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Videotapes can be mended

If you have a video tape which has snapped, don't despair! It is usually possible to mend video tapes. The method for such video tape repair is detailed here, with instructions carefully explained. Works for VHS tapes and Betamax tapes. The results of this are usually quite good, but not perfect. Plus, the same method with a few small variations works for audio cassettes and other kinds of tapes too. Yet I have seen people mourn and throw out broken videotapes which have been mangled by a videorecorder, as if they had no idea they could be fixed. But they've given up too soon, as you CAN MEND video tapes if they've snapped.

If the tape is sticking but not snapped, there's another page for fixing a sticking tape

Now I'll explain how to mend a broken (snapped) videotape, so you will be able to watch it again.

First, you need to have both broken ends of the tape available outside the cassette. If you already have this, then luck has been on your side to the extent that you don't need to follow the next part of the explanation, so just continue onto the bit about joining the ends together.

With repairing VHS videocassettes, it helps to know that the flap on the front of the tape can be opened manually by touching a small catch on the right of the flap (right as viewed from the back). Videorecorders have a way of pressing the catch to allow the flap to be opened, but you too can do this even without being a videorecorder!

Another thing worth knowing about VHS cassettes is that the ratchet mechanism which allows the tape to be reeled in but stops it being pulled out can be released by inserting something into a small hole in the base of the cassette. There was a time when I had a specially customised little fingernail which I could use for this purpose, simultaneously being able to release the catch and the ratchet at the same time. In absence of such an adaption, a small screwdriver will do the same thing!

If the tape ends are not visible and have ended up spun onto the reels inside the cassette, they can be retrieved by using a set of mini screwdrivers of the type available from the shops that happen to stock all kinds of useful stuff. Open the cassette by undoing all five screws, and then very carefully take the cassette apart. Be careful as bits can sometimes fall out. A newspaper laid out on the table helps to avoid this being a problem.

Even if you lose some of the pieces, all is not lost, as it is possible to transplant the actual tape reels into another cassette housing. This technique is also useful if the original cassette has been crushed, melted, chewed by the dog, or otherwise apparently "irreparably destroyed". Provided the tape is mostly intact, recovery is generally possible.

Now the important bit... JOINING THE ENDS TOGETHER:

When joining the two loose ends of a snapped videotape, or audio tape for that matter, the ends need to be cut cleanly. Trim off crumpled tape with scissors leaving a neatly snipped end to each of the two severed tapes.

(You will only lose a few seconds of footage)

Next, get some clear sticky tape* (see important note at end) and put a short section of it on the table, with the sticky side up. (It's important that the sticky tape ends up on the REVERSE of the video tape, for reasons I'll explain later). The sticky tape should be at right angles to the videotape. Now, place one of the two ends of the videotape halfway onto the sticky tape leaving plenty either side. This makes it easy to stick the second end of the videotape on. This is a precision job as the ends should match up very well. It's important to avoid overlap (as this might catch on the heads), but it's even more important to make sure that no bare sticky area is left exposed. Also, the ends should meet in a straight line rather than having a kink in the middle.

The result should now consist of a joined videotape with the sticky tape right across it with some protruding either side.

If you make a mess of this, don't worry. Just use the scissors to trim off the mistake and start again.

Having stuck both ends of the broken tape onto the sticky tape, you can trim off the excess with sharp scissors. This has to be done quite precisely, but it's better to lose a quarter of a millimetre of videotape from either side in preference to leaving any exposed sticky stuff.

Having joined the two ends nicely together, you can reel them back into the cassette by holding the flap open (with the catch pressed), and by turning the capstan wheels under the cassette. A special videotape-winding tool is available for this, but I've found the thumb will do quite well.

There! A videocassette repaired!

The reason I'm being so fussy about avoiding gum and sticky stuff being exposed on this repair, and also why the sticky tape needs to go on the BACK of the videotape, is because it must not be allowed to contaminate the video heads.

Video heads can be cleaned by repeated use of a tape cleaning tape, but this will not be necessary if the repair is done well.

Also, questions are sometimes raised about the extra wear any repair puts on video heads. This is minimal as the repair will only be encountered every now and then, once for each playing of the tape. Tape machine manufacturers and repairers often overemphasise the wear to the heads, but they are often just trying to cover themselves and would rather you throw away the tape than cause any fuss.

Audio compact cassettes can be repaired in a similar way, but as the tape is much smaller, it's an even more fiddly job to do. Smaller sticky tape and sometimes a cassette editing kit will help.

For videocassettes, the method works for Betamax as well as VHS, and possibly for other types generally, although the ideas about the release catch will be different. And no, of course, this method does not work the same for a DVD.

If you would like a broken videotape mended but you don't fancy performing this precise operation yourself, you may still be able to have it repaired by the technical experts at a television repair shop. If anyone tells you it's impossible to repair a videotape, they are most likely wrong and are simply saying they can't do it or are unwilling to try. The right kind of telly shops (also see proper computer shops) are easily identifiable by their expertise and the amount of technical stuff and junk lying around, as opposed to box shifters who just want to sell you new stuff. Get a price quote before agreeing to the job being done.

Children (of an age where they can be trusted with the sharp scissors!) are sometimes quite adept at repairing a tape, and other videorecorder related abilities such as setting the timer clock. Remember, though, that the repairer of the tape might happen to watch the tape just to test it.

If your videorecorder makes an unfortunate regular habit of munching up videotapes, it's most likely the LACING BELT that needs renewing or rubbing the shine off. This is not difficult.

If you break a rented videotape, mend it, and when you take it back, be honest and tell the folk at the shop you've mended it. They'll probably either forgive you completely or will offer to sell you the tape at a reduced rate. Either way, better than taking back a "ruined" tape and paying full whack for it.

That's about it then, how to mend a videotape. Feel free to save/print this page and credit* the fact that it is at Zyra's website www.zyra.org.uk where there are plenty of other useful and to some extent crazy ideas. * Credit? Yes, it is only fair to give a link to Zyra if you copy the page! Better than ending up with the corporate plagiarism problem! (Update: The initial problem was solved and Yahoo was forgiven eventually). More about plagiarism on this new page.

In case you'd like to resolve a problem with a failed hard disc drive instead of a video tape, see hard disc drive recovery companies such as ESS Data Recovery, Xytron, Palmer Data Recovery and Ontrack Data Recovery rather than opening it up!

* Sticky Tape: Note that professionals recommend proper splicing tape which is special kind of tape editing tape that will never ooze sticky gum. If you use ordinary 'sellotape' type clear adhesive tapes the repair should be considered to be temporary. How temporary depends on luck and on how well you've done the repair. The problem is that gum from the sticky tape tends to ooze out after a while. This must not get on the heads!

A repair which has been done well, and made with proper splicing tape and with the cut edges closely matched, should last for a long time and even be reusable and re-recordable.

When mending a videotape or an audio tape, be careful if you get anyone else involved, particularly someone with a close relationship to you. In particular, a spouse or partner may be adept with a hammer at cracking open a cassette, but if they lose their temper with the tangled-up tape it may end up in tragedy. However, with a bit of calm, this could all be resolved.