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Techniques for Working with PVC Pipe

By Kris Jensen-Van Heste

Polyvinyl chloride pipe (PVC) is the darling of contemporary construction. It's readily available, easy to cut, a breeze to handle, and it's very inexpensive compared with copper piping - all of which makes working with PVC pipe relatively simple.

PVC pipe comes in a wide range of diameters, from 1/8-inch to 24 inches and up. There are three grades of PVC: schedule 40, 80 and 120. The lightest, schedule 40, is commonly found in homes, as is the slightly beefier schedule 80, although to a lesser degree. Schedule 120 is generally for industrial, high-pressure applications. If the pipe is to be part of a home water-supply system, only use PVC that has been approved for potable-water use.

How to Cut PVC Pipe

The best way to cut PVC is with a saw that's made specifically for the job, and there are two great options:

  • A PVC saw is smaller than a typical handsaw, with a thicker blade designed to better cut the material. PVC saws usually sell for $10 to $20 and are well worth that small expenditure.
  • A PVC cable saw is a length of string-like serrated steel cable with a plastic-loop handle on each end. It's even less expensive than the PVC saw, and it's the better choice if you're removing existing PVC, especially up against a wall or any other structure because it easily slips between the pipe and any obstructions. Just loop the cable around the PVC and pull, alternating sides, in an even, sawing motion, applying steady pressure.

You can also cut PVC with a power saw, but you'll need to buy a masonry blade if you don't have one. A woodcutting blade will do, but you run the risk of ruining your blade and coming away with a rougher cut than you'd like.

No matter what tool you use to cut the pipe, be sure to wear safety glasses.

What You'll Need to Join PVC Pipe

  • PVC pipe and pieces to fit: connector, elbow, etc.
  • PVC primer
  • PVC cement
  • Safety gear: glasses and gloves, long-sleeved shirt, long pants, closed shoes

How to Join PVC Pipe

When joined properly, a PVC connection is rock-solid and watertight, just like copper or cast iron, but without having to use solder and flame.

The process is simple:

  1. Apply the primer to the ends of PVC pipe, around the outside diameter of the pipe and the inside diameter of the joining piece. The primer will remove any residue and promote a strong bond.
  2. Apply the cement over the primer, avoiding drips.
  3. Join the pieces using a slight twist; work fast, because the chemical reaction bonds the pieces quickly.

Tips for Working with PVC Pipe

  • When using a PVC saw, go back over your cuts with just the tip of the saw to removes burrs and rough edges.
  • A cable saw gets very hot during the cutting process; it literally melts through the PVC. Use extreme care and don't touch the cable or the cut surface immediately after a cut.

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