In Praise of Taking Things Apart

Dirt Magazine, Family

When my husband was a boy, he took apart his mother’s camera. He assumed he could get it back together before anyone noticed what he was doing. Of course, it was hard to remember how all the parts went together. He got in trouble and was forbidden from wielding tiny screw drivers or opening up appliances.

Flash forward 35 years and my husband gathers old electronics and machines like a squirrel gathers nuts. We have a whole box full of them in our basement. Our son is granted permission to take apart any of them. An old digital projector gave us an amazing array of lenses, filters and prisms. Tape decks offer up a wealth of springs and gears, and my son has been harvesting copper and colored wires from almost everything electronic. He uses the wires for “inventing” and jewelry making.

There are a shocking number of “take apart toys” for sale, but you can probably get all the tools you need for about the same price — tiny screwdrivers and pliers with a wire cutters is all you need. The best news is, there is no need to take apart your functioning electronics and machines; there is an overabundance of broken stuff on its way to the dump, or sitting in your in-laws’ basement. Old point-and-shoot cameras, music players, and clocks are fantastic for first-time tinkerers.

If you are still nervous about handing over the screw driver, sit down together. It might bring waves of nostalgia, and it will definitely fascinate you. Did you know that speakers make sound with two magnets, then it’s amplified by a paper cone? Do a little research for information about safety online — including precautions like cutting all electrical cords, removing batteries, and avoiding anything with cathode ray tubes (TVs and computer screens). You’ll have to supply your own dose of common sense, of course.

Need a little more help? Join us at the Kid’s Take-Apart Table hosted by the Repair Cafe on January 20th or March 17th 2018 at the Warwick Senior Center, 132 Kings Highway, Warwick, NY. We provide tools and broken machines or electronics.

Originally published in Dirt Magazine, Jan/Feb 2018