You know the drill
And those who don’t – but want something fixed – will quickly learn
When his rotary toaster broke, Bal Patterson wasn’t sure what to do. His go-to repairman had just moved to California, and a replacement for the commercial-grade machine would run $700 to $800.
Luckily for the owner of Gunbarrel’s Page 2 Cafe, there was the Boulder U-FixIt Clinic. Patterson spent three hours during a Sunday clinic disassembling and diagnosing the problem: a busted heating element, available online or through a dealer for $130. The instruction, under a team of volunteer experts, was free.
“I’ve had so many issues with toasters over the years,” Patterson said. “I’d seen the clinics advertised, so I thought I’d take it in.”
The mend-it mentality is gaining steam. The Boulder U-Fix-It Clinic, the oldest locally established group, will soon be joined by Repair Cafe, hosted by Boulder makerspace Solid State Depot. Another is in the works at the Rayback Collective, being put together by a descendant of the Rayback Plumbing founder.
“The fix-it movement has gotten into gear,” said Dan Matsch, manager at EcoCycle Center for Hard to Recycle Materi- als, or CHarM. The nonprofit Eco-Cycle co-sponsors the Boulder U-Fix-It Clinic, which is part of the national Fix It Clinic network.
The clinics follow a similar format: Coaches meet one-on-one with members of the public who have broken appliances, ripped clothing, busted electronics and worn-out furniture. Tools and tutelage are provided free of charge, but don’t expect the work to be done for you.
“It’s not a free place to get your stuff fixed,” said co-organizer Wayne Seltzer, a tech industry leader and lifelong DIYer. “This is an education exercise.”
Boulder’s U-Fix-It has held 25 clinics at various locations. More recent meetups have nearly all been held at Bldg 61, the Boulder Library makerspace. The first three meetings, back in 2013, were at Boulder’s Solid State Depot. That private makerspace is now hosting its own clinic, Repair Cafe.
Both concepts are part of larger movements. Repair Cafe was established in 2007 in Amsterdam and has spread to 1,322 cities, mostly in Europe. Fixit Clinic was founded in Berkley, Calif., two years later by Peter Mui. The mission is to train consumers to think before they buy — and before they throw away.
“The way we’re practicing consumption around the planet is unsustainable,” Mui said. “We have to be careful that the internet of things doesn’t become the internet of crap.”
The need for repair clinics has been high in Boulder. The city has one of the more active branches of Fixit’s smattering of outposts across the country, according to Mui, accounting for more than 10 percent of the nonprofit’s 217 events around the nation since its founding.
Trash by the truckload comes into Eco-Cycle’s CHarM every day. Much of it, Seltzer said, is in need of nothing more than a good cleaning: vacuums clogged with pet hair or calcified espresso machines.
“It’s definitely a hypocrisy of Boulder in some ways,” said Alex Kramarchuk, Solid State Depot’s president. “I learned how to recycle and compost here, (but) there are a lot of people who don’t focus on sustainability when they’re throwing things away.”
But Karmarchuk and Repair Cafe coorganizer Jennifer Farmer are confident that the area’s commitment to a cleaner, greener earth will eventually turn the tide. There are other benefits to reap beside the planet’s health, Farmer said, like the confidence that comes with knowing “you can pick up that screwdriver and take something apart, put it back together and get it to work.”
Jacob Dodd secures a piece of wood with a screw before cutting out a design with a Shop Bot machine at the Solid State Depot makerspace in Boulder on Tuesday.
Alex Kramarchuk, seated at center, talks with Tom Chapin at the Solid State Depot makerspace in Boulder.
Jennifer Farmer tightens a bolt on a Eskasizer she repaired at the Solid State Depot makerspace in Boulder last week.