Tip for Reusing Copper Fittings

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Eric Johnson

Mod Emeritus
Hearth Supporter
Nov 18, 2005
5,871
Central NYS
I've always re-used copper fittings mainly because I can. The only big problem with doing so is that it can be hard to get the inside surfaces clean. The residual solder is hard to get out and it can be difficult or impossible to reuse the fitting until it's removed. Over the years I've tried different approaches with varying degrees of success--and usually burned fingers in any event. This hasn't stopped me from reusing fittings, but it has slowed me down and led to some less than admirable language.

This past weekend I stumbled across a really good solution to the fitting cleaning problem, in the form of braided stove door gasket. Because you can put a torch on it without it melting or burning, you can simply side the gasket rope into the fitting, heat it until the solder melts, then pull the rope through the fitting to clean out the molten solder.

Works like a charm. You get a fitting that's clean as a whistle every time. It's still important to clean off the external surfaces near the joint, but that can be easily done with steel wool or plumber's sandpaper. Using a vise makes everything a lot easier.
 
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Great idea and tip! Thanks Eric. Good to see you around.
 
I use heat to unsolder them....... then when cool, use my dremel with the barrel sander attachment to sand out the solder. I sand just until I see some copper through the lead. I've done this to many fittings with very good results. No burns, no heat. With the price of copper now it makes more cents;) than ever. I don't mean to undermine your thread.... It's just how I've done it.

Taylor
 
I've done that and it works well, especially for 1/2-inch fittings. The standard barrel sander is just the right size.

Try the gasket technique if you get a chance. It's even easier and you don't run the risk of grinding into the body of the fitting.
 
Coat the braid with solder paste first to help attract the solder.
 
Do you do enough plumbing that this is helpful? Always seemed to me that $0.45 for a shiny new fitting was ok, even if I'm paying retail at Home Cheapo.
 
I'm always leery of re-using fittings, unless they are new or next to it. In some conditions they can erode over time in ways that are undetectable by casual inspection - until they wear right through. Be particularly careful with elbows on a DHW circuit with water that is on the acidic side or even otherwise imperfect in other ways.
 
Do you do enough plumbing that this is helpful? Always seemed to me that $0.45 for a shiny new fitting was ok, even if I'm paying retail at Home Cheapo.

Haven't bought any 1-1/2" copper fittings lately have you? :)

gg
 
I'm always leery of re-using fittings, unless they are new or next to it. In some conditions they can erode over time in ways that are undetectable by casual inspection - until they wear right through. Be particularly careful with elbows on a DHW circuit with water that is on the acidic side or even otherwise imperfect in other ways.


That's a debatable point about which I don't have a definitive answer, other than to say that I've been regularly reusing copper, brass and bronze fittings and parts--both new and old--for more than 20 years on both plumbing and heating projects, and have never had one fail, other than the occasional leaking joint, which is not generally the fault of the fitting. Professionals never re-use fittings for a couple of reasons, including the fact that 1.) they're passing the cost of the materials on to the customer (plus a substantial markup), so why not make it easy? and 2.) they're professionals who have to comply with codes and professional standards, which would both argue for using only new, unused materials and parts in their work, since that's what they're billing their customers for. Homeowners, on the other hand, are a lot more sensitive to cost and a desire not to waste resources, so I think we're a lot more inclined, for better or worse, to get creative. That's half the fun, after all.
 
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That's a debatable point about which I don't have a definitive answer, other than to say that I've been regularly reusing copper, brass and bronze fittings and parts--both new and old--for more than 20 years on both plumbing and heating projects, and have never had one fail, other than the occasional leaking joint, which is not generally the fault of the fitting. Professionals never re-use fittings for a couple of reasons, including the fact that 1.) they're passing the cost of the materials on to the customer (plus a substantial markup), so why not make it easy? and 2.) they're professionals who have to comply with codes and professional standards, which would both argue for using only new, unused materials and parts in their work, since that's what they're billing their customers for. Homeowners, on the other hand, are a lot more sensitive to cost and a desire not to waste resources, so I think we're a lot more inclined, for better or worse, to get creative. That's half the fun, after all.


If you clamp it in a vice of pipe vice, while the solder is still molten run a fitting brush inside. I have some fitting brushes that were made to fit in a cordless drill, by Mil-Rose company. Or just cut the handle off a store bought fitting brush, and stick it in the drill.

If the fittings are really black or discolored soak them in a very dilutes muratic acid and they come out like new.

The condensate from a mod-con boiler really shines up old copper also.

I re-use fittings at my place but the customer always gets the new stuff.

An air powered die grinder works well on larger fitting with the big globs inside, but it removes metal, and skin rather quickly :)

hr
 
That's a debatable point about which I don't have a definitive answer, other than to say that I've been regularly reusing copper, brass and bronze fittings and parts--both new and old--for more than 20 years on both plumbing and heating projects, and have never had one fail, other than the occasional leaking joint, which is not generally the fault of the fitting. Professionals never re-use fittings for a couple of reasons, including the fact that 1.) they're passing the cost of the materials on to the customer (plus a substantial markup), so why not make it easy? and 2.) they're professionals who have to comply with codes and professional standards, which would both argue for using only new, unused materials and parts in their work, since that's what they're billing their customers for. Homeowners, on the other hand, are a lot more sensitive to cost and a desire not to waste resources, so I think we're a lot more inclined, for better or worse, to get creative. That's half the fun, after all.

Pretty well agree with all that, but just relaying something from personal use. I had a bad experience in my basement once with a 90° that suddenly started spraying water out the outside of the bend, from erosion on the inside of the elbow, on a line going to my domestic coil. After dismantling all that arrangement to fix it (replaced coil gaskets at same time), I ended up replacing all the elbows with new in that area as most of them were very thin at that spot. I was told later my water was slightly acidic. Glad I was home when it happened (although it was a very fine spray, at least at first) - and hoping it was isolated to that particular spot in my system. The guy that told me I had acidic water retired just after that and I've put off checking out treatment possibilities - I should likely get on that again...
 
I re-use fittings at my place but the customer always gets the new stuff.

I didn't mean to imply, Hot Rod, that pros "waste" used fittings, of course. Thanks for your insight!
 
Haven't bought any 1-1/2" copper fittings lately have you? :)

gg

1 1/2"... never. Thought he referred to 1/2"... juuuust a little difference. I buy bagfuls of 1/2" just to have around the house, but don't think I've ever even touched a 1 1/2" copper fitting.
 
Pretty well agree with all that, but just relaying something from personal use. I had a bad experience in my basement once with a 90° that suddenly started spraying water out the outside of the bend, from erosion on the inside of the elbow, on a line going to my domestic coil. After dismantling all that arrangement to fix it (replaced coil gaskets at same time), I ended up replacing all the elbows with new in that area as most of them were very thin at that spot. I was told later my water was slightly acidic. Glad I was home when it happened (although it was a very fine spray, at least at first) - and hoping it was isolated to that particular spot in my system. The guy that told me I had acidic water retired just after that and I've put off checking out treatment possibilities - I should likely get on that again...


Another think that causes pinholes like that is excessive velocity. A example would be a large, oversized pump on a recirc system. Water with high TDS and excessive flow carve right thru fittings like that.

Get some test strips from a pool supply to check ph, but it would need to be awful low to corrode a fitting like that.

Then again I have seen some import fittings that are very "light" and possibly over- extruded making that outer bend wall paper thin.
 
I've always re-used copper fittings mainly because I can. The only big problem with doing so is that it can be hard to get the inside surfaces clean. The residual solder is hard to get out and it can be difficult or impossible to reuse the fitting until it's removed. Over the years I've tried different approaches with varying degrees of success--and usually burned fingers in any event. This hasn't stopped me from reusing fittings, but it has slowed me down and led to some less than admirable language.

This past weekend I stumbled across a really good solution to the fitting cleaning problem, in the form of braided stove door gasket. Because you can put a torch on it without it melting or burning, you can simply side the gasket rope into the fitting, heat it until the solder melts, then pull the rope through the fitting to clean out the molten solder.

Works like a charm. You get a fitting that's clean as a whistle every time. It's still important to clean off the external surfaces near the joint, but that can be easily done with steel wool or plumber's sandpaper. Using a vise makes everything a lot easier.
Well , that sounds like a god-darn good idea to me! Will add it to my fix it cheaper things that work. Thanks!!!!
 
Good tip, and remember that solder is hot! I have always heated the fitting and used a wire brush but it always seemed to "spit " molten solder on me.
 
OK, so here's a question. What do you do to the fittings that wont come apart? I've had good luck heating them up and pulling them apart but a few simply wont come free no matter how much heat I apply. Kind of sucks to have to buy more 1 1/4 fitting when I have a few sitting in a bucket.

K
 
work it side to side with two sets of pliers while your torch is set on the table heating the joint up. One hand per plier so each hand has control of one piece of the joint.

TS
 
Sometimes they get kind of jammed in sideways, and a firm tap just before you try to pull the joints apart can work. With bigger fittings, as TS suggests, it's hard to get the solder molten all around, so you have to really work at even heating.
 
OK, so here's a question. What do you do to the fittings that wont come apart? I've had good luck heating them up and pulling them apart but a few simply wont come free no matter how much heat I apply. Kind of sucks to have to buy more 1 1/4 fitting when I have a few sitting in a bucket.

K
If you over-heat the fitting the piece will not slide out. If the flame turns greenish, and the copper starts to darken you have over heated. Some times keeping a flux brush handy to hit the fitting will help determine when you are hot enough.

Also try not to "egg shape" the fitting in a vice or with pliers.

A trick I use is to drill some wood blocks with a 5/8, 7/8, and 1-1/8 hole saw. That is the OD of 1/2, 3/4, and 1" copper tube.

Cut the block in half thru the hole. Clamp the tube in a vise with the blocks around it to keep it nice and round.

Use a plier with a curved jaw to reach in beyond the fitting hub to pull on the fitting. This prevents squeezing the fitting socket out of round.

hr
 

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I'm guessing I over heated them.

Are they a lost cause at this point?

K
 
I'm guessing I over heated them.

Are they a lost cause at this point?

K
Could be toast! Over-heating them will also soften the copper, if it deforms easily now, good chance it is time for the scrap. Good news is that copper is still around 3 bucks a pound at scrap yards :)
 
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