Monday, July 27, 2015

Big Scary Repair: Taking Apart my KitchenAid Mixer

I mentioned last Monday that my mixer stopped working. It was a sad day but, even sadder, it was not unexpected.

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I was mixing some bread dough a couple months ago when my dear mixer made a really loud clunk (but kept mixing).  I turned it off immediately. I knew it wasn’t good, so I decided to take a peek inside and see what was going on. Long story short, when I opened the gear case it became clear that  one large gear (the worm gear, it turns out) had lost a tooth from extreme forces generated by the gear at the end of the drive shaft. I removed the newly-freed metal bit that I could see to prevent further immediate damage, then closed it back up and kept using it cautiously. It was louder than it had been, and I knew it wasn’t going to last.

And it didn’t. Cause of death: pizza dough.

I opened it up again…

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…and discovered a stripped part of the worm gear. The silver area on top of the large gear, center of the photo, is the stripped bit.

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It is always sad when things we love fail us. I have had this mixer for less than 10 years, so it seems sort of shocking to think of a professional KitchenAid failing in so short a time, when other people can bequeath their still humming mixers to their grown children. It’s easy to feel like a victim and cry, “Why me?”. However, like other well-made machines, this one was designed to fail. When the load from years of mixing heavy dough gets to be too much the worm gear is designed to fail to protect the motor. So even though it felt like a devastating disaster… I mean, it stopped spinning!… in reality it was really a small disaster designed to prevent the devastating disaster.

After accepting the horror of not having a working stand mixer, my options at this point included trying to get it serviced locally or sending it somewhere that would involve paying crazy shipping for this heavy duty beast, not to mention the actual cost of the repair. Or fixing it my own self.

Having nothing to lose, I bought a new worm gear on Amazon for about $17.50. I also bought some 3M brake cleaner and a can of food-grade grease to replace the contaminated grease in the gear case. And I followed the directions in this excellent video (except I needed fewer replacement parts).

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It was not rocket science, though I did encounter some metal-on-metal tightness in both removing the follower gears and replacing them once cleaned, so I had to use a PVC tube and a rubber mallet to get things back where they needed to be without adding insult to injury. I also used needle-nose  jewelry pliers instead of the retaining ring pliers that would have made this job much simpler (I am mentally adding them to my estate sale shopping list). I am learning that ingenuity goes a long way in these sorts of situations to make up for a lack of specialty tools.

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I cleaned out all the gunky grease with popsicle sticks and Q-tips. About a million Q-tips.

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I took the dirty gears outside and cleaned them (in a cardboard box to absorb the grease) with brake cleaner and a little “old toothbrush scrubby action”. ((Also: Ventilation! Solvent-proof gloves! Eye protection!)) It was amazing how, when the solvent dissipated, there were tiny silver bits everywhere. Gear case glitter. All the wear on the parts over time left metal debris laced throughout all that grease, and that would surely cause further unnecessary wear on everything in the gear case over time. Clean it out!

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I did not replace the worm follower gear, but you can see some real wear in its teeth. I have enough grease left for 3 more full repairs, so I will plan to clean it out again in 2-3 years or so, and I will inspect all the gears again at that point and probably replace this guy.

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My hands were covered in the new replacement grease* while putting it all back together so there are no real pictures of that part, but rest assured there were no leftover parts and my mixer is purring like a kitten again. I made pizza dough again just to make sure all was well. It is. I can rest peacefully again :)

Things I learned:

#1: I can do it myself!!

#2: There’s truly no reason to be afraid when you have nothing to lose.

#3: Some disasters are blessings in disguise, even if they don’t feel that way at first.

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*PSA: I will also add that projects like these are where you want any brand of that “orange pumice hand cleaner” readily available from any auto parts store anywhere, and probably any grocery store. It removes grease like a boss and leaves your hands silky and smooth. And it’s durn cheap. And it works better to exfoliate than fancy schmancy stuff that costs 5 times as much. Also good for dried paint removal from skin. The more you know…

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