back to article Printer blown to bits by compressed air

Welcome again to On-Call, El Reg's regular Friday feature in which readers share their recollections of being asked to fix follies. This week, meet “Bill”, who in the early 2000s did IT support for an engineering company. One fine day, Bill was assigned the task of sorting out a broken inkjet printer. “I visited the site and …

  1. Roq D. Kasba

    >>>On-Call reckons he probably wouldn't mind an even stronger air compressor to get through some of the problems he faces now.<<<

    Yes, yes indeed. We once had a problem, we implement SAP, we now dream of having that original problem back...

    1. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

      If "Bill" was any good at customer support

      After the first incident he'd have gotten hold of a label maker & put a label prominently on the printer telling people to only used the canned air. Relying on word of mouth places the fail of the 2nd printer squarely on "Bill".

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: If "Bill" was any good at customer support

        I did that once - put a sticker on label printers to tell users to put the rolls in the correct way so I wouldn't get calls stating "Printer not working".

        The users then either -

        a) Ignore the sticker.

        b) Peel it off to see what's underneath, then scibbled in biro what I had put on the sticker then a)

    2. Hero Protagonist

      "I got 99 problems and SAP is 98 of them"

  2. Evil Auditor Silver badge

    SAP consulting

    Good for "Bill". I still feel ambiguous about having declined an ostensibly good offer to join into SAP consulting some years ago. Not unhappy about it though.

  3. jake Silver badge

    Back in the day ...

    ... I had to caution people against using common or garden industrial compressed air for dusting out computers for several reasons. The primary was "lots must be better", and I'm here to tell you that an unregulated 90CFM @ 200PSI will not just rip DIPs out of their sockets and send key caps flying, but it will also lift traces off of PC boards ... And of course, even if they regulated it down to a more manageable volume/pressure, they still didn't use an inline dryer/oil separator, thus blasting delicate electronic components with rusty, greasy water. I can't tell you how many times I was brought in to clean up the mess from the mid '70s to the late 80's. Fun. Not.

    Then there were the idiots who decided to put all matter of computer gear into ultrasonic cleaning tanks filled with one variety of "freon" or another, thus either completely dissolving or turning to goo the packaging of one or more components of the equipment.

    1. PNGuinn

      Re: Back in the day ...

      Most freons in ultrasonic baths are pretty kind to most plastics.

      What they are not kind to, however, is the gunk that should NOT be removed , like switch lubricants, and delicate labelling of panels ....

      Which does tend to upset the shop floor when they discover the damage done to the next production run by the contaminated bath ...

      Oh - and don't ultrasonically clean anything with a vacuum device in it - like nixie tubes.

      Oh well - showing my age again.

  4. Will Godfrey Silver badge


    There seems to be remarkably little regulation over the use of compressed air. There have been countless cases of people being seriously injured (and even killed) by airlines being abused by idiots.

    1. Ole Juul

      Re: Dangerous

      I'm actually surprised more people don't get hurt by these. I've got a big commercial compressor in my workshop and it does a nice job of cleaning old computers. It's also nice for cleaning the workshop dust off my clothes when I've been in the shop. But whenever I do that I can't help thinking just how easy it would be to get too near my eyes, or even more scary, my ears. I could end up deaf in a fraction of a second if I didn't exercise care. Anyway, I highly recommend a real compressor for cleaning out dust bunnies in old desktops and for regular keyboard maintenance. One just needs to exercise a little care and pay attention to just how much stress one is putting on the item at hand.

      1. strum

        Re: Dangerous

        >I can't help thinking just how easy it would be to get too near my eyes, or even more scary, my ears.

        Even using it on bare skin can be dangerous - injecting air into the bloodstream.

        1. Lars Silver badge

          Re: Dangerous

          "injecting air into the bloodstream." I have been wondering about that. Had to stay some time in a hopital and there was this plastic bag of something "healthy" connected to me with a thin plastic tube. Looking at that tube I asked the nice lady where all those bubbles of air moving into me, end up. She wasn't all that amused and after some hesitation - into your lungs. The next time she had the bubbles out, customer service. Anybody outside IT who actually knows more about that topic.

          Also I have known a few guys here in Finland who worked for SAP and quite happy with their fate. And yes, I don't know their customers.

          I have also known some Indian programmers with well working brains.

          So now that I have become, mean as I am, the first ever commentard on ElReg with a kind word both for SAP and some Indian programmers feel free to give me an up or down.

          1. lpcollier

            Re: Dangerous

            Re. air in IV lines - it's a theoretical issue. Generally because the bag is higher than your body the air won't ever actually enter your bloodstream, the bubbles gradually work their way back up line. There is a concept of an "air embolus" which is where a significant amount of air (or other gas) is directly injected into a vein. If enough is put in in one go it can end up in the heart and cause the pump to fail, just like an airlock in any fluid pump - the ventricle will contract and compress the air rather than moving it forward. This does actually require quite a lot of air in one go. It's possible to do this over a period of time, but not a very long period as small bubbles will get absorbed.

            Regarding a "hypospray" - it generally won't end up in the bloodstream, air or liquid pushed against the skin in force will likely just cause abrasions, i.e. separation of the top layers of skin as you see when someone has slid along the ground from a sports or road accident. The jet injectors that are available will push a medicine under the skin, not into the bloodstream - this works for some vaccinations but not for most medicines sadly. We have nothing like the Star Trek hypospray sadly.

            -- medical doctor, former engineer who lurks on The Register....

          2. Black Betty

            Re: Dangerous

            The piddling little bubbles that sometimes get into a drip line will easily dissolve in the blood, it takes several cc's of air to cause a potentially fatal embolism.

      2. Outer mongolian custard monster from outer space (honest)

        Re: Dangerous

        I'd worry more about the compressor itself than the fact you might end up deaf by some freak accident (I've never heard of anyone instantly deafening themselves with a compressor?).

        Most compressor accidents are either air needles caused when some idiots decide to try and inflate the apprentices overalls in a stupid joke and shove a nozzle up the apprentices overalls, which ends up occasionally with air being injected into the poor sods bloodstream and killing them.

        The second major cause is the compressor letting go, there is a LOT of stored energy in that tank and its devistating when it pops due to rust or failure.

        I have a 3 phase industrial compressor servicing my home shop, but I choose for it to live in its own brick small outbuilding. Then I don't have to listen to it droning on and if it blows up one day, I dont end up dead.

      3. Brad Ackerman

        Re: Dangerous

        Anyway, I highly recommend a real compressor for cleaning out dust bunnies in old desktops and for regular keyboard maintenance.

        Did that once with a 10 kW compressor... outside, with eye protection. Learned why ear protection is advisable when bleeding it afterwards.

    2. kmac499

      Re: Dangerous

      A hopefully apocryphal but common tale of airline injuries in workshops, involve a blast of air against the overalled backside of someone leaning over. This can cause seperation of the cheeks and air entering the colon, which can easily burst.

      Industrial vacuum cleaners can be just as lethal, if someone was dumb enough to inspect a blocked intake too closely it could suck the air out of the chest collapsing the lungs.

      1. Triggerfish

        Re: Dangerous

        I remeber when I was doing more arty things being warned about the pressure used for spraying from airbrushes (the fine pen sized ones not industrial), above a certain PSI it basically became a hypospray (jet injector for the pedants, and no I didnt know thats it's proper tem either), like in hospitals but with paint.

        1. ABehrens

          Re: Dangerous

          Think of the possibilities: you could open a tattoo parlor for people who are needle-phobic.

      2. Jos V

        Re: Dangerous

        Basic tenets of work: If it 1) makes more noise than you can make, or 2) goes faster than you could achieve, or 3) can go higher than you can jump, treat it with respect.

        I'm inclined to add 4) if it blows more wind than you can...

        1. BongoJoe

          Re: Dangerous

          Shirley, point four includes politicians which, by their very definition, don't deserve any respect at all.

        2. WonkoTheSane

          Re: Dangerous

          "I'm inclined to add 4) if it blows more wind than you can..."

          Caveat to add to 4) - ESPECIALLY after curry night!

      3. BebopWeBop

        Re: Dangerous

        Not apocryphal. In the US two car mechanics were prosecutor for playing 'a joke' on one of their colleagues. Not lethal, but serious injuries. That is the only rime I have actually seen a verifiable account though.

      4. PNGuinn

        Re: Dangerous

        I agree, but as with all compressed air jobs, use with care.

        A good mantra is "You know electricity can be dangerous, right? Compressed air more so."

        I do use workshop air for cleaning appropriate electronic equipment, carefully.

        I've always been cautious, especially with fans. Just what kind of an emf / spike can be generated by a fan being spun at a gazillion rpm? There's bound to be some residual magnetism in there somewhere, even for an induction motor. And, if there's no moisture in the air, What about static?

        Anyway, I want the dust OUT not compressed into a corner somewhere.

      5. Tim Jenkins

        Re: Dangerous

        "Industrial vacuum cleaners can be just as lethal, if someone was dumb enough to inspect a blocked intake too closely it could suck the air out of the chest collapsing the lungs."

        To be fair, that's not the usual failure mode for human / vacuum cleaner interaction. At least, not for the male portion of humanity...

    3. Mark York 3 Silver badge

      Re: Dangerous

      Just came back from a training weekend down south in Orange County (same airport as Harrison Ford "Schmucked up his aircraft landing") & tale of a high pressure steam leakage on a submarine was told to me by one of the attendees (quite a few ex-navy attendees actually).

      When a pin prick leak occurs in a high pressure steam pipe, it's visible as a "cloud" in the general vicinity, when that's spotted all in the immediate area freeze & slowly look about for something within arms reach to use as a guide like a spanner or wrench as the North Americans have it, then move it in the general area of the cloud to find where it intersects with the leak, the results are pretty obvious once it does so.

      A newbie submariner, forgot all his training on his trip out, spotted the leak & immediately went to point it out to his shipmates (he was also in an area of the boat he wasn't really supposed to be in) inadvertently using his arm as the detection device.

      His forearm connected with the high pressure steam jet & a Anakin Skywalker type injury occurred, as the jet sliced through the flesh & bone severing without hope of re-attachment (Both sides of the wound cauterized instantly).

    4. Mark 85

      @Will Godfrey -- Re: Dangerous

      It is pretty much self-regulating.. no legislative body can make it better and there's a reward: The Darwin Awards.

  5. Kurgan

    I did something similar once

    I had this very very old and very dusty PC from a rock grinding mill control system (yes, very fine rock powder everywhere) that needed to be cleaned. I had an oversized air compressor. I have TRIED to be kind, regulating air flow by gently pulling the air gun trigger, and it sort of worked. No components flying around. But I forgot to hold the cpu fan in place, so it went spinning at about 100.000 RPM, generated a lot of current (a motor is a generator, too) and totally fried something. The PC never booted again.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I did this - and I got away with it

    with a factory fixed airline. I did, admittedly, have some help from someone that knew how to use the line... which included the foresight to put an appropriate attachment on the line to ensure we didn't blow the components away.

    It was an old, and very heavy IBM band printer choked with paper dust. Made out of battleship strength (and weight) steel with almost no small components paper side.

    Another hazard of industrial airline air is that it can be delivered, rarefied I think the term was, with tiny amounts of lubricating oil which may or may not be good for your target, and is certainly not good for people!

    1. PNGuinn

      Re: I did this - and I got away with it

      Anyone old enough to remember the old Tektronix valved scopes?

      the ones that ate half a kilowatt or more, and were much prized when the heating failed?

      Wacking great fan at the back?

      We used to blow them out with a 90 psi airline. Just do it outside in the car park and stand upwind of the dustcloud.

  7. Spudley

    The closest I can get to that story is a printer that was blown up by a lightning strike.

    * BANG *

    Power goes out.

    And through the wall, in the room next door I can hear some really odd clattering sounds.

    I go to investigate and find parts from our office dot matrix printer scattered liberally around the room.

    Its a good thing no-one was in the room at the time as some of the bits probably flew with some force.

  8. Adam 1

    this must have been ...

    back in the day when people fixed broken printers. These days you sometimes replace the thing instead of buying new ink.

    1. Stoneshop

      Re: this must have been ...

      Well, someone who was in DEC FS with me specialised on printers. Of course that makes sense when you're running multi page per second band and drum printers, but he was the only one willing and able to deal with the LCP01 inkjet. Which didn't yet have the throw-out-and-replace-with-new-printhead-with-cartridge way of 'cleaning', it had tubes and reservoirs and pumps and gubbins and doodads that invariably gummed up three days after your latest print. He was known as Johan Dammit because of his way of expressing his opinion of all things printer (and most other things electromechanical), but he was the guy who managed to *fix* your printer. Which, in the case of the LCP01 was no mean feat, and involved him ending up like a Jackson Pollock canvas.

  9. wolfetone Silver badge

    Well I, for one, have been blown away by that users stupidity.

    1. BongoJoe

      Well I, for one, have been blown away by that users stupidity.

      Now, shirely that called for a Paris icon!

      1. wolfetone Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        "Now, shirely that called for a Paris icon!"

        You're right. I'm sorry for blowing such an opportunity. I suck.

        1. BebopWeBop

          but not blow?

  10. Your alien overlord - fear me
    Paris Hilton

    Blow me once, shame on me. Blow me twice, shame on you. Blow me thrice, hang on, this is good :-)

    Icon, chosen purely at random !!

  11. lansalot

    a long time ago...

    well, 1984-ish.. in my metalwork class at school, they had a poster on the wall. It was pretty to-the-point.


    A picture of a fired gun against a head, with brains ejecting out the other side

    A picture of a compressor and its hose against a head, with brains ejecting out the other side

    You could say the message worked, as I remember it clearly over 30 years later.

  12. LewisRage

    I've got a picture somewhere

    of a very disappointed desktop engineer stood next to a very shiny keyboard.

    Next to the keyboard are two almost identical cans, one containing the compressed air the engineer had _thought_ he was picking up to clean the keyboard, and one containing WD40.

    1. Talamasca

      Re: I've got a picture somewhere

      I did a similar thing to myself recently after making a trip to Colorado to get some of that industrial strength left-handed cigarette material. After consuming about a third of a not large one, I decided I needed to clean the evidence off the keyboard. In a dimly light closet there’s two similar cans, both with red straws sticking out of them…

      I think my typing speed went up 20-25 wpm for the next few days.

  13. IT veteran

    Melted Printers

    In a previous job, two of our offices got fire-bombed by a disgruntled ex-employee. I remember seeing a melted HP LJ III in one of the offices...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Melted Printers

      "I remember seeing a melted HP LJ III in one of the offices..."

      I presume it was still a fully working? I just retired one working LJ III. Over 25 years in a shitty metal works office - the print quality was fine, but it was just too slow to warm up and the 5(?) ppm just didn't cut it anymore.

      1. Z80

        Re: Melted Printers

        I think the reason LaserJet IIIs stuck around for so long was that whenever anyone tried to move one to make room for something newer, they thought better of it for the sake of their health.

        Not the biggest printer ever made, but possibly the densest?

    2. Anonymous C0ward

      Re: Melted Printers

      Shouldn't have stolen his stapler.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    Air compressed air... engineer decided a Proliant 7000 was running hot because the PSU fans were clogged up and full of crap.

    He decided to given them a clean with a can of compressed air.

    Rule One. Disconnect power.

    If rule one is not observed, result will be a loud bang and one very knackered, very expensive server.

  15. phuzz Silver badge

    Nowhere near as impressive, but over time I've learnt to take particularly grubby computers outside, before opening them up and giving them a good air dust.

    The rest of the office were much happier once I'd stopped filling the atmosphere with 5 year old dust bunnies.

    1. J. R. Hartley

      Making them inhale the dead flesh of their colleagues. Are you the BOFH?

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Making them inhale the dead flesh of their colleagues.

        In my home server room[1] I (roughly once a year) shut everything down and, using a hand vacuum, clean out the servers in the acoustic case[2].

        Not that much human dust, more cat fur, fine sawdust from the cat trays and, doubtless, dried cat-sick[3]..

        [1] Yes - I have a server[4] room at home. Doesn't everyone? It has a stairgate across the door in winter (so it can warm the upstairs[2]) and the door is shut in summer and the aircon gets switched on. Both irritate our senior female cat immensely as it deprives her access to a nice warm room[3]

        [2] The server room is next to our bedroom. Newer server makes a lot less noise but it's still noticable, even with the acoustic case.

        [3] Having 6 cats, 5 of whom are rescues and 2 of them were really quite ill when they arrived and still are prone to vomit at the least excuse. After having a 24-port switch destroyed when a cat vomited over it, I decided to implemet access control.

        [4] It still has two servers in the room. But the old Dell 2950 with the 8 15K RPM SAS drives is no longer switched on. Which makes thengs a lot more quiet. The new server has SSD storage..

        1. Chris King

          "After having a 24-port switch destroyed when a cat vomited over it, I decided to implemet access control".

          Looks like the cats have been sharing swipe cards again ?

          1. Korev Silver badge

            After having a 24-port switch destroyed when a cat vomited over it, I decided to implemet access control.

            You must have been feline a bit angry when that happened...

            1. jake Silver badge

              Now, now.

              Lets not get catty.

    2. SImon Hobson Bronze badge

      One things I miss since I changed jobs is an industrial airline with "blow off gun" attachment, and somewhere outside to use it. Mind you, I don't miss the "everything covered in candle wax" aspect of the environment there !

      Particularly useful for blowing out the fans which make a lovely whiiiizzzzzzzzzzzz when you get the blast just right.

    3. Chris King


      No, it's not ED-209's big brother, but it will still blow you away if you don't show it any respect.

      I made the mistake of demo'ing one to colleagues using an old desktop PC, and I really should have taken it outside.

      The atmosphere wasn't thick with dust bunnies... It pretty much blew them apart on contact.

      They say the motor is a three-quarter horsepower unit. One thing is for certain - the missing quarter of the horse isn't the back legs, as this thing has quite a kick on power-up.

  16. tedleaf

    Some what related.

    We had an engineer borrow a piece of kit to clean off the bottom of his caravan before someone did a bit of welding on its chassis,unfortuanetly what he "borrowed" was a the most powerful brick/stone cleaner in Europe at the time,7000lbs of pressure certainly cleaned the chassis,it also opened up every single little bit of rusty box section and he didn't think it might be a good idea to empty the caravan first.

    Lucky for him,he didn't know how to get past the regulator,so he only got 3000psi,at full blast and needle jet it could cut even purple engineering bricks in half in about 10 seconds and yer normal hard red in about 2 seconds,we were not meant to run it over 5000 psi but boys will be boys with new toys so we soon learnt how to reset the regulator.

    At 7000psi it was as much as I could do to hold it in place,even holding it like a shotgun and leaning into hard..

    Mind you,turned down a bit,it was a favourite for cleaning out the drums on the concrete wagons that had sat around an hour too long on a Friday afternoon but the driver of one wasn't too impressed when I turned it up and proceeded to cut his outer rear tyre in half nice and cleanly,just to prove how dangerous it was when I caught them pissing about with it one Saturday morning...

  17. d3vy

    To be fair, if every time they destroyed the printer with compressed air they were supplied with a new one... resolving the original problem.

    Seems ideal to me.

    A bit like a friend of mine who years ago took offence to the cost of ink cartridges for his epson inkjets to resorted to using the ink up that came supplied with a new printer and then returning it as faulty knowing that for the sake of £50 the shop would just give him a new one and send the "Faulty" one off as an RMA to the manufacturer... He got about a years worth of printing out of that before they refused to replace any more.

  18. Anne Hunny Mouse

    Air lines

    Used airlines in chemistry labs for cleaning keyboards. Used to work quite well....

    1. Korev Silver badge

      Re: Air lines

      Some chemistry labs have problems with solvent vapour dissolving one of the chemicals responsible for stiffening motherboards. I'm told it makes them look like Dali's The Persistence of Memory...

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Air lines

        Lab airlines aren't usually particularly vicious.

        Chemicals OTOH... Because of the nasty biologicals that might be encountered we used chromic acid as a cleaning solution. The best way to impress a new assistant of the care they needed to take with it was to toss a piece of paper into it so they could see it disappear instantly.

  19. BostonEddie

    Nice air compressor: Alice's Restaurant

    Bad air compressor: League of Gentlemen (poor turtle1)

    1. Korev Silver badge

      Bad air compressor: League of Gentlemen (poor turtle1)

      Which is nothing until you see the Medusa in the 3rd series....

  20. Mark 85

    The worst sounds in the world..

    <sound of air compressor>

    <sound of high pressure air>

    <sound of parts being blown across the room and into the wall>

    <sound of the new tech... "Oh s**t" or equivalent.

    1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

      Re: The worst sounds in the world..

      Nope far worse is when you've spent 1/2 a day dismantling a wonky gripper robot, laid all the screws/bolts/clips out on a nice labeled piece of paper, and just about to replace the bent part when the apprentice is told by the boss to clean up and the dumb **** uses an airline....

      And the most horrible noise you can imagine is just what did I did to him afterwards...... second only to the noise of 30 odd screws hitting the back of the machine and disappearing into the hyperspatial dimension most screws end up in after being fired off the table with an airline...

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: The worst sounds in the world..

        Nice try.

        The worst sound in the world is screeching brakes followed by the unmistakable "kA-rUMP!" of high-speed car-on-car impact ... about 90 seconds after flipping your daughter the keys to solo for the very first time after she gets her drivers license.

        Thankfully, she was still in the driveway and fine, but for one 'orrible second ... The driver of the other car was the only injury, after hitting an unoccupied parked vehicle.

  21. streeeeetch

    Just a little puff

    A mate asked me to sort out an old glitching tower pc. "It's old. Don't worry if you can't fix it".

    I've never seen one so solidly bunged up with dust. Couldn't see the heatsink.

    Cover off, out on the decking. Crack valve on newly charged diving cylinder. Bloody thing took off like a scalded cat.

    Really surprised no dents from the wooden fence that stopped it 15ft later.

    Sorted the dust out and worked fine. Thanked him for the beer. Didn't mention the flight.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I work in a small PC repair shop, we mourn the decline in the number of extant HP DV, G, and CQ series laptops.

    Up to a year ago we were getting in a good number of them every week without fail, and at least half had the compressed air treatment from their owners which invariably caused a fan failure at best, or killed the motherboard.

    Not many of them left now......motherboards on most of them have died by now.

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