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Question for a San Francisco Plumber: What’s in Your Toolbox?

May 9, 2016 | Plumbing Stories

As a service plumber, there’s really only one way to roll and that’s to have every tool you own on hand when you arrive at the jobsite. It’s either that or having to make a run back to the shop — something that won’t please your customer one bit.

It’s called planning ahead and it’s not unlike a surgical team having everything ready before an operation. Nothing’s more disconcerting than a patient going under the anesthetic and hearing the doctor say, “Shoot. I think I left my surgical blade at home.”

If you take a peek inside my Dodge Sprinter, you’ll see it has a lot more cargo space than your average van, yet I still have to be inventive in order to get all my tools onboard in a somewhat systematic manner. And when I say tools, I don’t want to downplay the importance of parts.

Because tools are virtually useless if I don’t have the parts to go with the project at hand. Am I going overboard here with all these fancy tools and parts taking up half the interior of my truck? Let me put it this way. A job is as hard as you make it, and having the correct tools — and parts — immediately at hand is the difference between getting the plumbing job done as expected or just wasting space and taking up air.

With every tool comes an acquired skill. Because just owning a bunch of cool tools doesn’t get you much more than the scalpel mentioned above for successfully completing the procedure at hand. In my particular tool pail, I carry about 60 tools. There are star wrenches, monkey wrenches, tape measures, snips, deburring tools, lamp wicks, pipe extractors, and a variety of other pipe-twisting, cutting and diverting utensils. And on some jobs, I find myself using nearly all of these tools.

The tools of my trade include the tool tote — my first “go to” source. But sometimes there’s a need for other boxes. For instance, I have a faucet repair box with a telescopic magnet, a super large pair of tweezers, and sockets specifically designed to remove faucet stems for repairs when needed along with several other critical items for faucet specific repairs.

There’s also a solder box and fastener box with plenty of other specialized tools. Then there are water meter valve wrenches and even a bicycle pump, along with bins of other less-used but critical tools that are needed when the job calls for it.

To tell the truth, a qualified service plumber may be the closest you’ll ever come to meeting the original MacGyver. Keep in mind that it’s always the handymen who calls us when they can’t resolve a tricky repair situation.

So much for the stuff in my service truck. In addition, my 10,000-square-foot San Francisco service facility features even bigger tools. These include another specialized truck that houses our pipe-bursting system, threading machines, air compressors, jackhammers, welding tools, and heaps more.

But far and above, one of my favorite tools is a loaf of bread. I prefer Wonder Bread, because it’s soft and absorbent. Obviously, an explanation is in order. When I solder pipes and find that a valve isn’t holding, I pull out a loaf of Wonder Bread, using it as a temporary dam to hold back the water in the line until I can get a good solder joint.

The jobsite smells like toast and there’s another job well done.

About The Author: Paul O’Grady is the founder and general manager of O’Grady Plumbing — San Francisco’s multi-generational residential and commercial plumbing company. O’Grady grew up in the plumbing business and is backed by three generations of plumbers. At O’Grady Plumbing, he manages a team of master plumbers who build, repair, maintain and retrofit plumbing systems and equipment throughout San Francisco and San Mateo.

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