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Choosing the Correct Sewer Auger Cutter

July 1 2013

Choosing the Correct Sewer Auger Cutter

Imagine a beautiful Easter Sunday with several families gathered for a meal and hunting eggs.  Beautiful weather, sugar-happy kids with doting grandparents.  Then imagine all those people and a clogged toilet.  Not so much fun.  When this happened to us, I was glad to have enough background knowledge and experience to fix the problem ourselves as a holiday weekend plumbing visit would have been another Easter miracle.  Below is the process I went through when we had the bathroom back up. 

The first step when you notice a water backup is determining where the blockage is. Is it in the internal plumbing of the house or external in the main sewer line?  This is not only important to know so you can focus on the area to fix but also what size of sewer auger to use.  Using a large diameter cable in a small line or a small diameter cable in a large line can cause more trouble than you had to start with.  Using a sewer auger with a ½” cable is perfect for inside the house lines from rooftop to basement clogs.  For the main line a 5/8”-3/4” cable is preferred as the main lines are usually 4” – 6” diameter.  A larger diameter cable in a large line will not whip as much or and be less likely to "kink” a smaller diameter cable.  In our case the clog was somewhere between the main drain line and the street.  So for this application the larger sewer auger with a 5/8” cable was the right choice.  Luckily a local rental store was open and we were able to get what we needed.

I have detailed a few good cutters below but in this case the spearhead cutter was used.  The key to success is once the cable has reached the blockage is to let the cutter do its job.  Forcing the cable can cause binding and kinking which can be dangerous as the cable can whip when this happens.  When cleaning drains you never really know what is causing the blockage so an educated guess is the best you can do.  In this case there were no trees surrounding the main line so best guess for me was either a paper product, grease or both as the culprit.  The spearhead cutter opened the blockage and then a side cutter was used to clean any accumulated grease over the years.  To date the line has stayed open and when the need arises selecting the right sized machine and cutter will be the first step in removing the blockage.

Technology is forever evolving and this is the case for sewer auger cutters as well.  Years ago there were just a handful of cutters for plumbers and homeowners to choose from when it came time to clean out floor drains.  The old adage "this one is good enough” may still apply for some but for an informed user the correct cutter can save time and money.  I will highlight some good choices for cutters for use on 5/8” and 3/4” cables when cleaning out a main floor drain.

Spearhead – A spearhead cutter is a good choice as starter drill which will help get the water flowing through the pipe.  When paper products are the main blockage in the line, getting the water flowing to wash the debris through the pipe is very important.  Do note that the edges of a spearhead cutter are not beveled so when grease is present there are better choices to scrap the sides of the pipe clean.

Side Cutters -   Side cutters are a good choice for cutting and scraping the pipe when build up is present.  Build up shrinks the diameter of the pipe and restricts water flow which can cause a backup during heavy water usage.  The most common example of the buildup is grease that keeps compounding year after year and eventually needs to be scraped.  Side cutter’s come in 3 choices.  The first being a two piece blade system with serrated teeth.  These blades are light and flexible which is helpful if the buildup is not too heavy.  U-cutter’s are a heavier gauge metal and are also serrated.  U-cutters are very common and still a very popular cutter choice for drain cleaning.  A heavy duty cutter is the thickest of the 3 side cutters that is beveled on the cutting edge to facilitate scraping.  This is good for removing very heavy build ups.

Heavy Duty Blade – Heavy Duty Blades are good for clearing tree roots and other stoppages. Tree roots are a common problem in older homes that used clay tile.  As the trees have grown and the tile gets older the roots tend to come in through the tile joints or in through a broken area of tile.  The rotary saw action of this cutter will cut through the tree roots opening up the drain and allowing water and waste to flow.

Clog Chopper – The clog chopper is a great multipurpose cutter.  This is cutter will clear roots, debris and scale.  The point will act as a starter drill much like a spearhead will and have the cutting and scraping action of side cutters and heavy duty blades.  This is a handy cutter to use if you are not sure what the blockage is.

Retrieving Tool – This is primarily used for removing loose objects and broken cables.  Occasionally during the construction process, a rag may be left in a pipe and down the drain it goes only to get hung up in the drain.  This cutter is perfect for grabbing onto the fabric of the rag allowing for extraction.  It is also good for times when a cable brakes and gets left in the drain line.  This can save a lot of headaches from the excavating process to the drain line to remove the broken cable.

The next time you run into a drain line blockage and are not sure what cutter to use, think about the choices and try the one that seems best suited for your need.  Cleaning the drain line thoroughly will give the best long lasting results.  And, hopefully, your need won’t be during a big family holiday get together!

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