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- Plumbing Tools
Consult our list for all the tools you'll need to deal with your plumbing system.
- Photo: Milwaukee
Plumbing makes possible the cleanliness we know today. Yet solving some kinds of plumbing problems involves sink traps, soil pipes, and clean-outs most foul. Running new plumbing lines means shiny new copper, malleable and almost orange to the eye. But that backed-up toilet calls for the aptly named snake.
Plumbing tools are a diverse lot, as the trade requires cutting, fitting, and fastening, and even a bit of carpentry when installing new lines and closing up around them. A basic knowledge of the tools we'll talk about here will allow you to perform basic repairs, as well as install new fixtures. Other tools like the drill, hole saw, reciprocating saw, chisels, hammers, and numerous others, are often needed by the plumber, too. The homeowner-plumber must be able to move swiftly from one trade to another, depending upon the needs of the particular task immediately at hand.
Not all piping is copper these days. Iron pipes are found in older structures, and their thread fittings require different techniques from the soldered sweat fittings that join copper elements. In many places today building codes allow for the use of plastic pipe for waste lines or even for supply lines. We'll talk about copper, iron, and plastic, too.
Tubing Cutter. These clever tools make neat, square cuts of plastic, copper, brass, or thin wall steel or iron tubing. They resemble adjustable wrenches in that they have one fixed jaw and another that moves. The resemblance ends there, however, since these tools have cutting wheels and rollers instead of flat or serrated jaws.
The outside, fixed jaw has the cutting wheel, which is replaceable on most models. The lower jaw, which is advanced with a threaded screw and handle mechanism, slides along the back of the cutter. On most models, the sliding jaw has two rollers that hold the pipe squarely to the cutting wheel.
To use a tubing cutter, the jaw is opened to allow the end of the pipe to be inserted. The cutting wheel is positioned at the point along the pipe's length where the cut is to be made, and the adjusting screw tightened until the wheel and rollers grip the pipe. Don't overtighten the jaws, since they can crimp the pipe.
The cutter is then rotated around the pipe. Check that the score line the cutter has made forms a complete circle, and doesn't tend to spiral offline, as it will if the pipe cutter isn't set squarely onto the pipe. To cut through the pipe, tighten the adjusting screw a fraction of a turn after each revolution; then rotate the pipe, tighten the screw further, and repeat the process until the cut is complete.
The inside of freshly cut copper and other soft pipe should be reamed clean of burrs and shavings. Most tubing cutters have a reaming device mounted on the back of the tool for this purpose.
Pipe cutters function in much the same way as tubing cutters do, but are made of steel and are designed for cutting pipes with thicker walls. Instead of having one cutting wheel and two rollers, like tubing cutters, pipe cutters have three cutting wheels. For those of us who run the occasional copper or plastic supply pipe, a simple and inexpensive tubing cutter is quite adequate, one that will cut copper, aluminum, or brass pipe of diameters up to an inch or an inch and a half.
Propane Torch. Sometimes called a blowtorch, this tool is small, light, and portable. Older models relied upon kerosene, but much safer and easier- to-use propane-fueled models are now the rule.
The propane torch can help perform a variety of tasks, but its principal use is to join metals by soldering or brazing. It is also used in stripping paint (the heat softens the paint; wear a respirator if you are in doubt as to whether the paint is lead-based) and in removing old putty from window sash when replacing a windowpane. Attachments can be fitted to the nozzle to focus the flame tightly for precision soldering or to spread it for paint stripping or removing resilient tile. The standard nozzle produces a flame suitable for sweat-fitting domestic water pipes.
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