Plumbing tools are specialized-they fit the job. For example, if you buy a handle puller to pull tub or shower faucets, you will also need a box end or hollow-core socket wrench to remove packing nuts which are soft brass, easily distorted and practically impossible to replace.
If you need tubing cutters you may also need flaring tools. If the job doesn’t require flare fittings, you may need solder, paste, gate, globe or swing-check valves, torch kit, replacement tank, sanding cloth, slip-repair coupling or tee, tapping saddle, etc.
Wrenches are of two general types, fixed and adjustable. Fixed wrenches have one size jaw opening; adjustable wrenches open or close to fit nuts and bolts of several sizes. Although adjustable wrenches range from 4″ to 2′ long, 10″ and 12″ handle most household repair jobs.
Pipe wrenches or Stillson wrenches are usually used to grasp pipes and other curved surfaces. Pipe wrenches in particular have solid housings and hardened steel jaws which provide excellent bite and grip.
The primary difference between a pipe and a Stillson is that a Stillson wrench, with separate housing containing an adjusting nut, is subject to distortion and warping. Twelve-inch and 18″ Stillson wrenches are the most frequently used sizes.
Costing a bit more than an equivalent-sized Stillson wrench, a chain-pipe wrench offers easy handling in close quarters. This wrench consists of a forged steel handle to which is attached a length of heavy sprocket chain.
The tool is used by wrapping the chain around a length of pipe and engaging the sprockets in notches on back of the handle. The teeth on the face of handle bite into pipe while the chain holds the pipe against the teeth to prevent slipping.
This wrench turns pipe in either direction and can be used like a ratchet wrench. The handle can be loosened, shifted and turned again without taking the chain from around pipe. It can be used on round, square or irregular shapes without crushing the object.
Locking pliers are built like pliers but serve as a wrench. It has compound-lever action which enables them to be adjusted to size and then locked shut with a powerful grip. These tools are available with either straight or curved jaws.
Other common plumbing tools used by the average homeowner include:
Hex wrench – designed for smooth surfaces such as chrome or highly finished fittings. Provides multisided, nonslip grip on hex or square-nut connections.
End wrench – used where pipes are close together, close to walls or against flat surfaces. It has a solid housing which keeps it from breaking or warping under normal use.
Strap wrench – recommended for working with brass, aluminum, lead, soft metal or plastic pipe because it grips pipe without teeth and does not damage the surface. A fabric strap, attached to a loop ring which is fastened in the curved head of a straight forged bar or handle, is pulled around the pipe, back through the loop and over the head; when the wrench is pulled tight, the strap grips the pipe.
Basin wrench – there are two types. One has fixed jaws opening at right angles to the shaft handle; used to remove supply nuts and hose-coupling nuts on faucet-spray attachments under worktables, sinks and lavatories. The other has spring tension pipe-gripping jaws that are reversible by flip-over on end of driveshaft handle; will grip nipples, odd-sized supply nuts and jam nuts in hard-to-reach spots.
Nipple wrenches or extractors – extractors expand inside nipples where pipe wrenches cannot reach and are hex shafted for easy gripping.
Expanding jawed pliers – more commonly called water-pump pliers. Larger sizes can be used as a quick opening pipe wrench, to loosen sink-strainer jam nuts or grip flush-valve jam nuts. All sizes are excellent for bench work, with or without vises.
Seat wrench – is a basic tool for plumbing jobs; they have several sizes of square and hex ends to remove faucet seats.
Seat dressers – inexpensive ones often have 1/2″ and 5/8″ cutters. Better reseating tools have tapping attachments for reseating faucets with faulty and battered seat threads.
Handle pullers – will remove corroded handles without scarring the chrome. Application of penetrating oil to the part is recommended.
Packing-nut socket wrenches – are available in sets and fit nearly all tub, tub and shower and shower valves. They are hex on both ends and hollow core to fit over faucet stem handles. Their importance lies in the fact that faucet-valve packing nuts and stem assemblies are brass; if the workman uses an open-ended or adjustable wrench, strong pressure will warp or break the nut or thimble. These are practically impossible to replace, without tearing out the walls.
Spud wrench – features large, flat-sided jaws; good for general-purpose use. Adjustable model is ideal for various sizes of nuts, while fixed model works with large spud nuts under kitchen sinks.
When you want to cut, thread or ream pipe, you will need a pipe vise. There are two types available-yoke and chain. Both have specially designed jaws or chains for gripping pipe. A yoke vise will hold pipe 1/8″ to 6″, a chain vise, pipe 1/8″ to 8″.
A yoke vise has V-shaped jaws which grip pipe from above and below. Lower jaw is fixed, upper jaw is raised or lowered by a screw. The pipe is held in the inverted V-shaped yoke, which unlatches on one side and tilts so pipe can be placed into it.
A chain vise is smaller with a fixed lower V-shaped jaw with teeth on which the pipe is laid and a bicycle-type chain fastened to one end. When the pipe is inserted, chain is placed over it and locked in a slot on the opposite side.
Whenever a pipe is cut, both the inside and outside edges retain burrs. To remove burrs from the outside of the pipe, use a flat file. Burrs on the inside are removed by reamers.
Straight-fluted reamers have straight cutting edges while spiral-fluted reamers have spiral-shaped cutting edges.
Spiral reamers cut more easily, save time and work and are often used by sheet-metal workers to enlarge holes in sheet metal, conduit-box outlets, etc., as well as smoothing inside edges of pipe.
Reamers are cone shaped, with ratchet handles. Cutting edges can be sharpened, but this is difficult and time consuming and the small replacement cost usually makes it impractical.
Spiral-fluted reamers are for hand use only. Straight-fluted reamers can be used by hand or in a pipe rotating on a power-drive unit.
PIPE AND TUBING CUTTERS
Do-it-yourselfers often use an ordinary hacksaw to cut pipe, even though it is almost impossible to make a clean, straight cut. Pipe cutters make a faster, cleaner cut.
Most cutters have a single cutting wheel and two rollers, which make smooth right-angle cuts. Such cutters are used to cut pipe 1/8″ to 6″ in diameter.
Cutters are sized for pipe 1/8″ to 2″, 1″ to 3″, 2″ to 4″ or 4″ to 6″ in diameter.
Major points of wear are rollers, wheels and pins on which they are mounted. When cutter wheels are worn out, they should be replaced; do-it-yourself sharpening is not advisable.
If you plan to cut brass, copper, aluminum or thin-wall conduit tubing, recommend tubing cutters. Tubing cutters are similar to pipe cutters in that they have cutter wheels and rollers.
Some have a triangular blade-type reamer that folds out of the way when not in use. Tubing cutters for plastic and separate cutting wheels for plastic are available. Tubing cutters are sized to cut material with outside diameters ranging from 1/8″ through 4-1/2″.
Pipe to be threaded is held either in a pipe vise for hand threading or in the jaws of a chuck for threading on power equipment. When threading up to 2″ pipe with power equipment, the die head or threader is stationary and the pipe revolves into the dies. With hand tools, the pipe is placed in a vise and the threader revolves around it. Thread-cutting oil must be used for best results.
Check your state and local codes before starting any project. Follow all safety precautions. Information in this document has been furnished by the North American Retail Hardware Association (NRHA) and associated contributors. Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy and safety. Neither NRHA, any contributor nor the retailer can be held responsible for damages or injuries resulting from the use of the information in this document.