Failed Electronic Experiences

Electronics Projects that Didn't Go As Planned

Failed Electronic Experiences DIY (Do it yourself) can sometimes turn into SIUBY (Screw It Up By Yourself). We asked readers to share stories about that time when Do It Yourself didn't happen as planned. These might be stories about how you thought you were going to save money only to ultimately cost you more. Or you might have a story about when you were young and overconfident in your abilities. Here are a handful of stories that our customers shared.

The VTVM Fix

This happened back about 1966, when I was working after school for minimum wage as an electronic technician. When the boss was out, we would sometimes jimmy the door on his office as a shortcut to another area.

Once as I walked past the boss's workbench, I noticed that his prized RCA VTVM (vacuum tube volt meter) was noticeably off-zero (with power off, it should have been on zero). Wanting to be helpful, I picked up a small screwdriver, popped the little cover off the hole below the meter movement, and stuck the screwdriver in expecting to turn a small adjusting screw. Nope. There was no screw, this model had a lever to push one way or the other.

What I actually did was knock the meter movement off the bearings! So, I took the VTVM apart, then took the meter movement apart and got the moving coil back on the bearings. I carefully adjusted it, and put everything back together. As far as I know, he never found out what happened, or that we often wandered through his office when he wasn't there.

Frank Demarest

The Computer Deal of the Century

I bought a laptop at a thrift store. It was relatively new and mostly working. The screen was having an issue with the back light, an easy fix and the hinges were beat up. But it was a $350 laptop that I got for $100.

I ordered the backlight power module and some hinges. Got the backlight working and decided to swap the hinges. The machine was currently running and while doing so, one of the metal hinges touched the motherboard. POOF my computer was dead... I burned the motherboard.

I eventually recovered most of my money by recycling the hard drive, memory, keyboard, and power supply. I still have the case to sell ? anyone need a Toshiba laptop case?

Pablo Sanchez

A Pile of Used Parts

Sometime ago one of our customers brought in a very nice Denon DP60L turntable that was currently not working. He explained that the unit was working perfectly fine until he read in a blog that replacing the capacitors will improve the sound quality. That was completely wrong as the capacitors in the turntable are for the motor servo controller to keep the proper speed.

The customer purchased a complete capacitor kit that somebody was selling on an auction website and went ahead and performed a complete SIUBY. He installed capacitors of the wrong value and in the wrong polarity. He damaged the PLL integrated circuit and burnt the foil on the circuit boards, rendering the beautiful turntable to a pile of used parts.

Luis Galvez

A Solder Meltdown

In the early 1960's as a boy I saw plans to build a one transistor audio amplifier. I thought this would work well with my crystal radio and maybe drive a small speaker rather than using headphones to hear my local A.M. radio stations. Plans called for building it with carpet tacks as junctions on a wooden board. I was sure IR would be nicer if I could use point to point wiring and solder all the connections together.

I had saved my allowance and bought a transistor CK722 in a metal case. It cost around $6.00 and was a large piece of my weekly allowance income. I wired everything together: transistor, resistor and capacitor and tested to see if it worked as I had envisioned. Yes indeed all was well, so I began to solder the parts together using my old antique soldering iron.

The joints looked good and I was proud of my soldering skills. Only when I went to hook up the battery power supply did I realize that heat from my soldering iron had destroyed my expensive CK722 transistor. From then on I learned the correct way to solder electronic components and to always use a heat sink. Lesson well learned for a 12 year old kid.

Dan Okrasinski

Tired of Being Cold

I was living in a poorly insulated house in the Santa Cruz Mountains. During the winter months the bathroom was perpetually cold and the only source of heat was from a wall mounted radiant electric heater. I didn?t need a stinkin' electrician, I was an EE so I took the heater out of the wall.

There was a black wire, a white wire, and a bare wire. I went to Home Depot and bought a fan-forced heater and a 24 hour programmable timer. I turned off the breaker wired them up and mounted them into the wall. I went downstairs and switched on the breaker. When I got back upstairs, the timer was sounding scary, but I switched it on anyway. A gale came out of the heater, accompanied by smoke, followed shortly by flames!

I quickly shut off the timer. The wiring was actually carrying 220 volts. Boy, did I feel stupid! The timer and the fan were toast. Since the bare wire was ground, it would violate code to use it and I couldn't find a 220V timer, and there was no room for a transformer, so I gave up on being able to be able to preheat the bathroom.

I did find a compatible 220V fan and the heater had two elements that I changed from parallel to series, so I was able to salvage it. I learned a lot about house wiring that day.

My First DIY Electronics Project

I designed and built my very first electronics project when I was about 10 years old. I had just started subscribing to Popular Electronics in 1959 and was eager to enter the world of electronics engineering. I acquired a soldering iron, a pair of needle-nose pliers and began retrieving abandoned electronics from the local TV repair shop and de-soldering the parts to build up a supply of components. Using a cigar box for a chassis, I attached some terminal strips, a selenium rectifier, a power cord and some miscellaneous other parts.

I wasn't sure what the device was supposed to do, but it ended up being a terrific "one-shot house smeller-upper". It made a nice loud bang too. While it did seem a setback at the time, (one does not quickly forget the smell of a toasted selenium rectifier), I did learn a useful skill. When a friend's parents' TV went out some time later, I was able to correctly diagnose the problem immediately upon entering the house. They were amazed!

Don Trapnell

Ran Out Of Gas

I was about ten years old and my dad gave me a seized lawnmower motor to dissect and figure out how it worked. I took it apart and actually managed to free it up. After much fussing around I got it reassembled and bolted it to a heavy piece of wood to support it for a trial run. Only one problem, I had no gas.

I pondered for a while and the thought of walking 5 miles each way to the nearest gas station carrying a gas can was too much for me to bear. I needed a solution. I figured that alcohol might work because it burned too. We had a large bottle of alcohol that was used to cool us off when we were sick and feverish.

I know a bath in a flammable substance would get a parent a free ride to prison today but this was the early sixties. I dumped a good slug of alcohol into the tank and started pulling the rope to start it up. After what seemed like forever, it started!

I was rewarded with the fresh smell of mint exhaust as the scented rubbing alcohol fuel burned in the engine. My dad was shocked at both the fact that I freed up the motor and that it ran on alcohol. Today the rubbing alcohol is heavily mixed down with plain water so I wouldn't recommend trying this at home. I sometimes wonder how I made it through to adulthood!

Stephen Black

28 Years to Figure it Out

It was in 1973 that I had a Ford car with an automatic transmission that wouldn?t shift out of first gear. I had never fixed an automatic transmission before but decided... How hard could it be? So I pulled the pan, drained the oil, and removed the valve body (the brains of the transmission with myriad valves and control spools). I figured one of the valves might be stuck, so I pulled it out and carefully cleaned it and reinstalled everything.

Low and behold, it now shifted all the way to high gear! However, I never had a reverse gear ever again. My students at the time would push me backwards out of my parking space everyday so I could drive home. I tried taking it all apart again, but could not find anything amiss.

Fast forward to 2001. I was taking an automotive electronics class and the instructor asked me if I wanted to rebuild a Ford automatic transmission. As I started disassembling it, I asked him what year it was made as it looked familiar. It was the same type as the one I tried to fix in 1973! I told him what happened and he said "Oh, you let the check ball fall out when you pulled the valve body out while the tranny was in the car". He pointed it out and said "when it's in the vehicle just put a dab of grease or petroleum jelly on it, so it stays up while you reinstall the valve body". 28 years later and I found out what I did wrong. Finally! I still do things I have never tried before, but I need to do a lot more homework first!

Ted Parafiorito
Do you have a story to tell? Write us at [email protected] we would love to share it with our ever growing list of readers.