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Diagnosing my pump problem (or, what have I done!?) (w/ video)
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Senior Member

Joined: 5 Jan 2013
Posts: 6
Location: Montreal
Expertise: Just starting

Posted Sun Aug 25, 2013, 6:45pm
Subject: Diagnosing my pump problem (or, what have I done!?) (w/ video)

Howdy all,

I'm relatively new to the espresso game and, after a few weeks with my first used single-boiler machine working fine, I've encountered a problem that is baffling me. The problem first started while trying to find the right grind on some aging beans. Since I only have a stepped Hario Skerton (Preciso on the way!), I was stuck with one setting which would pull a 15 second shot and, as I found out, a finer setting that would all but completely choke the machine. After choking the machine once, I went to pull a shot later in the evening and found that I wasn't getting any water at all from the shower head. I first took of the screen and then also tried to bleed any extra pressure out of the machine through the steam wand, both to no avail. A couple days later with no use, my next thought was that perhaps I should descale. Unfortunately, as I began to try to descale my machine, the steam wand started with only letting out sporadic spurts of steam and water and then eventually just stopped letting out water or steam at all. Throughout all of this, as far as I could tell the pump was working normally (based on the sound and watching the intake tube).

Now, in trying to diagnose the apparent complete lack of water, I decided to open up my machine and poke around. I was able to take most everything out except for the actual boiler itself (I'm missing some of the tools I need). But I did find, when disconnecting the pump, that there was water in the boiler, which leads me to believe the pump WAS working before I took the machine apart. I also cannot, for the life of me, unscrew the shower head. I've tried screw drivers of multiple sizes, pliers with coins and washer, but no dice. Anyway, since I couldn't get into the boiler anyway, I decided to put everything back together. While doing so, I also thought it might be a good idea to test out the pump without it connected to the boiler, so I could make sure it was pumping water. Now, all of the other electronics appear to be in working order, but as soon as I switched on the pump, it started to make an awful noise and is quite obviously not actually pumping any water (see youtube video below). The previous owner had numbered the wires, so I know that they are back in the exact positions, thus I doubt it is a wiring problem.

Someone suggested to me that I might need to prime the pump. So I put everything back together and tried to prime the pump, but the pump is still making the same strange and awful sound without pumping any water. It does seem possible to me that there is a problem in the boiler still, but it's almost impossible for me to diagnose at this point. But, hopefully someone might be able to diagnose my pump problem at least! Is my pump now dead!? What have I done!? Here's the video (please turn down your speakers beforehand): click me (YouTube)

Thanks for your time and expertise!
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Senior Member

Joined: 25 Feb 2007
Posts: 493
Location: Denver
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Vivaldi Mini S1, Rancilio...
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Drip: Aeropress
Roaster: Behmor 1600
Posted Wed Sep 11, 2013, 12:59am
Subject: Re: Diagnosing my pump problem (or, what have I done!?) (w/ video)

The suggestion that you prime the pump sounds like the right one. What did you actually do when you tried? Turning on the switch does always work. And you may have to actually push water through the pump by blowing it into the intake tube with a turkey baster or a squeeze bottle filled with water.You would be best to do this with the pump disconnected from the boiler.

If you cannot get water through the pump, you can try to rebuild it. Assuming it's an Ulka, follow the instructions at Click Here (ulkapumprepair.blogspot.com)

If you can get water through the pump, reconnect it to the boiler and see if you can draw water through the group head or, better yet, the steam wand (just in case the shower screen is completely blocked).

At some point, you'll want to get that shower screen off. A right-size screwdriver might help. If not, try one of the tricks discussed at Click Here (diy.stackexchange.com)
(if you decide to drill the screw out, be sure to buy a replacement first so you can see how long the screw is and use that to control how deep to run your drill bit).

Test things one at a time and report back your results.

Good luck.
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