Smaller Sectional Cable Machine Gets the Job Done and Increases Profitability

Only one tough job convinced this Canadian plumber about the merits of the new compact RIDGID K-5208 sectional cable machine

Smaller Sectional Cable Machine Gets the Job Done and Increases Profitability

Bob Baker, the owner of Baker Plumbing, Heating and Gasfitting in Calgary, Alberta, uses a RIDGID K-5208 sectional cable drain machine to unclog an 8-inch-diameter drainline in a Calgary-area hotel. (Photo courtesy of Baker Plumbing, Heating and Gasfitting)

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Bob Baker admits he was a bit skeptical when his RIDGID customer rep suggested using a K-5208 sectional cable drain cleaning machine on an extremely difficult emergency job: a restaurant drainline clog so tough it snapped the cable on a large, powerful drum machine.

As it happened, no new cables were available on short notice and the restaurant was “up to its eyeballs in water,” as Baker puts it. So the veteran plumber — the owner of Baker Plumbing, Heating and Gasfitting in Calgary, Alberta — shifted to plan B, which was giving the K-5208 a shot.

“I was skeptical,” Baker says, noting that the line was clogged with grease, as well as a charcoal brick that somehow got pushed down the drain (the bricks are used to scour grills clean). “I told our rep that if it didn’t work, I was going to call him back and yell at him.” But he never had to make that call.  

“We had already spent about 10 hours trying to get through the blockage, which was about 60 feet out,” he says. “But the K-5208 cleared the line in about 20 minutes. I was totally shocked.

“I’ve been in this business for 30 years and have always used a drum machine,” adds Baker, the third-generation owner of the company founded in 1956 by his grandfather Ralph Baker and then owned by his father, Gerry Baker. “And I’ve never run across a drain we couldn’t get through with our RIDGID K-7500. But I haven’t used a drum machine since that job.”

Now the company, which employs seven people and primarily focuses on commercial service and repair and drain cleaning in its plumbing division, owns three K-5208s. The machines cost about $2,200 each (no major accessories included).

PORTABILITY PLUS POWER

The electric-powered K-5208 is designed to clean lines ranging from 2 to 8 inches in diameter. It can use either 7/8- or 1 1/4-inch-diameter cables that come in 15-foot lengths; the 7/8-inch cables can reach up to 175 feet, and the 1 1/4-inch cables can reach up to 200 feet.

Featuring a square, steel-tubing frame, the unit offers both portability and power. It weighs 55 pounds and measures roughly 21 inches long by 11 1/2 inches wide by 18 inches tall, which is 35 percent lighter and 71 percent smaller than older RIDGID sectional drain machines, according to RIDGID.

Baker says his technicians can carry the machine up and down stairs without a problem. “And it fits into tight spaces because it’s not very big,” he notes. “It also doesn’t have a lot of spinning parts, so you don’t always have to watch out for your fingers, toes or loose clothing. The only thing turning is the cable itself.”

The machine’s power belies its compact size. A 3/4 hp motor provides enough torque to spin the cable sections at 700 rpm. A toolless clutch enables technicians to quickly switch between cable sizes, and an included sectional cable decoupler makes disconnecting cables fast and easy.

Power is an important consideration for Baker because most of the drain cleaning jobs technicians face are commercial in nature, including hotels, warehouses, restaurants and small businesses in industrial parks. “They require fairly intense and aggressive drain cleaning,” he explains. “In particular, restaurants don’t always keep up with preventive drainline maintenance, so when they have a problem, it’s usually a pretty serious problem. But the K-5208 blows right through them.

“The guys also like it because if they wreck a cable, it doesn’t wreck their whole day (the way it would if they snapped, say, a 150-foot-long drum-machine cable). They just put the broken section of cable aside, throw on a new section and carry on. The machine doesn’t care. Sometimes it’s a little more work (using a sectional machine), but for what we do, it works great.”

GETS THE JOB DONE

Baker believes the thicker cables on sectional machines also provide more drain cleaning muscle and leverage. “I talk to guys on an Instagram plumbers’ group and they all say the same thing about sectional cables,” he says.

In fact, sometimes the K-5208 is almost too effective. Why? Baker Plumbing technicians now finish some jobs so quickly that at times, clients question whether they’ve really thoroughly cleaned the drainlines. “They’re used to seeing guys drag in a 400-pound drain machine, which takes time,” he explains. “But with the K-5208, many times our guys are in and out in 30 minutes or so.”

The units also increase the company’s profitability in two ways. First of all, completing jobs faster enables technicians to clean more drains than they otherwise could. Second, Baker charges a two-hour minimum fee for drain cleaning. “So if we’re there for 30 minutes, we still bill out at two hours, so it’s more profitable,” he says. “Most times we’re able to make an average of 30 percent more revenue per job than before.”

Moreover, the K-5208 has proven to be a reliable workhorse. Baker says the machines, which the company has owned for about nine months, get used every day and have yet to break down. And in terms of return on investment, Baker says he paid about $3,500 (in Canadian dollars) and has easily billed out 10 times that much in just the first six months of owning the first machine. “The first one we bought actually paid for itself on the first day,” he says.

For the record, Baker says he’s in no hurry to encounter another 10-hour drain cleaning job like the restaurant emergency that led him to the K-5208. “It’s too stressful,” he says with a laugh. But if one does come along, he says he’s confident the compact machine will be up to the task at hand. 



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