By Fred Bretzke
I have a lot of wild west plumbing stories, but to keep up to date, I occasionally will help out on a jobsite so I can write about what’s new in the trade. There are many new tools and technology available today that make
jobsite work easier and more efficient.
This past summer I helped out with an extensive residential renovation. We did the underground for a five-bathroom house, which was fairly easy as my buddy had a laser level. It was certainly a change from using a plumb bob. I had to wear my work knee pads and I even did a little concrete sledge hammer breaking − something I swore I would never do again. The last work injury I had was a papercut.
My biggest pet peeve was while working on a rough-in. The batteries on my friend’s reciprocating saw kept dying. We had a cord powered saw but he wouldn’t use it. He said he just couldn’t go back to the old way. After a little debate I picked up the cord powered saw and we finished the job with it. It was either that or use a hacksaw.
In order to get the best perspective on new, cool technology, I opened it up to former students who are now certified plumber/gasfitters on my SAIT fourth year plumber/gasfitter Facebook group. With their permission for this article, this is what some of them had to say about their favourite work tools (edited for clarity and length).
Hear from the professionals
Jim Veinotte: I love my specialty tools. I actually wore out my copper cutters. Doing a kitchen sink finish and not having to sweep up ABS cuttings is the best. You have to get a rapid charger. You can get adapters to make batteries interchangeable between brands. I have an amazing backpack vacuum.
There are cordless redi rod cutters, very fun. If you have a roof job cordless threaders up to two-in. allow you to thread right on the roof. Pairing a drywall cutter with a HEPA vacuum is an effective combination. OSHA 1926.1153 compliant dust extraction tools are what you need on jobs.
Not only are the tools getting more specialized and time saving, they are making the environments plumbers have to work in so much safer. Let’s face it, we (plumbers) have been asked to get stuff done for a lot of years. Whether you are 12 ft. down in a hole hoping the ground is as solid as you think, touching what you shouldn’t: moulds, poop, needles and who knows what, or breathing what will kill you slowly and painfully.
Now the cordless industry is making mainstream tools to protect our safety. Honestly, those tools are the hottest and most interesting things on the market.
I got to use an exoskeleton. It definitely eliminated the weight on the shoulders and arms. It felt as if I had a constant arm rest. Hauling toilets with it would probably be a dream but I used it in a rough-in.
Matt Duguid: In my opinion, the backpack style drain cleaning machine is better than the trolley style.
Andrew Ellefsen: Anything that makes my job easier and makes me more effective while doing it is a worthwhile tool in my opinion. The new cordless threaders are sick. Silica control is under-rated and shop vacs are so underutilized it’s not even funny. I use my 2-1/2 in. compact band saw to cut copper DWV, rod and strut − it speeds things up dramatically. My pants with knee pad inserts are the best work pants I’ve ever owned. My mounting flood light comes with me everywhere I go. Don’t even get me started on the pack-out. I must have eight different tool bags and boxes to keep everything organized, plus about 14 organizers for fasteners, fittings, and so on.
Technology addresses health and safety issues
Let’s start with the exoskeleton and backpack.
The exoskeleton reminds me of a light-duty version of the exoskeleton power loader used in the movie Alien. While a bit pricey, the exoskeleton could be well worth it for those with shoulder pain who need to continue to work in the trade. A monthly payment plan may make it more affordable. The exoskeleton would help relieve pain and fatigue, and as my former student Nichole claims, would probably be great for hauling toilets. I believe it would be very beneficial if you are drilling inserts on a step ladder all day.
Matt likes his cordless backpack style drain cleaning machine. It would have been great when I had to do drain cleaning in my first year in the trade. A pet peeve of mine was the cord laying in water or whatever on the floor. In those situations, you had better make sure there are no frays in your cable. This technology seems to solve that problem.
Another issue it seems to solve is transporting the machine into a finished jobsite. This could be less messy than a typical drain cleaning trolley type machine. The drum is also enclosed, which means no messy cleanup. It also has interchangeable drums for different needs. Some come with an extended capacity battery pack. Ultimately its power and battery life would be an important plus.
How to select a product
While sometimes paying a premium for a brand name is a waste of money, in the case of plumbing, if you want it to last long-term, a brand name and credibility become very important.
Many of my former students, including Andrew and Jim, love cordless tools and I can understand why. I have a buddy who has so many cordless tools in his work trailer, it’s like a rolling home improvement store. I believe he has over 12 tape measures and almost every cordless tool known to man, all stacked in organized fashion in his trailer. He also has enough batteries and chargers to make the job easy.
Jim mentioned a rapid charger. After questioning a few of my former apprentices and checking online reviews, it seems that a good rapid charger is the answer to my pet peeve. If you have a rapid charger there is no excuse for not getting the job done.
Jim also discusses a drywall cutter paired with a HEPA vacuum. I don’t know how many times, as a last measure, I have had to cut holes in drywall to find a leak. I used to use a reciprocating saw and make a mess. Well things have changed with drywall cutters, which are said to cut nice, even holes in drywall.
The next thing is cleaning up all that drywall dust. There are cordless and cord powered vacuums rated for L class operations for plaster, china clay, and mica products. Look for a large capacity tank, commercial dust bags and HEPA type filters. There are also backpack vacuums available.
As Andrew noted, shears for finishing with ABS or PVC saves the mess of shavings, as do plastic tubing cutters. Both of these high-tech tools save time and a mess. At SAIT we actually make our apprentices cut pipe the old-fashioned way with a hacksaw, or sometimes a reciprocating saw. They both make a mess of shavings. When you are doing a renovation in a finished house pipe cutters do a clean and fast job. The added bonus is that customers will remember a plumber they don’t have to clean up after.