FRCN Espresso "HOW TO" Pages
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2003 - All rights reserved
E-mail me at EspressoMyEspresso@gmail.com
DISCLAIMER-As with any such modification, do not attempt to do this unless you accept all responsibility for the procedure and its consequences. By following these instructions and reading any further you accept full responsibility. I present these instructions only to document my changing of my portafilter gasket.|
Changing the Portafilter Gasket
Recently my brew thermostat began to malfunction. While looking for a replacement I also got a new brewhead gasket. After about 30 months of use, my old PF gasket was still fairly soft and pliable, but had developed a pretty deep groove in it from where the basket sits. It had just begun to leak on occasion, so for preventative maintenance, I decided to replace it.
I started by removing the showerscreen and the flow diverter. There is little enough room to work up in the brewhead, and if a tool slips you don't want to damage these parts. Some showerscreens wrap the brewhead's edge, so removing the gasket is not possible without removing the screen anyway.
I tried to get a dental tool, pick thing, under the gasket, but couldn't develop enough pull to unseat the gasket completely. The tool's width, wedged between the brewhead and the gasket also caused enough pressure that I was fighting myself. So I dug into the hardware drawers and got out a Phillips-head, (+/-)#10 wood screw about 1.5" long or so. With a bit of effort and diligence I got it started and continued to turn it until it worked itself all the way into and THROUGH the gasket. As the screw protruded out through the far face of the gasket, it pushed up against the brass of the brewhead, forcing out the gasket.
If you use this method I suggest using two screws- use the first one to go all the way through the gasket but stop just before hitting the brass. If you haven't changed one, the gasket is about 7mm thick- there is a lot more of it up there than appears at first. You can mark the screw with a bit of white correction fluid or paint to show you where to stop. I would say 5mm of screw would be sufficient. Remove the first screw and take the second screw and grind or file the tip of the screw flat so it doesn't mar the brewhead. Now insert the shortened screw into the hole started by the first screw.
Another method is to use a corkscrew. If yours doesn't fit up in there for some reason, try the one on your Swiss Army Knife.
You could also use the tool that comes in an automobile tubeless tire patch kit- the thing that looks like a screwdriver but the "tip" is threaded. That way you could get it into the gasket, then pull it out. These tend to be quite sharp a the tip and fairly hard, so don't use this tool to push against the brewhead. Just screw it in enough to get a bite, and pull.
In some extreme cases, the gasket can become quite hard and brittle. In that case it is not recommended to use the single screw method. I would begin by inserting two screws, 180 degrees apart. After laying a towel down to protect the machine's finish, use a good pair of small locking pliers to alternately pull on the screws.
If that doesn't work, try this. Take a length of thinwall, 1/4" brass tubing (it can be found in all good hobby shops that sell model airplanes). It should be as long as you gan fit between the drip tray and the gasket. Sharpen one end all the way around to a chisel edge by filing on the inside end of the tube (DO NOT TEST THE SHARPNESS WITH A FINGER!). Wrap it with tape or chuck it in a pin vise or spare drill chuck, (or if you have a 90 degree drill, use that) and use it to bore a hole all the way through the gasket, as if removing a core sample. The brass tubing should be too soft to do any damage to the brewhead unless you really work at it. Now use an air compressor and blowgun to pressurize the hole. The compressed air should dislodge, or at least loosen the gasket fairly easily.
If that doesn't work, you could try boring a line of successive holes across the face of the gasket with the tubing tool you made until you could use a screwdriver to pry the gasket apart by forcing it into the holes and levering the gasket into pieces. If that doesn't work or you can't manage it, Things get more serious. You will need a thin chisel to cut all the way through the gasket in one or two places. It will need to be short. I would take an old fixed-blade knife (like an old kitchen knife) and make a suitable tool. You might try using a bench grinder and shaping an old screwdriver for the task.
Don't get in over your head, though. If it looks like it will be difficult, then get assistance from someone experienced with such things. These last few scenarios and methods are extreme situations that few owners of home machines will ever likely face. It is most often seen in commercial machines that have been neglected. Quality gaskets in home machines should come out fairly easily.
This points out the need for regular maintenance. I would add changing the portafilter gasket on a regular basis to the regime. Probably every two to three years for a home machine in average use. It depends on the gasket's material and quality as well as the machine it is in. With the E-61 grouphead's reputation for running hot when idling, or a machine left on 24/7, these could use more frequent changing than a lesser (and possibly cooler) machine only used once a day for an hour or so.
When the gasket came out I was somewhat surprised buy all the old, disgusting, burnt coffee crud I found up in the brewhead. Even with my regular cleaning, scrubbing, and backflushing, there were some caked on bits that came off that looked like thin shards of brown, burnt nylon. Even on top of the gasket, between the gasket and the brewhead, there was a lot of burnt coffee. It took a good scrubbing with a PF brush and some strong espresso machine cleaner to get it all out.
After cleaning out the cavity where the old gasket sat, wet the new one with some clean water and simply push the new gasket up into place. Once it is well up in there all you need to do is seat the portafilter once or twice to press the gasket completely into place.
Be aware that some gaskets have molded-on, raised printing identifying the company or manufacturer, or such. This side MUST FACE THE BREWHEAD (upwards) so that the smooth side of the gasket sits against the portafilter (facing downwards). Other than that, it is quite simple to install the new gasket... Once the old one is out, that is.