I like tools! They make life so much easier if you have the right ones. They make it so there is essentially no job you cannot deal with because of difficult to deal with piping. They make my ageing arms stronger. Pictured is a pipe wrench from 1922. It was made by the Hoe Corporation in New York and it’s my first choice of pipe wrenches when I need one. Why? For starters, it’s automatic. There is no need to turn an adjusting nut. It simply slips over the pipe or fitting and away you go. One benefit of this wrench is that it doesn’t care if what you’re wrenching on is round. Hex or square are fine too as it adjusts automatically. It doesn’t need to grip the pipe at 90 degrees. This wrench can be crooked on the pipe, which lets you work in difficult places with ease compared to the standard Stillson wrench.
This is what’s commonly sold these days, and it just doesn’t have the range of use that older wrenches offer. Imagine trying to play with a pipe that’s in a corner with this tool. It won’t be easy! The Hoe wrench has less trouble in a tight corner and there are other tools that are designed specifically for tight places. I’ve looked for years at garage sale wrenches, but now that we have the internet and specifically the worlds biggest garage sale, Ebay, it’s easier to find nice old tools for fair prices.
I take a two pronged approach when looking for tools. Searching the internet is good, but knowing what I want to be looking for is good too. I’ve found that there are some nice books on old wrenches. Here are two of them. There are more books, but this is a start. Finding the books can be tricky as well, but I’ve found a nifty site: www.addall.com, where they search all the book sites on the web. It’s one stop shopping! Once you’ve perused the books, you ‘ll have a better idea what’s out there that fits your needs and you can be a bit more precise in hunting down these tools. Unlike modern tools, some of the old ones are so well made with high carbon steel (too hard to file), that it’s a real pleasure to find one, clean it up and sharpen it with a grinder (think Dremel) so the teeth can grab the most recalcitrant pipe.
Some tools are just fun. How about this one? Any other plumber that sees it is gonna be a bit jealous! Squeeze the lever and the jaw opens. And note that the handle seems to be designed to put a cheater on. That was not uncommon with the older tools. Thing is, the more different types of tools you carry, the more able you will be to deal with whatever the jobsite is challenging you with. The word “can’t” is something I try to keep out of my vocabulary.
Here’s one more old tool for your consideration. It’s called an Eifel Plierench.
Look at what it can do. It has parallel, geared jaws. This gives you a lot of force. It’s easy to flatten copper pipe with these… Try that with normal pliers! The jaws are adjustable and replaceable with other attachments, like pipe jaws or even a cutter wheel for tubing. It has wire cutters, screwdriver and pry bar built in. Anyway, you get my point, that adding some good old tools to your collection can only help you do your job better and more easily.
New tools have their place as well, but I prefer them for different reasons. For example, I recently got a FLIR One. This is an infra-red device that attaches to your smart phone and lets you see heat or coolth. It can be quite useful in diagnosing a problem or simply being able to “see” things a bit differently.
Here’s an example of three hands. The young, energetic guy who exercises a lot is in the center. The older woman is on the left and her spouse on the right. When looking at buildings, it can show you poor electrical connections, water intrusion, air leakage, or heat loss from pipes and ducts. It can also make you wonder about what we “know” to be true.
For fun, here’s a photo of a lizard sitting on a log. They are supposed to be cold blooded … right?
There are other modern tools for “sniffing” out power in wires without needing to touch them; testers that tell you the condition of the wiring to outlets; line locators that make tracing underground pipes and wires much easier and another favorite is the gas sniffer that works better than my nose for detecting gas leaks. It’s even better than soap for finding leaks. Soap bubbles don’t form if the leak is too fast. For finding tiny leaks in gas or water lines an ultrasonic leak detector is the thing. It hears what we can’t, so saves a lot of time hunting down tricky problems.
The world of tools is big and having the right ones, makes life better. I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for looking into the wide world of tools.
Looking back over my working life of nearly 50 years, it seems clear that self sufficiency has always been the best way for me to be useful. Now, mix in a strong interest in water in its many forms and the wide world of animals and you'll know what's important to me.