Whether you plan to work on your own kiln, wheel or even figure out why that one power outlet won’t work, this is an essential tool to have in your arsenal.
But Those Things are Expensive…
You can find meters priced from $10 in the department store, all the way up to professional grade meters costing far into the thousands of dollars. If you’re purchasing your first multimeter, your best option is the department store variety.
With about 12 years of electrical repair experience and having used the full range of these things, I can honestly say that unless you need a special function or are working with very high power, most will give adequate readings for the equipment in your studio. I’ve burned up a couple of the more expensive meters along the way and prefer the smaller replacement bill for ever day use.
What Should it be Able to do?
Most multimeters will read voltage, resistance, continuity and current. Coincidentally, these are the basic measurements you can use to troubleshoot nearly every device in your studio. For those who need a a quick explanation of these terms, here you go:
- Voltage – This comes in AC (alternating current) and DC (direct current). AC is the stuff that comes out of your wall sockets and the line going to your kiln. DC is what comes out of a battery and is used in some of our studio equipment with digital controls.
- Resistance – Measured in Ω (ohms), this is the opposition to the flow of electrons. Parts will usually be rated for a certain amount of resistance and if there is too much or too little, the part is most likely bad.
- Continuity – This is the ability to conduct electricity. It’s measured using resistance and while not a completely necessary function, it’s very nice to have.
- Current – Measured in Amperes or Amps, this is the movement of electrons. There won’t be a lot of times this is necessary to have but is nice when trying to find disappearing power.
The majority of us prefer to use a digital multimeter because of the ease of reading the display. You simply set the selector dial to what you want to read and attach the probes. The numbers will show up on the screen.
If you happen to have an analog meter, you simply look at the needle’s position on the scale of what you’re trying to read. I still own and occasionally use my analog meter. I like to think it matches my watch.
How do I use it?
Case by case, Jessica and I will answer this very thoroughly as we show you more about the different equipment in the studio. For a great example of this, check out Jessica’s post on testing heat elements in electric kilns. For now though, here’s a quick explanation of how we test those four measurements listed above:
- Voltage can be tested across the circuit or component being checked. This means the + lead connects to one side and the – lead connects to the other side. The circuit must be fully assembled and turned on to test voltage. DC voltage is polarity sensitive while AC is not. This will be covered more as we encounter it in our tutorials.
- Resistance can be tested across the circuit or component. This must be done with the part being tested completely disconnected from the rest of the circuit for an accurate reading. The power must be off to read resistance.
- Continuity is measured the same as resistance. The nice thing about most meters with a continuity function is the audible tone they have that indicates good connection. You don’t have to look at the screen, just proble and listen.
- Current is measured in the line. This means you have to connect the leads between parts of the circuit. If you test for current across parts of the circuit, you’ll likely get an incorrect reading and may damage your meter or the equipment your testing. The circuit must be fully assembled and turned on to measure current.
Feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns and don’t stop learning here! There are tons of great resources available to include your owner’s manuals, books, videos and more. The more you know going in, the better off you are.
Please remember that working on live electrical circuits can be very dangerous. Make sure to avoid personal contact with any parts of the equipment you’re testing while energized and NEVER touch any part of a live electrical circuit! If you take the necessary precautions, this can be done safely and confidently. I highly recommend you take a few minutes to look over our post on electrical safety for a good baseline of knowledge.
As always, if you feel you’ve dove in over your head with troubleshooting and repair, don’t hesitate to call a professional. Most are wonderful people who are very willing to help someone who is learning as they take care of your problems.