Fixers of the world unite!

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Tanya Weaver has been pondering our throwaway culture and thinks that instead of constantly buying more stuff we should try fixing the stuff we already own so that it’ll either work better or last longer.
When I was growing up we had an adapter plug at home that would take a two pin plug in one end and plug into a socket with three pins on the other. Nothing special you might think other than the fact that my dad made it.

I didn’t know that at the time and just figured that you could buy this grey, cylinder-shaped adapter (pic below) in any shop. It was only on my recent trip back to South Africa when I saw it again that my dad told me the story of how it came about.

In 1985 he was working as an industrial engineering manager for a company near Jo’burg called TelTech, which manufactured electronic telephone exchanges. Most of the components used in its products were imported from France. So, in would come the two pin female sockets, which were removed and replaced with the South African three pin sockets.

At the time, most of the imported domestic products and tools came with a male two pin plug and, according to my dad, if you removed it you could lose the warranty.

Light bulbs started going off in his head as he was sure he could hack the two to form an adapter. So he took a female socket and attached a male three pin plug using a section of plastic tubing and filled it with an epoxy. Not bad going considering he still uses the adapter today.

His plug story got me thinking about how we don’t seem to be modifying and repairing the stuff we own anymore so that they’ll either work better or live longer.

A great example a friend told me about recently is that ladies don’t tend to have their shoes reheeled anymore. I have to admit, I’ve only ever had it done once.

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Last year I was really intrigued when I came across a company called Sugru, whose whole ethos is based around fixing and hacking our products.

In 2004 Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh, who was studying at the Royal College of Art, came up with a prototype for a mouldable hacking putty.

Many prototypes and years later, her company has grown and her product has gone global.

The way it works is that once it’s removed from the pack, the user has 30 minutes to form this malleable material into the desired shape by hand and bond it to a range of objects and surfaces.

It will then cure within 24 hours into a strong, flexible silicon rubber that is both heat-resistant and waterproof. Sugru ‘fixers’ have used it for all manner of things from mending broken cables, preventing chairs from wobbling to customising knife handles for better grip.

I bought myself a pack and my first fix was on a pair of leaky boots. I can confirm that I no longer get soggy socks and wore them all through the winter (I may have to wear them all through the summer too at this rate).

One thing I’ve learn’t about moving in beekeeping circles is that most beekeepers loathe buying anything new

The next was a pair of old prescription glasses that I wear when running. One of the arms had snapped off and, being a flexible material when cured, I fixed them with a blob of blue sugru. It was winter at the time and I figured that being dark outside, I wouldn’t get any strange looks.

Now that the sun’s out more, I still run in them and actually don’t mind the strange looks, better than buying a new pair.

Towards the end of last year, Sugru launched ‘The Fixer’s Manifesto’.

I’d encourage you to take a look. There are 12 points in total but I particularly like the first two: if it’s broken, fix it – because everyday practical problem solving is the most beautiful form of creativity there is; and if it’s broken, improve it – a small, clever tweak can improve how something works for years to come.

In fact, one thing I’ve discovered about moving in beekeeping circles is that most beekeepers loathe buying anything new if they can fix, adapt, modify, hack or make it themselves.

On a Bee Safari I went on last summer (don’t laugh) I was rather delighted to see a few individual wooden beehives balanced on old, plastic milk bottle crates. It meant that the beekeeper didn’t have to bend down so low to inspect his hive.

Recently, as I was nosying around beesource.com I came across a whole section of build-it-yourself pdf guides on how to go about constructing your own hives and other beekeeping equipment.

My favourite was the ‘Honey Heater’. Honey crystallises naturally, which doesn’t help the beekeeper when they came to pour their buckets of honey into jars to sell. So, some clever person has converted a chest freezer, which you could probably pick up at a landfill site, into a simple heater that can gently heat up to five gallon buckets of honey without decreasing the enzyme content. Brilliant.

I’m not suggesting that we should feel guilty about buying new stuff, who can resist the box fresh smell of a new product, but perhaps we should be more conscious of the new stuff we buy and what we already own.

Go against the grain of our throwaway culture, try fixing what you’ve got to extend its life or give it a new lease of life by finding another use for it – ikeahackers.net has some good inspiration.

I realise that being an audience of designers and engineers, many of you have probably created your own hacks, fixes or mods. I’d love to hear about them. Drop me an email with some pics.




Don’t buy new. Make what you’ve already got even better than ever.
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