iPad Rehab’s Microsoldering Mom: What’s In Your Toolbox?
What's In Your Toolbox?

iPad Rehab’s Microsoldering Mom: What’s In Your Toolbox?

This Mother's Day we're highlighting the tools of the inimitable: Jessa Jones

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 Jessa Jones of iPad Rehab, who is a microsolderer and logic board repair expert, and even a mother. Jessa answered our emailed questions.

First off, explain to our community who you are and what you do!

Jessa Jones of iPad Rehab in her workshop

I’m Jessa Jones, and I bring dead phone motherboards back to life. My team of former stay-at-home moms (and dads!) work together to recover data from mobile devices that have been totally destroyed. We’ve recovered data from devices after airplane crashes miles deep in the ocean, lawn mower accidents, runovers, toilets, balcony drops, car door bends, and can legally retrieve data from passcode lock after the death of a loved one. At heart I’m still a professor. I have enjoyed teaching the art of microsoldering and motherboard repair to students at our Practical Board Repair School in Western New York. Since 2015 we’ve trained hundreds of students from all over the world. Our microsoldering students come from all walks of life and include repair shop technicians, musicians, retirees, and even the Secret Service.

How did you get started fixing and building things?

About 15 years ago I traded in my PhD in molecular genetics to do the most challenging job in the world. I became a stay-at-home mom of four. As my children grew old enough to start breaking things, my hobby of electronics repair grew along with them. As so often happens in life, sometimes our worst days in hindsight become the very best things to happen to us. In 2012 my twin toddlers flushed my iPhone 4s down the toilet. In wild frustration I gave up on retrieving the phone through normal methods, and ripped the entire toilet out and carried it to the front yard. One tiny sledgehammer hit later and my iPhone was back in hand.

I followed iFixit guides to open, clean and dry it. I couldn’t believe that the phone turned back on as if nothing had happened. However—it would not charge. Despite replacing the battery and charge port, the phone would not charge. This was a defining moment in my life, the beginning of learning to fix motherboards, and the end to having a dining room free from microsoldering equipment.

It took me nearly two years to fully fix that phone, because of course I made it much much worse along the way as I struggled to learn. When I finally saw the charging current start to flow into the device, my first call was to Kyle Wiens of iFixit. I knew that Kyle understood the drive to fix something, even when it might not make sense to anyone else.

My hobby turned into a dining room repair business run by a cadre of super smart local women I met at the MOMS Club while children played at our feet. I started a YouTube channel that now has nearly 200k subscribers. One of my favorite early videos was when a local mom, Sunday Thomson, called me after she fished her own wet iPhone out of a porta-potty. When I heard this story, I hired her on the spot. She is still the voice of iPad Rehab Microsoldering to this day.

As the children dared to grow old enough to abandon us for school, we moved the business to our retail location on Main St. in Honeoye Falls, NY. We launched our microsoldering training course and continued to fix phones for data recovery mailed to us from all over the world. Later we connected with law enforcement agencies and began fixing phones and laptops in the pursuit of justice.

What factors contribute to the success and unique dynamic of your business?

One thing people marvel about is how our business is mostly women working together in a STEM field. The secret sauce seems to be a combination of incredible flexibility and a focus on people. We are all mothers (and fathers!) first. We have an open communication system that lets the team work fluidly from home, the shop, the grocery store or baseball field. As mothers, we share a grave sense of responsibility coupled with profound joy to do what we do. We are able to deliver the ultimate gift to other families—their own memories trapped in a device that they thought were gone forever. There is absolutely nothing more precious in this world than to give another mother the lost pictures of her own children.  

What’s in your toolbox/workshop?

Some of my most commonly used tools are my microscope, multimeter, thermal camera and the “iPad Rehab Shortkiller” aka, an X-acto knife. This combination of tools has fixed thousands of phones!

How do you organize your tools and devices? What are some of your most-used tools?

The “homework tote” allows us to pack up open devices that are waiting for parts or approval. Each plastic box can hold a phone, its screen, paperwork, and a magnet tray for the screws. When you’ve opened as many phones as we have, laying out the screws in a standard way is second nature. 

At the bench I use a magnetic knife holder from IKEA and attach various drivers and stencils to it, but only when I’m really spring cleaning. 

What’s your most-coveted, yet least-used tool?

My dirty secret is that I really love the $100 Wera torque pentalobe driver from Apple. I use it every day. The least-used tool is definitely the fancy CNC machine that can drill out chips on logic boards with precision.

Is there a certain tool or material you use often, but seems unorthodox for your field?

Definitely the iPad Rehab Shortkiller!

Every fixer/DIYer/device-opener has a brutal tool injury or failure story. What’s yours?

I decided to livestream my own iPhone 12 Pro cracked screen replacement using the obnoxious Apple self-service repair. I received the 50 lbs cases of rented “important tools” from Apple, and set up the heated iPhone opener device. The suction cup didn’t work and it was just frustrating to try and use it. It seemed like overkill compared to the normal method of opening an iPhone with a heat mat and magic glass tool. During the livestream I decided to grab a brand new magic glass (which are very sharp when new) and open the phone the “normal” way. At this point in the livestream, I sliced open my hand. But of course I didn’t want to admit that Apple and their enormous “safe” $500 machine was a better option. So I just carried on with the video, dripping blood under the table!

What’s your advice for people who want to start fixing, modding, or building things?

The internet can teach you anything. Grab a device and see what you can do! Part of learning to fix is really learning to break things less. Don’t let perfection hold you back. There’s no one right way to repair. Be creative!

How has your experience with repair influenced your problem-solving skills as a mom?

Moms are natural problem solvers, and that is part of what makes moms naturally good at repair. Moms tend to have just the right combination of gentle enough to not damage the device, but firm enough when necessary to bust through screws and glues. 

How do you approach teaching your children about technology and the importance of repair skills? 

Repair is essential because it inspires kids to open things up and explore. If they don’t poke around to see how things are built, then how can kids grow up to innovate? Whenever a cautious student is worried that they might “make it worse” when trying to fix something, I usually grab a trash can and ask “Well, I guess that’s true. Did you want me to throw it away for you?

At home I coach my youngest daughters’ “Odyssey of the Mind” Creative Problem Solving team. I also competed in OM in the 80’s and it was a fantastic program to inspire kids to tinker and build amazing things. This year our all-girls team designed and built a unique vehicle that can transport two teammates around a course, defeat a villain, and retrieve treasure. For the second year in a row, our team is headed to the World Finals! 

How do you manage your time effectively between running a business and being a mother?

Years ago, when wrangling squirmy kids, older women would stop me in stores and whisper “long days, short years!” Around then, I found this video essay, “The Gift of Ordinary Days” by Katrina Kenison. It will reduce any mother into a blubbering mess, but I force myself to watch it every year. My friends hate it when I trot out the link each Spring, painfully strumming the heartstrings of motherhood. There are no do-overs, and there is nothing more important than the gift of ordinary days with your children. Everything else can wait. Those small boys gleefully sitting on the toilet in the front yard are in high school now. The oldest will be graduating in just a few weeks and then leaving the nest. I am trying to wring every last shred of the beauty of these last few moments of all of us together under one roof. It turns out, those old women were right. Long days, short years, indeed. 

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, or any repair/advocacy issues that are close to your heart right now! 

We are building a Discord community to talk about repair and connect with our past and future students. Join us!