5 Basic Plumbing Tools

Three different types of pliers
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Having the right plumbing tools can make plumbing repairs much easier. In some cases a project is virtually impossible to do with out the appropriate plumbing tools. It is not necessary to buy a lot of tools and gadgets to do your own plumbing. The following 5 basic plumbing tools will get you started.

  1. Tongue-and-groove pliers: Plumbers used to be known for carrying pipe wrenches that were needed for just about every job. And while the pipe wrench is still used for steel and iron pipe, as an all-purpose tool it has effectively been replaced by tongue-and-groove pliers. Commonly know by the popular brand name Channel Lock, tongue-and-groove pliers have angled jaws, long handles, and a wide range of adjustment positions. They can take apart most plumbing easily and quickly. Like pipe wrenches, these pliers work best in pairs, one for stabilizing the pipe and one to loosen or tighten the nut or fixture. The standard 10-inch size is suitable for most plumbing work, but it can be handy to have a couple of larger and smaller pliers for some situations.

    Tip: If you're worried about scratching a finish you can wrap the pliers' jaws with electrical or masking tape or use a rag to protect the finish.

  1. Basin wrench: Also sometimes called a sink wrench, a basin wrench can be very handy when changing out an old faucet in the kitchen, bathroom, or laundry sink. It is a self-tightening wrench designed for loosening or tightening fittings in hard-to-reach places. When purchasing a basin wrench be sure to get one with a telescoping shank that holds a 90-degree position by itself to make things easier for you.
  2. Compression sleeve puller: If you have copper, PEX, or CPVC tubing in your house you most likely have compression angle stops or shutoff valves that supply water to your toilets and faucets. Although it is usually easy to unscrew the angle stop itself by holding the valve with pliers or a wrench and unscrewing the nut with another pair of pliers or a wrench, often the compression sleeve remains stuck on the pipe so that you can't remove the sleeve or compression nut. This is where the compression sleeve puller comes in handy. It can remove the nut and compression sleeve without damaging the pipe.
  1. Pipe wrench: Pipe wrenches, although not as prevalent as they once were, are still necessary plumbing tools. Pipe wrenches are very useful when it comes to something threaded, such as iron or galvanized steel pipe and fittings. Many fittings, like the water heater nipples, yard hydrants, or pressure regulators, require the use of a pipe wrench or two to provide enough leverage to unscrew them. In many cases, it's essential to have two pipe wrenches to prevent stress on the installation; one wrench holds the pipe or fitting steady, while the other wrench turns the other pipe or fitting.
  1. Adjustable wrench: An adjustable wrench, also known by the popular brand name Crescent wrench, is used when removing angle stops, compression nuts, and supply lines to faucets and other fixtures. It can also be used for other things, like tightening or loosening a showerhead so that the finish does not get scratched. A good-quality adjustable wrench will last a lifetime and will perform much better than a cheap version. 

Other Handy Plumbing Tools

Some plumbing tools are standard hand tools that you may already have around the house: 

  • Screwdrivers: Many shapes and sizes are preferred because there are so many different types of screws to remove when doing plumbing repairs. Screwdrivers are needed for faucet handles, overflow plates, tub spouts, and more.
  • Allen wrench set: Many designer faucet and shower handles are held on with Allen screws or recessed hex screws or bolts. An Allen wrench has six sides and is also called a hex wrench. If you have a recessed hex screw, this is the only tool for the job. Allen wrench sets come in either metric or standard sizes; it's best to have a set of each. Also, choose sets with loosely hanging keys rather than a folding tool. Loose Allen keys are easier to get into more positions and tight places. 
  • Hacksaw: Plumbing does not always come apart easily, and a good hacksaw will surely be useful when cutting any type of pipe, stubborn bolts, nuts, or screws. With a hacksaw you can remove the blade, wrap one end with a cloth, and slip it in to hard-to-reach places. You can also buy a compact, or one-handed, hacksaw, which is essentially a handle for holding one end of a standard hacksaw blade. These are great for tight spaces, but the usable blade length is quite short so they aren't efficient for regular cutting tasks.