If you’re like most Australians, you’re usually pretty happy to get in and ‘give it a go’ and many Bribie Island mums and dads can be found on the weekends tinkering and fixing small plumbing problems around their home.
Most people make do with the tools they have on hand, and for most things the tools you have lying around the house are usually enough to get the job done, but sometimes there’s those couple of jobs that seem just a little harder or take a little longer.
Usually with these types of plumbing projects around the house a slightly different tool or a little know-how can make a huge amount of difference.
With this in mind I thought it might be a good idea to put together a list of ten tools that you need to create a plumbers kit at home.
Now don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t give up my professional plumbers tools for quids when it comes to getting a job done quickly and easily, but for the every day Joe, the tools listed below will get you out of a tight bind when you’re up to your armpits in pipes, silicone, bolts and washers and all you want to do is get the job done, grab a drink and relax.
This is not a definitive list of tools, neither is it the only list of tools you will need. But it is a list of tools that I have found indispensable in my 30+ years of plumbing experience on the tools.
1 - Thread Tape / Plumbers Tape
Seriously people, where would we be without plumbers tape? It’s like the duct tape of the piping world. A fix all and handy thing that EVERYONE should have in their cupboard or tools kit. It has a wonderful range of uses and you won’t find a plumber worth his salt that doesn’t have more than a couple of these floating around in his van.
Types of plumbers tape
There are a few different names for plumbers tape. You might see it called thread tape, teflon tape, thread seal tape, PTFE tape or ‘white windy stuff you put around leaky taps’ - either way we’re all talking about the same stuff – stretchy tape that’s usually white, pink or sometimes yellow and about 1cm thick and it looks like this
How to use Plumbers Tape
This has got to be one of the easiest tools to use in your plumber’s kit. It’s a simple case of making sure your male thread is clean (this is the thread with the grooves on it) and then winding some tape smoothly and evenly around the thread before putting the female join on.
Depending on how large or small the pipe is you’re using the plumbers tape will depend on how much you use. Typically I start with about 7-10 winds and turn on the tap or pipe I’m working on to make sure it’s not leaking. If it starts to leak, add some more! Easy.
Here’s a quick video on how to use plumbers tape
Make sure you always go anticlockwise when putting on plumber's tape (the opposite way of the thread) otherwise you will strip the tape as you screw on the female component to your piping.
2 - Tap Washers
You can never have too many washers lying around and chances are when you need a particular size, you won’t have it!
Types of Tap Washers
Like anything in life you get what you pay for and with tap washers it’s no different. There are many different types of tap washers you can get on hardware store shelves, plumbing supply stores and Bunnings, Masters and Mitre 10s throughout Brisbane but what you get ultimately depending on the job you’re doing, 9 times out of 10 it’s most likely that you’ll be fixing a leaking tap.
Cheapy Nylon Jobbies
You can get the cheapy nylon tap washers that look a bit like a spinning top, are made of plastic and have a rubber washer on top. These are fine and will work, but be aware that they will wear down quicker than higher quality brass or stainless steel washers. They can also crack and break after time so be prepared to replace them after a time.
These will set you back anywhere between $1 and $5 a piece or perhaps less if you buy them in bulk or get them online.
Brass Tap Washers
If you can stretch your budget I would suggest going with the brass tap washers. You will get a much longer lifespan out of them and they’re much harder to break, bend or crack when you’re installing them.
There are different grades of brass used in these washers and typically the more expensive the washer, the better quality it is (but be aware and don’t get sucked in by marketing hype or store salesmen).
There’s a bit of debate in the plumbing world about domed washers versus flat washers – personally I reckon if you are heavy handed on your taps, go for a good quality flat type, but if you are still getting drips after tying one of these, the domed tap washers tend to be a little more forgiving as they don’t rely on a perfect seal to shut off the water.
Here at Allclear Gas and Plumbing we use Hydroseal and find that they work great for plumbing customers around Bribie Island.
How to Use Tap Washers
I could write a big long list of instructions here, but sometimes it’s easier to see what someone is doing rather than read about it so take a gander at this video of a Bunnings bloke changing a tap washer. It’s a pretty good instructional video even if the video at the end goes a bit more than it should!
Take your old tap washer to the shop so you can compare and easily find out what type you need to replace it with.
3 - Silicone
Silicone is like magic gel for plumbers. It helps to hold, seal and glue together pipes, shower trays, toilets, baths, gutters and much more. There’s a huge array of silicone available in stores and it’s a good idea to ensure you buy the right stuff for the job. We mainly use the following types for plumbing repairs around Bribie Island:-
- Roof and gutter silicone
- Sanitary grade silicone
Types of Silicone
There’s a good range of colours now available and the different suppliers all tout they have the best stuff. For most jobs a middle of the road silicone will do the job – if you can afford it get the good stuff but if you’re on a budget the cheaper stuff will work, but there’s a good chance it will not hold as well and need replacing quicker.
How to use Silicone
You will need two things to use a tube of silicone effectively, the tube of silicone (obviously) and a caulking gun. Once you get the top off your silicone and cut the top off with a stanley knife, insert your silicone into the caulking gun and away you go.
Silicone is one of those things that you need to practice a bit to get the hang of it. There’s really no other way to get good at it.
Check out this video of this American bloke telling you all the ins and outs of using a caulking gun.
Cut the tip of your silicone tube at an angle to allow for better flow and use a smooth sweeping motion with your hand to get an even finish. Don’t forget to wipe off excess silicone with a wet rag otherwise you will end up with it all over your hands and it can be a real pain to get off.
4 - Duct Tape
Do I really need to write anything about duct tape? All I can say is that if you can’t fix it with duct tape, then you’re not using enough duct tape! I think we all know when and where duct tape can be useful.
Did you know that you can use duct tape to remove sticker residue? It sounds a little counter productive but it actually works! Just put the duct tape over the residue and rub it for a bit then take the tape off. It may take a few goes but you will get there eventually. Finish the job with a little windex or window cleaner and you’re away!
5 - Torch
Whilst this seems obvious it’s amazing how often I will talk with a mate or customer who’s told me they’ve tried to fix a plumbing issue themselves but couldn’t really see what they were doing or couldn’t get a pipe or a component to fit. Nowadays you can pick up a little LED torch that throws heaps of light for you to see what you’re doing.
Some people prefer to use a headlamp but personally I like the little LED torches as you can manoeuvre them around pipes and under basins to see what you’re doing.
Grab some of your duct tape and tape your torch to where you need it to point if you’re working in the dark. This enables you to use both hands and still have light!
6 - Clean Rag
Let’s face it, when you’re working with toilets, pipes and areas we wash in the pipes tend to get a little dirty. If you’re replacing a piece of new piping to an old pipe it’s quite likely that there will be gunk and residue around the old PVC piping. If you’re using any sort of PVC glue or pipe glue you really want to make sure that you have a clean surface before the application of any binding agent.
This will increase your chances of getting a proper, strong bond and will lower your chances of springing a leak!
Terry towelling rags are great for soaking up excess water and residue but can leave fibres if you use them on a pipe you’re about to glue… so I try to carry two rags with me. A terry towelling type and one made from an old t-shirt or tea towel that way I get the best of both worlds!
7 - Adjustable Spanner
Pretty much everyone has one of these laying around their home but not everyone has the right size. If you’re going to be working with taps, pipes and nuts it’s sometimes better to get a slightly larger model as you never know when you need to open up the tool that little bit extra to get it around a tap bottom or larger hex bolt.
Types of Adjustable Spanners
Most of us will be familiar with the run-of-the-mill adjustable spanner that looks like this.
These are great if that’s all you’ve got lying around the house but, if you’ve got a few dollars to spare you can’t go past a good adjustable wide mouth wrench that looks like this. These will do the same job as your standard adjustable spanner but will give you that little bit of extra width when you need it.
How to use an adjustable spanner
Like anything that has moving parts there’s a weak point on an adjustable wrench and that’s the part that slides up and down when you roll your thumb along the adjusting wheel. This being the case it’s always advisable to have the pressure of a turn on a bolt or nut on the solid part of the wrench. Take a look at the video below to get an idea of what I’m talking about.
It’s a good idea to pull the wrench rather than push it when turning (if space allows) that way if your hand slips off you won’t smash it into a pipe or wall and trust me… this hurts! Especially if you do it a couple of times.
Nothing cuts through piping cleaner and neater than a hacksaw and if you are twisting and turning your arm into weird and wonderful positions, you can always just use the blade.
They’re cheap and easy to replace if you snap a blade and they cut through pretty much anything you can throw at them.
Types of Hacksaws
Now I’m not going to rattle off a whole lot about the types of hacksaws you can get, I mean let’s face it... a hacksaw is a hacksaw when it comes down to it. Sure perhaps if you’re entering some professional hacksawing competitions you might want to get yourself a top-of-the-range number but for everyday use your garden-variety hacksaw will do the job.
Always get yourself a couple of spare blades as they tend to always snap at the most inconvenient times!
9 - Screw Driver
A good quality screwdriver is going to help you to pry, twist and break off bits of pipe and tape, etc… oh and they’re pretty good for putting in screws too!
I usually carry a flat and a phillips head as separate tools, but you can get some pretty good models now that enable you to remove one end of the screwdriver, flip it over and insert back in and will give you both flat and phillips head.
Rub a bit of soap on a screws thread if you’re putting it into harder woods or a tight area, this will help your screw go in a little easier. Also, check the heads of your screwdrivers from time to time (particularly flat screwdrivers) and if they’re a little rounded, dont use them as they’re likely to slip much easier. Grind them flat again and they will be as good as new!
10 - Vice Grips
They say that you should leave the best till last and that’s what I’ve done. I would be utterly lost without my vice grips – I use them pretty much every day for all sorts of things. Vice grips have been used for all sorts of things from pulling our teeth through to lifesaving spinal surgery (we’re not suggesting you try these) so you can see they really are one of the most handy tools you can have in your toolbox.
Types of Vice Grips
There’s a few different brands on the market but most of us will be familiar with the traditional type of vice grip which looks like the one to the left. Depending on your budget these will usually set you back about $20-$30 bucks… but like anything, you get what you pay for. If you buy a pair from the two dollar shop down the road, don’t expect them to last very long.
How to use Vice Grips
Again, vice grips are one of those tools that you can try to explain how to work them but it’s sometimes easier to have someone show you how to use them. This video gives you a great basic overview.
Thanks for reading.