Oakland Electronics Repair: Battery Corrosion Edition
March 13, 2018 9:21 AM   Subscribe

Help us figure out how to replace badly corroded battery contacts in a cool thriftstore microscope!

We just got an 80s-era TASCO microscope at the thrift store! It's similar to this one. It has all the original packaging and slides and whatnot and cost $6 and is VERY EXCITING.

We took it out and were playing with it last night, and while it is barely used, the batteries that power the light have leaked and badly corroded the metal connection points in the base. You can use it with a mirror and external light source, but it's not as bright as we'd like it to be, and ALSO there is a mode that lets you project a slide onto the wall(!) so we really want to get the battery situation worked out.

I scrubbed the metal contacts with some steel wool, but it still didn't turn on. One of the two points appears to be so corroded that it's brittle, and a little bit of underlying metal flaked off when I scrubbed it. I think they just need to be replaced by someone who has even a small amount of knowledge of these kinds of things.

Can you advise A. How we could go about repairing it ourselves (an acid or solvent maybe) or B. An electronics repair shop in the Oakland/Piedmont area that would be able to handle this? All the search results I find for electronics repair are for smartphones or high end audio installation places--I want to find some dusty shop with chaotic piles of wires and power supplies and a cat and a tobacco-stained guy from possibly from the Soviet bloc who will grunt disapprovingly when I bring him the microscope, then deftly replace the leads in 5 minutes and charge me $10. These places must still exist, right? Or is it all iPhone screen repair shops in the era of disposable electronics?

posted by andromache to Technology (6 answers total)
You could contact Tasco directly. Or you could contact this place in Pleasanton. There are parts available across the web; you might be able to find DIY instructions on youtube.
posted by vignettist at 9:37 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]

How many batteries go in? I have had success in the past folding up aluminum foil to compensate for broken terminals, but I don’t think I’d want to do a lot of that.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 9:54 AM on March 13

I had that microscope as a kid. The light sucked even when it worked. My suggestion would be to gut it and replace with a small dimmable LED like one of those battery powered puck lights for closets
posted by Dr. Twist at 10:00 AM on March 13 [6 favorites]

Yeah, I had that projector gizmo too, it is pretty sweet, but the built-in light would only throw the image to the 2” screen included (sort of like an old projection TV), not even to a nearby wall one foot away in a dark room.

A nice small maglite should work fine for projecting to the wall, though it may be too bright for eyepiece viewing.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:09 AM on March 13

I think I would probably need to have the actual microscope in my hands to be able to give you good advice about repairing the contacts, but you might actually have better results if you just go with a new light. This dimmable LED gooseneck light looks like it would be great. It's battery powered but can also run from USB, has a clip for securing it to stuff, is dimmable (but probably can be much brighter than the weedy little built-in light in that old microscope), and has two lamps on the end of goosenecks which would give you a lot of flexibility in lighting your subject. Costs ten bucks.

Alternatively, have you verified that the actual bulb in your microscope is working? I'd be pretty surprised if one of those tiny little incandescent lightbulbs from the '80s was still in working condition. Maybe the contacts are fine and the bulb is just burned out or has a broken filament. They're quite delicate little things. Take it out and have a good look at it, maybe try lighting it up with a battery and a couple of paperclips. That might be your problem right there.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:39 AM on March 13 [5 favorites]

The bulb is probably not at issue--in fact, there is a replacement one untouched in the case. It's really the melty batteries (or if it's the bulb, it's not only the bulb). I will take your advice to try the battery and paperclip test, to confirm, though. I'm going to take a crack at using vinegar and cotton swabs for a better cleaning, and if that doesn't work, will try the old aluminum foil trick.

That said: I think the consensus that I should just use a new LED light is right. The original bulb is .5 watts and my camping headlamp is a zillion times brighter (dimmable too, so I won't blind myself!) While I want the original power supply to work so it's all in one nice package, headlamp + tripod is probably going to yield better results even if I get the incandescent bulb working.

Thanks as always for your thoughtful replies, gang!
posted by andromache at 11:55 AM on March 16

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