The mighty zipper, invented by Elias Howe in 1851, little did he know how it would change the world!
‘A zipper, zip, fly, or zip fastener, formerly known as a clasp locker, is a commonly used device for binding the edges of an opening of fabric or other flexible material, like on a garment or a bag.’
Little did he also know how frustrating it would be when zips stop working, because a bag with a busted zip is little more than a sack! But despair not my friends, the Nomads have learnt a few tricks to keep all your zippered gear working for many more years.
So let’s start. First a few points to clear up what can and can’t be fixed…
- Metal zips heads. Can generally be fixed repeatedly .
- Plastic zip heads. Not gonna happen, replace the zip head if possible or replace the entire zipper with a better one. No manufacturer worth their weight uses plastic zip heads unless they are making the cheapest possible product or they have a very specific use in mind like polar exploration where metal can freeze or go brittle from the extreme cold, in this case Nylon zipper parts would be used.
- A busted zipper coil. If your missing teeth you’re out of luck, get the entire zipper replaced.
- If the coil is coming away from the fabric holding it to the bag you can try hand stitching for the short term but the uneven stress and friction could destroy the other surrounding material.
So what Can be fixed and how to do it?
- Any zip head that slides too easily and can’t close the coil behind it. This is the most common problem and the most easily fixed.
- This is caused by the gap in the mouth of the slider opening up over time. It’s a simple a matter of closing the gap the correct amount to re-engage the teeth properly.
- It can be caused by the the gap opening a fraction of a millimetre. In imperial measurements that’s a fraction of another fraction.
- This happens because of the repeated bending forced applied to the bridge of the slider simply by pulling the zip open and closed.
- Also because of friction wear inside the slider where the metal actually gets filed away and the teeth on the coil slowly wear down.
- The fix. Close the gap again.
- If you’re into bush mechanics you could try very lightly tapping the open end of the slider with a rock the size of a bar of soap, the heel of your shoe or the bottom of your beer bottle.
- Or…. You could use a pair of plyers like in the picture below. My favourite device is any Leatherman type of multi-tool.
- Remember. This only takes a small amount of force. It’s Better to try in small steps than to crush it and deform the head into a twisted mess.
- A zip head that is too tight, also easily fixed:
- This often happens through impact damage to the zip head, like accidentally closing the car door on your bag.
- Be aware that if one side of the zip head is compressed more than the other it can be much harder to fix, it’s surprising how evenly matched the sliding resistance on each side needs to be to allow the coil to engage.
- The fix? You guessed it, open the gap again.
- See picture number 2.
- Take this one in slow small steps, wiggle your flat head screwdriver into the centre of the open side of the zip head a few millimetres and test the slide action.
- If you open it too much just compress it with pliers again until you hit the sweet spot.
Some things to look out for…
- Look for a brand name like YKK Stamped on the zip puller or on the underside of the zip head. If there is nothing anywhere it’s probably crap quality.
- Slide the zip up and down a few times, listen and feel for a smooth and consistent travel. Similar to a VW Golf door, not too loud or too quite.
- Check for a consistent distance along the length of the zip between the coil and the fabric sewn to it. This generally distinguishes quality craftsmanship.
- Look inside the bag at the material attached to the coil there too, it’s an easy place for manufacturers to hide lazy sewing machine technique and poorly fitted pattern making.
- Pay close attention around curved zipper sections, these are hard spots to get right on any sewing machine, you will often see varying material/coil distances and ripples in fabrics that can disrupt the zip heads travel.
- Look at where the zip stops at each end, is there extra stitching to support the stress at this critical junction.
So hopefully there is enough info there to get you on the right path to quality products and to extend there life for another season or two.
Many happy travels.