February 2001

Part of making a film on a limited budget involves having your equipment fail, falter, or fizzle and then finding a way to fix it yourself.

This month we were faced with a mysterious problem on our Steenbeck flatbed editor.  Static gradually invaded the audio section of the machine to the point where it became very distracting.  Then the speed of the machine began to vary noticeably and finally a loud clunking sound began to emanate from the main electric drive motor.  It seemed to be self-destructing.

A brief chat with the Steenbeck tech in Chatsworth (818.998.4033--this number now rings through to Christy's--03.16.2003) diagnosed the problem: worn electric motor brushes.  Replacements, he said,  were $30 a piece (we needed two) and when I picked them up, he was nice enough to show me a few tricks needed to remove and replace the brushes.  No small favor since they charge $55 for travel and $85 an hour plus parts for on-site service.

The replacement procedure required about an hour or so of my time, a little elbow grease, and the removal of two access panels.

We saved at least $140 by doing the work ourselves and every dollar counts when the budget is tight.  The photographs below detail the procedure and might be useful if and when your motor brushes wear out.  And if you're snickering about this "antiquated" technology from a chair in front of your Avid (a computer-based film editing system preferred by anyone with a substantial budget), just remember that when it "smokes," you'll need an equity line of credit to put it back in working order.  : )

Our Steenbeck ST-928 8-plate flatbed editor circa 1976.

Tools required: medium size flathead screwdriver, emery paper

Time: 60-90 minutes.

The U.S. version of this machine features a 110 volt to 220 volt transformer, so this baby can really bite!

Make sure the machine is OFF and UNPLUGGED from the wall before beginning.

Remove the front access panel.   The main drive motor is mounted front and center.

Drive motor access panels are held in place by this spring and clip.  Grab the "T" on the front of the clip and pull forward and lift to release it.
The access panel slips right off for easy access to the motor brushes.

Set the access panel aside and have a look.   A spring loaded clip holds the carbon brush in place and a copper wire lead runs from the brush to an electrical contact held tight by a screw.

Take note of they way the brush is positioned (wire coming off the right) and put the new one in the SAME way.

Using a screwdriver or your finger, push the top of the clip back.  It will pivot back and lock into position.

The carbon brush lifts out easily.
Here's the new set of motor "brushes."   They don't look like they should cost $30 each.  Shipping from Germany must be expensive.  : )

At this point I'm feeling like my money was well-spent and that this fix will solve the problems I'm having.  The old brush is noticeably shorter than the new one.
The Steenbeck tech uses a special abrasive "stone" made to fit into the motor where the brush inserts to clean the motor contacts.  He told me I could use a cotton swab and alcohol, but my dad suggested a bit of emery paper (fine sand paper).  I tore off a piece the width of the brush and folded it over the end of a screwdriver.

Slip the doubled over emery paper into the motor brush slot until it stops at the motor contacts.
Apply gentle pressure to the screwdriver as you rotate the motor with your finger.  Rotate the motor completely 3 or 4 times to "shine" up the contacts.

Insert the new brush and fasten the wire contact under the screw.

To release the spring-loaded clip, grasp the top with your fingers and lift up and pivot down resting it gently on the end of the brush.  The tech also suggested sticking a screwdriver underneath the pivot point and twisting it gently to release.  My fingers worked better for me.   You might want to practice this a couple of time BEFORE you put the new brush in.

Okay, that was the easy part.  Now remove the left side access panel and stick your head inside the machine.  You have to replace the rear brush from the back.  Note that everything is upside down when compared to the front brush.  Not much fun and it takes longer.  Just follow the same procedure as outlined above.

It's not required, but I like to clean things a bit during a repair. Then reassemble and clip the motor access panel by pulling the spring clip forward and over the notched peg.

Plug the machine back in, turn it on, and test.  It should spin like a top.

You're done AND you saved some dough!

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