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They are becoming ever more sophisticated.

Peek inside a plumber’s toolbox and you’ll likely find a number of hand tools common to every trade. These include hammers, saws, screwdrivers, pliers, files, chisels, levels, tape measures, flashlights, caulkers, etc. You also would be certain to find more than one size of pipe wrench, the tool most commonly associated with the plumbing trade, along with basin wrenches, Teflon tape and plumbers’ putty.

Plumbers carry a variety of other tools that are trade-specific. Many of these are too bulky to fit in a toolbox but will be stored inside the plumber’s vehicle for easy retrieval when needed. Individual plumbers may not own all of the items that follow because they are expensive and not used every day, but a good plumbing company will provide them for the plumbers they employ. Let’s examine some of these key tools of the plumbing trade.

  • A propane torch for brazing and soldering copper pipe and fittings. A plumber also should have fire-resistant cloth to protect surroundings when using the torch.
  • Pipe cutter and threader. Some plumbers may have more than one size of these devices to accommodate both small and large diameter pipes.
  • Augur/cable/jetter. A hand augur is the so-called plumber’s “snake,” used to rod out clogged drain lines. Stubborn clogs may require a rotary cable machine, which is basically a motorized augur to cut through dense matter and/or a “jetter,” which uses pressurized water to blast away gunk on the inside of a pipe.
  • Sewer camera. This is another expensive tool used by top-notch companies. It’s basically a cable with a tiny high-resolution camera at the tip that enables the plumber to inspect sewer lines for damage and debris. He can evaluate the blockage and recommend remedial options ranging from a simple rodding to, in extreme cases, replacing the line. A good sewer camera can provide DVDs of the inside of a drain line.
  • Chemical and/or biologic drain cleaners. These are for periodic maintenance to keep drain lines clear, and in most cases will be more powerful and effective than the drain cleaning solvents found on supermarket shelves.
  • Ladder, dolly and other material handling equipment. These may include special devices for moving water heaters, boilers, toilets and other heavy plumbing fixtures.
  • Safety equipment such as gloves, goggles, a hard hat, anti-bacterial wipes, etc. If a plumber doesn’t carry these, shame on him.

This does not exhaust the list of all the tools used by a well-equipped plumber. Besides carrying tools and equipment, a well-stocked service plumbing vehicle will contain a significant inventory of pipe, valves, fittings, faucets and other common replacement parts. This prevents the plumber from wasting time running to his shop or a supply house to get materials for most plumbing repairs.

The vast majority of professional plumbers own their own hand tools and treat them like treasure. Plumbers, like any other trade professional, are likely to favor battery-operated power tools over those requiring lots of elbow grease. Top trade professionals will not attempt to economize when purchasing tools. They know that top-of-the-line products will pay for themselves over time through greater productivity and longevity.
Some companies provide their employees with a tool allowance to be used for replacing tools that deteriorate or get lost/pilfered. Tools of the trade are not cheap and theft is a serious problem for trade workers, so it pays to identify yours with your name or distinct markers to discourage thieves and aid law enforcement in possibly retrieving stolen tools.

In my next blog, we’ll take a look at the work of an HVAC technician and follow that up with a look at some of the specialized tools of that trade.