Small Tool Makes Jobs Easier for Wisconsin Plumber

By making it easy to cut pipes in close quarters, Milwaukee Tool tube-cutting tools ramp up productivity for Milwaukee-area plumber.

Small Tool Makes Jobs Easier for Wisconsin Plumber

Close Quarters hand tubing cutters from Milwaukee Tool in a carrying case that come with the cutters. 

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It’s hard to tell what leaves Joe Holtz at Milwaukee Plumbing more impressed about the Close Quarters tubing cutter from Milwaukee Tool — the way it makes cutting copper pipes in tight spaces so easy or the way the company uses customer feedback to ensure a well-designed product.

Either way, Holtz — whose father, Al Holtz, owns the suburban-Milwaukee company Milwaukee Plumbing — says the Milwaukee Tool tubing cutters feature many small enhancements that subtly boost on-the-job productivity. In short, it’s the little things that count, such as the large black arrow on one side of the bright-red crescent-shaped tools that tells the user at a glance the correct way to turn it while cutting pipe, he says.

“I used to use another tubing cutter, and if you spun it in the wrong direction, it would fall off the pipe,” the fourth-year apprentice explains. “Plenty of times you’re in a ceiling or in a wall without good lighting and you can’t see which way to turn the cutter. My old one had an arrow on it, but it was the same color as the rest of the cutter, so I had to color it with a Sharpie (marker) to make it more visible.”

LISTENING TO CUSTOMERS

A chance encounter with Derek Rose, a senior product manager at Milwaukee Tool, led the company to incorporate the black arrow and other features into the product’s design. Rose happened to live in a duplex where Holtz was making a service call for a water and wastewater re-pipe job; as Holtz and his colleagues were unpacking their tools, Rose came out and asked them what kind of cutting hand-tools they used. He also saw the makeshift arrow drawn on Holtz’s tube cutter.

“He noticed that right away, and when I explained why I did it, he said he’d incorporate a black arrow into the new Close Quarters cutter,” Holtz says. “He took my feedback right then and there. I was pretty impressed.”

The cutters also feature grooves that indicate which direction to spin the tool. “So if you’re up in a ceiling and can’t see the arrow, you can still feel the direction you need to spin it,” Holtz explains. “Those situations happen plenty of times.”

The Close Quarters cutters, which retail for $45 to $50, come in a heavy-duty plastic carrying case that includes slots to store a pipe reamer and four replacement blades. The set includes three cutting tools for 1/2-, 3/4- and 1-inch-diameter pipes, with blades made from high-carbon steel. Chrome rollers resist rust and integrated weep holes allow water to drain from the tool, a feature that Holtz appreciates.

“There’s almost always water still in a pipe when you make a cut, and with my old cutter, that water would get inside and the rollers would rust,” he says. “But these cutters have weep holes strategically placed around the tool so water can drain out. I used to think it was a trade normal to have rusted cutter wheels, but Milwaukee Tool is great about finding problems that you accept as normal and then perfecting products before they come out.”

IMPROVING PRODUCTIVITY

Established in 2005, Milwaukee Plumbing is based in West Allis and focuses mostly on service and repair plumbing and remodeling projects for commercial and residential customers within about a 45-mile radius around Milwaukee. The company runs nine trucks, mostly Chevrolet Express cargo vans, but is transitioning to Ford Transits. It employs about 20 people, including 15 technicians, Holtz says.

Even something as simple as a carrying case makes a difference in terms of improved productivity, he points out. Holtz keeps the case on the step ledge just inside a sliding side door on his van, where it’s easy to grab and go to work. “After I’m inside and a wheel breaks, I’ve got replacements right there,” he notes. “If I have to change cutter sizes, they’re all right there. If I have to use a reamer, it’s right there.

“Also, I’m not very good at leaving tools in one spot on the job,” he concedes. “So the carrying case makes it real convenient because it keeps everything in one spot. And if you keep a lot of your tools together, it’s a lot easier to find a carrying case than it is to dig around to find three small cutters. In the end, time is money.”

The Close Quarters tubing cutters regularly prove their value. For instance, Holtz recalls one job where he had to cut pipes that were hung with bell hangers about a half inch off a wall. He was able to get the job done with a cutter and a straight-jaw plier from Milwaukee Tool. “If you can’t fit tubing cutters around a pipe, you can always use a Sawzall and cut it from the side,” he notes. “But you don’t want your pipes shaking like that if you can avoid it.

“On this particular job, I was able to clip a cutter to the pipe, then grab it with a straight-jaw plier and turn it,” he adds. “Unlike a Sawzall, that gave me a straight cut — no need to file it down, and no metal shavings inside the pipe. Like I said before, time is money.”



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