Working with Pipe: Copper, Plastic, CPVC, PEX, Steal, Cast Iron & More

woman marking pipes

Cutting and joining the various types of pipe -- copper, plastic, and steel -- call for special techniques. These methods can be learned in an hour or two. This section teaches you how to work with the materials you choose.

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Practice, practice
Though you may never learn to install plumbing as quickly as a professional plumber, with practice you can make joints that are every bit as strong and durable as those made by the pros. But these techniques take practice, so buy extra pipe and fittings and practice until you can make straight cuts. Experiment to find out how far a pipe pokes into a fitting so you can measure accurately. Clamp a pipe to a vise on a workbench and join it to a fitting. Keep practicing until you are confident that your joints are tight and secure.

Preparing the worksite
Working in tight spots is usually what makes plumbing difficult. Evaluate the working conditions and take time to make things as comfortable as possible. Remove all obstructions. Place a bucket under any pipe that might leak as it is disassembled. In confined spaces have plenty of large towels on hand to soak up spilled water and to cushion your back, head, and knees. Protect floors with a drop cloth.

You may need to pull an existing pipe away from a wall or framing member in order to cut and join a new line to it. Remove a clamp or strap or two and pull gently. Copper pipe can kink if you pull it too hard. Unscrewing a steel pipe fitting can stress corroded threads enough to cause a leak.

Before working on any project, practice the golden rule of plumbing: Shut off the water and turn on a faucet to make sure the water is off. When working on drain-waste-vent pipes, shut off the water, flush all the toilets, and tell household members not to use the drainage system. Make the jobsite safe. When sweating copper pipe protect all flammable surfaces and have a fire extinguisher ready. When working on a drain line, keep the room ventilated in case noxious fumes escape. Shut off a gas line before working on it.


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