A Simple Fix for an Old VCR Cassette that Won’t Rewind or Fast Forward
Yes, some of us still have VCR’s (I also own an abacus and a slide rule and I know how to use them). My tape collection includes some wonderful stuff that might not even be available any more — I have videos from a survey of martial arts masters in China that includes internal energy demonstrations and kata from styles no one here in West knows. I have taped lessons from Russian Spetnaz experts and retired cops, tapes of all sorts of interesting things. Video tape doesn’t last forever, though, and currently I’m trying to transfer my collection to DVD and hope that media doesn’t go out of vogue as quickly as the VCR did.
I’m finding some of these old tapes to be a little cranky the first time I try to run them. Heat, cold, humidity and who knows what else makes them reluctant to unwind. Sometimes the first try yields nothing but static, then magical things happen and shattered sequences poke through the haze, and if I can get the tape to fast forward and rewind just once it’s usually ok.
Other times, such as today, the recovery method fails. Today’s project was a study of the 18 Lohan Set developed by Da Mo. I got it all the way through the fast forward part of the fix, but then it jammed and wouldn’t rewind. For awhile I thought my ancient VCR had broken, because it refused to play other tapes I’ve played recently, but I remembered my technical training. I turned it off. I turned it on again. Suddenly the good tapes played — some mysterious cog inside snapped back into position during the reboot.
My problem tape, however, still wouldn’t work. The tape wheels would not turn at all, so I decided what the hell, might as well take it apart and see what’s in there. Five Philips head screws hold the case together and the windowed top of the case lifts off easily if you don’t miss screw number five like I did. By the time I did see the recessed center screw I’d forgotten to lift the top off and instead lifted the bottom of the case first.
Don’t do that. Little pieces fall out and suddenly the tape isn’t threaded properly through the rollers any more. I compared what I had to a cassette that was still functional and combining that with my recollections of running the school projector in eighth grade I got everything put back. Wheels turned, I spun a little ways into it manually to see if something was sticking, and nothing was.
Two anchor pawls at the mid point of the case lock both geared tape wheels in position for storage. Inside the VCR tape compartment you can see an upright metal tab that pushes a recessed button on the underside of the cassette when it settles into place. I suppose that the tape was so sticky that when the pawls locked down the tension on them prevented the button from releasing the pawls when pushed. It’s not a tight fit between button and case, and the push tab is thin metal, so it was probably just slipping off.
So the next time this happens I won’t bother taking anything apart. I will just take the point of an ink pen and push the button on the bottom of the cassette. That will release the tension of years of poor storage and then, if I remember to turn the VCR off and then on again, I’ll be back in business.
I found lots of advice online, but I didn’t find this simple fix described anywhere.