Gearhead Diary: Spudgers and other special tools

spudger, Macbook, keyboard replacement
PHOTO BY MATT BARTMANN All the dusty parts in the computer on the left must be transferred to the new clean case on the right. Every part, every screw, every connection must transfer. The collection of special tools at the top, including spudgers.

Matt Bartmann

A couple of years ago, I set out on a journey of new-to-me repairs. Very intimidating repairs. Replacing the keyboard and trackpad on a Macbook Pro, Sally’s laptop computer.

A fine computer to be sure, but seemingly not designed to be repaired by a hack like me.

Would that stop me? Not at all! If those geniuses at the Apple Store in Boulder can do it, why can’t I?

Besides, after the extended warranty is expired, we can’t afford to pay geniuses. And they don’t like dust. “We’ll have to void your warranty if you bring it to us like this again,” we were scolded.

The problem with this project was that the keyboard and the trackpad are part of the case of the machine. Which is to say, every little piece inside the old computer has to be transferred to the replacement case.

Major surgery.

Off to YouTube I went. “Replace keyboard Macbook Pro” seemed a logical search, and sure enough, up came a video tutorial. Starting with a list of tools required.

The usual tiny screwdrivers, both Phillips and flat head. Some torx screwdrivers. Easy enough.

Then there were 3-pointed “tri-wing” screwdrivers, and 5-sided torx “pentalobe” screwdrivers. Not much I can do there with what I have. I had to get the correct screwdrivers.

And, finally, spudgers (also known as “spludgers”). A spudger? I broke out laughing. A what? A who? A device for smashing overcooked peas into boiled potatoes? Someone who rides a bicycle quickly through mud puddles? Spludge.

“What the heck is a spudger?” I owned zero spudgers. Even my spell check doesn’t know what a spudger is. That squiggly red underline warns me that I misspelled the word. I did not. Spell check overruled.

I learned that spudgers are flat-edged, non-conductive (plastic) tools that come in many shapes and sizes. Used for connecting or disconnecting those tiny ribbon-wire connectors found inside modern electronic devices. And I thought that’s what fingernails were for. Silly me.

That was as far as I got back then. Circumstances allowed for the project to be put on hold: A friend gave us her old laptop—a functioning Macbook Pro.

Time passed. Spudgers moved to the back of my mind.

But lately, the “new” computer that allowed me to procrastinate has been acting up. Time to visit that intimidating repair project again. It would be good to have both computers working anyhow.

So I found a reputable “junkyard” of Mac computers online. I ordered up a batch of used parts. I also ordered special tools: a kit hand-picked for the task at hand. Including the 3-point screwdriver, the 5-point screwdriver, and, of course, some spudgers. Or is it spludgers?

If specially designed tools are required for a job—tools I don’t have—I consider something I could use instead, or make. Everybody knows a butter knife or a dime can serve as a screwdriver, for instance.

I have rarely failed to find something that works in place of those special tools that the service manual writers insist you “must have.” Even big, special tools, like the expensive and hard to find Volvo tool SVO-1791, made for pulling off brake drums and hubs. Luckily, a simple heavy-duty brake drum puller—easily found at tool rental places—does the job just fine. With only a little extra cursing.

A universal hub puller that can be rented from any tool rental establishment. Special Volvo tool SVO-1791 (inset) works better, but expensive and hard to find.

But a computer is a little more delicate than a brake drum. There would be a dozen or more of those pesky wire connections, some hidden, in this computer. Surely spudgers could be whittled from wood, but new plastic ones are cheap.

I do like having the right tool for the job, and at less than $20, this tool kit seems a bargain compared to Volvo SVO-1791, which would set us back several hundred dollars. If one could be found.

Besides, now having a set of spudgers, maybe we can avoid the embarrassment of being scolded about dust by a genius in Boulder.


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