November 2009: Toolbox

November 2009: Toolbox

Charming the snake

Think of the plumbing snake not only as a cool, money-saving D.I.Y. tool, but also as an investment in foregoing many future embarrassing moments. Because if you have to call a professional at 10pm (in tears) on the night before hosting your entire family for Thanksgiving dinner after thinking it would be O.K. to stuff 10 pounds of potato peels down your garbage disposal while your 100-year-old cast iron drain pipes thought otherwise, you’re going to feel really dumb (I did) and wish you had your own (ditto).

At about $20 for a simple, hand-cranked snake or twice that for a power auger that hooks up to your drill, the thing more than pays for itself the first time you don’t have to make that kind of call, for which plumbers can charge a boatload.

The snake is a long, flexible, metal cable with a corkscrew auger at one end and a crank at the other. To use, access your drain by removing the clean-out plug and any S- or P-traps. Have a bucket ready to collect the backed-up water. Loosen the set screw on the snake, stuff as much of it into the pipe as you can, tighten the set screw and crank forward clockwise. Each time you feel resistance from the clog, unleash more of the snake by loosening and then resetting the set screw and cranking forward again. When resistance eases, crank the snake back into its housing counterclockwise, wiping it with a rag as you go.