Plumbing Tips, Tricks and Tools
Pro plumbers share their favorite tips and tricks for cutting and connecting pipe and more.
Choose Caulk, Not Putty
Despite the name, lots of plumbers never use plumber’s putty. It damages some types of plastic and stains surfaces such as natural stone. Plus, it tends to dry out, crack and allow leaks. Silicone caulk is a safer, longer-lasting sealant in most areas where you might use plumber’s putty.
Thread sealant (aka “pipe dope”) is formulated to seal threads. But it’s great for almost any connection, even if the threads don’t form the seal. Use it on compression fittings, ground fittings and rubber seals. Because it’s slippery, it allows connections to slide together correctly for a good seal. And, if you use a type that doesn’t harden, disassembly and repair will be easier years later. Some types of dope harm plastic parts, so check the label.
Cut Pipe with a String
It's almost as fast as a saw and fits into tight spots where saws won't. To give the string a starting point, cut a shallow notch with a file or hacksaw blade. Then simply pull the string back and forth to slice through PVC or ABS pipe.
Cut Copper Tubing in Tight Places
Auto-adjusting, close-quarters tubing cutters aren’t new. But sometimes you simply can’t get a good enough grip to rotate the cutter. That’s where this tubing cutter and ratchet handle come in handy (General ATC34 3/4" Autocut Tubing Cutter, and RH34 Autocut Ratchet Handle).
Just snap the cutter around the tubing. Then slide the ratchet handle over the cutter. The ratchet grabs the ribs on the cutter, and the handle gives you all the leverage you need to cut the tubing. Use the cutter and handle to speed up cutting even when you’re not in a close-quarters situation.
Milwaukee’s 2470-21 M12 Cordless PVC Shear is so cool that you may want one even if you don’t cut pipe for a living. It will make clean, burr-free cuts through plastic pipes all day long. Watching this tool in action is almost mesmerizing, and to be honest, a little frightening. We highly suggest knowing where your fingers are at all times when using this sucker.
The tool can handle up to a 2-in. Schedule 40 plastic pipe. Milwaukee recommends it for PVC and PEX pipes, but we sliced through a bunch of ABS, water lines and irrigation pipes. We even hacked through a tree branch—we couldn’t resist. Older and more brittle pipes tend to crack instead of slice, so eye protection is always a good idea.
If you're a plumber or a pool guy or worked in the irrigation industry, you may be depressed that this tool wasn’t out years ago.
5-Gallon Bucket PVC Pipe Cutter
Here’s a nifty way to cut PVC pipe on the fly. Just make a couple of notches in the top of a 5-gallon bucket. Set the pipe in the notches and you’ve got a stable spot for sawing. As a bonus, you can load up the bucket and carry your tools along, too!
A Quick Cutter
Plumbers spend a lot of time cutting copper pipe, so it’s not surprising that one of our pro's favorite tools is a tubing cutter, but not just any tubing cutter. The one he likes doesn’t require any adjusting—you just slip it over the copper tube and spin it to cut.
You can buy the Kopex tubing cutter shown here online. You’ll find similar tubing cutters at some home centers and hardware stores. Keep in mind that you’ll have to buy a separate cutter for each size tubing.