An almost blundered experience of a La Pavoni Europiccola restoration, and some things not to do.

A haven dedicated to manual espresso machine aficionados.
Posts: 3
Joined: 1 year ago

#1: Post by Iakouben »

Hey everyone! This is my first time posting here after doing a lot of lurking. I got into espresso just over a year ago with a Delonghi Dedica EC685 and my fall into the rabbit hole began. I quickly upgraded to a Rancilio Silvia V6 and a Eureka Mignon grinder and the tinkering phase started. PID, pressure gauge, dimmer and other minor mods to the Silvia later, I felt like I maxed out what I'm willing to do with it. Upgrade-itis and tinker-itis started to intensify. So this is where the main story starts and I decide to get an old Europiccola to restore.

TL;DR. The following is a verbal soup of my experience so far accompanied by some failure. If you like tinkering and restoring things a La pavoni restoration will definitely scratch that itch. Be prepared to drop a little more money than you initially expect to do a good job, especially if you're pedantic. Do NOT try to wet sand the chrome on a La Pavoni lever, it's not worth it, there are better ways to do it, such as sand blasting and taking it to a professional plater, the money spent on it is worth it over the nerves and energy lost.

I live on an island where coffee culture largely centres around Freddo Espresso and Frappe (blended instant Nescafé) so finding a used Europiccola locally was very unlikely, meaning that eBay was the likeliest option. I found what looked like a decent condition pre millennium version for a good price, seemingly a v2.6 but with a brass piston, manufactured in April 2000. The seller straight up mentioned that it had some rust on the base and would need a gasket replacement to get it running again, so I jumped onto the opportunity.

First things first, I filled the boiler to see if the heating element was working, and everything seemed fine. Water passed through the group head so really, it was a matter of descaling it, swapping out gaskets, cleaning up the body and doing a powder coat on the base and I would have a working lever espresso machine on my hands. I said to myself, I'm just going to take the group off to have a look at stuff and call it a night, the rest of the evening was spent taking the machine apart completely and starting the cleanup process.

The base

The base ended up being in a little bit more of a state than initially thought. The original owner of the machine seems to have left it running for long periods of time, overheating it, resulting in the bottom boiler gaskets being baked on completely and the top gasket seemed to have completely disintegrated. The base was sent to get sand blasted, cus ain't nobody got time to manually sand it, and a powder coated. Rust pitting on the top was a little worse than it seemed at first, but it is what it is.

Pictures of the final powder coat will be updated in a reply later, as I'm still waiting for it to get back to me.

The chrome bits (where the self inflicted blunders started)

This is where me being a bit of a dipsh*t starts. The boiler and most of the chrome bits were also in a bit of a state. Most of it was superficial tarnishing on the chrome. The boiler however had some deep scratches on it in some places and the group head, where it meets with the lever, had a deep gouge revealing the brass beneath it from the lever rubbing against it. While it's not a huge issue considering that it would almost always be hidden by the lever, the pedant inside me didn't want to let it go and I decided (after seeing someone on the forum sandblasting their machine to the bare brass) that I want to get rid of the chrome, knowing full well the consequences of having bare brass exposed to the elements.

A quick search later revealed that I have a few options to do this at home, at little cost:
-Leave it in a de-scaler solution of choice; vinegar or citric acid since either of these can and will over time attack the chrome.
The drawback of this is the time it would take to achieve the desired result. I had all the bits left in a solution of vinegar and warm water overnight to descale and there was a very little bit of effect on the chrome. This would take more time than I have patience for, so it quickly got checked off.
-Submerge the parts into hydrochloric acid to strip the chrome.
Quick warning! If you attempt this for any reason, or work with any acids, do so in a well ventilated area!
This is one of the first results that appears on google for "removing chrome coating". For me however, it didn't work, less so even than the vinegar. I bought some >30% HCL at the hardware store and made a solution of 1 part HCL to 1/3 part water (if you do this, mix these slowly). I left some small bits that were easily replaceable overnight in this solution and to my dismay, in the morning when I checked on it, absolutely nothing happened. It could be because the temperature of the solution was low (was about 10C overnight), or the La Pavonis use a thick chrome coating requiring more time, perhaps even both. However this too quickly got checked off as an option to remove the chrome.

The next thing that I stupidly tried, (and this is for anyone who is thinking to do this themselves, learn on my mistakes as I stubbornly did not listen to smarter people) was sanding the chrome. Starting off with 320 grit wet sandpaper, I did the boiler and after about 30 minutes, threw in the towel with a horrible result.

Seriously, do not do this. It's dumb and the chrome plating is much harder than you think your will is.

Ultimately, I did some research, found a nickel and chrome plating professional in my area, took the parts to them, got a bit of a scolding for trying to DIY it and got the chrome removed. They polished the parts for me and were intensely suggesting to get at least a nickel coating to keep it protected. I respectfully declined and took my now shiny raw brass parts home with me.

Now I am fully aware that brass will tarnish over time and it will require a lot of maintenance to keep it looking like this, but for the time being, I am prepared to look after it. If it becomes too much of a chore, I'll be going back to visit them and get that nickel plating onto the machine.

At this point, I'm waiting for the base to be done and my gaskets and some other parts to arrive. All this should be coming by the end of the week. As soon as I have some more updates, if anyone is curious, I'll post everything here too. If you got this far, thanks for reading!

Posts: 97
Joined: 5 years ago

#2: Post by Marcje »

It looks like the boiler still has a nickel layer on it?
Maybe it's the camera, but uncoated brass has a different color; not as silver/yellowish like your parts.
See it as a an advantage, nobody has a LaPavoni with the same color as yours :-)

Posts: 108
Joined: 2 years ago

#3: Post by Blernsball »

It's gonna be great when it's done. Besides, it's not a good project until you screw up at least once and draw a little blood.

The brass does take some maintenance if you want to keep that super fresh look, or you can enjoy the patina.

I have found my brass and copper europiccola cleans up really well using Barkeepers Friend. Food safe too.

Iakouben (original poster)
Posts: 3
Joined: 1 year ago

#4: Post by Iakouben (original poster) »

Time for an update to this story. It's been a little bit more than a week but in that time I've managed get the machine re-assembled and get some practice on pulling shots. I finally, after a little over a year of owning another espresso machine, managed to pull a lighter roast shot that was palatable and I think I finally get it - the fruity, sweet full bodied espresso experience.

The base, got back to me with a fresh powdercoat.

Some pitting remains after the state it was in previously, but hopefully with regular wiping it's going to last a few years at least before it needs to be re-serviced. At that point I might consider getting a new base for it.

The parts from Coffee-sensor arrived very quickly and all in all, I was ready to reassemble everything a couple days after my original post.

Besides the gasket servicing set, I also ordered a new brass/gold colored lever, lever retention pins, new safety valve and some other miscellaneous bits and bobs.

Re-assembly was straight forward, just following the exploded Europiccola diagram.

I've seen mixed opinions on whether or not the piston sleeve and gaskets need to be lubricated (I used a food grade lubricant, previous owner seems to have been keen on using a molybdenum disulphide grease) but I winged it and went for it, applying what I thought was a thin layer on the inside and piston gaskets. This later turned out to still be quite a lot and my shots had a "wonderful" oily mouthfeel. I took everything apart for a second time, cleaned off a lot of the lubricant and got much better results. In this situation, less is most definitely more and when I'm going to be servicing it in the future, I have a much better ballpark on how much lubricant to use in that area.

After getting a feel for the machine, and a little deliberation on "keeping all the stock parts as they are" I decided to take a hole saw to the portafilter to do a bottomless conversion. I used a 51mm hole saw (as some have done on this forum already) to cut out the spouts and then a little filing, wet sanding and polishing to get rid of any marks that I left during the process. In my opinion this was definitely worth it and beats buying a brand new one (especially in my case where finding a brass one would be a little more tedious and expensive).

So that's the story of the restoration. As time will go on, I'm planning on doing some more mods to it, perhaps bong isolator (although I'm getting mixed messages about it here), pressure profiling kit, etc. but for now I'm going to use it as is and enjoy it as it has helped me find a new enjoyment of straight espresso.

If there's any mods in particular the people have done and are definitely worth it, I'd love to hear about them!

Posts: 97
Joined: 5 years ago

#5: Post by Marcje »

Looks good, nice job!

Posts: 108
Joined: 2 years ago

#6: Post by Blernsball »

Super nice!

I bought one of the brass levers from coffee-sensor for mine too. One tip: make sure the bolt that holds the rod to the fork is tight, mine came loose after tightening up the handle and sheared off the next time I used the lever. It's only brass and not very strong.

Had to replace it and use thread locker to make sure it stays tight.

Iakouben (original poster)
Posts: 3
Joined: 1 year ago

#7: Post by Iakouben (original poster) »

Blernsball wrote:One tip: make sure the bolt that holds the rod to the fork is tight, mine came loose after tightening up the handle and sheared off the next time I used the lever.
Yeap, I had the same issue with the bolt too and I let them know about it. It was pretty tight but the head still sheared off when I did my first pull down, it seems there was just very little actual material between the threaded bit and the head of the bolt due to how they have the hex cut into it.

It quickly got replaced with an M5 machine screw and I haven't had issues with it since.

Posts: 108
Joined: 2 years ago

#8: Post by Blernsball »

sorry you had issues with the bolt too.

I have found a pressure gauge to be an extremely useful addition for mine. Gives a pretty reliable indication of boiler temp.

Posts: 2
Joined: 1 year ago

#9: Post by Carrick_Coffee »

Thanks for sharing this. I found it a really useful read as I'm working on a La Pavoni pro restoration and definitely picked up some useful tips from your post.