I use plumbing tools every day and have many more than I need. I started my heating and plumbing company over 10 years ago and mostly bought cheap tools.
Now I buy some of the best tools plumbers use as I use them every day. It makes your working life so much easier to have the best tools for plumbing on the market.
Plumbing Tools for Every Day Use
If you buy cheap plumbing tools to use every day, then you will be replacing them more often than if you buy the best tools going. So buying the best quality tools will actually work out cheaper over time.
1. Water Pump Pliers
Grips (water pump pliers) are one of the most common tools a plumber uses on every day jobs. You can use them to grip and turn nuts or pipes. You can also use them for other things like straighten out bits of metal, pull small nails and staples out, and sometimes even as a hammer.
My favourite water pump pliers are the German Knipex Alligators. I have all sizes that Knipex make, and have two of some sizes.
The smallest Knipex Alligators (88 01 180) are 180 mm (7″) which live in a pocket on my work trousers. I use them a lot as they are always on hand.
Most Popular Size Grips
Then there’s the 250 mm (10″) Knipex Alligators (88 01 250) which are the most useful size and this is the size I mostly use when I have a bag of tools out on a job.
This is the size I would recommend a plumber buys as their first set of grips.
300 mm (12″) Alligators (88 01 300) are the next size up and although they don’t get used as much, they can be a lifesaver.
Much better size for things like tap valve cartridges that don’t want to come out, and the large plastic nuts on toilet flush valves.
Then there’s the big 400 mm (16″) Knipex Alligator grips (88 01 400) – they don’t come out often, but they are beasts compared to the 300 mm (12″) Alligators.
It doesn’t sound like much of a difference, but it is huge.
Different Plumbing Grips
Different plumbers prefer different grips. Some swear by Rothenberger, or Channellock, or Crescent, but I don’t like them.
Mostly, though, I think British plumbers prefer Knipex Cobras. Cobras are very similar to Alligators, but they have a push button (Alligators do not) to change the jaw size, and they have more teeth where they adjust so more sizes to set them to.
I prefer to not have a button because the button makes it slightly trickier to adjust them, especially if you only have one hand free. Cobras are more popular, so they have more variations to choose from. They start at 125 mm (5″) and go right up to 560 mm (22″).
I have the 125 mm Cobras (87 01 125) and the 250 mm Knipex Cobra Extra Slim jaw grips (87 51 250).
2. Adjustable Spanner (Wrench)
An adjustable spanner is an essential part of a plumbing tool kit. German brand Bahco are the most popular amongst UK plumbers for adjustable spanners, and rightly so.
My smallest adjustable wrench is my 100 mm (4″) Bahco Adjustable (8069) that lives on a carabiner clip clipped to my work pants. It’s very handy for moving small nuts on boiler repairs.
I also have the 200 mm (8″) Bahco Wide Jaw (9031) which jaw opens up to 38 mm, and I have the 200 mm Slim Jaw version (9031T).
My new favourite adjustable is the 200 mm (8″) American made Channellock Wide Azz (8WCB), it has a 38 mm jaw opening which is what I use most often now. The handle is fatter and softer, so more comfortable and easier to grip properly for when you really need to force it.
It’s also very well-made, and the smooth flush finish is preferable to the Bahco one. Same size jaw opening. 200 mm (8″) is the most common size for an adjustable and definitely one of the essential tools plumbers use.
They fit most nuts on 22 mm pipes and fittings, and I would definitely recommend this size if you only had one.
British toolmakers Monument make very good, reliable tools for plumbing. Monument adjustable spanners are great, and I use two of them regularly. The 150 mm (6″) Monument wide jaw (3140Q) opens up to 34 mm, and is nice and short for using on things like bath tap connector nuts.
I also have the 250 mm (10″) Monument wide jaw (3143Z) adjustable spanner, which is nice and big – the jaw opens up to 50 mm. This size is perfect for gas meter union nuts, and is the widest jaw available for a 250 mm adjustable as far as I know.
3. Pipe Cutters
Pipe cutters are one of many essential plumbing tools. From adjustable cutters to fixed size pipe slices, a plumber could not do without pipe cutters.
You can use a hacksaw to cut copper pipes but you will need to file the rough edges down. This is not practical if you’re plumbing all day. I work on 8 mm up to 28 mm copper pipes. You could cut all sizes with one adjustable cutter, but I have at least one pipe slice for each size.
4. Radiator Bleed Key
Every plumbing tool collection needs at least one radiator bleed key. They are for bleeding the air out of radiators when refilling the heating system with water.
The best bleed keys are the flat brass clock type ones pictured. They are tough and durable and have two large holes so can easily be clipped on to a keyring.
They also have quite a big flat surface area which makes it easy and comfortable to turn the really stuck bleed nipples in old radiators.
I prefer the Westco clock type keys that I buy from Wolseley (Plumbcenter) as they seem to grip old worn radiator nipples better than the none branded bleed keys. But, I wouldn’t worry about the brand too much.
Tommy bar bleed key
I also keep a tommy bar type radiator bleed key on my bunch of keys, as it’s small, and you don’t really notice it. It’s good for radiators that have the bleed nipples on the back of the panels, sometimes it’s awkward to turn them with a clock type bleed key.
5. Olive Cutters
Olive cutters are amazing. Olive pullers don’t always work, but using olive cutters instead of a hacksaw can save any potential cuts to the pipe. They take a bit of getting used to as they can potentially damage the pipe also, but nowhere near as likely as a hacksaw could.