When it comes to seeing exposed water pipes you simply can’t beat seeing copper plumbing for bathrooms, rather than any other metal or plastic pipe work. Whilst I’ve nothing against using the modern flexible heat resistant plastic pipes to carry cold or hot water under the floor or hidden inside a wall or ceiling, when it comes to pipes being visible in a bathroom – copper plumbing wins hands down.
I can understand some people wanting to use the new plastic pipes as they do not require any specialist equipment or techniques to cut or bend them into angles. However, to me the sight of their horribly beige/gray color completely spoils the look of a bathroom – if they’re left exposed. In comparison, exposed copper plumbing in a bathroom has a warmth and sense of quality that a plastic can never achieve. Also, working with copper pipe can be remarkably easy.
Cutting Copper Pipes
Copper plumbing pipes are available in several diameters and lengths. Although you’re recommended to use just one diameter of copper piping for a job, you can join different diameters together with universal joints. Regardless of the diameter of copper piping you choose you can guarantee it won’t be the correct length. You should ignore the urge to get out a hacksaw to cut through the copper pipe.
Whilst it’s not impossible to cut copper plumbing pipes with a hacksaw you must create a clean and perfectly square cut, to reduce any problems when it comes to joining the copper pipe. Therefore, you need to invest in a copper pipe cutter. A pipe cutter, also known as a pipe splice, has a hardened cutting wheel and adjustable rollers allowing it to be clamped around the pipe.
Rotating the tool around the pipe creates a narrow groove which, by increasing the pressure on the rollers, will become deeper and deeper until the pipe is cut in two. The cutting tool will also have an attachment on it called a reamer. This can be rubbed around the cut to take off any burr and remove any loose pieces of copper, so that they don’t foul any joints or get transported into a faucet or water trap. You can also buy de-burring brushes from your DIY store to really clean up the cut surface.
Bending Copper Pipe
Small bore copper pipes, certainly those up to ½ inch in diameter, can be bent by hand – with the aid of a bending spring. A bending spring is simply a strong tightly wound spring that will fit snuggly inside a metal (copper) pipe. When bending a copper pipe with a bending spring inside it the spring contracts and expands to prevent the copper pipe from simply buckling into an acute angle. Smear some petroleum jelly on the spring to help ease it down the pipe, tie a length of cord to it if you think you might have trouble getting it back out, and then maneuver the spring into position.
You can then bend the pipe against your knee, using a cloth pad as a cushion. If you can’t manage that – then you’ll need to buy a bending machine, which will give you extra leverage to make the bend. Most bending springs have a screw to tighten or loosen them; if you can access it, tightening the screw should help you retrieve the bending spring.
Having cut and bent the copper pipe you then need to join it to the next pipe. To do this you can use copper compression joints that simply squeeze a metal ring around the copper pipe by tightening them with a spanner. However, you will produce a much more professional looking job by fitting capillary joints using solder.