Monday, January 17, 2011

Inside Dad's Toy Workshop - Toy Repair and Creation

While my basement workbench has served many purposes from wine making to laptop repair, I periodically find myself at work in the basement on one of our son's toys.

Tonight I set out to repair a music-playing toy shaped like a star. Each point of the star is supposed to play sound or music, but one hasn't worked since we got it. Even though he's only one, he knows that button should work. So, as The Dad, I need to fix it! Not sure if it came from a garage sale or the thrift store. The offending item was a squeezable cloth item, so it could be tricky getting at the switch inside the plush part.

Fortunately this one wasn't too difficult to diagnose. After removing a few screws, I was able to test the working switches with my multimeter. This gave me a basis for comparison to the broken switch. While prodding around the problem showed itself... a broken wire. Oddly enough this seems to be a trend. I fixed a musical toy book some months ago which also had a broken wire. This one I was able to strip and solder back together. In a pinch the strands of CAT5 ethernet cable works well as a small gage wire. Thankfully my wife knows me well, and has brought home other non-working toys from garage sales, knowing that I'll enjoy working on them, and hopefully getting them to work. Lucky for me the last one was only dead due to some battery acid corrosion on one of the battery contacts. A little sanding & scraping and we have a nice electronic drum and Nathan loves it.

Speaking of things Nathan loves... he loves turning light switches on and off, and loudly exclaiming "ON!" when the lights come on. I headed to the hardware store a couple weeks ago with the goal of giving him a way to play with light switches where we don't always have to lift him up. What I ended up finding was a WireMold light switch and enclosure made for mounting to brick walls. It's a small enclosure that holds the light switch and has just enough room inside for a little more. I had considered a normal electrical junction box, but the switch plate sticks out far and this presents a number of sharp edges. Not so kid-friendly. I drilled out a hole in the switch plate for a light. The light was purchased from Radio Shack as a 12 volt automotive indicator light, but I only bought it for the nice plastic lens which snaps easily into a 1/2" hole. I tore out the bulb and wired in a blue LED, a resistor for limiting current, and hooked it up to 2 AAA batteries in a battery enclosure I had in my bin of electronics supplies. Normally I wouldn't call so much attention to something as simple as wiring up an LED to a switch, but the application as a kids toy made it more fun.

With the enclosure snapped together, the electronics soldered up, and the switchplate screwed on tight, it was done! Nathan loves his personal light switch. I have some ideas for a better design if I could custom-manufacture the toy, but for now it works well and he enjoys it, so that's what matters.