Plumbing has had a pretty long history in the world — ancient civilizations like the Romans, the Chinese and the Persians all came up with various forms of public bathhouses and facilities that required clean water coming in and dirty water going out. Someone had to learn the best ways to do both and those people would become the earliest kinds of plumbers. It's probably been a dirty and rather thankless job since day one, but it's also been a very necessary and important one. Clean water is something we take for granted, but it's a cornerstone of civilization.
Nowadays things are a lot easier than they used to be. A plumber has a lot more knowledge of how things work and the best way to ensure that your toilet flushes and your shower's nice and hot. They need a lot of equipment to make sure that works though, especially when you consider just how much a plumber truly does. They can install your sink, prevent the basement from flooding, connect you to the main city water supply and make sure your dishwasher drains correctly. Each job has its own tools, some more common than others. If you think you'd know them all based on just a picture, why not take the quiz and see?
What do you call this metal alloy used to help bond pipes together?
Solder is usually found in coils and looks like a rather thick wire, though it does come in varying thicknesses. Plumbers will most often use solder when joining something like copper pipe. You prepare the pipe, put on the fitting to be soldered then heat the pipe with a torch and melt the solder in place.
You'll find this right under a sink like the one in the kitchen. What is it?
A P-trap needs to be installed on any fixture, such as a sink, connected to the sewer line. The trap holds a small amount of water which prevents sewer gases from backing up into your home and stinking up the joint.
What do you call this thing that creates a watertight seal in your toilet?
When you push the handle to flush a toilet, a small chain will raise the flapper valve. The water in the tank then drains down the pipe into the toilet using gravity to flush everything away. The valve falls back into place and the tank then refills. Easy peasy.
Afraid of pipes freezing? You should use this stuff then. What is it?
Pipe insulation is a pretty straightforward item that obviously makes sense when you consider how much cold your pipes can be exposed to. The insulation will help keep pipes from freezing, and also prevents heat loss in warm water pipes.
You need this if you want to screw a fitting onto a galvanized pipe. What do you call this tool?
A pipe threader is what you need when you want to thread a pipe, which is to say cut grooves into one end so that you can screw a fitting of some kind onto it. This is for steel pipe, as copper or PVC don't need to be threaded and couldn't stand up to the tool cutting the threads, either.
This fiber is made out of hemp, but do you know the name for it?
Oakum is a hemp product used when sealing cast iron pipes. When a pipe is put into a fitting, you pack the edges with oakum as tight as possible, then pour in molten lead to finish the seal. Water makes the oak swell to fill the gaps and tar on the oakum prevents rotting.
What's the name of this tool which is useful when you don't want to scratch things?
Many strap wrenches have built-in handles. Others are made to receive the square drive of a ratchet wrench. A strap wrench is a useful tool when you need a wrench but also don't want the harsh teeth of something like a pipe wrench damaging a soft metal or plastic. The strap wrench will simply wrap around and tighten without actually digging in.
This heavy pipe used to be used for pretty much everything. What do you call it?
Cast Iron pipe was once the go-to pipe for all plumbing. Water, gas, and sewage could all be transmitted via cast iron. It has fallen out of favor in modern times thanks to the fact its heavy and relatively expensive compared to things like PVC or ABS, which also last longer.
You should always have one of these in your bathroom. What name does it go by?
A plunger is arguably the most easily recognizable plumbing tool in the world as most homeowners have one. They use suction force to clear clogs in drains. Ideally, you should have one for a toilet and one for other drains, as they have slightly different designs.
What do you call this little item that prevents water from leaking everywhere?
A hose clamp is a useful tool for attaching a hose to any fitting. Once the hose is fit over the end o the fitting, the bolt on the side of the clamp can be ratcheted until the clamp is tight enough to create a waterproof seal.
What's the name of this little item you'll need when you want to make a larger pipe work with a smaller pipe?
A reducing connector is used to fit two different sizes of pipes together. You just need to get a connector that matches your two sizes and connect your differing pipes to their respective sides of the connector. These should not be used often on drain pipes unless you're sizing up, rather than down.
These pipes were a popular replacement for lead pipes in homes back in the day. What are they?
Galvanized steel pipe
Galvanized steel pipes used to be found in nearly every home in America. They were widely used to replace toxic lead pipes to carry water into a home but now are also being phased out since they contained lead or could have trapped lead if they were connected to lead pipes.
What's the name of this tool that'll help you cut through some problems?
A hacksaw is a simple but very important tool for any plumber. The need to cut through anything from plastic pipe to wood will come up frequently and a hacksaw is a quick and easy way to get the job done.
When you have water accumulating in the basement, having one of these installed is a great way to get rid of it. What do you call this device?
A sump pump is usually installed in a sump basin, which is below the floor in a basement. If your home has a tendency to flood, this is an invaluable device that will start pumping the water outside, a safe distance from the home, in the event water starts backing up.
Weeping tile is also called perimeter tile and drain tile. It's a plastic pipe with small slots cut into it that is installed below the ground around the outside of a house and buried under something like small rocks. The rocks allow water to filter into the pipe where it drains away from the foundation.
This device will help you turn on almost any faucet. Do you know the name of it?
Needle nose pliers
A Silcock key is an extremely handy device for any plumber. If you've ever seen an outdoor faucet on a building that has no handle, this is what you'd use to turn it on. The 4-sided key should fit onto any faucet and allow you to turn it on.
What do you call this substance that you need to use before soldering a pipe?
Flux is a key component to soldering copper pipe. Once the pipe is clean, the flux is applied. As it's heated, it will draw in the solder to fill the joint and keep the pipe clean as solder fills in the gaps, then cools and bonds the whole thing together.
You can figure out the dimensions of just about anything in the house with this item. Tell us what it's called.
Everyone who does any kind of construction work likely has a tape measure in their toolbox since knowing the measurements of what you're doing is necessary at all times. In plumbing, you need to know pipe lengths, distances from walls and so much more.
This is one of the most iconic tools a plumber can use. Do you recognize it?
The classic pipe wrench is a tool necessary for any plumber. It's heftier than your average wrench because large pipes with large fittings require a bit of extra torque when you're trying to either loosen or tighten them.
You can't solder anything without having this tool handy. What's the name of it?
Some kind of torch, whether a full acetylene torch or a smaller unit, is necessary to heat up your pipes so they're able to be soldered properly. This is by far one of the most dangerous items a plumber will ever use at work.
This device can be installed in your drain to stop flooding. What is it?
A backwater valve can be installed on the drain line of your home and it works as a backflow prevention device. Water can drain from your house normally but if water starts coming back up the line, the valve shuts and that prevents flooding.
If your copper pipe is too long, this tool can get it to the right size pretty quickly. Do you know what it's called?
A pipe cutter is a simple but very handy tool for cutting copper pipe down to size. You place the cutter over the pipe and tighten it in place, then simply spin it around the pipe as the cutting blade digs in. As you continue to tighten, the blade digs deeper until you get a clean cut all the way around.
This allows you to more easily tighten a pipe while ensuring a better seal as well. What name is it known by?
Teflon tape, also called thread seal tape, is a plastic tape that is wrapped around the threads of a pipe before you screw it into a fitting. The tape functions as a kind of lubricant to make it easier to tighten the pipe in place, and also helps seal it more tightly.
What's the name of this extremely common kind of pipe?
PVC or polyvinyl chloride pipe is arguably the most common kind of pipe in the world at this point as it replaces many older and more dangerous types of metal piping. PVC is white or cream colored and can be easily sealed with glue. It works for water supply or drainage.
What is this tool that you're going to need if you want to run a pipe through a wall?
Pipes can run all over a building and sometimes you need nothing more than a pipe-sized hole to get through a wall to run it from one room to another. You can cut that hole with a drill and a hole-cutting bit.
This tool is handy for loosening large, thin nuts. Do you know the name of it, though?
A slip-nut wrench is an extremely thin little wrench but it needs to be for the job it does. For instance, if you want to remove the flush valve from the tank of your toilet, there's a very thin space in there to separate the two, but this wrench can fit right in there.
Tell us the name of this substance that's used to make watertight seals around pipes and drains.
Plumber's putty isn't particularly complex substance, it's often clay-based with a bit of oil in it. When you're replacing fixtures, sealing the drains or joints with putty will help ensure they all stay watertight and leak-free.
This kind of pipe is often used to transport drinking water. What is it?
Cast iron pipe
Copper pipe and copper tubing are used for water supply in many modern homes. It's also used for cooling lines in fridges and air conditioners. Copper is much safer to use than a metal like lead, though the type of solder used can be a concern.
This tool can help you remove the cartridge from your shower faucet. What's it called?
Faucet seat wrench
Behind your tub or shower faucet in the wall is a cartridge that can freeze up on you sometimes and cause the faucet to not work or leak. The cartridge puller makes it come out safely without damaging the other pieces around it.
The toilet connector is a length of braided stainless steel tubing that connects the copper water supply to your toilet. It's very pliable which makes it good for connecting to the toilet at an odd and awkward angle that rigid pipes couldn't manage.
This massive tool doesn't have a lot of finesse. What is it?
A sledgehammer isn't the kind of tool a plumber needs to use all the time, but it can be important in certain cases. For instance, if there's a leak behind a brick or concrete wall, a sledgehammer may be the only way to get in.
A pipe bender or tube bender is used to bender copper pipe to an angle without having to cut the pipe and use fittings and joints to create the desired angle in the pipe's direction, the way you'd have to with more rigid materials like galvanized steel.
These common little items help make waterproof seals between pipes and fittings inside them. What are they?
Gaskets, sometimes called washers, are used to help join a pipe to a fitting of some kind in order to keep it waterproof. Without a gasket in your showerhead, for instance, it would likely leak everywhere when the water was flowing due to tiny gaps in the imperfect seal.
What is the name of this safety equipment that plumbers should have handy when they need it?
You may not see a plumber wearing goggles that often, but they do need them. From using tools to cut pipe or wood which could shoot up dangerous debris to having to fully enter a large septic tank, there's a definite need for eye safety on the job.
This liquid can be applied to a basement or foundation wall. What's it called?
There are a couple of kinds of waterproofing membrane that can seal a wall and make it watertight. Elastomeric membranes are usually sprayed on from the outside, while a bituminous membrane can be rolled on inside and supported with a fiberglass webbing.