Jun 01, 2023

Stan Harrison: Toaster repair project uncovers elements of surprise

My mind was deep in thought.

It often is.

Too bad that much of the time, those thoughts seem to focus on trivial matters, like "I wonder what we'll be having for dinner?" or "Where did my younger son put the comics?"

My thoughts sometimes run so deep that I unintentionally shut off the outside world. Either that, or my one-track mind is unable to focus on more than one thing at a time.

One morning, a human voice attempted to interrupt my deep thoughts.

"Smmmf rrng wfd tssstr."


Mysteriously, my brain had detected outside interference, and the voice had registered. The outside world could no longer be held at bay. Intense thinking had been breached, and my mind snapped out of its deep thoughts, however trivial they might have been.

"What?" I asked to no one in particular.

"Something's wrong with the toaster. It's not toasting right," my wife repeated.

"What's it doing?" I asked.

"It only toasts the bread on one side."

To toast both sides of the bread, each piece had to be reversed for a second toasting. The only other option was to toast the bread in the oven, not exactly an energy-saving undertaking, but one which my family of toast-a-holics was perfectly willing to do.

A quick look inside the two toaster slots revealed the problem. The middle heating element wasn't glowing.

Why repair a toaster?

Our toaster isn't just any toaster. My wife is hopelessly attached to the sleek, stainless steel appliance. Its unobtrusive design blends well with the kitchen decor.

And my family is hopelessly attached to toast. Hardly a day goes by that someone isn't having at least one slice of toast with butter or jam, or sometimes even honey.


There was nothing to do but take the toaster down to the workshop. If I repaired it, we'd save ourselves some money and soon have toast again.

If I didn't, we'd be shopping for another functional yet visibly appealing toaster. And that would possibly take even more time and, well, money.

As I removed four screws and lifted off the bottom, a large piece of trapped pita came into view.

"Maybe that's the problem!" my younger son said excitedly. Perhaps the piece of pita had been interfering with the heating element.

I removed the offending bit of food, probed a little further, then reassembled the toaster.

It still didn't work.

Accessing the heating elements

By this time, my mind was deep in toaster thought. I'd have to gain access to the heating elements, but how?

I loosened screws, struggled to remove the tightly attached handles and knobs, then pulled the chassis from its metal shell.

After disconnecting the electrical terminals to each heating panel, I could find no screws or any other way to actually remove the heating elements -- until I noticed six small metal tabs. I discovered that twisting them a quarter turn would free the panels. I did so and removed the middle panel.

Each heating element in a toaster typically consists of a flat ribbon of Nichrome -- an alloy of nickel with chromium and sometimes iron -- wrapped around a panel of mica, a silicate mineral used as an insulator.

On the middle panel, I could clearly see a large, black scorch mark and two lengths of Nichrome ribbon burned in half.

Why to not repair a toaster

My home repair book says such breaches can sometimes be patched with soldering lugs. But a thorough search of the hardware store, appliance parts store, home center and electronics parts store failed to turn up any kind of soldering lug or other part that might work.

New Nichrome ribbon can be purchased for about $20, but wrapping it around the mica board and then finding a way to attach it to the terminals with manufactured, riveted connections would be dicey at best.

Replacing the entire mica board heating element also might be an option -- if it was available online -- or anywhere, for that matter.

Or, I could simply shell out for a new toaster of the same model, which runs anywhere from $29.99 to $53.

Unfortunately, some things just aren't worth fixing.

As my repair book says at the very bottom of the page on toasters, "Replacing the entire toaster may be more economical."

That's easier said than done when you're trying to be "green" and conserve resources, especially in difficult economic times. How could I junk an entire toaster over a couple of simple breaks in a heating element?

But since the toaster doesn't seem to be repairable, I guess I'll just have to take the hardware store man's advice: Buy a new one. A toaster is a disposable appliance.

More crumbs for thought

Still ...

My mind remains deep in thought on ways to fix that toaster.

I might be able to shorten the Nichrome ribbon and reattach it, circumventing the breach. The toaster might not toast as well, but at least it would work.

I also could place the working heating elements next to a single bread slot. Then at least we'd be able to toast one slice completely.

On the other hand, if I buy a new toaster and save this one, the next time a heating element breaks, I'll have a couple of replacement panels ready to install.

Now there's a deep thought that might be worth hanging onto -- if I can only find room for another broken appliance on my workbench.


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