First Stage of my Project Reached

Often it can happen that before we open up some technical work that was performed by somebody else, we have one idea about what to find, but that after we do so, we find something quite different. Today, while working on my project, this was the case.

When Electricians connect two leads to a single-pole, single-throw switch, what they are supposed to do is remove the insulation a certain distance from the free end of each lead, loop the bare wires around each terminal of the switch, and tighten the screws of the terminals.

When the switch is ‘open’, no current can flow, and when the switch is ‘closed’, current flows with minimum series resistance.

If one wire is black and the other red, which are both codes for phase-wire, past experience tells me that they have never been connected to supply, 180° out of phase with each other, because the first time the circuit was closed, there would have been fireworks. In this case, the supply-wire was black, and the load-wire to be fed was red.

But this is how the previous design was screwed up: Instead of having a free end of supply (black) wire, the previous Electrician had de-insulated a segment about 1.5cm long along this wire, leaving the rest of the wire insulated. Hence, the black wire came from out of the wall, looped through one of the switch-terminals where it was de-insulated, and went back into the wall in one continuous path, to feed circuits elsewhere, which that switch was not supposed to be able to turn off.

But, the load (red) wire was passed in as one free end, and lodged in so tightly that even after I had completely removed the screw of the terminal, I could not remove this red wire. My only solution was actually to cut the red wire, and to leave some length of it in the terminal, rendering the rest of the switch useless, even if it was to be reassembled – ever.

What this meant, was that the plastic screw-on caps, with the little springs inside, that are normally excellent for this sort of thing, were useless to me, because nowhere did I obtain 3 free leads facing in one direction, to twist together mechanically. All I could do, was to entwine the red (load) wire with the bare section of the black (supply) wire a little bit, and then rely on my soldering job 100% to hold everything together.

Then, I had to apply several layers of professional-grade electrical tape, to prevent this blob of metal from shorting against the inside switch housing.

When we apply any soldering job, a detail which most inexperienced people may not know, is that we never really apply the solder to the tip of the soldering iron or gun. We always use the soldering tip, to heat up the copper wires or terminal, until the copper itself becomes hot enough to melt the solder. If we neglect to do that, liquid solder will fail to bond to the colder parts of the copper, will bead instead, and will yield a faulty connection which we will hear bad news from…

It comes as a secondary fact, that we actually cannot avoid the liquid solder additionally touching the tip of the soldering iron or gun.

Continue reading First Stage of my Project Reached

A Home-Hardware Project Has Begun.

People often ask me, about the numerous toys I buy for myself, whether I have been getting any use out of them. And until now, my typical answer has simply been, that ‘I have no projects right now,’ meaning No.

Well as of today I have a project, in an unexpected field: Home Hardware.

The previous owners of my Condominium had put screwless faceplates on many of their wall-switches, and additionally, had it as part of their preferences, for some of their wall-outlets to be switched off from these switches. This included one outlet into which I had later started plugging an air-conditioner, which meant that every time my then-girlfriend absentmindedly operated the wall switch, she would turn my A/C off for 5 seconds, and then – oops – turn the current back on. Most technically-inclined people understand, that this is just about the worst thing anybody can do to an A/C, and worse, I hate wall-outlets that are controlled by switches.

So what I did years ago, was just to duct-tape this switch into the ‘On’ position, so that when my girlfriend saw the duct tape she would have to remove first, she also stopped tripping the A/C.

But that was an ugly solution. What I had always meant to do in the back of my mind, was to remove that wall-switch completely, and to wire the leads to be permanently On. I planned to put a blank faceplate where the wall-switch faceplate was. But I had always put off the chore of carrying out this project.

Just today I felt it was time to get started with that. And so the first thing I did for now, was to remove the faceplate.

There exist screwless faceplates which have a trick to remove mechanically. But apparently, despite my best efforts, I was only able to wedge this one off, after applying enough force to destroy it. So I am committed to completing this project.

I also made sure to know which breaker in the panel corresponds to that switch.

And, I measured a few voltages, with switches in different positions, just to confirm what I could see visually, about how the wires run.

It is a faux-pas, to connect wires deliberately, but mistakenly in a wrong way.

Also, the duct tape I had been using extended past the edges of the old faceplate, meaning that over the years, gunk from the duct tape had become attached to the wall around the faceplate. So what I have also gotten off the table this morning, was just to repaint a small patch of my bedroom wall, around that opening, where the wall-switch used to be. The correct time to do that, is before installing a new faceplate.

Now my plan of action is, to take the actual switch out, and to twist the 3 phase-wires together. But, because my home has solid copper wires, doing so by itself would not ensure good contact. So what I plan to do after that, is additionally to solder the phase wires, using my soldering gun. And only then do I plan to put an electrical cap on the result.

Then I will reapply house-current, and hope that sparks and fire do not erupt from the breaker-panel, and test the wall-outlet voltages again.

Last of all, I plan to screw in a new, blank faceplate.

Continue reading A Home-Hardware Project Has Begun.