December 28, 2010

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Ten lessons learned from disassembling and rebuilding our washing machine

This wasn’t how I thought I’d spend the holidays. I planned to write, draw, and reorganize the house and my digital life. Instead, I found myself deep in washing machine parts, disassembling the LG WM2140CW so that the 27" washer could fit through our 26" staircase. It was the first time I’d disassembled anything brand-new, much less a major appliance. Here’s what I learned.

1. A great relationship transforms hard work into lots of fun. W- and I worked on disassembling and reassembling that washing machine all afternoon and into quite a bit of the evening. Because I was there, he didn’t have to do it alone. Because he was there, I not only discovered more of W-’s amazing skills, but developed my own. We worked more efficiently together than he could have on his own: another pair of hands to keep things steady or pass a screwdriver, another set of eyes to spot the spring holding the gasket in place, another person to find a free online copy service manual for our exact model (you wouldn’t believe how many ad-spam and link-spam sites there are for service manuals)…

W- and I joked that even if our gamble failed and the washing machine didn’t turn back on, it would’ve been worth it as the tuition for skills and the prevention of future couples’ therapy costs. ;)

So it was exercise AND social time AND preparation time, and now I need to find a better time-tracking system that takes into account perfect days like that when everything comes together. Not multitasking, but combination.

Even if you don’t have a significant other who can turn things like this into wonderful bonding moments, you might be able to share your hard work with friends. For example, I once held an IKEA assembly party, which was lots of fun and which resulted in a kitted-out apartment. =)

2. Before you move large things, look for anything that might scratch it, and disassemble more than you think you need. Orient it based on risky areas, too. We forgot to take off the door holder (part 1), and it scraped and dented the front part of the washer instead of the back (part 2). Learning from our mistake, we disassembled it and took the dryer through without any problems. W- hammered the dent out. The scratches can be touched up with paint (yay white washers, no colour-matching like the red ones would’ve required), but it would’ve been nice to avoid that in the first place.

3. Don’t be afraid of taking things apart. Particularly when you’re working with an electrical engineer who gained experience by taking apart the previous washing machine, and when you’ve got enough of an emergency fund so that messing up is annoying but not catastrophic. I now know way more about washing machines than I learned from How It’s Made or from the exploded parts diagrams.

4. Service manuals rock. I can understand why they’re not just part of the package (after all, most consumers won’t need them). I’m glad we found them, though. Although we were willing to pay a little extra for the features of the Samsung washer, we found the LG service manual for free, and that decided it for us. ‘Course, now that I’ve done some more digging, I’ve found a Maytag Technical Institute service manual for a Samsung washing machine we could probably have used, but ah well. =) I like the LG service manual a bit more because it uses clear diagrams, although the photos in the other one are good for general orientation.

Retailers or sales representatives who sell appliances could keep a copy of the service manual so that they can answer questions from people about how far the machines can be disassembled in order to get it through a narrow opening, although I suppose that’s a very niche thing. ;)

The service manual’s disassembly guide pointed out screws we might’ve taken a long time to find, the spring holding the bellows closed, and the sequence in which to take off the panels. It didn’t go as far as removing the drum, but we figured that part out easily.

5. Watch out for sharp bits on the interiors of machines. Yes, the washing machine was all rounded corners and smiles on the outside, but boy, there were some sharp edges on the inside. Move carefully.

6. Keep track of your screws by screwing them into the empty places. Make rebuilding easier by returning screws to the proper location after detaching whatever needs to be detached. It’s hard to label everything correctly or to remember where each type of screws go. Let the machine remember for you. If you don’t rattle things around too much and the screws are fairly secure, you probably won’t lose any screws when you move the machine.

7. Use magnetic screw-holders to keep your other screws together. If you can’t leave the screw in, you can keep it in a magnetic screw-holder. This is generally a good idea, and almost a necessity if you have cats who like chasing loose things around. I’m looking at you, Luke.

8. Keep screws from old projects. If you have left-over screws from other projects (say, reassembled items that mysteriously had more screws than you started with, or optional parts you didn’t use), keep them organized. You never know when you’ll need to replace a screw after searching under the couch and all the other usual Bermuda triangles for cat toys.

9. Resist the urge to snap the plastic bits. If connectors appear to be stuck together, it could be some kind of latch you can find and open instead of snapping various plastic bits until the connectors can be eased apart. ;) Patience.

10. Celebrate. If you can’t celebrate successfully rebuilding a washing machine and hearing the sweet, sweet sounds of it turning on without any leaks or explosions, what can you celebrate? Even though we had lots of food in the fridge (such as a turkey we’ve been chipping away at since Friday), we headed out to Pho Hung for some delicious bowls of pho. Perfect wrap-up for a perfect day.

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