing machine follows a similar mandate.

  34. I always think of mending things more in terms of clothing than electronics, as I have more experience mending clothing.

    The problem with mending clothing is this: Once the damage reaches a certain level, after repair, the clothing looks patched-together even if it’s still totally functional. No matter how brilliant a stitcher you are, you can’t fix a giant rip in the knee of your jeans invisibly. That’s fine if you only wear those patched clothes while doing housework, yardwork, etc. — but it’s not so fine if you want to look professional or even just neatly put-together.

    Now, there’s a lot of room for creativity in mending or repurposing clothes so that they still look good. And there are plenty of repairs and alterations you can do damn near invisibly, so the clothes still look like new. But I can only use so many pairs of jeans with large patches on the knees and seat, you know?

    Sometimes you can only repair things so far, and you may not be able to get them fully functional in all ways. I don’t want to try to “make do” with half-broken tools that make it much harder for me to get things done. I would rather just replace the tool.

    On the other hand, there are a lot of things where repair does result in a fully functional item. When my washing machine started leaking, I was able to look it up online and find detailed, step-by-step video instructions on how to take it apart, diagnose the problem, and repair it. For the cost of about $50 in parts and tools, and one weekend’s worth of my labor, my washing machine now functions perfectly again.

    I guess the key is knowing the difference between a situation where the repair is worth it, and when it’s really not.

    1. I don’t know; to me, a neat patch on a pair of jeans feels more like a symbol of resistance to the widespread “throw it away” mentality than something of which to be ashamed.  The same is true of the 1996 Ford Bronco that I drive. The body is rusting out in places, and the paint looks like it’s been sandpapered, but I’ve maintained the engine religiously (mostly _had_ it maintained, to be honest – it’s cheap enough and much cleaner to pay a local non-franchise oil-change place to recycle the old oil and put in the new oil than it is to do it myself) and it’s in fine shape.  I _have_ replaced the starter, the plugs and plug wires, the radio, a couple of idler pulleys, and various belts and hoses myself.  Also, the entire tailgate shell and rear window when it rusted out to the point that the torsion bar that helps offset the weight of the tailgate “uninstalled” itself abruptly _through_ said window.)  I’ve never been poor, but fixing and reusing things has become almost an obsession with me.  We built our own RV from a school bus and an earth-sheltered greenhouse using recycled concrete blocks, broken bricks, and a number of discarded sliding glass door inserts (the double-pane insulated glass was fine; it was just the frame that had rotted out, or a roller had broken).  I was thrilled when Goodwill opened an electronics store in town.  Practically an infinite supply of computer parts, stereos, speakers, digital clocks, and other toys for really cheap.  Not to mention the two Roombas I spent a total of about $120 on, including a couple of minor repairs and some spare parts from eBay.  Until people learn to take pride in their ability to fix things again, and get over the whole, “I have to have the very latest version to prove I’m hip and successful” mentality, workers will continue to be exploited, natural resources wasted, and the public unempowered. 

  35. I went to the dump today, but was slightly too late to stop a gorgeous, clearly quite valuable antique rocking chair from being ground into splinters by a gigantic steel-wheeled loader.  It looked to me like it was in perfect condition, but probably had a loose rung or something.

    I did get a new wheelbarrow to replace Pappy’s, which has numerous rust-holes.  The new one’s a fancy professional model with nothing wrong except a flat tire.

    I got a couple mover’s pads, a toolbox, and a bunch of styrofoam insulation too.   Unfortunately I also couldn’t rescue a couple thousand dollars worth of brand new, unused styrofoam panels.

    Edit: Turned out the wheelbarrow was also missing one of the bolts holding the axle on, so the wheel wobbled alarmingly. Took the corresponding bolt out of Pappy’s worn-out wheelbarrow to fix it, and Mrs. Kagehisa now claims that this is actually Pappy’s wheelbarrow with everything but that one bolt replaced.

  36. So I’m taking dog for walk, 
    Pick up microphone,  from  discarded contents of ‘Rock Band/ Band Hero’ type PS3 game,   They were only getting chucked out on side of road with plastic guitar and drum pads.
    Plug usb connecter into port on laptop.
    Put kettle on.

    Windows says ‘Found Logitech USB Microphone’

    Proper Hiphop, that were.

  37. My grandfather worked his way through college during the depression.  After years of working and saving, when he retired, his hobbies were:
    1.  Going to garage sales and buying what he needed cheap; buying broken things and fixing them.
    2.  Going to the dump, find things (especially bicycles) and fixing them, then selling them.

    I’m not at his level (he was a mechanical engineer; I studied English Lit) but some of that rubbed off on me, and I value it more highly with each passing year.

  38. Replaced the faulty power jack on my Dell Mini 9 last week. A bit intimidating to pull a laptop apart, but Dell provides an excellent step by step guide with photos.  As a bonus, I was able to fix the internal sound (speaker-to-motherboard connector had disconnected, plugged it back in and voila.  This would have cost $50 to fix at a service depot, and who knows how much more for Dell to fix.  My cost was $6 plus time.

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