How-to: Repair a VHS tape

Difficulty: 2

Photo-vhsVHS tapes are not used as much as they used to be since the development of newer formats such as DVD’s, but many people still have them in their homes as they were often used to store family memories.

The Video Home System (VHS < who would of guessed) is still a very useful format. Many Radio stations use VHS for their pre recorded shows and the majority of recording studios which haven’t gone to hard drive recordings, still use S-VHS format to record their musicians.

The drawback of VHS is that the tapes can stick or break altogether. Sadly, this happens to the most watched videos, which you probably want to see again.

This article will look at how to repair a video. With the help of images in this article, you will be able to dissect one and put it back together. I wrote this article after repairing a video from when I was on TV at the age of 5, which I will finally be able to show my wife. The video has not been playable for many years.

Disclaimer: I am not a video repairer by trade. Everything I have learnt has been through my own trial and error. I am trying to share what I have learnt in this article. I wrote this article as I was unable to find the information elsewhere online. I have tried to fix 3 videos and had complete success with each of them.

It is possible that your video could be damaged as you take it apart to look at it. It would be worth first trying it out on a video you don’t care much for, before you try to fix your wedding video. There are companies that will repair videos and re-spool them. The costs are high so weigh up if this is right for you. I can’t see what the pros would do differently.

Video tapes are a fairly basic design which lets the repair be fairly primitive and basic also. The main reason for this article is to show you how to get the tape back into one piece.

Dissection:

Pulling apart a video is fairly easy. Putting it back together is the tricky bit. In fact, fixing the tape itself is easy too. I am hopeful that the dissection pictures will help you put it back together to its original state.

Looking at a video tape from the outside, there is not much to it. There is a flap which can be opened by pushing the button near it. This will expose the tape. The only other thing that we can do with the casing is cover or uncover the read write tab. More on this later.

Complete caseYou may want to remove the label from the spine before you begin because it is likely to be torn in half. There are 5 screws on the underside of the tape, but that’s just the beginning. You need to take caution here as the casing will come apart, but so will all the little pieces which are a pain to return to their original location. Ensure you keep the underside on a flat surface to keep the pieces in place. Pay attention to where the pieces came from as your reference for later.

As you can see, there is nothing too complicated about a VHS tape. Lets take a closer look.

Left guideRight guideThe left guide has two rollers in it, which the tape travels between. Normally, one will be plastic and the other metal. It is important to ensure these guides are in the right places. These rollers will often fall out as you open up a tape.

The right guide has only one roller which is fairly self explanatory.

Flap spring

The flap spring is a little trickier to attach. It slides onto the plastic pole and the short bent wire wraps around the clip. The longer end sits in the groove of the flap.

The most complicated part of the tape is the lock mechanism in the middle of the tape. This is often the culprit of a jammed tape.

It is hard to figure out how all these little pieces work together. You should end up being able to move the trigger backwards and forwards and have all these parts move simultaneously.

Machanism pulled

Mechanism

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both of the springs wrap around poles and the left and right side mirror each other. There are various designs that are used for this, but the theory is the same. You want to be able to move the centre piece and the other two will spring it back into place.

Repairing a broken tape:

There is nothing glamorous about repairing a snapped tape. We see videos of directors splicing tape and sticking it back together in the movies. The theory is the same, only we are going to use bog standard sticky tape.

It is best to use the finest tape you can find. The video is unlikely to play where the tape is, but it should make its way through the player to the next readable section of tape.

Make sure you place sticky tape on on both sides of the tape rather than wrapping it around, as this will cause friction. If it is broken at the start or end of the tape, you have the luxury to be a bit more generous with the tape. You may need to fold some of the sticky tape to hold it onto the spool. This is fine as the normal pressure from the VCR will keep it taut. 

Put the casing back together and put in the screws and see how you went.

Touching on a few related topics:

Transferring to a new video:

New videos are becoming harder and harder to come by. You may want to track down S-VHS tapes as these are normally better quality than standard VHS tapes. I have not come across a video player that can’t handle S-VHS tapes, even though you are unlikely to receive all the benefits S-VHS offers.

All you need to do is hook up two video recorders side by side by wiring up the video and audio. The next step is to press play on the original and record on the other. Make sure you get these around the right way, as there is no undo button!

Transferring to another format:

EvermediaIt is not hard to transfer your video to a digital format, however it is time consuming and you will probably need to buy some extra equipment to plug into your computer. The cost should not be more than around $AU100 for the hardware, assuming you already have a computer and DVD burner.

Using a gadget as shown to the right lets you connect your VCR to your computer. You can then use something like Windows Movie Maker (comes with Windows) to copy your videos to a digital format.

Once you have it in digital format you can copy it to a DVD or compress it as a DivX file for playback on your computer. 

There is a lot of information available on other websites on how to do this.

The Read/Write tab:

VHS tapes have read/write tabs, just like you would see on a floppy disk. With video tapes being harder and harder to come by, you may find it easier to buy used videos, or recycle your own. If it is a commercially released video, the read write tab is probably removed. All you need to do is place some tape over the hole and your video recorder will over-write it.

This is also useful to protect your content. If you have a special video that you want to keep safe, you can remove the tab, and the VCR will spit the tape out when you press record.  

Conclusion:

I feel the video is a long way from being obsolete. I know a guy who bought around 10 Beta players and hundreds of tapes when it looked like they would become obsolete. He is sure to have weeks of viewing pleasure at a very minimal cost. Now is the time to buy VHS tapes to enjoy for the years to come. And then it won’t be long before DVD’s will become obsolete as well.

I hope you have successfully managed to repair your video and found the article enjoyable. Please stick around and check out some other articles at Inspect My Gadget.


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69 Comments so far »
 

  1. Margaret said, on October 6, 2009 @ 4:56 am

    I thank you. I fixed a tape my parents had of me when I was little and they would’ve been crushed if it couldn’t be fixed. The only problem now, is that the sound isn’t coming through and everything is hooked up right. Any advice?

  2. John Lamb said, on January 22, 2010 @ 9:07 am

    WOW! Worked just great. Your instructions helped me restore a tape from 1984.

    Thanks for your clear information and help

    John

  3. Kevin said, on July 6, 2010 @ 5:41 am

    I don’t want to rain on your parade, and this method will work. However, I have concerns about using “sticky tape” and running that across the video heads. The gap in the video heads is only fifty thousandths of an inch. I seen this gag “clogged” up by the oxide from cheap tapes. A clogged video head gap equals no playback. So, after the tape is repaired in this manner, I would not run it more than the one time to transfer the video to another tape or format. Then clean the heads.

  4. Priscila Pashia said, on July 23, 2010 @ 8:42 am

    Hey there, first of all, I want to note that I think it’s a great weblog you have here. My question is, I haven’t find out the way to add your blog rss or atom in my rss reader – where is the link to the rss feed? Thanks

  5. christina said, on August 26, 2010 @ 7:29 pm

    i have a tape that i fixed, and it now plays but for some reason it only plays for a few seconds and then the vcr powers off. anyone know what could be causing this??

  6. Lesley Ross said, on September 2, 2010 @ 10:57 am

    Thanks for the advice. My 2 yr old great granddaughter got hold of my Pearl Harbor videotape 2 and ripped it. Fortunately it was near the end and a little scotch tape did the trick, but without your know how I doubt if I could have repaired it, it would probably be in the garbage by now:)

    Thanks again for sharing what you know, and it was easy to understand, very helpful.

  7. Chris Duckworth said, on September 8, 2010 @ 11:06 am

    Hi Christina, It may be that the tape is too thick to get through the heads. I have seen this happen to VCR’s before, where there is too much tension on the motors, so the VCR turns itself off to protect itself. You may get by fast forwarding past that point by hand and then putting it in the player. It’s also possible some of the rest of the tape is damaged and stuck. I don’t really know.

  8. Chris Duckworth said, on September 8, 2010 @ 11:10 am

    Hi Priscila, There is a link dow the bottom right of the page, or you can press the subscibe menu item up the top. There hasn’t been much going on the site of late, but I am writing a bunch of content and creating a new theme for the start of next year which I am quite excited by. Life got in the way for a bit, but I hope I can have another good run of it when it relaunches. Thanks for your interest.

  9. R Hunter said, on October 4, 2010 @ 1:17 pm

    Thanks so much. I had a tape of a trip I took to Brazil many years ago and it broke. These directions Helped me to repair it.

    Thanks again.

  10. kyle said, on December 31, 2010 @ 11:47 am

    Thanks for this…I opened a tape and it basically exploded, I put it back together *sorta* but the springs confused me. Thanks again.

  11. kyle said, on December 31, 2010 @ 12:28 pm

    PS mine actually had one spring that sat in between the two plastic pieces and controlled both., needless to say it was difficult to put on.

  12. Pam said, on January 14, 2011 @ 5:10 am

    Very helpful to have pictures to look at. My tape still did not work but I think it is because of my system. The tape had a really missed up feed I fixed it but would only work off and on, with out you pictures and the way you explained everything I would of been lost. Thank you so much for this posted web site.

  13. Linda Baker said, on March 14, 2011 @ 1:52 pm

    I have quite a few VHS movies of the family and kids growing up………the “kids” are now late 20’s and up through the early 40’s……..a divorce, several moves and the movies were tossed around and lost for awhile. When I finally found them they appear to have mold on them……how do I clean these? They cannot be replaced. Is there a way to save these? Any help would be appreciated.

  14. Richard Kukan said, on September 28, 2011 @ 3:49 am

    About those TDK tapes with “rivets”. I have taken apart three of them. It is impossible to do so without breaking the shell. The first time, I simply hacked away at it until I was able to free the tape reels for transfer to fresh shell (with screws!). After that, I decided to try drilling the “rivets” out. The “rivets” are in fact solid plastic built into the structure of the shell itself, so there’s no real way of removing them, you just drill at them until they break. I used a 9/64″ bit, and started with the “rivets” farthest from the tape track. If you can break the two at the base of the shell, and the one where the security screw is on normal tapes, you should be able to pry the shell apart into two halves. Be careful to inspect the salvaged tape reels for shards of broken plastic, which you definitely do not want to transfer to a new shell! In short: it can be done, but it’s a bit messy.

  15. Khawar Agha said, on October 11, 2011 @ 3:18 am

    I have some old vhs tape I play them like half way then it kind of jams but when I fast FWD it goes all the way to the end but the couter meter doesn’t move, lets say I play up to 2 hours and 35 minutes and it jam I fast FWD to the end but meter doesn’t move ,after I rewind the tape the count meter still don’t move until it reach the 2:35 hrs count and then it start moving back ward,and I can play that portion ,,,why is that with fast FWD the count meter should move as long the tape is moving …What should i do. Thank you

    Khawar Agha

  16. Karla McKitrick said, on November 16, 2011 @ 6:04 am

    Good morning Chris,
    I found your website with helpful techniques for better recording and fixes for tape issues. Nicely done. I have been in the video biz for 30 years or so and I have come across a problem that I have never seen before. One of my customers brought in a VHS done in the early to mid 80s that she used to put old 8mm home movies on. It’s all the footage she has of her daughter and the tape won’t play beyond 49 minutes. The hubs seem to be tight. I have removed the reels and placed them in a new case, and I have lubricated the bottom of the hubs, but nothing seems to work. Since the hubs float inside of the case, what can possibly be keeping the tape from playing and fast forwarding and rewinding? I have checked the brakes and they are working fine. Help! I want to give this lady a DVD of her child. Any Ideas?

    Karla
    The Video Factory
    Albuquerque, NM

  17. Chris Duckworth said, on November 19, 2011 @ 8:27 pm

    Sorry about delay in response. It slipped through. I don’t really have any ideas. This article was brought together through trial and error. The only thing I can think of is to unwind the tape with less pressure by hand, but there are obvious risks with leaving the tape exposed, and getting the right pressure by feel will also be near on impossible. I am sorry I don’t have any tricks up my sleeve that might work.

  18. PETER BOPAPE said, on March 13, 2012 @ 8:41 pm

    HI, I READ YOUR REPAIR TIPS AND ARE SPOT ON,I HAVE FIXED MY VERY VALUABLE TAPE,HOWEVER THE PROBLEM THAT I STILL EXPERIENCE IS THAT MY MACHINE IS STILL SWALLOWING MY TAPES AFTER I HAVE NOT USED IT IN WHILE,WOULD BY ANY CHANCE BE ABLE TO SUGGEST HOW I COULD EQUALLY TAKE CARE OF THIS PROBLEM,THANX

  19. Kevin B. said, on April 4, 2012 @ 12:45 pm

    Hi Karla,

    Chances are excellent that you either found the solution to your (customer’s) tape’s problem by now or gave up, I wish I’d seen this post sooner. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a video tape repair professional working for http://www.pacificvideorepair.com.

    What you’ve described is a classic case of deteriorating lubrication on the surface of the tape. Under less-than-ideal storage circumstances the lubrication will break down, creating a sticky substance that can cause the tape to drag along the heads of playback equipment and either causes picture interference or prevents playback entirely (with a high-pitched whine during the attempt and ultimately the ejection of the tape from the VCR). It is very likely that the footage can be salvaged, but the tape is in need of a great deal of cleaning and maybe even baking to “cure” the lubrication long enough to allow a DVD to be made. We’ve seen (and repaired) this problem with VHS and 8mm/Hi8 tapes, but haven’t seen it in other formats yet.

    Hope this can be of use to you or future searchers!
    -Kevin





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