Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Saga Of The Dryer Continues

The Saga of the Dryer: Part II.

A little history: People may recall the previously documented fiasco de dryer, in which he bloody thing tumbled our towels until they were paper-thin and all the fluffy stuff was in the lint filter, and I ended up having to take it completely to pieces to replace the burner solenoid coils. Well about three weeks ago, it began malfunctioning again.

It all started one week night, when I had just returned from work in a state best described as tired, fed up and looking forward to watching a couple of hours TV before bed time. Mrs Stevie greeted me with the news that she had had a little accident with the dryer, thus making the veriest papier-maché of that plan and substituting an altogether more tedious one of her design.

It seems that she had pulled out the lint filter for some reason, then dropped a small sponge into the hole. The sponge in question was one of those that starts life as a flexible oblong of porous material about four inches by two and a half, and about a half inch thick. One adds a small amount of water to it, one wrings it out and leaves it to dry at which point it hardens into something resembling cinderblock. It was, it turned out, just the right size to drop completely down the lint filter vent into the blower fan.

Realising that the job might require the complete dismantling of the venting manifold system in the ruddy machine, I decided to verify the seriousness of the problem by running the machine briefly. No sooner was the "go" button presses than the usual sounds of healthy tumble drying mechanical goodness were drowned out by a grating rattle reminiscent of a bicycle with pieces of card held in the spokes of the wheels by pegs, a common method used by children to emulate motorcycle engine sounds and one I'm sure everyone is familiar with.

In a trice I had leaped to the machine, turned it off and deployed some class two swear words1. There was nothing for it, I would have to remove the back of the machine.

I heaved the machine from the wall, eyeing the four-foot long flexible gas line with distrust and noting the rather eclectic collection of stuff that had made it past the lint filter into the vent pipe. Coins, ballpoint pens, small rocks2 and some lint, but no bits of sponge, dammit. It would have to be spongectomied the hard way.

It took only a matter of 15 minutes to locate my socket set and figure out which socket fitted the self-tapping screws without chance of slipping and damaging the hex-heads. In order to comply with the secret American Design Aesthetic that calls for maximum tool deployage for any seemingly simple job, the screws do not feature a slot of any kind. I undid the ten screws securing the back of the machine to the body, a thin steel affair that had to be distorted to make it fit, which promptly reshaped itself with a resonant bong! and flew off its mountings dealing me a sound blow to the head. This was a perfect opportunity to deploy a few well-chosen class threes, so I did, exploring themes having to do with the machine's ancestry and that of the people who designed it. Fortunately, the razor-sharp steel plate hadn't hit anything delicate or valuable so I picked it up and carefully hurled it somewhere I deemed not likely to contain anything I cared about or my own body in the predictable future and assessed the next step.

The dryer is a fairly simple thing in essence. The drum rotates and gets the clothing airborne so the hot air can do its job. Air, heated by the burner, is pulled into the drum by a fan located in the exhaust (presumably so the air can have time to cool before it gets to the plastic fan), through the lint filter to the fan itself and then forced out through the vent, which in our case is a flexible pipe that ascends about seven feet to a horizontal run to the wall of the house. I needed to disconnect the cover for the vent connecting the drum exhaust with the squirrel-cage fan used to pull air through the system.

The first annoyance was that the screws that held this piece of razor-sharp bent steel plate in place were a different size than those holding the back on the machine, requiring me to climb out of the confined space I was working in to select a new socket. The next was that the top of the vent had to be detached from the top plate of the dryer casing, which you might remember involves two Phillips head screws requiring yet another tool, one which was still on the other side of the basement. Eventually I had all the screws out and in a matter of only ten minutes of rattling, prizing and swearing I had the cowl removed from the fan assembly.

It was then a simple matter to remove the sponge from the fan rotor, along with about a metric ton of lint 3, twenty-three cents in assorted loose change, the cap off the ball-point pen and some more rocks 4. I noted in passing that the rubber seal that bungs up the gaps between this cowling and the outer drum housing so that all the air sucked by the fan comes from the drum rather than from the machine's works had gotten a bit ratty and was, judging by the lint scattered throughout the machine's wiring (the other major feature exposed when the back is off the damned thing) leaking rather a lot. Such was my tiredness and my total lack of empathy for this benighted dryer that I didn't pause to ponder the strangeness of lint coming out of the negative-pressure, i.e. suck, part of the air-flow circuit. This would prove to be a most unfortunate oversight as it turned out.

Reassembling the cowling turned out to be one of those tasks that would try a saint. The steel panel would not go back into the gap I had pulled it out of only two hours before. I pushed, pulled, twisted and swore. Nothing worked. Finally, a passing dimensional warp altered the space-time continuum just enough for the panel to go into place, possibly helped by my inserting levers into the various panels and heaving, most likely not, and the panel was back in place, ready to be screwed to the outer drum. By dint of using my feet, forehead and one hand to distort the springy steel panel, I managed to get the screw holes properly aligned which left me one hand to insert a screw, hold it in place and use the socket wrench to screw it down.

Not surprisingly, the first few times I tried this, as soon as I let go of the screw to grab the socket wrench, held ready in my mouth, the panel would change shape with a soft bong!, the screw would be torn out of the hole and would fall into the base of the dryer casing, where it would be redirected into a special area just out of reach so that it couldn't be recovered without removing the fan cover again, thus requiring more heaving, cursing and space warpage to get it back together again. It seemed like I went through this two or three hundred times before I got the first screw in, but it was probably only a dozen or so in reality. Then I dropped the second screw while trying to get it into its hole, a task that required hands able to rotate 180 degrees on their wrist joints and fingers able to bend in both directions at will. Realising immediately that this would necessitate the removal of the first screw so I could pull off the fan cover again, I deployed some heroic class four words of power and used Mr Head to pound on the fan cover in sheer rage.

Sometime around midnight I had everything reassembled, the machine back in it's place and the vent attached. I marched upstairs, instructed Mrs Stevie that from now on she was under no circumstances to remove the lint filter when anything smaller than a billiard table was on the shelf above it and retired to my bed, blotting the two dozen or so wounds I had received from the edges of the various steel plates with the tail of my shirt.

A week or so later, on a Friday, The Stevieling reported that the clothes were not being dried by the infernal machine once more.

I performed the usual diagnostic, which involves pulling a plug out of the lower front panel to reveal a spy-hole set at exactly the wrong height for comfortable viewing no matter what pose is adopted by the unfortunate would-be dryer-fixerator. The machine is set into operation and the observer leaps into the best position for attempting observation of the burner under operational conditions. This involves me lying on my side on the concrete floor (now at a comfortable 34 degrees Fahrenheit) for ten or fifteen minutes. This time I was in luck, and was able to observe the burner operating properly. Good News in that I didn't have to figure out why the bloody burner wasn't igniting, but Bad News in that now I had no bloody idea what was wrong.

I once again searched my "favourite" web-based suggestion boxes, and was convinced that the thermostats were not operating properly. That would cause the burner to light normally as I observed, but then it would cut out prematurely allowing wet clothes to tumble uselessly for hours on end. Perfect! All I needed was to find the evidence of buggeréd thermostats with my trusty multimeter.

First things first though. To expose the wiring harness and the thermostats I would have to remove the back panel.

Once again I had to schlep all over the basement looking for my socket set. Once again I had to pull out the machine, risking fracture of the flexible coupling and death by gassing. Once again I flirted with slipped discs as I bent into various shapes to get to the screws in the confining space revealed by moving the dryer. Once again my head was struck a sound blow as the back panel adopted the shape-o-the-day with a soft bong!. The vent, being a push fit, disconnects itself if I forget to do it, which I did this time.

Now it was time for the electrical mensuration phase of Operation Fix The Bleeding Dryer Again5.

Many years ago, during a flirtation with electronic kits in the 1980s, I bought a nice, if boxy, multimeter from a store in Canal Street, that has done sterling service ever since. I have used it for all sorts of jobs including home wiring projects, christmas lighting issues and the occasional electronic circuit build. It has been one of my most useful and dependable tools and I therefore keep it on a special shelf in the basement.

Or not, as it happens.

I spent about an hour turning the place upside down for that wretched meter but could not locate it. Fearing that this would be the stupid "tool search" thing that causes the loss of the entire day, I elected instead to dash down to Radio Shack and buy another one. Twenty minutes and twenty dollars later I returned with a bright yellow thing about the size of a pack of cigarettes that would do the job.

It took me about ten minutes to prove that the thermostats looked okay-ish, and that the various resistances were within tolerances. However, one of the thermostats has a heater built into it and there was no guarantee that the thing was working once it heated up so since I already had a replacement stashed inside the upper casing (more screws to be removed of course) I decided to replace the thermostat anyway. It took all of ten minutes, then I was ready to test run the dryer.

It worked! Volumes of hot, wet, carbon-monoxide laden air were discharged into the basement upon starting the dryer, so I declared one in the "win" column. There was a considerable amount of air leakage around that old seal though, so I reluctantly came to the conclusion I should replace it.

This meant taking the fan cover off again, which was tedious, but it also meant putting it back on again which I think I've shown was tedioustedious. Still, it had to be done sometime and it might as well be now. The seal proved to be nothing more than a strip of sticky-backed rubber of the same sort used to seal window-mounted air conditioners in place. This would be easy to get, I predicted.

Four hours later I managed to track down a source for the bloody stuff.

It was then an anything-but-simple matter to remove the old rubber strip from the outer drum housing, put a new one in its place and refit the fan cover. The difficulties of the previous occasion were as nothing to those engendered by adding a half-inch thick rubber strip into the mix. Any attempt to slide the fan cover around to locate that oh-so-necessary space warp resulted in the strip being pulled away from the outer drum housing. It was all very tiresome and required my using up a considerable stock of class three and class four swear words before I had the whole thing back together again.

Surveying the machine, now ensconced once more in its nook in the laundry, I triumphantly wiped the sweat from my brow with the backs of my hands, then screamed like a girl as the salty sweat got a good grip on the network of slashes I had sustained on the razor-sharp metal panels. I hopped around crashing into things for a bit with my hands clenched under my armpits and a small rubber ball I keep handy for these occasions clenched between my teeth until the unbearable agony had subsided, then I reconnected the vent hose and sought the sweet embrace of a warm shower, before retiring to my bed, safe in the sure knowledge of a job well done.

Two days later Mrs Stevie informed me that the damn thing was not drying again.

Gone, just like that, a carefully hoarded cache of special edition class five swear words.

I once more lay on the almost-freezing floor and watched for the burner to light, which it did. What on earth could be wrong now? Back to the website for some much-needed advice.

Once I was connected to the site I use most for appliance diagnostics and replacement parts, I noticed a forum posting entitled "So your dryer isn't working - things to check first" and a familiar feeling o'ertook me. This sort of post would be so massively useful it was unthinkable I wouldn't have read it, but I didn't recall seeing it before. The date belied the idea that it had just been added and I was forced to conclude that once again I had been ambushed by Mr Brain (who is not my friend). No doubt he had blanked out my visual cortex as my eyes parsed the forum postings, or simply not transfered the sighting to long-term memory, effectively erasing it from my knowledge without my permission.

Item one was "Check the vent isn't blocked", which was a great place to start because it didn't involve socket sets, multimeters or getting slit up a treat on metal panels. Accordingly I decamped for the basement, retrieved Mr Shop-Vacuum, which I deployed in "blow" configuration and made my way to the laundry.

I removed the pipe from the machine, which I pulled forward in anticipation of needing to get stuck into the damn dryer's vitals once this idea proved a bust, switched on the vacuum cleaner which threw up a dust storm of epic proportions from every surface of the basement and, choking and coughing, used my hands to form a vacuum-hose to vent-pipe manifold. There was an immediate and rapid build-up of pressure resulting in the vent hose "popping" out of my grasp and spraying me with compressed air laden with small rocks, ballpoint pens, coins and a surprising amount of water.

Aha! The vent was blocked! Also, now I came to think on it, that business with the seal blowing out lint when it should have been under negative pressure made more sense.

I dashed upstairs, ran outside and reached into the vent exhaust, where I discovered a plug of lint about the size of a Marks and Spencer pillow. I feverishly pulled it all out and tossed it decoratively all over the South Lawn, not pausing until after the job was done to consider whether or not some animal, possibly rabid, had built a nest from the soft, comfy lint (TOG # 40) and might yet be inside the vent to be rudely awakened when the Steviefingers jabbed it in the ribs.

I raced back inside, ran down to the laundry, reconnected my improvised blower and blew out the remains of the lint, then manhandled the dryer back into place and reconnected it to the vent-pipe. Muttering a few protective charms to ward off any anti-handyman demons lurking nearby, I dialed up a nice hot cycle and pressed "go", then ran back upstairs and out of the house to observe the vent at the business end.

Success! Volumes of hot, damp, monoxide-laden air were once more being pumped into the neighbour's airspace for their enjoyment, and, far below my feet6 the clothes were once again being tumbled in warm, dry air.

All of which goes to show that sometimes my life is so busy happening at me that I have little or no time to write about it, and that sometimes it does so relentlessly. The feelings of inadequacy this produced in me were offset by my triumph over all things dryer in a World Gone Mad.

Little did I know then that the dryer had one more trick up its drum.
(To be continued)

  1. Keen readers and amateur handypersons will recognise that class twos were inadequate for the situation and that I should have deployed my more usual class threes, but I was tired and couldn't summon the effort required for professional cussing
  2. !
  3. So much for the filter
  4. !!
  5. Project title copyright Mrs Stevie 2008 all rights reserved
  6. And a bit to the left if we're being accurate

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