Re: ~e; deconstructing electronics

From brian carroll <>
Date Fri, 20 Aug 2004 12:24:22 -0500
In-reply-to <001e01c48633$f7048860$49647e43@chameleon>

  Mike, thanks for sharing the very useful and valuable
  information-- this is the stuff that is not found in any of
  the books I've read yet similar situations have been
  encountered and your advice deals directly with these
  types of events. I wonder how this can be put online in
  a format within the 'education' section of the site, as the
  subsections were going to have separate topics on the
  basic tools, safety tips for deconstruction/disassembly,
  advice on workshop/workspace setup, and techniques.
  yet how this is all going to be put together is not yet
  known so I hope to keep this content in those areas if
  at all possible when developed. It is quite something
  to read these tips as it is what is missing, that personal
  knowledge, and helps so much if known in advance.
  My brain is a bit like a marshmallow though I've been
  contemplating this posts and the ideas since last night
  and do not know a way to put all this in one section as
  of yet though want to contribute a few ideas to the topic....

Mike McPherson wrote:

> Today I mostly take electronic devices apart for salvaging purposes. I  
> can
> literally spend hours doing this.  With an old TV and a de-soldering  
> iron
> (or just a cheap Weller 25 Watt iron and a pair of needle nose pliers)  
> I can
> amuse myself for hours.

I think I asked on Electronics-QA list about taking things
apart and it may have been Mr. Purdie who gave some
sage advice to beginner's like myself to stay away from
the larger appliances (TV, washer/dryer, microwave, etc)
so you must know quite a bit about what you're doing to
go in there with a screwdriver!! The advice I received has
given me a hands-off approach to any house-current or
non-battery device tinkering, if it is still to be tested as a
working device and not taken apart. And even taking a-
part a large device is off-the-table for my skill level as a
novice. This is corroborated by robot builders (robot
builders, junkbots authors) -- that there is actual danger
involved in, say, TVs because of the capacitors are able
to retain their stored energy and give a fatal heart-zap if
going at it with a screwdriver and no understanding. So,
the first thing I recycled at the OfficeDepot/HP walk-in/
drop-off of electronics gear was an old, working CRT
monitor, as there was no way I'd be taking that apart!
To me it is greatly admirable to be able to know how
these devices work and to safely work around them,
and to be able to fix them (a lost art/skill/knowledge),
and having visited a vacuum-tube shop where early
devices are still made to work (as new), and a library
of old schematics by early radio manufacturers retain
their value - it brings a lot of wonderment about what
is being tossed out into the trash heaps... knowledge.

> It's almost like a treasure hunt or something.

I've found desoldering to be this way, have a solder-sucker
and desoldering bulb and an IC puller, and screwdriver set
and a soldering iron and found that, with enough fresh air
to let the solder smoke waft away, it is rewarding to spend
time, not only grabbing a few components (the ones that do
not get ruined, in learning how to get them off without fatal
damage) - it is also interesting to see how much can be
recovered, and how much cannot be recovered in the way
things are designed (chips and transistors that have their
markings blacked-out so they cannot be re-used or found
out what the chip itself is or how it works). it's a lot of fun.

> 1. Your work bench or desk area should be clean as possible (i.e., no
> clutter) and ideally perched on top of a smooth surface or concrete.   
> Avoid
> any form of carpeting.  The floor turns out to be a place you spend  
> more
> time than you might think (it's the place where the little items like
> screws, springs, etc. inevitably fall.

indoors, also, carpeting with soldering iron could turn
into a fire hazard or at least burned rugs. read a good
piece of advice, to keep a switch-based powerbar (not
sure what the actual name of the multiple outlet with a
lighted-switch on it, actually is called. surge protector,
though sometimes it is not this it seems. If you plug a
(basic) soldering iron into it, then you can turn it on and
off with your foot instead of plugging and unplugging
(and forgetting to turn it off). good lighting is important.
and, if eyesight is weird, attempts at magnifying helps.

> 2. If you can arrange for a simple uncluttered area that is painted all
> white (or close to it), hunting for dropped or misplaced parts becomes  
> much
> easier.

this is ideal, the only drawback to this is if you're putting
a bright light onto a white workspace, it may be hard on
the eyes if doing work, maybe not. Though this makes a
lot of sense considering tables, that if choosing tables it
would probably be a better choice than black (which is
the route gone here, because of table colors available).
One thing: there is a great table I found at an automotive
store, which goes on sale every so often (10 off of an
already decent price) for a Lifetime 'shop' table, url is:
These things are great for working on and soldering on
(the top can withstand an iron which melts it a bit). There
are ones in white that may be found at home office places,
and this is a great worktable for electronics in my opinion.

> 4. A metal cup like a mint container is very useful to confine certain
> extracted parts.  When more tools creep their way into the work area,  
> they
> tend to obstruct things (even other tools!).

I've also found that fishing tackle gear/boxes are fairly good
for storage (or, at least, helpful yet not always easy access).
from tool storage (pliers, etc.) a hunting/ammo box by plano
(bright orange) helps, relatively cheap and useful toolbox.
so too with electronics components and Plano/other stow-
away boxes, basically clear plastic boxes with compartments
with a snap lid. printed a few labels of what is inside and just
stack them on the table space or floor and it works fairly well
for a small scale experimenting workspace. also, the idea of
keeping small parts in one place had me wondering if this
tackle gear would be even more useful (such as those which
store lead snap-on line weights), such as these containers:

probably a lot cheaper than options at hardware stores.
there boxes are similar (though much smaller) than the
plastic bins used here for capacitors, motors, batteries:

> 6. For plastic cases that snap together, the press fit tabs can be  
> located
> by running your thumbnail down the separation groove that is used in  
> most
> plastic injection molding designs.  Once located, your goal is to  
> reduce the
> mangling of the surrounding plastic as much as possible.

  was wondering about this. it is informative to open things
  up (even if breaking them, to find out how they actually can
  be taken apart by not breaking them by torquing plastic). I've
  a suspicion that plastic shells may also be epoxied together
  so that possibly some cases are like sealed tombs which, it
  seems even that some designs prevent good efforts at taking
  things apart (through security bits or even, unknown methods
  of how to even find a way to take something apart, no traces.).

> 7. Use a thin blade flathead screw driver combined with a suitably wide
> chisel or a wide and thin flathead screwdriver (very hard to find -  
> that's
> why I mention the use of a chisel).  Push down on one tab while gently
> twisting the chisel to widen the gap. Do this while the case is pressed
> against the bench.  *Note*: never put any apart of your body in a  
> potential
> landing zone where a tool that slips from you hand may end up  
> (especially
> with a chisel!).

  this gets to a basic question: is a heatgun (or blowdryer, if it can
  be equivalent) possibly useful in deconstructing things? I have
  eyes planted on taking apart a wallwart, as I've become certain
  that the insides are full of coils just like computer power supplies
  (the most interesting discovery, in taking apart my busted PC was
  to find that zone with the dense power electronics). and, how to
  crack a wallwart case open without breaking it is wondered, and
  if a heatgun may do it for glues, or if a blowdryer may work as a
  substitute, and if this is not a good idea. of course, unplugged (!).

> 8. With the advent of cheap digital cameras, complex devices can be
> photographed as you dismantle it so you don't have to sketch the  
> layout or
> memorize it.

  this is helpful, would not have though of it, as the magnet and
  especially the whiteout and erasers...

> 12. If you can't get your device back together and are fed up with the  
> whole
> exercise, you always can send it to me for salvage :-)

this is a great post Mike, thanks for sharing all this information.
and yes, I read in 'junkbots' of suggestions on how to get other
peoples junk, where to ask for it and how. that is why recycling
streams seem to be a great place to get access to old devices.
I've yet to take a part a lot of things, yet only having done a few
things it is a great learning experience and documenting it by
photo seems to be part of the WWW content that shows up in
various forms, taking apart new and broken gear to explain
or figure out how things work, to share the data and ideas.
and doing more of this deconstruction documentation is a
goal for developing content for the EM educational initiative.
digital camera, some white background, light, worktable,
to salvage or not to salvage, even, there's a lot to learn
and be found by taking things apart. inspiring. brian

  the electromagnetic internetwork-list
  electromagnetism / infrastructure / civilization