As a professional repair technician, I am constantly working with 240v electricity, moving augers, sharp metal, and small pieces of almost anything you can imagine.  Often I come home with small cuts and scrapes, and can’t remember where I got them from.  My middle daughter is always telling me that I need to be more careful at work. (Out of the mouths of babes….).  I catch myself frequently “blowing it off”, but her point is really valid.  I always work safely, but since I’ve been doing this so long, most of my safety procedures are now second-nature to me.  Some of them I had to learn the hard way, and the hard way often hurts…

This month’s Tech Tip, therefore is about safety.  What things you need to be thinking about when you are working on your equipment, and what precautions you should take before you start turning screws.  Lets lead off with one of my favorite quotes to get us in the right mindset:

“Safety is something that happens between your ears, not something you hold in your hands” – Jeff Cooper

I don’t typically number my rules, but the one I will start with is

RULE #1:  When in doubt, don’t guess…ask a professional


While this seems like common sense, it often isn’t.  I see a lot of people ask a lot of questions on Facebook or forums about equipment repair.  Many well-intentioned, smart, and educated people will give answers or advice back that is simply incorrect, or nothing more than a work-around.  It is usually worth the effort to contact a professional and talk it over before turning screws.  Often, a short phone consultation is all it takes to put you on the right track, to doing the job safely.  You may always email me photos and questions at, and I am happy to give advice.


Know how your equipment actually works.

This does’t mean that you need a degree in mechanical or electrical engineering, just a working understanding of what actually happens when it is operating correctly.  When does the auger (that’s the big spinning paddle inside a pug mill) turn on?  Which way does the wheel head turn? Does the top element in the circuit energize when the switch is on Medium?  Does the fan make that noise normally?  Understanding how your equipment works helps us address problems as they arise.

Get a Wiring Diagram, and/or an assembly diagram, before turning your first screw.

Wiring diagrams and assembly diagrams are like road maps.  They visually tell you where each wire is supposed to hook up, where each screw is supposed to go, and sometimes have the part numbers listed on them.  Just like when traveling, it is often important to know how to get there before you set out on a journey.  Not all wiring diagrams are available, but most can be found online at the manufacturer’s website for free to download and print at home.

Understand what you need to do before you start to do it

In order to know if you have the right parts, tools, and skill to do a job, you need to know how to do it first.  Many manufacturers are putting maintenance videos online for some of the easiest repairs, or routine maintenance.  Other repairs require a little instruction.  Some repair parts come with instructions on how to install them, but some don’t.  Most repair techs, and manufacturers, are happy to help you understand what you need to do.  Remember, however, that in-depth or step-by-step training often has a modest fee attached to it.  You might be willing to show someone how to make a pot, but you wouldn’t want to have to teach someone how to throw a pot step-by-step for free would you?

Live Electricity


We all know that “its not the volts, but the amps that can kill you”.  This can lead to a false sense of security, however,  as most people don’t understand where amps “come from”.  Electrical theory is an entirely different topic, so I won’t cover it here, but the most important rule of thumb is simply:


Frankly, there are professionals who are trained to work with live wires safely, while most DIY people aren’t trained at all.  Speaking from experience, 110 volts hurts, and 240 volts hurts more…both can kill you.  Unplug the device before you work on it, or turn the breaker off if there is no plug.

Secondary to that rule is to remember:

If a piece of equipment doesn’t currently turn on, something is wrong and no amount of flipping the switch on and off will make it work properly again.

Even though the equipment may not be powering on, there may still be electricity present in the control box.  Unplug it and don’t plug it back in until you complete the repair.  If you just turn the switch back on, you may be in for a nasty surprise if there is a bare wire touching the case.

Pay attention and note potential “Danger Zones”, in regards to moving parts.

This can be as simple as remembering to keep you hands out of the hopper of a pugmill that is plugged in, or putting the lock-pin into a kiln lid hinge (if one is present) to keep things from turning, falling, crashing, sliding, or otherwise moving when you don’t expect them to.  The last thing I would want to do is have a motor turn on while my hand was anywhere near the business end of whatever it was hooked up to. The safety of a locked control box cannot be overstated, my detroit locksmith was telling me that even he doesn’t have clearance to unlock such things should you lose the key.

Don’t force it


Sometimes we have to use a mallet, or lever to manipulate or move a wheel head, or element into place.  That is a very different thing than trying to use a screwdriver that is too large, or fit an inexpensively-obtained part alternate into a space that it isn’t designed for.  Use the right tools for the job, and work with the correct parts for the equipment.  If the right part won’t go back into place, then something is wrong, and you need to find out what it is. And remember, most metal points are sharp…and unless you are Superman, they will cut you.

There are no shortcuts

A repair job takes as long as it takes you to do it, and no longer.  Now I know that sounds rather circular, but when people try to shortcut a repair job in order to get it done quickly, they often make simple mistakes.  Sometimes those mistakes can lead to dangerous results…like mixing up a lead and ground wire when replacing elements.  Naturally, it will take a professional a shorter amount of time to do the same job, but WE do this all the time…and thats what you are paying for.  Many of you can throw pots MUCH faster and more skillfully than I can…because thats what YOU do all the time.  Relax and take the time you need to do the job.

Dust is bad…and is not always just dust


You don’t always know what is in that dust cloud that is swarming around your head.  You really ought to wear a dust mask (NIOSH N-95 rated) and eye protection when working on ceramic equipment.  I will also wear gloves if there is some sort of goo or grease present as well. You need a powerful shop vac to suck up sawdust, spider webs, paint chips, etc.

Ask before you lubricate

Not all lubricants are good for every application…much like each car manufacturer suggests a different kind of oil.  Similarly, not all bearings or belts need to be lubricated.  Trying to lubricate a part that doesn’t need it will only lead to problems in the future…and can lead to costly, unnecessary repairs.  If a lubricant is needed, the type and frequency is often indicated in the owner’s manual for your equipment.

and Lastly

Look before you leap

Take the time to look at what you are working with BEFORE you start working with it, in this repair car website you will find professional help.  Accidents can be avoided simply by paying closer attention to the things we take for granted on regular basis.  Are my wire strippers sharp?  Are there sharp little pieces of clay on the floor where I am going to put my knee?  Is my screwdriver rounded off, or stripped?  Is the floor of my kiln cracked so badly that when I loosen the turnbuckles, it will fall out?  Is my tube assembly rod or cone supports bent?  Is the wheel head rubbing against the splash pan?  Is the motor dripping oil?


At the end of the day, safety during repair is something that you need to take responsibility for.  The keys to being safe are:

KNOWING what you are trying to do

UNDERSTANDING how your equipment works

PAY ATTENTION to what you are working on, and the environment you are working in




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