Home Making

Washers and Taps

THE ordinary tap, whether for hot water or cold, is one of the screw down type, but for low pressure lines a plug tap may be fitted. The screw down tap requires a certain minimum head of water to lift the jumper that closes the outlet. For this reason it is pointless to fit a screw down tap to a water butt, for example; a plug tap will be better suited to the purpose. Since in house systems the storage cistern is invariably placed at an upper level, there is a sufficient head of water (the distance above the point at which the highest tap is fitted) to operate the screw down tap.

At the kitchen sink a bib-cock (one with a turned-down nozzle) is fitted; a stop cock is also usually fitted for cutting off the water from a branch or from similar internal arrangement and needs pccasional replacement of a worn or deformed washer. The usual size for house taps at sinks and basins is known as the ‘half-inch’; this size defines the bore of the pipe or tap, and is much less than the actual diameter of the tap washer.

A typical bib-cock consists of the body, the cover and the spindle To the end of the spindle at the top is affixed the crutch or capstan handle, according to pattern. The cover of the tap screws into the body with a’ flanged joint, there being a leather washer or gasket between the two mating surfaces to seal them. Just above the flange on the cover a hexagon is formed, to afford a hold for a spanner of the proper size. There is a coarse thread on the inside of the hole through the cover, in which the lower end of the spindle works. In this end of the spindle is a recess to accommodate the stem of the jumper. When the spindle is screwed down by its handle, the jumper is brought close to the seating of the tap, closing the hole leading down through the inlet. A fibre washer (for cold or hot water) or a leather one (for cold water) is bedded on to the lower side of the jumper disc, and held there with a small nut, .

This washer must be changed for a new one when the tap continues to run or to drip although properly shut down. The top part of the cover incorporates a hollow metal plug or gland with a milled head flange. The plug, which is threaded on its outside diameter, will be screwed partly into the cover, forming a guide for the spindle encased in the hollow bore of the plug. This plug is also a gland that seals the chamber below (known as a stuffing box). A small amount of packing made from tow is wound round the stem of the spindle, and compressed by screwing the plug partly into the stuffing box. This seals off the spindle against leakage. It is seldom necessary to re-adjust the position of the plug, but if it tends to leak it may be screwed down a little more but not so much as to render the tap difficult to operate.

Sometimes, especially in the plated taps used in bathrooms, the tap cover is enclosed by a skirt with an internal thread, which screws on to an external thread at the head of the cover. In such a case it is necessary to remove the tap handle from the spindle; the handle is usually secured by a set-screw at the side, but in some patterns a set-screw may be found under the little disc marked ‘H’ or ‘C’. This disc can be unscrewed, to give access to the set-screw. After removing the handle, the skirt can be drawn up over the spindle and removed.

Cold Water Tap

Shut off the water at the nearest stop cock. Put a spanner on the hexagon of the tap cover, and gently try it in the normal unscrewing direction, I.e. anti-clockwise. Some taps have to be unscrewed in the opposite or clockwise direction, so try this if the cover does not move on reasonable pressure towards the left. Always grip the tap body with the free hand to minimize the strain. Probably the cover will unscrew at a slight effort; take it right off. The jumper, which is a loose fit in the end of the spindle, may stick inside the tap body; if so pull it out with fingers or a pair of pliers.

There are two main types of jumper: (a) the one already described, where the washer is held on its disc by a nut and (b) the type where the washer is fixed permanently on the under side of the jumper B, and a complete new jumper must be used to replace it. This will not be ascertained until the tap has been dismantled for the first time, so the handyman must then obtain a suitable replacement from the ironmonger; either a loose washer for type (a), or a complete jumper with integral washer for type (b). Spares should in any case be bought for future needs.

All that is necessary for the self-contained type is to insert the new jumper and screw on the cover again. First, however, unscrew the spindle until the tap is in the open position. When a loose washer has to be put on to a jumper of type (a), grip the stem in the vice, wrapping rag around so as not to bruise it; undo the nut with a spanner or a pair of pliers; prize off the remains of the old washer and clean the seating. Put on new washer, and screw the nut back.

When a stop cock on the cold water main has to be re-washered, it is essential that the water shall be cut off at a point farther back— perhaps at an outside stop cock in the forecourt. Even then it is probable that a considerable amount of water will still flow, since cocks which are seldom operated, and which receive no attention for years at a time, may not shut down tightly.

Hot Water Tap

Here the problem is that we are seldom able to cut off the water entirely from the tap, since there is the full hot water cistern supplying the tap, and above that the cold storage tank. The next best thing is to reduce the flow by opening other hot water taps on the same system so that water may flow harmlessly into a bath, or into some other basin or sink than the one being dealt with. Arm yourself with a swab or a housecloth, and have all tools at hand, including washers or jumpers of the presumed size. All being ready, open the other taps just mentioned; open also the tap being operated upon. Next unscrew the tap cover, take it off and immediately clap the swab over the opening, to stop the water gushing upwards. Pull out the jumper, if it has not come up with the tap cover; insert the pliers or fingers under the swab to do this.

Quickly put on a new washer if the jumper is of type (a); or insert a new jumper into the tap body if of type (b); screw on the cover again.

Taps at Basins

Much damage may be done to an earthenware or vitrified china basin by undue force being used in trying to unscrew the tap cover. The stress is communicated to the ledge at the back, where the tap is fixed through, and it is quite easy to crack this part. Unless the cover comes off easily it may be wise to, let the plumber undertake the job here. Taps at the bath are dealt with in the same way as at sinks, but more care must be used, or the enamel of the bath may be damaged.


A LEAK in a water pipe cannot be repaired until the area of the crack (or the burst) has been dried, and before this can be done the supply of water to the pipe must be cut off, and the pipe drained by turning on the tap. If there is an indoor stop cock the water can be shut of! At that point. If the pipe is fed direct from a cistern the latter must be emptied (by leaving the tap running), and prevented from filling again by raising the ball cock as high as it will go, retaining it in that position until the leak in the pipe has been attended to.

If neither of those preliminary measures is possible, the water should be turned off at the main. At an intermediate point between the street-mains and the house-supply a stop cock is provided. This can be turned so that the entire house-supply is disconnected. A long T-handled key is necessary to operate the stop cock, and this item is generally available only from a plumber or an ironmonger, apart from the water company officials. In all probability the long metal key will have to be borrowed from one or other of those sources, or purchased for a few shillings.

This main, outdoor stop cock may be below the pavement, or below the pathway leading to the house, with a metal trap above it, set flush with the surface; in some instances it is just inside the front door, beneath the floor. The house-holdershould, however, familiarize himself with the positions of the main stop cock and any stop cocks on the distribution pipes in the house.

When the leaking pipe has been drained of water, the crack should be dried with a cloth. Meantime the plumber should be called in, since the nature of the repair requires the skilled attention of an experienced man. The defective area of the distribution pipe can then be sealed by soldering, after the area has been cleaned in the usual way; or the bulbous, swelling joint, typical of professional repairs, can be adopted. If the leak is of a serious nature, a burst, for instance, immediate and more drastic action may be necessary. The quickest way to deal with a burst is to flatten the pipe for about three inches or so on the supply side of the crack, with a hammer, so that a complete stoppage is caused, a cloth being held firmly over the hole whilst the hammering is in progress, to prevent the operator being deluged. Call in the plumber. This method, however, entails substantial repairs, but damage by an uncontrolled flow of water is prevented or at least curtailed.

The short length thus dealt will later be sawn out and replaced with a corresponding piece of new piping; a job which the plumber is more capable of undertaking than the average amateur. So much for the lead or composition piping. If the pipe is of steel, hammering will be impracticable. Here an emergency repair can be attempted by using an old inner tube from a bicycle tyre, or strips cut from a discarded inner tube of a car tyre, as a tight bandage.

This must be wound tightly as possible around the area of the split or burst, and for several inches on either side, and then tightly secured by binding with thick string. As an alternative measure a bandage of stout cloth, covered well with motor grease, can be tried; several thicknesses of cloth, thickly greased, being wound round the affected area and tightly secured with string binding. A new section of steel pipe will be fitted by the plumber later to replace the damaged length.

Precautions against bursts caused by frost take several forms. The simplest, when a house will be unoccupied for a period during winter, is to turn off the main stop cock and then turn on all the taps; when water has ceased running the taps should be turned off, and the house may be left with the comforting knowledge that however low the temperature may fall the pipes will be unaffected by frost, because there is nothing in them to freeze. That safeguard, however, covers only the period of non-use. The water supply may be needed again before the winter has passed, and more efficient preventive methods are necessary. Exposed pipes naturally, are mainly affected, and those leading from a cistern or tank in a loft or attic. These can be protected by wrapping them around closely with sacking or felt. These must be put on as thickly as possible and bound in place with string. Felt strips for this purpose can be obtained at stores and ironmongers.

Rut where outdoor pipes are concerned these materials, being exposed to rain, even when heavily insulated by paint or tar, tend to become sodden; and, as a result, will encourage freezing of the water in the pipes. Where severe frosts are likely, the safest plan is to box the pipe in. A three-sided box can be constructed from any odd timber, of sufficient length to cover the run of pipe and about 4 in. wide and similar depth; this should be stuffed with sawdust, straw, hay or even newspaper before being leaky tap will provide sufficient moisture to result in a freeze-up in this free end. It commences with icicles forming at the open end of the pipe, and these may increase in diameter, with the accumulation of drips, until the end is completely stopped and a plug of ice forms within the pipe.

In that condition it is not possible for water to escape from the sink or bathroom, and it is possible for the sink, or the bathroom basin, to become full as the leaky tap continues to drip, and eventually overflow, with consequent damage to the ceiling below the bathroom or to the scullery floor. A gas or electric light, as suggested in a previous para- secured to the wall with metal brackets, screws and rawlplugs.

There should be no cracks between box and wall to admit frost, and the pipes should be insulated from the wall by ½ in. strips of wood. The outdoor pipe particularly in need of this safeguard is one with a dead end, such as that which extends through the wall to a tap for feeding the garden hose. The outside tap itself may, of course, be covered in, but if it is needed during the winter it can be protected by mean,s of a suitable piece of old carpet nailed to the wall a few inches above the tap and extending downwards some inches below the run of the pipe. The piece of carpet is left loose at the bottom, to enable it to be turned back for access to the tap.

Pipes in bathroom and scullery are likely to suffer in a hard night frost, and where it is not possible, or not desired, for appearance sake, to adopt the wrapping precautions, the next best thing is to leave a gas or electric light burning all night in a position where the water in the pipes is most likely to feel the benefit. An astonishing degree of protection is secured in this way.

Outlet pipes, which carry away waste water from bathroom and scullery, present only a foot or less of length, as a rule, outside the wall; but this is a very vulnerable portion. A half-shut or graph, in the room will probably prevent this stoppage, unless the frost is very severe. But, of course, the taps should not be allowed to drip.

Should the outdoor portion of outlet pipe freeze-up, boiling water should be poured over it, out of the window, or from a ladder if that gives easier access. Two kettles of boiling water will generally suffice to start the ice-plug melting, when it should fall away and no damage will be done. Unfortunately this stoppage is seldom discovered until the basin or sink refuses to empty itself. Apart from ensuring that all taps show no tendency to drip, an extra safeguard is several thicknesses of sacking, or a piece of carpet, fixed to the wall in such a way that the pipe is completely covered . Overflow pipes from cisterns, being as a rule high up, are easily affected by frost, and a covering as just described should, if possible, be fitted before the first frost of winter comes. A cistern ball cock that does not shut off tightly has a result comparable with that of a leaky tap, a dribble of water freezing at the pipe’s outer end and in the course of a few hours necessitating the employment of boiling water applied from outside.

A freeze-up, which generally occurs in the night, may have consequences so serious that the water supply to the house is interrupted until the sen-ices of a plumber can be secured to effect wholesale repairs, so no precaution which can be taken against this form of mishap should be neglected. Until the thaw comes a burst does not, as a rule, make itself evident: unless, maybe, a stray icicle becomes noticeable or. An indoor pipe where the crack has occurred. And even that clue may escape notice, especially if the pipe leads from an attic tank. The generous and timely wrapping of pipes in all exposed places therefore must not be overlooked.

Damage to an outdoor water pipe (such as one that leads out through an orifice in the house wall to provide water for car washing or to feed the garden hose), may occur through slight but frequent ‘play’, due to looseness of the fixture which secures the short 1 outdoor length to the wall. This fastening, usually a metal hook with a broad, curved grip, should be immovable in the brickwork and it should clasp the pipe firmly at a point as near as possible to the tap. Some pressure on the pipe and tap, downwards or sideways, is inevitable when a hose is connected, or a bucket is being filled from this outdoor-tap. This tends to loosen the fastening in the wall. The metal hook, in this event, should be removed, and the hole from which it is withdrawn should be enlarged and plugged with wood so that when the hook is reinserted it holds the pipe firmly. This should be given attention whether the pipe is of iron or lead.

When hammering the hook, the latter should be so directed into the brickwork joint that the broad grip will clasp the pipe squarely, and the last few blows need to be made cautiously in order that the pipe shall not be dented as a result of undue pressure by the grip. Instead of the hook, a metal strap may be firmly fixed to rawlplugs in the wall surface.

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