This is What’s In Your Toolbox?, an occasional post series where we showcase tools and tips from our favorite fixers. Today we’re featuring Erica Griffin, a self-described “technology nerd who likes to film stuff.” Griffin records deep device reviews, does unauthorized but awesome Switch upgrades, fits huge TVs into her tiny apartment and explains why, and generally digs into gadgets. Note: iFixit has previously sponsored videos of Griffin’s.
First off, explain to our community who you are and what you do!
My name is Erica Griffin. I review tech, like smartphones, but I am also a big Nintendo nerd! I also love modding consoles and taking things apart, fixing them when I can.
How did you get started fixing and modding things?
I started at 13. I’m now 32. I was super into Pocket PCs and Palm Pilots before the existence of Android or iOS. Batteries were locked in, even then, so I had to take my devices apart to replace them.
I was also often annoyed that the color temperatures of the displays varied so I would tear down my devices, figure out who manufactured the better-looking displays, and then order the appropriate part. I would then swap the display to quench my OCD so I could finally enjoy my device.
I also loved to take things apart if they were broken to see if I could fix it. With four other siblings, broken devices weren’t hard to come by. My dad is an electrical engineer so he encouraged me in my gadget adventures.
What’s in your toolbox (or workshop)?
Currently, my toolbox is very simple. I use iFixit’s Pro Tech Tool Kit, along with a few other kits they offer and my soldering station. iFixit really helped me consolidate my tools. Before that, I would own several tool sets to try to get what I needed.
How do you organize your tools/devices?
As hilarious as it sounds, I use a hanging shoe organizer that I hang in my tech closet to put my large array of smartphones in. I keep my tools and other various things within my tech closet as well. I’ve stolen an entire closet in my apartment just for my tech and we don’t have many closets, lol.
What are some of your most-used tools?
I mostly use my Pro Tech Toolkit driver set and my curved tweezers for small areas that I need to get into.
What’s your most-coveted, yet least-used tool?
I don’t have a serious answer for this question so I am going to say my blow dryer for jobs where I need to loosen adhesive, which I don’t do often. I don’t need to invest in a heat gun because of it. I don’t know a lot of guys who own a blow dryer of their own, so they steal their wives’ lol. I’m already a proud owner of one, given my quantity of hair.
Is there a certain tool or material you use often, but seems unorthodox for your field?
Toilet paper lol. Sometimes when modding something, or if a custom part is made, tolerances can be very slim for parts not to jiggle and make noise. So taking the smallest ply of toilet paper and placing it in a strategic spot can keep rattling from happening. Or using baking soda and superglue to make a paste that can be molded and sanded to the proper shape in certain precarious jerry-rigging circumstances. It can help get a tiny part to fit better or restore it if you took too much off. This is especially useful for button or shell mods.
Every fixer/DIYer/device-opener has a brutal tool injury or failure story. What’s yours?
Back in the day I was trying to shell-swap my Nintendo DS Lite. I adored that thing so stinking much! My hinge had broken in typical DS Lite fashion, so I was determined to fix it. I didn’t quite know what I was doing and didn’t have the right tools back then.
Once I got the shell swapped out, I realized the top display did not look/behave right. So I took it apart again to re-seat all the ribbon cables but unfortunately it would not turn on again. I was crushed and had no money to really do anything about it. I spent a decade thinking I blew a fuse and would fix it one day then forgot about it.
I did return to the project many years later when I found my DS Lite buried in a box. It turned out I didn’t have the top screen ribbon cable seated and locked perfectly (I needed proper tweezers for this job), which affected the screen connection and so the device would not turn on. But I also discovered I had damaged the digitizer all those years ago. So I had a moment of hope, while feeling stupid for such a simple goof, followed by being completely demoralized.
That swapped shell had turned yellow after all those years anyway, so I just went on eBay and bought a brand-new unit to add to my collection. Like a dummy, I threw that damaged DS Lite out. These days I could have easily gotten a new digitizer and have the skills to install it. Oh well. Feels so silly now. I’m still kicking myself.
Then there was the time when I was a kid where I nearly shocked myself to the floor when I took my digital camera apart. I didn’t realize the flash held such a charge! Sheesh!
What’s your advice for people who want to start fixing or modding things?
Fixing things is so satisfying but seriously, if you don’t know what you are doing don’t tear into a project and discover too late that you made a grave error. There are a wealth of tutorials out there now. Watch THE ENTIRE THING start to finish. Please don’t watch 2 minutes of it, think you’ve got this, then make a nasty, blaming comment to the content creator that something you needed or weren’t supposed to do wasn’t listed in the first 15 seconds of the tutorial—so you messed up. You have no one to blame but yourself.
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!
I am currently very pregnant at the moment with my first child so I’ve had to slow down for a bit, but I am modding a few systems for her for when she’s old enough to join my husband and I in all the gaming fun.
I am also looking forward to the future when I’m feeling well enough to start modding and fixing things again. I’d love to make more modding based videos or even repair videos.