7 Helpful Plumbing Tips and Tricks

There are many easy and cheap ways to help you get a quick fix done to give you extra time for a more permanent repair.

Over the last hundred years or so our family business has thrived because of the skill, expertise and experience of generation after generation of seasoned plumbers.

They helped pass along tons of tips and tricks, some old and some new. Here are just a few to help you out.

1. Rule of 1.414

To calculate how long a piece of pipe needs to be on a 45-degree offset, multiply the offset distance by 1.414, then subtract the fitting makeup. You will get a perfect fit every time.

It is especially helpful on large diameter pipe. Make sure you look up and understand what “fitting makeup” is before you start using this method.

2. Pencil Teflon tape

Plumbers often get into a tiny space where they cannot get the roll of Teflon tape to make its way around male threads. Take a pencil and wrap a length of Teflon tape the opposite direction you typically would on threads (on the eraser end).

Now apply the Teflon tape to the threads by twirling the pencil around in a tight motion applying the Teflon tape in the correct direction.

3. Delta single-handle shower valve retaining nut

At some point you will run into a Delta single-handle shower valve that has a large brass retaining nut. This retaining nut must come off for you to access the shower cartridge.

The older models are exceedingly difficult to remove and have three small copper tubes that hold the cartridge body to the valve body making it difficult to remove without breaking the tubes. If you put a pipe wrench on the nut to get it off it will twist the valve right off the body breaking the copper tubes.

Instead, keep a 2-inch-by-1 1/2-inch Fernco in your tool bag. Tighten the Fernco onto the retaining nut. Since this puts tremendous grip on all sides of the retaining nut you can usually remove the nut by hand. It also does not do any physical damage to the nut.

4. Getting paint off copper pipe

In older houses, the older generation was a little handier than the newer homeowners. They did not just paint the pipes, they used lacquer thinner first, and then painted the pipes. This can lead to a frustrating time getting the paint off.

A good trick is to get a scrap piece of the next size up (for example grab a piece of ¾-inch copper if you are trying to remove paint from a ½-inch copper line) and quickly slide it up and down over the pipe. Because the inside diameter of the next size up just barely fits over the tubing it will scrape enough paint off that you can work the rest with emery cloth.

You can also heat up a piece of painted pipe and wipe most of the paint off with a rag or a scouring pad.

5. Temporary pipe patches

Are you out late in the cold working on a leaking waterline? Make sure you carry a variety of hose clamps and some rubber gasket material. You can set a small piece of gasket material over the leak and tighten a few hose clamps around it to limit or totally stop a leak until a permanent repair can be made.

Another temporary repair on frozen, split or ruptured copper water lines is to squeeze the split back together with Channellocks until the two sides are touching, clean, flux and solder the split back together.

On ductile iron water mains or some cast iron boiler sections or near boiler piping, people used to keep a variety of small hand-whittled wood pins that they could beat into a leak and tighten a few hose clamps around it. The wood would swell up and limit the leak in a pinch.

On cast iron screw pipe pinhole leaks, take a rag, fill it with salt, and wrap and secure it around the pinhole leak. The salt and water will rust the pinhole shut until a permanent repair can be made.

6. The bread trick

This is a commonly known trick. If you cannot get a copper waterline to stop dripping, stuff a piece of bread into the pipe and quickly solder a ball valve on. Then go to a spigot that does not have an aerator and run water until the bread pieces come out. Only use white bread as wheat bread or any of the other grain breads do not come apart easily and will get stuck in the system.

You can also buy a device called a Jet Swet kit that allows you to solder on a ball valve with water dripping. Do yourself a favor and look it up if you have never seen one. Remember to only use full port ball valves with this device.

7. The cheater bar

You should never use a cheater bar to gain extra leverage on a pipe wrench. But in theory, if you find a couple of old aluminum baseball bats from when you were a kid — do not steal your kid’s brand new $400 Easton — cut the tip off with a tubing cutter. You now have a cushion grip cheater that you could slide onto a pipe wrench to get some extra leverage.


Remember that these tricks are not meant to be permanent repairs, these are mostly to get you out of a jam until you can do a proper permanent repair.  


Anthony Pacilla has been in the trades since he was 9 years old (family business). He started cleaning toilets, mopping floors and putting fittings away in the warehouse. As he picked up skills, he would add becoming a ground man and laborer. When he was ready, Pacilla became an apprentice and then a journeyman plumber. He graduated college with a business and economics degree and immediately wanted to come back to work in the family business. A few years ago, Pacilla became a licensed master plumber. To contact Pacilla, email editor@plumbermag.com


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