Cam the Handy Man Strikes Again!

The “Red Green Show” is a Canadian comedy written by and starring Steve Smith. It is loosely based on the premise that you can fix or make anything with duct tape. Steve lived in Hamilton, which is next to my former home of Burlington and had a cottage in Bala, Muskoka near my grandma’s cottage. I actually bought something from him at a garage sale years ago, presumably before he hit the big time.

He has a great quote (which I have used before in this blog), “If the women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.” In my youth I relied on the handsome card (many would dispute this was ever a card I could play) but now in my 50’s I can rely on “my looks” less and less. After 36 years together I’m not too concerned about my wife having wandering eyes, but I feel like I had to up my ‘handy’ trump card nonetheless. This can be difficult for an electronic publisher with no skills, other than laying out newsletters, writing and publishing books and migrating software skills to do eBooks and all the other fun stuff that goes with technology today. In other words, no real skills to speak of.

Living off the grid has taught me to embrace challenges. Luckily I have wonderful friends like Ken and Sandy and Bill who seem to relish the challenge when stuff breaks. I’m still not enthralled with these challenges, but I’ve accepted that if something breaks I am unlikely to be able to find someone who can fix my stuff, and now I can’t afford them anyway. So if I want to be able to use the broken item, I have no choice but to fix it myself!

Ken and Sandy helped me bring down our wind turbine this fall (which had been struck by lightning in August) and helped me to determine that the DC rectifier was shot. I would like to suggest that they used fancy multimeters and other complicated testing equipment to make this diagnosis, but really we figured it out by noticing where the plastic case had been blown off. My respect for the power of a lightning strike continues unabated.


I spent some time on the phone with the tech guys at Bergey and figured out what I needed and I ordered it. The parts arrived along with some gas tube arrestors that they suggested might help with lightning strikes in the future. There were no instructions included but they were happy to send me a PDF. And so I set about putting the unit back together. A DC Rectifier is the like the opposite of an inverter. An inverter converts DC (like in your car battery) to AC (to charge your cell phone). A DC Rectifier converts 3 phase AC, which the magnet and stator alternator on my wind produces, to DC, to run into my batteries.


I got it rewired and put back together and convinced Ken to come over early one morning to help us put the tower back up. At first I didn’t think that the turbine was working because the ampmeter, which tells me how much power the turbine is making, wasn’t registering any “juice.” Eventually I realized that the ampmeter was just another on the long list of electronics that got trashed by the lightning strike. So now when I walk past our wind turbine and I see it spinning away, producing clean, carbon-free electricity to power our life, I’m pretty proud. I did that.

A few weeks ago Michelle was doing the laundry and the washing machine stopped working. It filled with water, agitated and drained but would not spin the load dry. I have been pushing to buy one of the new front-load European-designed machines which are more efficient than our current one. But I get no support for this idea, probably because even though Michelle is the person who does the laundry around here, she is also the person who balances our bank accounts. She told me we just needed to fix the old machine. Sure it’s 15 years old but it cleans clothes just fine so just fix it!


So I went about taking the washing machine apart. Washing machines are surprisingly complicated. So many wires and hoses coming out of the back. Of course one would assume that you’d pull the back off the washing machine to get at all the guts, right? When I was having trouble getting the back off I called a friend of Ken’s who fixes appliances. The first thing he said was “Never, EVER take the back off the washing machine. They’re all front serviceable.” Alrighty then, Michelle, let’s go check out those front loaders down at Sears!

Well it turns out I really hadn’t gone that far on the back and I was able to get to the motor. The problem was a coupling. The electric motor on a washing machine powers the pump and spins the drum. The coupling is kind of like the clutch on a transmission that converts the power shaft from the motor into the shaft that rotates the drum. I bought a new coupling made of metal. The original one was plastic, which begs the question why they didn’t make it out of metal in the first place. Obviously so many of these broke that they eventually decided to make them out of metal. Maybe that washing repairman on the TV commercials is a little busier than we’re lead to believe.

So through some miracle I was able to get it all back together and it works fine. I’ve always been an expert at dismantling things. It’s the getting them back together that poses the real challenge. I have a box of extra parts that I always seem to end up with after each project.

So for $30 our washing machine is working again. Could I be ready to be a Maytag repairman? I’m not sure. I am proud of the fact that I did not pull the stunt that I pulled a few years ago. I was fixing a leaky kitchen tap and I called Michelle to come and look at what I was doing. She walked in to find me bent over the sink without a shirt on, and with my loose-fitting work jeans pulled half way down my butt. That would have been immature. I really need to add some new material once in a while. For now until I come up with some new material I shall keep my tool box at the ready, to prove to my wife that while she didn’t marry a handyman, there may be some evolutionary progress on this front.

3 Responses to “Cam the Handy Man Strikes Again!”

  • Jim:

    Good on you Cam for having a go. Too many things seem to be just throw away today.
    Yes you can use duct tap or here in Australia they also talk about using baling wire or twine to do the repair job, but it is even better to do the job properly. I recently had the spin “die” on our twin tub washing machine. I pulled the back off and bypassed the wiring of the switch then the safety switch on the lid with still no movement in the spin even though I could move it by hand. With nothing to lose I thought I would go a little deeper and pull out the motor and found it was basically seized up. After drilling out 4 rivets and dismantling the motor I was able to squirt oil into the felt, yes felt, bearings and now it spins freely. I replaced the rivets with bolts and locked the nuts on for easier removal should they dry out again.
    Yes Cam it is good to be handy!

  • Neil:

    Dear Michelle – For Christmas you may want to get Cam the book “Ductigami: The art of tape” by Joe Wilson 🙂

  • Gerrit Botha:

    Right on Cam! I’ve been trying to learn to to the maintenance on our car and truck. For the same financial reasons. Slow going but some progress. What a fun show Red Green was, back when we still had a TV. Keep up the good work.

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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