Range/Stove/Oven Basics - How They Work

Combination range/ovens are stoves that have both surface burners and an oven, so an overview of the combination appliance provides information on both cooking surfances and ovens. Depending on their features, some electric range/oven units are quite complex. To understand how they work, let's look at the following key areas for both electric and gas options:

The Control Panel

Due to the multiple variations of range/stove combinations each control panel will be different but will have some or a combination of the following components.

  • Thermostat - works in conjunction with a long copper tube to regulate the temperature of the oven. This copper tube heats up or cools down and relays the information back to the thermostat. A different type of thermostat is an electronic/mechanical type that has a probe into the oven attached to a small printed circuit board behind the knob. When the signals are received from the probe to the knob, the thermostat adjusts the temperature accordingly
  • Clock - Once again there are different varieties: mechanical and electronic. There are usually three dials on a mechanical clock; start and stop time dials, and the clock dial. The start and stop dials are for timed cooking and self cleaning operations. The electronic clocks aren't usually serviceable and need to be replaced if they fail.
  • Electronic keypad - Some range/ovens have a keypad for setting all of the oven, broiler, timed bake, and self-cleaning times, and temperatures. These keypads can't be serviced; you usually need to replace them when a problem arises.
  • Selector switch for bake/broil/timed bake, etc. - Electric and gas range/ovens have at least one control switch for the oven/broiler. On some units, this is the same switch as the thermostat, on others it is a separate switch. If it's a separate switch, it works in conjunction with the thermostat. You set the thermostat to the cooking temperature you want and set the selector switch to allow Bake, Broil, Timed Bake, and so on.
  • Light switches - A lot of stove/ovens have a light in the oven. This light is operated by a switch on the door frame of the oven, while other have a switch that you can turn on/off. Some stoves have a light above the range that is operated by a switch in the control panel.
  • Surface burner switches - The burners switches work much like dimmer switches you may have in your house, they regulate the amount of electricity flow through the switch to the burner allowing you to adjust the temperature setting.
  • Self-cleaning buttons or switches - In addition to the clock controls for the self-cleaning feature, there may also be other related devices--for example, a door lock button or switch, a separate switch to toggle between self clean and normal bake, etc.
  • Convection oven components - Convection ovens use a fan to circulate the air and provide for even temperatures throughout the oven, allowing for food to cook more evenly and quickly. Some manufacturers have put the heating element for this type of oven near the fan, others have placed it underneath the oven floor. Still others have chosen to integrate the element into the fan, which helps to elimiate hot spots. The convection cooking option is able to be enabled or disabled by a switch on the control panel.

The Cooktop

Electric: There are usually coils on the top of the stove for the cook top. These coils have a wire inside the coil that heats up when electric is applied to it. This in turn heats up the coil and causes it to glow. Some burners, known as "euro burner" get just as hot as their counterparts, but do not glow. Euro burners are solid, smooth, and 6 to 8 inches in diameter. Each has an internal coil of wire in the center and no moving parts. Some stoves have the burners integrated into the top creating a "smoothtop" system. These systems work much the same way as the coil type systems, but with the burners concealed under the top, they have to heat up the top and the heat is then transferred "radiated" through conduction to the dish on the stove.

Gas: All gas range top burners use a similar system of gas delivery. There's one control knob for each burner. It's attached to a small gas valve that's mounted right to a main gas line. As you turn on the valve, the gas flows through the valve into a "venturi" tube, which mixes the gas with air to create the proper mix for combustion. The mixture then flows into the burner itself, where the standing pilot light flame or the igniter ignites it. You regulate the flame size by adjusting the burner control knob. It restricts the amount of gas that flows through the valve.

The Area Beneath the Cooktop

Electric: Many cooktops with coil burners let you raise the entire cooktop for cleaning and service. Manufacturers often place the model and serial number tag for the appliance beneath the cooktop.

Gas: Many cooktops that have non-sealed gas burners let you raise the cooktop for cleaning and service. In addition, the individual burner gas valves and ignition components may be located here. This is often where manufacturers place the model and serial number tag for the appliance beneath the cooktop.

The area behind the broiler drawer

This is where the safety valve, spark igniter, fuse, and other components are often located on gas ovens.

The back of the unit

Much of the wiring for a electric and gas range/oven is located on the back of the appliance. The steel panels that cover the wiring protect both you and the wiring. Other components--such as relays, self-cleaning switches, transformers, and terminal blocks--are also behind the protective back panels.

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