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Common Plumbing Tools

A plumber has a wide variety of plumbing tools to choose from depending upon the plumbing project at hand.  When building out your first plumbing toolbox, you will likely need to stock it with many of these normal plumbing tools so you will be prepared to get right to work.  This article answers the question:  What tools does a plumber use?  In answering the question, we group the tools by the phases of plumbing work.

In general there are four main plumbing activities that every residential, commercial, industrial and service plumber will be engaged in at any given time, each of which requires different plumbing tools.  These activities are:

  • groundwork
  • above grade rough-in
  • final plumbing
  • service or maintenance

Each of these activities requires various hand and power tools, some of which the individual plumber will provide and others that the plumbing contractor will provide.  The breakout below discusses typical plumbing tools for each kind of work.

Regarding plumbing tool ownership, in general, if the tool or equipment being used requires gasoline or diesel fuel to operate, the plumbing contractor will own and supply the tool.  In most cases, the plumber will be responsible for owning and supplying any hand tools including battery or electric drills with a chuck size of ½” or less.  In many cases, company tools are either stored in company vehicles or on site in a heavy duty “gang box” that is very secure.  Individual plumbers will either take their tools home with them in their personal vehicles or leave them in the “gang box” on site.

Plumbing Groundwork Tools

In groundworks plumbing, drainage and water pipe is typically installed below the surface of the building slab.  In order to install it, a number of trenches must be dug in order for the piping to be installed.  Generally either a backhoe or a mini backhoe is used to dig the trenches and backfill them after work has been inspected.  While the plumber will need to use a shovel, pick and digging bar on occasion, the majority of the dirt is moved with a machine.

Another tool used is a portable tamper to compact the soil placed in the trench.  In order to determine the correct elevation of the pipe, the plumber will often utilize a builder’s level.  Plumbers will also use a 6’ level to verify that the drainage pipe has the correct slope on it.  A hacksaw or motorized hacksaw is used to cut PVC, while a specialized tool is used to cut cast iron pipe.  A generator is used to provide power for electric tools.

Above Grade Plumbing Rough-in Tools

Above slab plumbing rough in requires a variety of motorized and non motorized tools.  Common tools include hammers, rotary hammers, drills, screw guns, hacksaws, motorized hacksaws, propane torches for soldering, saws, reciprocating saws, tape measures, stick rules, pencils, builder’s crayons, pipe cutting tools with dyes for gas piping, crimping tools for water pipe connections, core drilling equipment, levels of various sizes, a cast iron cutting tool, drop cords, portable lights, brooms and a shovel for clean up.  Many of these tools are used to create a path through the structure for the plumbing to be installed.

Final Plumbing Tools

As the plumbing work transitions to the final plumbing, the tools that are typically used are those hand tools required to set plumbing fixtures.  These include screwdrivers, vise grips, “channel lock” pliers, faucet wrenches, a propane torch to sweat fixture fittings, drills, hacksaw, screw guns, levels of various sizes, drop cords and portable lights.

Service or Maintenance Plumbing Tools

Service and maintenance plumbing typically requires many of the tools previously mentioned plus a few specialized tools including plumber’s snakes to clear clogged drains and a plunger for stopped-up toilets.  Another specialized tool is the camera, which allows the plumber to see inside a pipe to determine what the problem is.  In many areas of the country where frozen pipes are common, the plumber will have heat tape and heaters available to help in thawing out frozen pipes.

In general, it is advisable to buy the best tools that you can.  High quality tools for plumbing work will last a career if taken care of properly!  Remember, though – While all of these tools are excellent aids to the plumber, they are useless unless the plumber knows how to use them.  Get trained in how to use plumbing tools and they will serve you well.


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More information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.