Question about FrancisFrancis! X5 Espresso Machine

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X5 Boiler::Can you share how you did this replacement?

Hi Spants! So Allan's Francis was an X1. Is yours an X5, and if so, can you describe how you opened your machine and how you replaced the boiler unit?

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  • alexismaster Sep 13, 2008

    Fantastic pants! I will keep my fingers crossed that this is the answer. ~ Alexis

  • alexismaster Sep 28, 2008

    Hi Spants! Did you ever receive your parts and try installing them? I have not done anything yet other than the test. ~ Alexis



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Alexismaster -

Yes, mine's an X-5. I'm working on it but just at the "parts procurement" stage right now. While I am really slack with my "real job" I have time to lavish on such things, it seems. Stand by for details & I'll work the second half up, but it'll probably be next week before my parts get here.

Not to jump the gun, though - did you test the machine to see if the coil has corroded through? Potentially you could have a thermostat problem, but if the machine proves to "need" the ground connection to heat, you have isolated the problem to the element itself. Use caution as mentioned in my previous description of that testing process - if your machine's case is indeed functioning as a neutral connection as mine was, then it is carrying power and presents a shock hazard. If you were to plug the machine into a GFCI-type outlet, it would trip the sensor immediately, but many homes don't have such outlets. That would be a good preliminary test.

To get into the machine, you need only remove two Philips screws. Pull your power-cord out of the back of the machine first. Pull the clock straight out towards you - it's a friction fit. Above the clock within the machine you'll find one Philips screw. The second screw is in the analogous location on the back of the machine near the top, easily visible. With those two screws out, the whole top lifts off. It will have a ground lead attached. You can just lay the lid over upside down to get it out of the way.

If testing indicated your element is corroded through, do a confirmation test as follows. You'll need to replug the power cord and switch it on, putting it in either steam or hot-water switch positions, and reminding yourself that the guts are all potentially live now, so there's a potential for shock or electrocution...seriously. The "heating" indicator lamp should be on, indicating the element is getting power from the hot side of the line. The boiler is the muffin-sized heavy metal casting towards the front of the machine, and it will have several connections sprouting from it. The ones you're concerned with lead to the protruding tips of the element, which are separated by 40mm from each other. The element ends are held in place (and sealed to keep the water in the boiler) by nuts and washers. [Don't confuse this with the "snap-disc" safety switch, also installed in the boiler, which also has two leads on it; that component has a plastic body and will be marked something like 125C, indicating the temp at which it will open. That's the only component keeping your machine from melting down, though, so be nice to it.]

Anyway, having identified the two heating-element leads, you'll see one is blue and carries your line power/hot (coming from the top light), while the other is brown, and is connected both to the bottom light and to the thermostat PC board, where it's supposed to be either connected to neutral or not, depending on the thermostat's feedback from the temp sensor. While listening to the sound of the boiler heating, pull that brown lead off at the element connection, keeping fingers clear of exposed metal. If your element has corroded through, the machine will keep heating evenwithout that connection - it is getting that return-connection through the case and ground line, which should never carry power unless something has gone wrong. You still might see some sparking as you pull the lead off, though. If you're not sure, leave it disconnected at the point for a while and see if the machine seems to keep heating. The "heating" lamp will still work, only because it's in series with that snap-disc switch, so when that opens, the lamp goes dark, and then it'll cycle on/off only because of the snap-disc switch.

If the above test is negative, well...I think it's your thermostat. I'd be less hopeful about a fix there; as far as I know those are proprietary, though a take-off from another (Saeco?) machine might just fill the bill.

If you're convinced by the above process that your element is bad, it's time to pull the ****** out. This will require some tools not everyone has around. You'll need to remove the whole boiler assembly. The nuts/bolts are metric but there is some cross-over to SAE. Before you start that, mark all wiring connections to make reconnection less mysterious. Shoot digital-camera pix from all angles to help reconstruct if need be.

Start by pulling up (gently) on the two small black thermostat sensor wires; the probe is goo'd into a well in the boiler with silicone grease that keeps it in good thermal contact with the boiler. Lay it aside toward the back of the unit.

Continue with the two tubing connections at the sides of the boiler: these require a 10mm open-end wrench. Note for later: these are somewhat sensitive to overtightening - it's easy to do that when you put things back together. Just snug them up gently and watch for leaks, and then tighten a bit more if need be - you can't undo a damaged tubing connection by loosening it, but you can go the other way with good results.

Then from the underside of the unit, use an 8mm or 5/16" socket to unscrew four nuts that secure the boiler within the unit. The chrome twist-lock ring will come away from the bottom, and the boiler from the top.

Lift the boiler out. Particularly if it's still hot, note that there's still water in the boiler, and it's going to dribble out the open ports while you work. A stack of old newspaper will help deal with this.

Using the same socket as before, now remove the four BOLTS, threaded into the bottom-plate of the boiler. Mine were somewhat corroded and I plan to replace them with stainless when the time comes. With those bolts out, the boiler will separate into two parts. Likely you'll have a bunch of corroded flaky **** in there, too - improves the finish of your espresso, one hopes. At this point you may already be able to see corroded holes in the metal covering of your element, exposing the coiled heating wire itself. Remove the element by unscrewing two nuts with flat-washers (13mm or 1/2"). You'll have to bend the electrical connection tabs up straight to clear - don't bend them more than needed or they may break off.

Now you're in the same boat as I am - waiting for parts. I'll have to continue this with a chapter 2 after I get the stuff I need in. I'll shoot some pix then & see if I can upload them.


Posted on Sep 10, 2008

  • David Sofio Jul 26, 2009

    Spants here again with a long-after-the-fact followup:

    pfftt...looks like the replacement element from Saeco USA is poorly made - after about 8 months of use, one of the bulkhead fittings cracked, resulting in leakage from my boiler. My first instinct was to tighten that bulkhead nut, but the leak persisted. I disassembled and found the crack in the replacement element.

    I figured this would be something the Saeco USA parts people would stand by, but no, they didn't reply until prodded with phone calls, and then it sounds like they decided based on a "water-cooler conversation" that I must have overtightened the nut, so...f__k me, no replacement element would be sent. Overtightened. Yeah...right...that's why it cracked /perpendicular/ to the threads...makes perfect sense.

    I might have to give up entirely on this time-sucking unit, but first, I'm going to try to escalate my complaint with Saeco, or maybe look for still another similar element to swap it out with. I can't recommend Saeco parts for this repair, of course.


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Yes. The small part about how to get the top off had me stumped.

Posted on Apr 22, 2009

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808pants here, formerly Spants, having had to re-register to get back in (WTF is up with the login? Even password retrieval doesn't give me a password that doesn't work?)

Chapter 3:
Anyway, lots of water under the bridge since last chapter of this epic repair saga. The global monetary system is in turmoil, but let not this keep us from our espresso.

No, not that.

Lessons learned, though partly covering same ground as last chapter:
1) when you get your boiler apart, look closely at the seating/sealing surface around the two element penetrations. If it's like mine, it's relatively thick there, and the seats are beveled. The Saeco replacement element isn't quite right for this, and though it wouldn't be too hard to machine those beveled seats down to flats (as the Saeco is designed to mount through) I didn't want to go through any mods of that nature unless I absolutely had to. So if that's what you've got, don't order the stock silicone o-rings - they are too thin to seal the gap. I've got photos if you need, but the resolution is twice what I am allowed to put up here.
2) McMaster-Carr will sell you a bag of 50 silicone o-rings that WILL work (p/n 205S70) without mods to the boiler - about 3/16" thick, vs the 1/16" thickness of the Saeco stock o-rings. Silicone o-rings are not a corner-store item, but I would not recommend anything else - if you live in a major metropolis, you might find them locally, but not, say, on Palmyra. I've got 48 spares now, so if you need a pair, we can work something out - email me at espressinator[at]gmail[dot]calm (special discount for Palmyran cryptographers.)
3) ALSO don't bother to order the lockwashers for the new element - there will not be enough thread exposed to allow you to do anything more than get a nut onto each one (and just barely, at that).

Since my boiler was somewhat encrusted with calcium deposits, I decided to sandblast it to clean it up. You can probably get this done at a nearby machine shop or mechanic's garage if they're well equipped. (Yeah, you'll want to flush out your boiler well anyway after reassembly.)

I tried unsuccessfully to get into the "pressure regulator" assembly, built into the underside of the boiler, just behind the upper dispersion screen. I did some slight damage to the odd custom fitting while trying to get it to unscrew, and concluded that it requires a factory service tool. Within this assembly, through the tiny screwhole, you can see that it contains a simple spring and what appears to be a teflon disc that seats against the underside of the boiler. Spring pressure is presumably calibrated to overcome boiler pressure, until the pump is turned on and adds to the pressure, sending the boiler water out through the orifice. Compressed air (90psi or so) is enough to blow through it, and this was all I could do in hopes of getting any deposits out, though I would much rather have been able to get inside by disassembly to be able to inspect the seal condition. If this valve gets crudded up, it will make the machine weep out more water than you'd want during heating or steaming.

You won't need to unbend or re-bend the electrical tabs on the new element, which is good news - they will just barely clear the newly-enlarged holes in your boiler. Slip the new fat o-rings on, and carefully push the element through the holes. You may have to use some serious manual pressure to squish the seals down ever so slightly to get a good first bite with the new Saeco element-securing nuts. From there, tighten with a 19mm open-end wrench to the point where you feel you've reached metal-to-metal contact, between the shoulder on the new element and the beveled seat up inside the boiler (no further, of course).

I reused all my old o-rings, since they looked like they were in fine shape, and because of the 48 spares thing. Simple green cleaned off any coffee residues on them.

From there, it's pretty straightforward reversal of the disassembly process. (You did take lots of digital photos, didn't you?) My only reassembly issues came from the long delay between my disassembly (months ago?) and reassembly just now, so I was glad to be able to check my wiring connections using my digital pix. I also had a slight leak from the boiler inlet tube coming from the pump - a recurrence of a former chronic problem - but used some thread-sealant paste (tasty blue teflon flavor) judiciously on the sealing surfaces of this odd fitting (odd because it actually can benefit from sealant, unlike most tubing connections), and this stopped the leak completely.

I can't say I have shaken the thing down thoroughly at all yet, but I have run a quart or so of plain water through the boiler and cycled the heating element numerous times now, and I'm satisfied that it will perform at least as well as before. Tomorrow morning will be the acid test.

One thing that bothers me about this design (maybe common to all espresso machines?) is that the element will inevitably at times be partly "dry" because of changes in boiler water-level and because it's never going to be full to the point where the element is fully immersed. Especially when you leave the machine on, the tendency is for the steam buildup within the boiler to drive the water slowly out through the normal exit, down to the point where a thick copper standpipe prevent further drainage. I'm wondering if it might not make sense to extend that standpipe up to JUST beneath the upper limit, but that will be a project for another day. But at the designed standpipe level, upper parts of the element are high and dry, meaning that those exposed sections will tend to heat (cycle on/off) to a far higher temp than if it were all immersed in the water. And my old element clearly failed in this zone only (outer casing corroded through and flaked off - only on the upper section). So it may not be more than a year or three before I am replacing the element again...but if I do, I expect at least it might take a week altogether, not months. If you're designing espresso machines to fail by element deterioration, well, I think this is how you'd do it.

Good luck with your repair.

Posted on Oct 18, 2008

Chapter 2: slow & annoying discoveries:
Yes, the new element arrived - and right off, I drilled out the boiler to 15/32" holes (debur them with a larger bit twisted by hand or very delicately with a drill) and then tweaked the new element to open the ends up to meet the wider separation - piece of cake. But then things went south.

Saeco had been backordered and out of the silly little silicone o-rings for that element. They're coming in (from Italy, no we can't get them domestically?) for five weeks or something like that, but I went ahead and ordered the element without them, thinking I'd be able to run them down locally, or mailorder at worst. But the problem is you can't buy just one or two - you gotta buy fifty from someone, and in my case, Honolulu not being an industrial center, they don't exist here. So I was looking at buying fifty for about $10, then dealing with something like $25 UPS charges on top of that...the utter absurdity. Instead, I ordered the right ones from, who sell espresso parts including the element (though more expensive than directly from Saeco, after getting beaten up by two shipping charges and PartsGuru's $10 minimum charge - let's just say I have enough descaler to last for a while - in hindsight I would have gone to whomever had all parts on hand).

But it doesn't end there. Hindsight continues to improve. Not sure if Allen50 (was that his handle?) had the same problem when he retrofitted his, but the Saeco element has some key differences from the original X5 design: there are little cup-shaped o-ring retainer-shoulders on the bulkhead fittings. These are designed to contain the o-ring against a flat bulkhead, as the Saeco boiler probably has...but the X5 (mine, anyway) has beveled and countersunk borings for the two element leads to pass through. So even with the absurd effort I described to get the damned silicone o-rings, the mechanical clearances between the beveled seat and the shoulders on the bulkhead fittings means that there's rattle-room for the o-rings, so... they will never seal with those $25 o-rings. Too much clearance between shoulder and bevel.

But I'm not going to give up and go with instant coffee just yet. The Saeco o-rings are 1/16" nominal thickness. I can't be sure until I try, but I think 1/8" o-rings WILL take up enough of that gap to create a solid seal. Ordering them from McMaster-Carr in the next few days, along with a bunch of unrelated stuff I am pulling together in a bigger order. If they work, I will have 48 spares for sale - I'll make you a deal.

Another annoyance is that the threaded portion of the Saeco bulkhead fittings is significantly shorter than that of the original X5 - so there's barely room for the new brass nuts to bite when the thing is in place. Don't bother ordering the lockwashers that are supposed to go beneath the nuts - there's no clearance.

If the fatter o-rings don't work, I'll still have a fix, but it's more than I want to do: I will have to put the boiler in a milling machine and both enlarge the counterbore diameter, as well as deepen it a bit to cut away the bevel. If I have to do that, I should be able to use the Saeco factory o-rings - also better because as everyone knows, Italian silicone has better flavor... but I didn't want to go to such extremes as to actually have to use tools beyond, say, a cordless drill.

Stay tuned.

Posted on Sep 29, 2008

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