PEX piping is becoming more popular with DIYers and pros alike. Instead of using expensive copper piping, torches, and solder, you can create watertight joints in these plastic pipes with crimps and clamps—joints that are fast, easy, and affordable.
These crimps and clamps do require special tools, however. To ensure you’re getting the well-functioning joint, it’s important to choose the best PEX crimp tool for your project. If you’re not sure how to find a good tool, this guide explores the features you should consider when shopping for the best PEX crimp tool.
- BEST CRIMP TOOL: IWISS IWS-FAS PEX Crimping Tool Kit
- BEST CINCH TOOL: iCRIMP PEX Cinch Tool
- MOST VERSATILE: Conbraco Apollo PEX Multi-Head Crimp Tool Kit
- BEST FOR TIGHT SPACES: IWISS Angle Head PEX Pipe Crimping Tool Set
Before comparing PEX crimp tools, here’s a bit of background on PEX pipe. PEX is a flexible tubing that can transport fresh water, hot water, radiant heating, and even sprinkler-system water, making it very popular in residential applications.
These plastic pipes all work the same way, and most of the same joints will apply for all three types, but their makeup and characteristics vary. One thing to understand is that PEX A, B, and C do not indicate a grade or quality of PEX piping. Those designations just imply the manufacturing process used to create the pipe.
PEX A is the most expensive type of PEX, and it has some desirable properties. For one, even though it comes in rolled coils, PEX A will hold its new shape when straightened, making it easier to install through wall cavities and floors. However, PEX A does have the potential to leach more production-related chemicals, like toluene and methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE), into the water supply. Also, it has a lower bursting pressure than PEX B.
PEX B can cost half as much as PEX A, and that price comes with some advantages and disadvantages. PEX B has a higher bursting pressure than A, and chemical leaching from the pipe is considerably less likely. However, it doesn’t straighten well and it kinks relatively easily, which can make it a bit of a hassle to install.
PEX C isn’t very common, and DIYers are unlikely to come across it. The manufacturing process used to create PEX C makes it relatively weak compared to PEX A and B. It’s also less resistant to oxidation, meaning PEX C will wear down through normal usage faster than A and B.
Below is a list of the most important considerations to keep in mind when shopping for the best PEX crimp tools to make watertight joints.
Crimps vs. Clamps
When learning about PEX tools, a key point is that there are crimps and clamps. Crimps are copper rings that slide over a joint; the crimping tool squeezes the entire ring down onto the barbed fitting underneath. Copper crimps are burlier than clamps, but they’re more susceptible to corrosion.
Clamps are stainless steel bands with small pegs and locking holes. Clamping tools squeeze a knob until the peg lands in the appropriate hole, securing it on the barbed fitting inside the joint. Stainless steel clamps are easier to install and less likely to corrode, but they’re also much thinner than copper crimps, so they may bend or separate easier. Tools that can handle both crimps and clamps are rare, so choose one style before purchasing.
When it comes to putting pressure on a crimp, length is better. The longer the tool’s handle, the more leverage the user can apply to the crimp or clamp, requiring less effort to create a perfect seal. Look for a crimping tool at least 11 inches in length. Since longer-handled tools can be slightly awkward, they might have more of a learning curve than shorter-handled ones.
Clamps tend to be easier to secure and require less effort, so handle length isn’t as much of a priority.
Before picking a crimping or clamping tool, be sure to know what type of pipe it works for. While many types of clamping and crimping tools work for plumbing joints, not all of them work for PEX pipe.
There are tools that work for both copper and PEX pipe, but they generally require additional jaws or fittings. It can get expensive quickly, but for those who do a lot of plumbing, it might be worth the investment. Switching a fitting on a clamping tool takes less time than sweating a copper joint with flux and solder.
Don’t worry about choosing the right size PEX crimp tool. Because it only comes in only a few sizes—3/8-, 1/2- ,3/4-, and 1-inch—most clamping or crimping tools made for PEX will do. Swapping between those sizes is usually pretty straightforward.
Crimping tools typically have 1-inch jaws that can crimp 1-inch pipe, but their kits come with smaller jaws for tackling smaller pipes. To clamp those smaller pipes, simply open the 1-inch jaws and slip the necessary-size clamping jaws inside.
Clamping tools are often one-size-fits-all. They slide over the knob on the clamp and squeeze it, and those knobs are relatively universal in size.
After completing a plumbing job, it’s not ideal to find leaks or faulty joints. With PEX crimps, it can be difficult to tell if there’s a good seal by eye or feel. To help ensure each joint performs correctly, some tools come with go/no go gauges.
These gauges have U-shaped cutouts meant for specific pipe sizes. To use a go-no-go gauge, slide it over the joint. Check it from several angles. The gauge should slip over the crimp about halfway before stopping. If it slides all the way over the crimp, or not at all, the joint may have problems when pressurized. The crimp either isn’t tight enough or was installed with uneven pressure, and the crimp is now oblong.
Over time, clamping and crimping tools can fall out of perfect calibration. Applying pressure many times over the course of a plumbing project can stretch the jaws a bit, in which case dial them back in.
Most of the best PEX crimp and clamp tools have calibration gauges and adjustment screws, and they often come with the wrenches required to adjust them. Use these gauges to determine how far out of calibration the tool is, and tighten it back to the ideal setting. Many of these tools have adjustments on both jaws, allowing for calibrating to a perfectly round result.
The gauge can also determine if the jaws are overtightened, which can just as easily lead to a leak.
Many of the best PEX clamp tools have removal functions for separating clamps from the pipe. Don’t expect to reuse these clamps or crimps, though, as the removal process either cuts them or damages their integrity. However, the fitting underneath should be completely intact.
To remove a clamp, switch the clamping tool to the cutting function. Next, slide the jaws over the clamp’s knob and squeeze until the clamping tool cuts through the band. Then remove the clamp.
Removing crimps requires an entirely different tool with a blade for cutting through the copper crimps. In this case, cut the joint out of the system, slide the cutting tool into the fitting, and squeeze the handles until the jaws cut through the copper crimp. A second cut on the other side of the crimp will separate it completely.
Given that crimp cutters can slice through copper, it’s important to keep fingers clear from the jaws. Though the risk of copper snapping and becoming airborne is minimal, safety goggles are recommended.
Our Top Picks
Below are some of the best PEX crimp and clamp tools on the market. Keep all of the important considerations in mind when comparing these products to ensure the best tool selection for a particular project.
Finding a compact PEX crimper that fits in a toolbox but still provides the leverage required to seal off a PEX joint isn’t easy. But for anyone needing just that kind of item, check out this kit from IWISS. The IWISS crimper uses a high-leverage design that allows the user to apply enough pressure for a perfect seal despite its compact 12.5-inch design.
This PEX crimping kit is more than just an innovative tool. It also comes with the jaws required for crimping 3/8-, 1/2-, 3/4-, and 1-inch pipe, plus a PEX cutter, a go/no go gauge, and a hard plastic case to carry it all.
Those who prefer to use clamps over crimps might want to consider adding this iCRIMP cinch tool to their tool belt. This clamp cincher works for any size PEX and needs no calibration. It comes factory-calibrated and won’t need adjustment. During usage, the iCRIMP holds the jaws in place, while the handles are opened to provide plenty of leverage.
For a heavy-duty crimping tool that can tackle most PEX-tubing plumbing projects, choose this kit from Conbraco. The kit comes with a crimper, four sets of jaws (3/8-, 1/2-, 3/4-, and 1-inch), a go/no go gauge, and a wrench for adjustments and calibration. The jaws swap out with two hex bolts, which the included wrench also fits.
The Conbraco tool provides plenty of leverage for sealing off plumbing joints, good for creating up to 100 pounds of force. All of the components pack up nicely into the plastic carrying case, keeping everything secure and in one place between projects.
One advantage that PEX fittings have over copper piping is that in-wall repairs are much easier and safer, but they can still be challenging to reach and crimp. The unique design of the IWISS allows the user to get a grip on any 1/2- or 3/4-inch crimp, even in hard-to-reach places. This kit comes with two crimping tools—each with a go/no go gauge, alerting the user to calibration issues and potential leaks—while also including a handy tubing cutter.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about PEX crimp tools and their corresponding answers. Take a look through this section for any additional information not covered above.
Q. What is the best PEX to use?
PEX B is considered the best all-around PEX pipe. It leaches far fewer chemicals and has a higher bursting pressure. The disadvantage is that it can be harder to work with.
Q. Do PEX clamps fail?
They can fail, but it’s usually due to human error. If the clamp is applied crookedly or unevenly, it will leak.
Q. Can I crimp PEX with pliers?
You cannot get a solid, accurate, leak-free joint with pliers, which can’t apply even pressure all around the crimp.
Q. Can I run PEX through floor joists?
PEX can run through floor joists, stud walls, or almost anywhere else that would normally hold plumbing (according to local code).
Q. Can I run PEX to a water heater?
PEX should not run directly to a water heater, but it can run to a copper riser 18 inches or more in length, coming directly from the water heater.
Q. What is the lifespan of a PEX pipe?
PEX may be able to last more than 100 years. While it hasn’t been around long enough to verify that longevity, long-term testing indicates it could last a century before breaking down.