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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Why Did My Electric Shaver Die - And Come Back To Life A Day Later?

Yes, you read that right - my electric shaver pretty much died, but is now back to doing its job again, as if nothing ever happened. Maybe somebody has an explanation for what happened, because I sure don't! Read on to find out what happened, and perhaps you know what happened, and can let me know!! I previously wrote about how I had a lucky week that enabled me to escape from $45 in restocking fees that Best Buy wanted to charge me for returning opened GPS units. You can now add this shaver incident to the list of lucky things that happened last week!

I have a Norelco Reflex Plus 6843XL electric shaver that is more than 3 years old now. It sees about 5 minutes of use pretty much every day except during the weekends. During the weekends, it sometimes gets used once, sometimes it does not get used at all. In any case, it lasts for about 7 to 10 shaves between charges.
Norelco 6843XL
I usually charge the shaver only after discharging it fully. The habit probably comes from being exposed to rechargeable batteries based on the Nickel-Cadmium chemistry that have the so-called "memory effect". Recharging these batteries repeatedly before they are fully discharged eventually made them lose their charge capacity, and made them useless.

Nowadays, most rechargeable batteries are not Nickel-Cadmium based. So, they should not have the memory effect. So, I should not be obsessive about discharging them fully before recharging them. But old habits die hard.

In any case, my shaver started signaling the need for another charge this last Thursday by starting to run slow as I was shaving. At the end of the shave, instead of switching the shaver off, I decided to leave it running for a few more minutes so that the battery would discharge more fully. I fully intended to return in about 10 minutes, switch the shaver off, and plug it in for a charge.

But, I forgot all about the shaver as I got ready for work. It stayed on, not for 10 minutes, but for a whole day. The next time I remembered about the shaver was Friday morning, when I wanted to shave. I immediately switched the shaver off and plugged it in for charging. My shaver is a model that can actually be used for shaving while it is plugged in for charging (the charger is just a cord that plugs into the backside of the shaver, it is not a receptacle in which the shaver needs to be placed or anything like that).

But, when I turned the shaver on, nothing. And I mean, absolutely nothing. The green light indicating that it was plugged in was on, but turning the switch on and off did absolutely nothing. Not even the faintest whine of the motor inside. This was not good.

I popped the shaver head off the shaver, and then switched it on again. Still nothing. I then grabbed on to the spindles that rotate the shaver heads and spun them with my fingers while the thing was on. I had no idea which direction they were supposed to turn normally, so the first couple of times I did this, nothing happened. I then spun the spindles in the opposite direction and they started spinning by themselves very slowly. The motor was obviously struggling and the maximum speed the spindles got up to was totally inadequate for shaving (I could count the revolutions by eye at the maximum speed, that is how slow it was running). In any case, popping the shaver heads back on the spindles stopped them entirely, so the shaver was completely useless for shaving. I tried letting it run for a few minutes, but the motor continued to be very weak, with very low maximum speeds and not enough power to turn the actual shaver heads.

On Friday, I went back to shaving with shaving cream and a razor, like I had done before I bought this shaver. Luckily, I had bought the shaver on impulse, before running out of either shaving cream or razors, so I still had a razor and some shaving cream to fall back on. And the shaving cream still foamed up after sitting on the shelf unused for more than 3 years!

My theory about what had happened was as follows: when I left the shaver on on Thursday, it had slowly discharged the battery to near zero, and the power output from the battery had become so low that the motor had stopped turning. But the power was not entirely zero yet, so power had continued to flow through a stopped motor, causing it to overload and destroy itself. The only problem with this theory was that nothing smelled burnt in the shaver.

Whatever the problem was, I also have the well-founded idea that when mechanical things break, they usually don't fix themselves magically. Burnt out motors don't cure themselves when allowed to rest for a while. Broken linkages don't fuse and become alright when put in a splint and allowed to remain motionless. In general, inanimate objects have no mechanism to heal themselves like most animate systems. So, I was convinced that my shaver was toast (either literally or figuratively)!

But I like this shaver quite a bit, so rather than throwing it in the garbage right away, I simply switched it off, assembled it fully (put the shaver heads on their spindles, etc.), plugged it into the charger, and left it alone. If after a day or so, the symptoms remained the same (motor too weak to rotate the shaver heads, etc.), I would then throw the shaver out at that point.

But on Saturday morning, my shaver came back to life! Yes, fully back to life. I unplugged it from the charger and switched it on, and it ran like new! There was no hesitation in turning back on, or in running at full power. I could use the shaver heads and even the pop-up trimmer without any problems. And the thing was back to shaving like a champ too! In short, it was as if I had dreamed up Friday in my imagination and it had never actually happened!!

So, what exactly was the problem with my shaver on Friday? And what is the mechanism through which it got fixed? Obviously, my initial theory about a partially burnt motor is wrong since burnt motors never come back to life (nor can they hide tell-tale signs of that mode of failure in the form of a pretty distinctive smell). I am not sure whether it has anything to do with over-discharging the battery either. I would have thought switching the shaver on with the charger plugged in would bypass the battery entirely and power the motor directly anyways, so the state of the battery should not have mattered on Friday. Maybe, I am wrong on that count, and it is only the battery that drives the motor regardless of whether the shaver is plugged in or not.

But then, what could go wrong with a battery such that it would be incapable of running the motor at full power one day, but go on to produce full power the next day? In the past, when I was forced to plug the shaver in to use it because the battery became too weak, the shaver would immediately start running at maximum power without any problems. In fact, that is why I had thought that plugging the shaver in ran the motors off the charger directly rather than through the battery. So, why didn't plugging the shaver in run it at full power on Friday? And how does an over-discharged rechargeable battery get a new lease on life? I was under the impression that it required lots of expensive electronics to reverse the death of a cell in a rechargeable battery.

Or perhaps the motor ran out of some lubricant because of being run for too long Thursday, causing it to run sluggishly on Friday. First of all, the user manual does not mention any lubricants. At least nothing that the user can or should do to keep the motor well-lubricated. Moreover, if the motor did run out of lubricant, where did it get a new supply on Saturday?

Too many questions, too few answers. Maybe, the answers will never be known. Some passing anomaly that can not be figured out now because the evidence has been irretrievably destroyed. Maybe some battery fairies were on strike on Friday and they just came back to work on Saturday. Who knows?! If you have a theory, feel free to let me know through the comments. I will at least be able to tell you whether the symptoms exhibited by the shaver fit what would be predicted by your theory.

I don't want to turn this post into a full review of this shaver, but I have to admit that the Norelco 6843XL is truly one remarkable piece of machinery. It is one of those lift and cut systems with three floating shave heads that adjust perfectly to the contours of your face, especially the transition between cheeks and jaws, or that between throat and neck, etc. The shave from an electric shaver is never going to be as close as what you would get with a new razor and shaving cream. Never let anyone tell you that this is false. But this shaver comes pretty damn close giving razors a run for their money! This shaver is not in production now (which is not surprising since the model came out well over 3 years back), but I am sure Norelco has equivalent shavers which you can find by googling for this shaver model.

I have tried foil shavers in the distant past and found that they were not up to snuff for me. Maybe it was something to do with the quality of foil shavers at that time (mid 1990's). Or maybe, it was something to do with the contours of my face. Or it could even be something to do with the specific foil shaver I tried. But my experience with that foil shaver was what kept me from trying any other electric shaver for almost 10 years. It is a good thing I decided to give electric shavers a second chance, with this rotary shaver. Now, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to convince me to go back to razors and shaving cream for my future shaves!

The user manual recommends that the shave heads be replaced every year. But to be perfectly honest, I have never done any maintenance on this shaver since the day I got it. I have not taken the shave heads apart to wash and lubricate them as the manual suggests I do. I have never replaced the shave heads (a set of shave heads costs almost half as much as the shaver itself, so if and when the shave heads do need replacement, they will be replaced - along with the shaver!). Pretty much the only thing I do regularly is charge it when it needs a charge, and empty the shave chamber of hair clippings on a regular basis. It is now well into its third year of excellent shaves with this minimal level of maintenance. What is not to love about such a shaver?!

Norelco makes many excellent rotary shavers. Many of the higher-end shavers may even be better than the one I have (mine is what I would consider a mid-range shaver, that cost me about $60 when I bought it more than 3 years back). But some of them use lotions and other consumables that need to be replenished as you continue using the shaver. I specifically stayed away from such shavers because I am not interested in a shaver that costs a lot in maintenance and consumables. I wanted a shaver that would cost me close to zero in incremenatal costs over the years, and this shaver fits the bill perfectly.

The shaver is well-shaped to fit in your hands comfortably while shaving. The battery holds enough charge for at least a week of shaving on one charge. More importantly, the charger is just a spiral cord that plugs into the shaver at one end and a wall-outlet at the other end. So, I can shave as if with a corded shaver while this cordless shaver is plugged in for charging. This has saved me several times in the past when I have forgotten to charge the shaver after its batteries have run down. I can just stand in front of the mirror, with the shaver plugged into the nearest outlet, and continue shaving.

There are electric shaver models that require the shaver to be placed in a specific position inside a receptable for shaving, and there is no way to use the shaver while is it being charged in that fashion. This model does not use any such fancy charging mechanism, so not only is it usable during charging, it also makes it easier to pack it along with its charging cord and take it places while traveling.

The shaver can be plugged into any outlet that provides anything from 100-240V AC power that is either 50 or 60 Hz. What this means is that this shaver can be charged in practically any corner of the world that has a working power supply system! But for most trips that last less than a week, I just charge the shaver at home and take just the shaver because I know the charge will last me through the trip (each charge typically takes me through 7 to 10 shaves).

The popup trimmer is very useful for making sure your sideburns are trimmed to the correct length, hair around your ears is kept in control, etc. If could also come in handy if you have a mustache or goatee I guess, but I don't know since I don't cultivate any facial hair. Cleaning the shaver is supremely easy also. Just press a small button to pop off the shave heads, exposing the inside of the shave heads as well as the hair-collection chamber behind the shave heads. Empty both and you are done. You can also wash the shave heads under water after removing them from the shaver, but you don't need to. Pop the shave heads back on the spindles until you hear a faint click, and you are good to go again.

If you actually do want to replace the shave heads, you can find replacement shave heads at most big-box stores. You can also order them directly from Norelco. The user manual has detailed instructions for how to replace the shave heads. It requires no tools and is almost just as easy as cleaning them! This is one thoughtfully-put-t0gether machine that makes the ownership experience as hassle-free as possible!!

Getting back to the issue of the life and death of my shaver (or more appropriately, the life, death and rebirth of my shaver), I guess I could say my fear of the memory effect is now being supplanted by the fear of a dead shaver! I will probably start charging it whenever I feel like it needs a charge instead of trying to discharge it down fully between charges. Hopefully, my shaver will not undergo any more deaths and rebirths in the future. I am keeping my fingers crossed, but the shaver is still alive as I post this!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

the reason it had done that is, if u have a lithium battery it was to low in charge to give enough power for it to spin up. so what u had done is reset its built in fuel gadge to 0 when u charged it for so long. it spun so slow for the battery was completely ded, ded, so not nearly enough power existed at the time.

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