Removing a water heater element is no big deal: apply the appropriate socket (1-1/2 inch for this heater) to the hex head and turn it out. The trouble comes during installation, when you must hold that long rod exactly horizontal inside the tank, gripping the electrical fittings inside a narrow access port amid all the insulation.
My fingers can’t hold the element horizontal and twist it at the same time, so I made a tool: cross-threading the heating element and goobering the threads in the tank port is not an option!
A 32 mm socket just cleared the square blue electrical insulation block and butted against the 1-1/2 inch hex head. Because the block is square and the socket is hex, it was a pretty loose fit, but this was the right general idea.
I put a layer of masking tape on the inside of the socket and covered the electrical connections on the element.
Then I mixed up a batch of Bondo auto-body repair epoxy, buttered up the end of the heating element, and gooshed it into the socket. The Bondo filled in the gaps between hex and square, turning the wrench into a custom-fit tool that firmly gripped the heating element.
A brief pause for Bondo curing, pop an extension into the socket to use as a handle, return to the water heater, and screw that sucker right in place. Worked like a charm!
There’s a flexible gasket sealing the element to the tank port and I gave the element a few degrees more twist when I tightened it up, so the insulation block isn’t neatly aligned.
Getting the socket off wasn’t too difficult: twist to the side, pull, and the Bondo pops off the masking tape. Peel the tape off the element and it looks pretty much like it did before. The Bondo fell out of the socket when the element came out, so that was easy enough.
I was busy getting the water heat back in action and didn’t take any detailed pix, but I think you get the idea…