Tag Archives: Soldering

The Other Kind of Plumbing

Most of the time when I am plumbing something it means I am checking to make sure it is ‘plumb’ or straight up and down. This week I had to take care of the other kind of plumbing — the kind that involves water, pipes, fixtures, wrenches and the occasional bout of cursing.

As a preservation carpenter, handy-man or DIY-er having a little exposure to plumbing is a valuable skill. You never know when you’ll have to shut off a supply line, change a fixture or repair the work of overly aggressive plumbers that have hacked away at timber framed elements which do not handle the same way as modern stick frame construction.

In my adventures this week I had to take care of a plumbing issue at my own home. We’re lucky enough to live in a colonial home that was well built and only 12 years old. Unfortunately up here in NH the water is very acidic and on my street we have pretty high water pressure, both of which are tough on plumbing fixtures. The bathroom is pretty plain vanilla — nothing too fancy, but the builder picked all name brand fixtures etc — in this case Moen. We’re expecting our first child in August so while my wife and I would rather I get rid of the fiberglass jetted tub for something fancier with a tile surround the baby is fast approaching and I need to build a crib so we agreed on a modest refresh and making sure we have a nice complete and working bathroom ready for the arrival.

Here is what I was starting with — a plain chrome Moen ‘Legend’ Posi-Temp fixture and simple shower head:

The Before Photo (Circa 2000 fixtures as that is when the house was built)
The Before Photo (Circa 2000 fixtures as that is when the house was built)

This tub had two problems:

  1. The downspout when used in shower mode would leak into the wall and water and the can lights on the lower level do not mix well.
  2. The valve was not mixing hot and cold well and unless you like cold and colder showers something needed to be done — and fast

I figured, no sweat I can change the cartridge — it’s a Moen after all I should be able to get parts at my local store and this will be a quick job. On closer inspection of the handle I came to find out the set screw in the handle had fused on. After trying every penetrating oil, WD40, heat gun, allen key and torx bit I could find I decided to drill out that set screw which made the handle and the piece it connected to useless. During this time I also noticed whomever installed the backing plate had tightened it on so tight it was deforming the metal and just about ready to rip through.

OK, if the tub spout leaks, the handle is shot and the cartridge is not working, I might as well buy a full new trim kit and a cartridge….

After getting the trim removed the valve looked fine the surround cleaned up easily and now it was time to examine that downspout. It was a slip-on compression fitting — the spout slips on 1/2″ copper tubing, has a couple of rubber washers to keep water from getting into the wall and is secured with a set screw from below. When I got it off I noticed that half the washer was stuck up in the front where the water should come out, the other was missing and there was a bunch of calking around the pipe at the wall opening. Without that washer holding back the water it made sense why water might be shooting back towards the wall and some dripping through. (Thankfully nobody seemed to use this bathroom much — there are others in the house — so there was virtually no interior wall damage)

Old fixtures removed
Old fixtures removed

So a quick search on Google and I found a replacement trim kit at Lowe’s that should have a compression fitting downspout, a nice new look, fancier handle and shower head. And the replacement Posi-Temp cartridge was another $39.  I got to the store and they told me they don’t stock the trim kits anymore (Even though the website said they should have 2 in stock). The in-store computer said all the stores in the area no longer stocked it as well. So now I had to buy the full kit which meant wasting an extra $20 on a rough in valve I’ll never use — but at least I now have a trim kit and cartridge in hand. Back at home again I used a dedicated Moen Posi-Temp cartridge extraction tool. This $12 tool works a bit like a steering wheel puller.

Moen cartridge extractor in use
Moen cartridge extractor in use

Note which side of the cartridge is labeled ‘Hot’, then line up the jaws with the cartridge, tighten down the screw that goes through the body of the cartridge and then turn the big nut while holding the handle and the tool extracts the cartridge without damaging the valve body or the pipes.

Cartridge extraction tool on a sample valve body
Cartridge extraction tool on a sample valve body

With the old cartridge out I could see all the mineral deposits etc. With no cartridge in the valve body put your finger in there to make sure there is no other debris or damage.

Old cartridge (near) and the new cartridge (far)
Old cartridge (near) and the new cartridge (far)

Install the new cartridge using hand pressure on the white plastic body — do not press on the brass stem as this can damage your cartridge. With the cartridge fully seated (and HC in the same orientation) I replaced the safety pin.

Replaced cartridge ready to go
Replaced cartridge ready to go

I could now re-install the trim around the valve and the new knob. Installation was the reverse of removal.

Here’s a link to a great You-Tube video walking you through this process:

Now on to the tub spout….

I opened the box and was examining the nice looking metal tub spout when I realized it was a screw on fitting which requires a longer pipe with a threaded end. WTF?!  I figured this must be a mistake and I just had to exchange it. Back to the store with that part in hand the clerk told me that Moen came up with new numbering for their products and that both models are thread-on only. (The instructions in the box shows both screw on and compression spouts were made) A change like that is information that maybe they should put on the box and the website — but I guess I am old-fashioned that way — I expected the box to accurately tell me what was inside of it. They couldn’t order a kit with the compression spout fitting but they could order me a separate ‘genuine Moen’  slip-on downspout for $40 (which would be metal looking plastic and not matching the style of the kit they already sold me)  or they could sell me a POS plastic generic model. Judging by the fact that I could see about 6 of these generic compression fittings that were clearly returned and taped back together I could tell buying one would not be a good idea…

Interior of a compression downspout
Interior of a generic compression downspout

So I bought a 5′ piece of 1/2″ copper pipe — from which I only needed about 1.5″, a coupling,  a male threaded nipple, solder and flux. I followed the directions for pipe length and soldered on the nipple. A nice video clip from TOH on soldering can be viewed here. Now time to screw on the spout — 2.5 revolutions and it won’t go on any tighter and its still 3/16″ from the wall and not water tight.  At this point I was really not happy.  I took the spout off and could see that it was poorly milled. It had some slag in it that it embedded into the new copper thread. That slag would not melt with the propane torch and I could not pop it out so I had to file it out with some needle files being real careful not to damage the nipple. I tried re-installing it and it didn’t go any further.

As they say ‘it’s not a proper plumbing project unless you’ve been to the store five times‘…

Back at the store yet again, I exchanged the spout for another of the same model. In the plumbing department the clerk from the first visit said she found the trim kit that she insisted was no longer stocked —  (it was threaded spout only so still not all that useful to me) — and only a day late on finding that part…

On my way home I stopped at Home Depot and they had the same story about slip on tub spouts. In the plumbing aisle I found they did stock a Sioux Chief Smart Spout (which is a much nicer/heavier made, metal slip on/compression spout that has a patented mechanism that keeps it pressed tightly up against the wall, is made in the USA and seemed to have very good reviews online for that sort of fitting. If you decide to go the compression route I would suggest checking one of these spouts out here.) If you do find a slip-on spout you like here is a nice video on how you’d go about installing it:

In talking to the clerk at Home Depot he mentioned that they recently got a batch of bad copper nipples that looked fine visually but were defective and had to be sent back, so I figured I might as well try a nipple from Home Depot before giving up and using the Sioux Chief Smart Spout. I know my wife would not be happy if the spout didn’t exactly match the the faucet set….

 

"Propane and propane accessories" -- Hank Hill would be proud
“Propane and propane accessories” — Hank Hill would be proud

I fired up the propane torch, removed the previous day’s extension and nipple and installed the second attempt. The second Moen tub spout threading looked marginally better and I was holding my breath when I put the spout on. Thankfully the test fitting worked great. I took it off, added teflon tape to the threaded nipple, installed the spout and tested it under pressure — it works great and does not leak at all. We’re now back to having a working tub and shower etc. I also installed a curved Moen shower curtain rod that gives you a few extra inches of space in the shower — it screws into the wall as opposed to the old rods that were a friction fit and was a nice upgrade.

You can see the final result here:

Newly refreshed bathroom
Newly refreshed bathroom

What are the lessons from this marathon blog post?

  • Plumbing is certainly a task you can tackle yourself, but you need to be patient and have the right tools for the job — don’t be afraid to look online or talk to others
  • Make sure you know what type of tub spout you have as the websites are often not clear on what will be in the box
  • Soldering copper tubing with a propane torch is something just about anyone can quickly learn to do
  • Stay away from generic fixtures. Stick with bigger brand names like Moen, Kohler, Grohe, Pfister, American Standard, Delta etc as they are more likely to be around and have parts. (If I were building from scratch I’d go with a Kohler or Grohe fixture with a ceramic cartridge over the plastic cartridge in the Moen Posi-Temp line, but for the price it is a reasonably nice faucet)
  • Make sure you use teflon tape and/or pipe dope on threaded fittings
  • Don’t be afraid to try new things and learn new skills

With all the attention the shower was getting the toilet got jealous and decided to have an issue of its own. If folks are not too turned off by this brief departure into plumbing I’ll make a shorter post on refreshing toilet hardware as well.

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. For plumbing, as we do in woodworking, make sure you follow any instructions, local building codes and use common sense. (Disclaimer)
P.P.S. The Sioux Chief Smart Spout went back to the store today unopened — so if anyone out there gets one and tries it out, I’ll be curious to hear what you think of it.

EAIA 2013 Cape Cod — Day 3 Tool Swap, Tinsmithing, Tool Chests, Auction and Banquet

Day 3 was the last day of the EAIA 2103 Conference on Cape Cod. It was another busy day full of events. After breakfast we headed off to the Tool Show and Swap where folks setup tables full of tools for sale or trade or a booth with a display to show either a unique collection, research results or other things of interest to the group.

Tool show and swap
Tool show and swap

Seeing the prices folks wanted for some items, I’m not convinced they wanted to sell them — but I guess that is why most folks refer to themselves as collectors (or hoarders — as my wife often calls me) and not sellers.

It was great to finally meet Chris Schwarz in person as I've been a fan of his work and writing for a long time.
It was great to finally meet Chris Schwarz in person as I’ve been a fan of his work and writing for a long time.

A highlight of the event for me was finally getting to meet Chris Schwarz in person. I’ve conversed with him via email and similar means for several years, but it was nice to get to talk with him in person. I am a big fan of his work, research and writing.

Very nice display showing how wood and metal planes can be restored
Very nice display showing how wood and metal planes can be restored

This display was interesting in that it showed a split view of before and after restoration. Having brought many an old plane back to life, it was a nice presentation.

Bill McMillen giving his talk on Tinsmithing
Bill McMillen giving his talk on Tinsmithing

Next up was master tinsmith Bill MicMillen — who you may have seen at other EAIA events, Eastfield Village or Colonial Williamsburg.

Bill McMillen's talk on 'The Tinsmith In America: The Trade, Materials, Tradesmen, The Tools and Products'
Bill McMillen’s talk on ‘The Tinsmith In America: The Trade, Materials, Tradesmen, The Tools and Products’

Bill gave a nice talk on the “Tinsmith In America: The Trade, Materials, Tradesmen, Tools & Products”. It was interesting to see how the trade came to America, changed and migrated over the years.

Soldering a tin cup
Soldering a tin cup

Bill went on to demonstrate how to make a tin cup walking us through the various forming and soldering stages.

Bill McMillen demonstrating how to tinsmith as he makes a cup
Bill McMillen demonstrating how to tinsmith as he makes a cup

Bill demonstrated his considerable hand skill in making the cup by hand and also showed how some of the later forming machines changed the way common items were made.

Chris Schwarz giving a talk on 'Tool Chests Fancy & Simple'
Chris Schwarz giving a talk on ‘Tool Chests Fancy & Simple’

Chris Schwarz gave a talk called ‘Tool Chests Fancy and Simple’ where he explained a bit about the evolution and anatomy of tool chests — from the densely packed and high style H.O. Studley Toolchest, to fare more utilitarian models.

Chris Schwarz and his tool chests -- then and now. You can see how far his research, his work and his designs have come over the years.
Chris Schwarz and his tool chests — then and now. You can see how far his research, his work and his designs have come over the years.

It was also interesting to see some of Chris’ journey from earlier power tool oriented projects to later more traditional projects that focused on traditional joinery and hand tools.

Joint stool at the EAIA Silent Auction
Joint stool at the EAIA Silent Auction

In the evening we took part in the EAIA annual silent auction that benefits the EAIA endowment. There was a nice selection of traditional tools, books and items folks donated and/or made for the auction.

Beautiful chair in the silent auction that I believe had a relationship to (or at least a design derived from) the works of Wallace Nutting
Beautiful chair in the silent auction that I believe had a relationship to (or at least a design derived from) the works of Wallace Nutting

Alyssa and I had a lot of fun in the auction and it took some bidding, but we got some of the items we set our sights on….

Turned kingwood pen
Turned kingwood pen

Alyssa had her heart set on this nice turned pen made from kingwood and is already putting it to good use.

Books and turned pen we won in the silent auction. The had I bought from the Lost Art Press
Books and turned pen we won in the silent auction. The had I bought from the Lost Art Press

I won an old book from Winterthur Museum on the Dominy Clock shop which came from Long Island (a few towns out from where I grew up) and was a book I’ve been hunting around for for several years. I look forward to reading it soon and visiting WInterthur later this year as they have an exhibit on 400 years of Massachusetts furniture and has several reproductions made by friends from NBSS.

After teh banquet dinner Myles Standish came to regale us with stories of his life and to answer questions.
After the banquet dinner Myles Standish came to regale us with stories of his life and to answer questions.

After the auction we had the annual meeting and banquet. Following dinner, Myles Standish came to regale us with stories of his life and travels and answer any questions the audience had.

Beyond all the events I also got some shiny new toys:

Saws and Carriage Maker's Rule
Saws and Carriage Maker’s Rule

I got the carriage maker’s rule and old hand saws at the Great Planes auction and will put them to good use in the shop.

Lot's of new reading material
Lot’s of new reading material

At the tool swap I got some great books this year. I got a bunch of historic reprints from the Toolemera Press that I had been thinking about for a while. In an antique shop on the Cape I found a nice 1950s set of 4 Audel’s books on masonry. At Plimoth I got one of Peter Follansbee’s DVDs on carving (Which he was kind enough to autograph for me), a DVD version of making a chair from a tree, and a nice book on English Period House Fixtures and Fittings which looks like a nice reference book.

Lee Valley Saddle Square made for the 80th Anniversary of the EAIA -- I look forward to using it at the bench.
Lee Valley Saddle Square made for the 80th Anniversary of the EAIA — I look forward to using it at the bench.

I’ll end with the first thing I got on this trip — picked up during registration — which is a nice Lee Valley Saddle Square which was engraved to commemorate the 80th Anniversary of the EAIA. Similar to Lee Valley dovetail saddle squares I have I’m sure it will earn its place in my tool chest.

I had a great time on this trip and while it was hard to go to work on Monday, I was happy to think about the great time we had and look forward to next year’s event.