Take Something Apart!

by Michael Kline

As is typically the case, I am one of those persons who feels compelled to take ownership of the newest, coolest, nerdiest (priciest !!) gadgets whenever technology deems that—whatever it is that I now own—is obsolete. And speaking of obsolete…

At the moment I have a Macintosh G5 desktop computer in various states of disassembly scattered across the workbench of my garage. Sure, I could bring it into any one of a number of electronic recyclers within a couple of miles of here, and they would do the right thing by seeing to it that the vital components of this once must-have device are either repurposed or properly disposed of. But where is the fun in that?

I also know that this beast has a fair amount of aluminum within, so on that basis I am willing to spend time that I should otherwise use writing blogs, and see what this thing holds. Who knows? I could be looking at a four-figure return on this… if you count the decimal places.

Though the mechanical and technological aspects of my now-outdated Macintosh hold some interest for me, want I really want to do is simply take it apart. I want to see how it was put together, how the parts interact with each other, and just have a better feel for the newer computer that took its place.

Have you ever considered taking something apart with your kids? Perhaps an $1,800 computer is not the best place to start, though that same computer would have a rough time bringing $50 on Ebay at the moment, but how about a toaster? A radio? A typewriter? Surely there’s an old printer, coffee pot, or VHS player laying around somewhere. If you can’t come up with something (first of all, congratulations… you will never be considered for one of those hoarding shows on cable), ask friends or relatives to donate something. The local thrift stores or yard sales can also be a great place to take the kids and ask them “See something you’d like to take apart?” As a child, I would have become absolutely giddy at the prospect!

As my mom used to say… Stop! Before you begin ripping into that pink Princess telephone with your offspring, here are a few things you might want to consider:

A workplace. Find somewhere that has some decent lighting and perhaps sports a surface that is something less than “heirloom quality.” (Your great grandmother’s windsor-style coffee table may not be well suited for this.)

Tools. Start with the basics: a flat head as well as a Phillips head screwdriver (in various sizes if possible, or even a multi-fitting driver with interchangeable heads), a pair of pliers, perhaps a small set of allen wrenches, and even a small crescent wrench should make most deconstructive projects much easier. Many electronic items will use safety screws as well, so be prepared to hunt out some special fittings for your screwdriver. As a last resort, only allow the kids to use hammer or power tools (of which there are many these days) with adult supervision and permission.

As you begin your hunt for things that beg to be broken down, be sure to watch out for items that contain hazardous parts or materials such as glass (some toaster ovens), dirt and allergens (vacuum cleaners, both small and large), and sharp edges (in particular, paper shredders). Above all else, take EXTRA CARE (where is the bold menu here?), EXTRA CARE to remove electrical cords, or cut them off as close to the appliance as possible to remove the temptation to “reanimate” (as Dr. Frankenstein would say) the project.

Work as closely as possible with your kids so that they understand what it is they are taking apart. Old manuals are a great resource during a project like this, and a number of mechanical and electrical schematics can be found online as PDF files. The website How Stuff Works.com is a great place to look as well for the basic concepts of many appliances and electronics.

And don’t just let the kids take things apart. Award extra points for them being able to disassemble something without breaking it, and laud them with the highest praise you can muster if they can actually put the object back together. (This particular notion has alluded my personal self for many years…)

This can also be the makings of a great science project. Ask your future demolition experts to lay out and attach the newly unjoined pieces to a stiff presentation board, with explanations of what each object is responsible for, along with a photo of the object post-destruction.

And now I must get back out to the garage. A well-used but highly undervalued circuit board is calling out for me.

Teach. Learn. Enjoy!

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