These are notes about a dear old Craftsman lawn vac, started in 2012. More repairs and plans for the bag here. I’ve scanned most of the manual here. See end of life note near end of this post.
It’s that time of year again – time to get the old leaf sucker into shape to perform its annual duties. I’ve had this thing for just 20 years now, and there’s always something that needs fixing. It’s worth it, though: it works so well I often feel like I’m making a commercial for it when I clean up the leaves.
The two repairs this year were fixing a seam in the canvas tube that feeds the bag and beefing up the patch on the hole in the right angle plastic chute that redirects the leaves so they go up the tube.
The plastic chute repair was more challenging. In addition to the fairly benign leaves that get blown horizontally into the chute to be rerouted up into the bag’s canvas tube, stones are occasionally picked up and whipped out by the impeller. Many years ago, one knocked a hole in the corner of the chute. I’ve covered it up with a couple layers of duct tape every year, but new stones blow holes in that, too. I found a piece of HDPE covering part of the hole from an earlier repair when I ripped the tape off this time.
This year I went a step further and formed a piece of 0.020″ galvanized sheet steel to cover the odd-shaped hole. Several short cuts in the part that wraps around the edge let me form the 3D curves pretty well. Let’s see a stone knock a hole in that! I taped it down with several layers of duct tape, and it’s done for another year. (Or with luck, maybe a couple of years!)
Update 11/30/12: Oops. To my substantial surprise, maybe the second time I used the vacuum after the repair, I noticed the patch had blown out! No damage to the steel patch or the plastic, but the duct tape on the large curved side had all pulled off. I’d been lazy and didn’t really clean up the old tape residue, though I’m sure I did a quick alcohol wipe off. OK – I took all the tape off, cleaned it all up properly with Goo Gone and alcohol, used the good duct tape, and extended the tape all the way across that curved side and a little on the other side. Now it should be good for another year or two.
Here it is with the repaired chute in place. It has a clever safety interlock to keep it from being started when the chute/bag are not installed: A spring that clips over a hook on the chute to hold it in place is positioned so it shorts an ignition wire to ground when it’s not stretched over the chute hook. An elegant solution.
While the machine picks up leaves (at least dry ones) very well, and shreds them so they pack to about twice the density of hand raked leaves in the paper bags our town requires, it’s a nuisance to empty the canvas bag into the paper bags. The canvas bag empties out the bottom (tied closed with a cloth string while running – another low tech but very effective design), but the bottom of the bag is near the ground – not easy to dump into a paper bag, especially after the first load.
I addressed that many years ago by building up a platform out of scrap plywood and bent 1/2″ conduit. (Yes, there are a couple of supports under the ramp.) It’s a little bit of hassle to haul out and set up, and for emptying the bag once or twice it’s not worth it. But with the twenty-odd dumps of a major leaf pickup, it’s a very welcome helper.
Update 2/27/16: Some time ago (pictures were dated 10/13; might have been before that) I replaced the ramp bag emptier that had served for years with a rope and pulley system that works better and has a much smaller storage footprint.
It requires the extra step of disconnecting the bag from the machine and reconnecting it after emptying, but the actual hauling the bag up in the air is quite fast. A heavy wire bridle attached to the bag’s support tube provides a place for the hook on the end of the rope. Another hook on the free end of the rope hooks nicely into a hole in the garage door track. The big benefit is that the bag is noticeably higher and thus easier to empty into the paper bag, especially for the last bit to fill the paper bag. (I’ve been planning for a long time to replace the twisted poly rope with something braided. Maybe this year!) Looks odd, but this is a real winner.
The steel patch re-taped in the note above held thru the 2015 leaf season, but the tape was in pretty bad shape at the end. I brought it in the house with plans to clean and re-tape it some time over the winter/spring/summer. I did that cleanup at the end of February.
Remembering that the tape didn’t stick well to old tape residue, after pulling off all the old tape, I removed the residue with Goo Gone and naptha. A final wash with alcohol left it ready for new tape. Since this repair was likely to be in use for years, I went with the good stuff and used Gorilla Tape. (While I found a roll of black Gorilla dated 11/08 in the tape box, all the tape I pulled off was silver.)
Unfortunately, the chute had suffered further thinning to the point of a full opening past the end of the galvanized patch. I bent a bit of the 3/4″ x 0.022″ black steel strap I scavenged from pallets of pipe for storm water plumbing under our street a few years ago. It’s all taped up and ready to serve next fall and, I hope, several falls to follow.
Update 11/22/16: Special thanks to Jack (in comments below) for a suggestion for the mesh material to make a bag. I haven’t tried it, but Phifertex, a sturdy woven fabric for outdoor furniture might be just what a bag maker or repairer needs. If anybody tries it, please post and let us know how it works out!
Also – I finally replaced the rope on the bag lifter with a braided one. It’s nice to have it not spin any more while trying to untie the bottom of the bag and get the leaves into the paper bag.
Update 12/14/17: I may be able to score a sample of a Phifertex mesh material for a test of [re]building a bag. If anyone reading this is actively interested in working on a bag but has been stymied on the mesh, maybe we can work something out. Especially if you’re in a position to produce some bags for the niche market of users of these great old machines, I’d like to try to help, including reverse engineering a bag to make a pattern. Please reply in the comments. Thanks!
Update 10/29/19: It looks like the dear old friend is about at the end of its career with me. We got a lawn service that takes care of leaves. I expect it won’t even get fired up this year. If so, I guess it’s Craigslist time. In response to Kipp below, I’ve scanned most of the manual (skipped “unpacking and checking contents” etc) here.
Update 10/15/20: Finally posted the machine on Craigslist today. I cleaned it up some, took some current pics, and posted with this text:
This “Power Brush” machine does a really impressive job vacuuming up leaves, and I get about twice the weight of leaves per curbside bag thanks to its shredding. Bought new in 2012, it has been in use every year until I got a lawn service and no longer need it. (It does a great job with the leaves, but having somebody else do it is even better.)
Some notes on its history here: http://jimlaurwilliams.org/wordpress/?p=3204.
It’s been out on the lawn for a couple of days with a For Sale sign. Farewell, old friend!
The Craigslist ad worked: Someone came by and picked it up a few days later.