RIP HP Deskjet 4L

My old laser printer, an HP DeskJet 4L (1994 – 2009) recently passed away. It wasn’t a quiet and peaceful death though. Most of electronics will die without you noticing until you actually try to use it but for that printer it suffered a horrible end during surgery when I broke a critical connector. I then pulled the plug and pronounced it dead. It will be buried in my e-waste recycling bin and there will be a service for friends and family to attend.

A few days ago, while printing some documentation and code, the stepper motor started gripping and after a few more pages, the printer completely stalled. Judging by the sound of it, it was a mechanical blockage that was causing enough resistance to prevent the motor shaft from rotating. I then spent a fair 6 hours looking for the problem until I found it was the pressure and developing rollers that were rubbing too hard against each other. As usual, it took way too much time to figure that out; I did inspect this part of the printer in the beginning but there was little sign of wear and nothing actually stuck in there. Upon visual inspection, I could not find what was wrong with it and what caused the sudden failure, so I decided to rebuild it. Then, while inspecting and cleaning those rollers, I accidently broke a contact pad of the heating element inside the developing roller, thereby rendering the printer useless. I could go and look for a replacement part, but it is not worth my time as the age of the machine will most likely make the search long and tedious, I mean, who owns a 15 year old printer nowadays?

On the bright side, I got to completely take apart a fine piece of machinery, something I had not done for a while (And something all makers have in common: the love of disassembling stuff and voiding warranties). This printer was like a Russian T-35, slow, ugly and simple, but very reliable and sturdy. The mechanisms are very rugged and simple; the electronics are of good quality and so are the metals but above all, the plastics out of which the frame and cover are constructed are of exceptional durability. This printer did get a few kicks and had to handle a few more Gs that what is prescribed for safe operation. The service manual was also exemplary, more than 300 pages long, it listed and explained the functioning of every component down to the screw and even provided the reader with comprehensive block diagrams of every sub-system. When you compare this printer with today’s flashy ones, you quickly realize that the need to drive costs down has made them cheap and short-lasting; the difference is readily noticeable, even for the untrained eye. In fact, they have become so inexpensive that they are considered by some as consumables. Back when I used to work at a small computer store, we used to sell Epson printers for cheaper than the cost of new cartridges and some customers who repeatedly bought them told me that they found it more economical to throw the printer away and buy a new one while the deal was on. Thinking about it, this was catastrophic and it is the very cause of why we are now buried in so much e-waste: the consumption paradigm.

On that line, Platform 21 suggested a repair manifesto that I find quite pertinent and try to apply for most of my possessions.

I still have an old HP DeskJet 5L at my parent’s place, it has paper feeding problems, but it should be an easy fix. In the meantime, go find something that is defective and give it a new life!

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