This is What’s In Your Toolbox?, an occasional post series where we showcase tools and tips from our favorite fixers.
Clint Basinger walks into his local Goodwill, camera in hand. He enthusiastically points out an Atari 2600, a new-in-box Commodore graphic printer, and, because he can’t help himself, a traffic signal. “I’d love to grab one of these sometime and convert it to a…thing,” he chuckles, before moving onto even more boxes and toys he’d love to have time to play with.
This is Basinger’s job, or at least his most interesting one. He’s uploaded more than a thousand videos to his YouTube channel LGR, venturing far beyond the premise of “Lazy Game Reviews.” He still plays and reviews games, even some new ones. But he’s really a maven at finding, appreciating, and restoring old hardware.
More than 1.2 million subscribers, and millions more droppers-by, have watched him play rubber-limb-retro game Cuphead on a black-and-white CRT TV, restore Barbie and Hot Wheels-themed PCs, explain why old computers had key locks, and boot up a MS-DOS-compatible PowerMac from 1995. Sometimes it all looks effortless; sometimes he shows you the work he puts in, and the annoyances he tolerates, as he brings us high-test nostalgia.
We wanted to know what kind of gear and techniques Basinger uses to keep his collection running, and he was kind enough to lay it out for us by email. We’ve edited it lightly for clarity and context, and we’ve added links to relevant tools, some in the iFixit store.
How did you get started fixing and restoring tech?
Before YouTube, it was really out of necessity! I didn’t have much at my disposal in terms of funding, so I’d always choose to repair systems I got for cheap or for free and then upgrade them with spare parts. Lots of trading, thrift store shopping, and late night browsing of Craigslist and eBay for affordable stuff. Then in the mid-to-late 2000s I started getting into retro computing as a hobby, and due to the nature of aging hardware some additional repair skills were a must.
What are some of the unique tools, pieces of hardware, rigs, or other gear you need for your YouTube channel?
The majority of machines I work on were built using off the shelf components back in the day anyway, so a standard allotment of screwdrivers is all I need most of the time. Security Torx and hex socket screws are about as exotic as it gets in terms of tools. I also keep an IC extractor and a keycap puller on hand for dismantling socketed circuit boards and certain keyboards. And of course, a nice sturdy hammer or rubber mallet is always useful for coaxing bent metal computer cases back into shape! Hooray for percussive maintenance.
My cleaning and lubrication supplies are a bit more unique I suppose. Internally, old computers are constantly deteriorating—blown capacitors, leaky CMOS batteries, dried oils and pastes, rust on various metals. Not to mention caked-on dust and grime, spider nests, rodents using motherboards as a toilet, and who knows what else results from being stored in a dark place for decades. So I keep a steady supply of white vinegar, vinegar+distilled water mix, glass cleaner, magic erasers, cotton swabs, 2000 grit sandpaper, goo remover, and high-proof alcohol for cleaning. DeoxIT is also highly useful for addressing card edge connectors, ports, and sockets that have gotten dirty and oxidized.
White lithium grease and lubricating oil is great for restoring dry floppy disk drive rails, gears, and cranky hard drive stepper motors. I use a reverse flow vacuum to blow out piles of dust outside. Oh, and anti-static brushes and microfiber cleaning cloths, can’t have enough of those.
Externally, I use many of the same cleaning supplies on computer hardware to take care of grime and residue, but with a lighter touch on plastic components. For light scratches, I use a variety of plastic, metal, and paint polishes meant for restoring the finish of silverware, automobiles, and musical instruments.
Then there’s the occasional addition of Retrobright. This is to revert the yellowing seen on many lighter-color plastics. There are a ton of ways to lighten yellow plastic, but personally I just take a plastic storage container, fill it with hot water and a bottle of 40 volume clear developer (hair bleach) then submerge the plastic parts in there and stick it outside on a sunny afternoon. You can also leave plastics out in the sun for multiple days and get somewhat similar results, no liquid required.
How do you organize your gear?
Ehh, largely through trial and error? I don’t currently have a dedicated workbench due to a lack of space, so I’m constantly dragging tools and liquids out of storage to take care of whatever needs doing at the time. Inevitably this ends up producing multiple piles of cautiously-composed chaos in the vicinity of each partially complete project. It’s kind of a mess most of the time, especially when combined with cameras, lights, tripods, and microphones.
I gotta say, having a dedicated wide open work area with an organized wall of tools, components, and cleaning supplies is probably my biggest desire in life right now, haha.
What are some of your most-used tools or gear?
A multi-bit screwdriver tops the list, along with an army of microfiber cloths, cleaning fluids, and light abrasives. A soft bristle toothbrush is always handy for getting into crevices, like the ventilation slats and grooves often seen on retro computer cases and CRT monitors. Extra long tweezers and a crow’s foot are useful too when screws and components drop down into places they shouldn’t. And the aforementioned IC extractor and keycap puller as needed.
What’s your most-coveted, yet least-used tool or device?
Hmm. Nothing’s really coming to mind in terms of stuff I use for repairing or restoration, it’s mostly just stuff you can find at any hardware or big box department store.
Maybe woodgrain vinyl counts? Heh. I mean, it’s not hard to find but it’s certainly become coveted ever since I did a vinyl wrap on my 486 PC build to make it look like a piece of retro woodgrain-clad furniture. Dozens of people have sent in photos of their own “Woodgrain PC” builds after that, using the same walnut vinyl I used. It cracks me up.
Is there a certain tool or material you use often, but seems unorthodox for your particular field?
Not particularly. Pretty much everything I use is because I’ve seen other folks using it successfully. Though I did get some surprised responses when I posted my video about removing stubborn old stickers. Using a dry erase marker to remove permanent marker seemed to be a revelation to some.
Every fixer/DIYer has a gruesome tool injury story. What’s yours?
It seems most vintage computers were not built with human skin in mind, with tons of sharp metal edges and spiky protruding pin headers. It’s rare to finish a project without a few slices on the hands and holes pierced into fingertips.
About the worst for me came from trying to bend open a stubborn metal computer case with a screwdriver, and then slipping and stabbing my hand with a significant amount of force. Definitely had to re-do a whole section of that video due to the blood, ha.
What’s your advice for people who want to start fixing/making (or restoring) things?
Research what’s worked for others! When I first started, I simply grabbed whatever cleaning supplies and tools I had around the house. As a result, I ended up ruining a couple machines by using the wrong product. Old plastic is brittle, powder coat paint finishes are hard to restore, PCB traces can be cut by the slip of a screwdriver, and several liquids and sprays can actually do more harm than good when trying to clean electronics.
Anything else you want our community of fixers to know? Feel free to pitch any new projects or content you’re working on or recently published!
Restoring vintage computers can often be a crapshoot, with tough to diagnose problems, corrosive components, and hard to find replacement parts. But it’s hugely rewarding in the end to keep a machine alive for another couple of decades, even something as basic as an old Packard Bell. Do check out LGR if you’re curious to see my process in video form!
As for what I’m working on, ahh, it’s a large list of projects that are in a constant state of being half-complete. At the moment I’m working on getting an Apple Power Macintosh 6100/66 DOS Compatible in fully-working order, which is a mid-90s Mac that runs both System 7 and DOS/Windows 3.1 simultaneously, with an Intel 486 system on a card inside. Pretty funky to see in action.
Do you do fix up neat stuff with interesting tools? We want to hear from you! Contact email@example.com if you’re interested.