Select a Pipe Threader That Is Right For Your Business

Whether you’re looking at purchasing threading equipment for the first time or exploring the possibility of purchasing new equipment, this overview can help

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If you are starting out in the plumbing trade and purchasing a threader for the first time, or it has been a while since you evaluated new threading equipment, there are quite a few things to consider. Here are some questions to keep in mind when exploring the different types of threaders, their applications, features and benefits:

  • How often will you thread?
  • Where will the threads be produced?
  • How many threads are typically required for your jobs? 
  • How much are you willing to invest in your equipment? 

Key Decision Criteria

You are making an investment in your business, so first, it is important to select a well-constructed, durable product that you can count on for years of service. Preventive maintenance is essential to prolonging the service of your equipment and selecting a manufacturer with a quality service program and parts availability helps extend service life and prevents downtime. 

The next key decision is choosing the type of threader that best suits your applications. Most manufacturers offer types of threading equipment with a capacity up to 2 inches. Threading machines are the exception with several manufacturers offering accessories or machines capable of 4-inch or 6-inch diameter.

If you have smaller projects such as hot-water tanks or gas furnace replacements that require few threads, and you are not concerned about the effort or how efficiently you are making the thread, a manual ratcheting threader with a capacity of 2 inches is a good option. If your threading demands are higher, such as plant maintenance, large remodeling or service projects and efficiency is of greater concern, a hand-held power drive with manual die heads is likely a better fit. For projects that require a significant number of threaded connections, such as at fabrication shops, new construction sites, and industrial or processing plants, your best option is a threading machine. 

Types of Threading Equipment

Each of these three types of threaders offer different benefits, features and drawbacks. 

Manual Ratcheting Threaders — This is the least expensive option but also the least efficient threading method and requires significant physical effort as the size of the thread increases. They utilize “drop head” die heads, which are size-specific and do not require adjustment. They are the lightest and easiest to transport, but where you are able to use them may be restricted by the manual oiler and bucket. A complement of tools and accessories are also required when using manual ratcheting threaders, including a ratchet, pipe cutter, reamer, vise, drop head die heads, oiler and bucket, and threading oil. 

Hand-Held Power Drives — This is a great option for low-volume applications in service and repair and is also faster than manual threading and requires less physical effort. The hand-held power drive uses the same drop head die heads as the manual ratcheting threaders, with the difference being the power drive turns the die head around the pipe. This is a less portable option than the manual version but can still be used in-place. They also produce a significant amount of torque. To counteract the torque, it is a good practice to utilize a reaction arm, especially with applications above 1-inch pipe. Additional tools and accessories required to use the hand-held power drive include: pipe cutter, reamer, vise, drop head die heads, reaction arm, oiler and bucket, and threading oil. 

Threading Machines — This is the most expensive of the threading options, but it is the ideal choice for when you need a durable tool that can withstand the harshest job site conditions and continue to produce consistent, reliable results for many years. Drawbacks to threading machines are that they are often heavy and must be mounted to a stand or other rigid mounting, requiring the pipe to be brought to the machine. But with proper maintenance many of the high-end threading machines can last more than 20 years. They operate very efficiently, require the least physical effort and are best suited for high-volume applications. You’ll want to look for a machine with a precision machined cast aluminum body and a lifetime warranty.

Threading machines come in a variety of configurations based on capacity, speed, size, oiling type (manual or integrated through the die head), and chucking type (automatic or manual chucking). The most common machines have a capacity up to 2 inches and a manual “hammer” chuck. Many manufacturers also offer a compact style machine with a lower capacity along with a 4-inch capacity machine option. Some machines are equipped with several speed options optimized to improve threading efficiency. In addition, higher-speed options also increase efficiency when cutting and reaming.

Different from the previous styles, the threading machine rotates the pipe, giving the reamer, cutter and die head (typically mounted on a single carriage) the ability to advance and retract to engage the chosen tool. Secondly, many machines are equipped with an integrated oiling system that floods the workpiece with oil. These machines also offer the most versatility — cutting, grooving and beveling by simply replacing the dies in most die heads. 

Another feature that makes threading machines so efficient is that most are equipped with all the tools required to make a quality thread. One accessory you may find you will want is a short nipple so you can chuck up a threaded end in the standard machine chuck and produce a thread nearly adjacent to the chucked end. 

Once you’ve decided on the type of threader, other important considerations are thread cutting oil, die heads and attachments.

Thread Cutting Oil — Threading oil plays an extremely important role in producing a quality pipe thread. The best threading oils are those produced specifically for pipe threading applications. Unlike motor oils, which are designed specifically to lubricate the moving parts of an engine, threading oils are designed for lubricating the thread, cooling the cutting surface and removing chips. The key for a threading oil is its cooling properties. An extreme amount of heat is created at the surface of the dies and, if not properly cooled, can lead to damage of the threads or the dies. Quality threading oils are produced with several additives that activate at various temperatures during the threading process to optimize cooling and lubricating. So it is important to frequently apply oil while producing the thread to maintain lubricity and flush the chips away from the dies.

Die Heads — Manual die heads, also known as “drop head” die heads, are used with manual ratcheting threaders or hand-held power drives. The dies in the die heads are unique to a specific size and thread profile. A negative of the manual drop head die heads is that to remove the die head once the thread is complete, the die head must be completely “unscrewed” from the pipe. Manual die heads require a manual method of oiling the thread.

Apart from being used on threading machines, machine die heads are different from manual drop head dies with a set of dies covering a range of thread sizes: 1/4 to 3/8, 1/2 to 3/4, 1 to 2, and 2-1/2 to 4 inches on machines with capacities up to 4 inches. They are also more efficient than the manual die head. Many have “quick-opening” or “self-opening” mechanisms that upon completing the thread are activated to disengage from the pipe. The heads also allow for adjustments for oversized or undersized threads. Finally, if the machine is equipped with an integrated oiling system, the die heads are designed with oil passages to allow the oil to pass through the die head and flood the thread. This helps with cooling, lubricating and flushing the chips away from the dies.

Depending on the application there are several styles of machine die heads to choose from. The most common style is the “quick-opening” die head which has a lever that must be manually “flipped” to disengage the dies once the desired thread length is reached. Another popular option is the “self-opening” die head that has a trigger that disengages the dies once the desired thread length is reached. As we all know, speed and efficiency are critical to a project’s success. Often companies set their die head to a specific size and change the entire die head for different sizes. “Mono” die heads are size-specific but give the benefit of a manual release to disengage the dies. Based on user preference the die head can be adjusted to produce the over and undersize threads. When a project requires regular changing from one size thread to another, the “semi-automatic” die heads can be preset for the desired size without the need to tune the dies every time the thread requirement changes. 

Other Machine Attachments — Receding geared threaders and roll groovers are two attachments you may find useful, but they are only compatible with threading machines as they act as the power source for each. Receding geared threaders offer an efficient method to produce threads for 4- to 6-inch-diameter pipe. The geared threaders have a chuck that clamps around the pipe to lock it in place. A drive link attaches to the threading machine to the gear train and powers the rotation of the dies along the pipe axis. Many roll groovers require a power source to drive the groove rollers that rotate the pipe and most threading machines can be configured to provide the power.

There is a lot to consider as you select the best threader to meet your needs. Time spent upfront ensuring you are making the best investment will pay dividends down the road as you have threading equipment that, with the right care, will last for years to come. 

About the Author

Larry Feskanich is a senior global marketing manager at RIDGID, a manufacturer of more than 300 dependable and innovative tools trusted by professional trades in over 100 countries. Learn more at


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