Working With Copper Pipe

copper piping
  • 1-3 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 50-250
What You'll Need
A tubing cutter
Flare nut
Flaring tool
Flexible tubing bender, to prevent kinks
What You'll Need
A tubing cutter
Flare nut
Flaring tool
Flexible tubing bender, to prevent kinks

Copper pipe is one of the most universal pipes available today. Copper pipe was seen in the tomb of King Suhura at Abusir as early as 2500 BC. Copper has been used for a variety of applications, the most notable is the copper plumbing in your home. Working with copper pipe demands some basic skills. This article discusses copper pipe, its uses, and how to install it in different applications.

Why Copper Pipe?

Copper pipe is used in a variety of applications. It is used to run gas lines and water supplies in the home. Because of its flexibility and ease of installation, it is ideal for spaces which are hard to get to. Copper pipe comes in two types - rigid and flexible. Rigid copper pipe cannot be bent to manage such things as 90 degree bends or around corners. It must be cut and joined with the appropriate fitting. Flexible copper pipe can be bent around corners and is ideal for installations such as a water supply to a kitchen or bathroom faucet. Copper pipe is a better source for potable water than PVC because of issues with contamination and bacteria inherent in PVC pipe. It has a very long life span and will outlast any home it is applied to. In extreme cases, copper pipe is susceptible to freezing and splitting.

Installing Rigid Copper Pipe

soldering copper pipe

Installation of rigid copper pipe is fairly simple, although you need basic skills to accomplish a proper installation. If replacing a section of copper tubing, shut off the water at the main and allow the system to drain down.

  1. Cut the pipe with a tubing cutter to length.
  2. Carefully remove any burrs from the cutting process.
  3. Using fine emery cloth, sand the pipe until you achieve a bright finish. Be sure to sand the inside of the fitting you are using.
  4. Apply flux to the inside of the fitting and to the copper tubing.
  5. Insert the pipe into the fitting, ensuring that it bottoms out.
  6. When soldering, assure that no water is present.
  7. Apply heat from a propane torch to the fitting -- not the copper pipe.
  8. Using a lead-free solder, touch it to the fitting when you think that the fitting has reached the proper temperature. The solder will flow into the joint via capillary action, making a tight, waterproof joint.

You might want to practice this technique on scrap tubing until you master the practice. Wipe away any excess solder. Turn the water back on, and check for any possible leaks. If leakage is present, you will need to heat the joint, remove it and resolder.

Working with Flexible Copper Tubing

Working with flexible copper tubing is easier than working with rigid. It is sometimes soldered, and other times is flared and joined with the appropriate fittings. The process for soldering is the same as for rigid copper pipe. To flare flexible copper, you need the following tools:

  • A tubing cutter
  • Flare nut
  • Flaring tool
  • Flexible tubing bender, to prevent kinks

Although flexible copper tubing is easy to work with, there are precautions to take. It is generally sold in a rolls of 20 to 200 feet, depending on application. Unroll the tubing a foot at a time and lay it out straight. Cut the tubing with a tubing cutter to the appropriate length.

  1. Slide the flare nut on the end of the tubing.
  2. Clamp the tubing in the flaring tool.
  3. Tighten the flare cone until it seats.
  4. Remove tubing and inspect for cracks or splits.
  5. Slide flare nut up on flare to insure proper seat.
  6. Attach tubing to proper connection.
  7. Turn on water supply, check for leakage.

It is best to use a flare nut when making high pressure connections, such as a supply line to a gas line with high gas distribution or a lot of water pressure going through a pipe. Use Teflon tape in these connections to insure that they are leak proof.

Copper Pipe FAQ's

pile of copper fittings and a pipe cutter

Is copper tubing more expensive than alternative applications?

Copper is somewhat more expensive than comparable plastic pipe. In a typical new home build, it may cost a few hundred dollars more. Some argue that because it takes increased skill to install, price of installation will be greater. In the long run, copper pipe installed in a home increases its resale value.

Is copper pipe corrosion proof?

Copper pipe has been used for centuries with no disadvantage. Highly acidic or alkaline water may result in some corrosion.

Copper is one of the best plumbing solutions available. It is easy to install and increases resale value. Use copper in your next plumbing project.

Alden Smith is an award winning author and regular contributor to He writes on a variety of subjects, and excels in research.