Forgotten Skills: MacGyvering

Hey look!  A wonky bit of wood!
Hey look! A wonky bit of wood!

Last night, I made this.  You’re probably thinking, “Okay, so she made a funky shaped piece of wood.  Why the heck do I care?”  I don’t blame you in the slightest for such thoughts — this little wooden doohickey doesn’t make a ton of sense without context.  So how about I give you a reason to care?

This weird little wooden thing, made using a popsicle stick, a Swiss army knife, some glue, and a wood file, saved me and my family a ****ton of money.

Okay, you’re probably intrigued now, but let me explain further.

A few years ago, our dryer stopped working.  Well, sort of.  It sometimes worked, but there was absolutely no discernible pattern there.  And sometimes it would work to start out and then stop in the middle of a cycle — not fun when you were really hoping to wear those jeans tomorrow.

Many people in this situation would probably call a repairman or get a new machine all together (this thing wasn’t exactly brand new at the time anyway) but we had other ideas.  We had noticed that sometimes it would start if you opened and closed the door again, indicating that there was something wrong with the closing mechanism, and it seemed quite silly to get rid of an otherwise functional dryer because of a faulty door latch.

We discovered that there was a small switch near the opening which, when pressed by the door (or even a finger), allowed the machine to run.  The problem was that this switch had broken off, leaving only a little nub that sometimes caught on the door and sometimes didn’t.  So we could spend oodles of money on repairs and/or replacement parts (or heaven forbid, a new machine), or we could find a way to fix the switch ourselves.

Enter my weird little wooden doohickey.  The one you see pictured is in fact version number 3, and thus far the best one yet.  (I’ve been refining my technique.)  The first one was one my friend made out of an old eraser and taped on with silk tape.  (She is an expert MacGyverer and was the one who figured out the exact source of the problem.)  That one was a good quick fix and it lasted about a year or so before it gave up — the thing about erasers (and apparently silk tape adhesive) is they have a habit of melting when repeatedly exposed to high temperatures.

Still, that one had worked well enough that I decided to make a more durable version for the second time around.  I needed a sturdy material that could be shaped but wasn’t overly susceptible to melting. That was when wood came to the rescue.  I used a random scrap I had on hand (reclaimed from our old kitchen cabinets) and carefully shaped it into a nifty little switch extender.  A few drops of superglue later, we were golden for about three more years.

Last night as I was doing laundry, that switch finally fell off.  I would have just glued it back on again (as I said, it was perfectly functional) but unfortunately it disappeared into the void.  So off I was again, and this time I went for a popsicle stick.  Let me tell you, those things are marvelous for MacGyvering — just soft enough to be workable when you don’t have anything resembling proper tools (or are too lazy to dig them out of your garage) but just strong enough to be useful.  They’re also quite easily filed down, which makes it much easier to make strange and/or tiny shapes like the one above.

So what’s the point of all this?  We live in a culture where people tend to assume that broken objects aren’t worth fixing, or else that we can’t fix them ourselves.  I say that’s completely and utterly false.  It’s true that sometimes things are broken beyond repair, but often it’s just a question of a little creativity and some experimentation.  So grab your Swiss Army knives and your duct tape and leave your fear of experimentation behind.*  That seemingly broken dryer of yours may yet last you another ten years.

*Do of course exercise common sense in any MacGyvering activities you may undertake.  If experimental fixes might risk your safety or that of anyone else, please know that sometimes it’s perfectly acceptable and worthwhile to bring in a professional.

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