Yokel Plumbing; Copper Pipe and Compression Fittings

I was never a fan of Mario particularly; I was always more of a Sega boy myself. If it came to a straight out fight, I reckon the combination of Sonic & Tails could happily see off Mario and his idiot brother any time. Despite that, I’ve enjoyed the process of learning basic plumbing, from the laying of kitchen drainage I recently wrote about, to the more involved art of copper pipework that I’ll discuss in this post. Plus you get to use chunky tools too, which is always a bonus. And you don’t need to grow any form of moustache, unless you really want to (knock yourself out, it’ll neither help nor hinder progress).

In the previous post, I mentioned that I’d kind of been forced into approaching my plumbing demons really on the basis of saying I could. A few views of a You Tube video later and I’d started the process, after the customary visit to Wickes to buy the bits and pieces required. I reckon that to deal with 95% of the copper pipe tasks that I’ve completed thus far, I’ve used 4 tools (actually, 3 as one isn’t really a tool at all). Having checked online, that means I’ve spent just under 15quid; given the call-out rates that emergency plumbers charge, that is money well spent.

The beginners toolkit

If you’ve watched that video, you’ll see where I got the hints as to what to buy, but to save you the bother, here is the toolkit in full;

  • 1 x Pipe cutter
  • 1 x Plumbing wrench
  • 1 x Plumbing pliers
  • 1 x tub of Flux Paste

That’s it. Nothing more than that, the pipe itself and the various compression fittings you’ll use to join together the pipe to add valves, attach taps or junctions and joints.

My favourite; the rotary pipe cutter.

Yes, I’m probably late to the game here, but the rotary pipe cutter is perhaps the greatest

The cheap brass outside taps we used for the kitchen sink

The cheap brass outside taps we used for the kitchen sink

invention in the history of the world*. Day 1, when I shook open my Wickes bag to get on with capping pipes and removing the kitchen and bathroom sinks, bath etc, I was a bit doubtful whether it would work. Of course, I’m an idiot as copper is soft and easy to cut through, but the pipe cutter ensures that you get a straight, neat cut with usually only a few rotations. Simply snap it onto the pipe, check the direction arrow on the side and a few twists and you’ve cut your pipe. Hurrah!

So far, we’ve completed all the pipework in the house and it’s still running on its first set of blades, so don’t worry about that either. They are basically magic.

My bugbear; Confusing tightening with loosening 

Before you say “but Matt, righty tighty, lefty loosey”, remember that sometimes you have to reverse it as you’re working backwards/upside down (at the top/bottom of a compression fitting). In essence, I found myself in a constant battle in the first few attempts to make sure I was actually tightening the fitting.

Compression fittings are not complicated. You take one bit of pipe, wipe a little flux paste

Kitchen takes shape; note the lovely exposed copper pipe (but ignore messy temporary joining hoses on right)

Kitchen takes shape; note the lovely exposed copper pipe (but ignore messy temporary joining hoses on right)

on the end to make sure you get a good seal, slide the brass olive on top (that will act as the seal) and then pop the fitting on top. Then you hold the fitting with the pliers to keep it still and then tighten with the wrench until you can’t get any further turns out of it (in which case the olive has totally flattened around the pipe). Well done, it’s complete. You’re now a plumber. Sort of.

In order to make sure that I didn’t get the tightening backwards, I developed my own pro-tip; always keep a spare compression fitting handy, so you can rehearse the direction of tightening without making a mistake. Sounds stupid, but it works and since I started to do that, I’ve been mistake-free. Well, mistakes of that type, anyway.

Nb; I should own up to one thing. I did buy a second wrench (with a short handle) for working in tight spots, like underneath the bath when connecting the taps to the mains water. It was a fiver or so and helped me control some of the swearing during that process.

The contradiction: Flexible compression hoses

So far, I’ve given the impression that all the compression fitting you might so will involve

Flexible tap hoses using in the bathroom to attach the basin

Flexible tap hoses using in the bathroom to attach the basin

copper pipe. That’s because 1. most of it will, and 2. Copper is awesome and orange and pretty so I love it. However, there are other types of fitting that you can and will use, especially when it comes to basins and baths.

Copper is great in straight lines. In principle it can be bent too (using a spring or a special pipe bender). However, you seem to need mystical skills to use a spring without kinking the pipe and pipe benders are a bit pricey (you’ll have noticed my inner skinflint often shows).

In the kitchen where we’ve gone for the exposed copper pipe as a feature, I fitted brass elbow joints when it came to corners as they look decent and are a couple of quid a pop. Behind basins though, to connect pipes to taps, I’ve made judicious use of flexible pipes with compression ends. So all the flexibility of push-fit, but with the belt and braces security of arsing about with GREAT BIG WRENCHES. Double win.

These flexible hoses come in the usual bewildering array of fittings; standard 15″ compression (the standard), plus the standard tap thread or the more modern ‘monoblock’ type you’ll use with mixer taps (which is much smaller). I’ll admit I have spend the odd few minutes at the ‘returns’ desk when I’ve got the wrong ones. It’s a rite of passage I think, not idiocy. No, not at all.

In summary then….

If you follow the same basic procedure each time, then compression fittings are pretty easy to deal with. Yes, it can get a bit tricky in tight spots (such as under baths and behind basins, hence the purchase of a 2nd,  short handled wrench). Don’t skimp on the flux paste or reuse previously deployed olives as they’re vital in making solid joints (bags of new olives cost pence, a big tub of flux paste is a couple of quid).

Oh and make sure you TURN THE WATER OFF before attempting any of this. Because, well; duh.

* of course this is false. That honour goes to the sandwich.

About Matt Hero

Thinking global, acting yokel
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