Pulling Together


Tap Troubles

I have recently moved house and with a new house there are always new issues to be overcome.

One of these was a hot tap in the bathroom. It was seizing up, so it could only be opened a little and a decent flow of water was not to be had. I had already opened the tap up in an attempt to lubricate the mechanism, but I just couldn’t unscrew the insert, so I thought it might need replacing. However, when examining the adapters supplying the bathroom taps I saw the cold one included no stop valve, so replacing the pair would mean draining the water.

I decided to remove the hot tap, put it in a vice, and try really hard with a socket to unscrew the insert. So I went to my garage to fetch some tools. That’s when the trouble started. My first discovery was that the basin had a strengthening rib adjacent to the hot tap, making it impossible to get my spring-loaded tap wrench onto the nut. There was just no room for the tool. Never mind, I thought; perhaps if I disconnect the hose I can get better access for ordinary tools. So I put an adjustable spanner on what I took to be the adapter’s nut on the tap tail. It was very tight – so tight I had to wrap the tap in cloth and hold it still with a second adjustable spanner. I heaved on both, and turned the nut a little, but it didn’t loosen. I tried again and again, but it just seemed to get tighter. Eventually I felt a faint trickle of water. The nut was tighter than ever. I took a second look and realised it was not a nut on the tap tail at all, but on a piece of pipe about a quarter of an inch long attached to the tail with another nut higher up. It was a compression joint to this pipe, and my attempt at loosening it had done the opposite, and finally I had crushed the olive and started a leak.

Time to move the spanner to the nut above. This turned, but remained stiff for a while before I could unscrew it with my fingers with some effort. Eventually, this came off and dropped down, but the pipe would not detach from the tap. I pulled again and again, but there was no movement. I resorted to tapping it with a hammer, but still nothing. Perhaps if I unscrewed the retaining nut — the one I could’t reach — I could use it to push the joint apart when it reached the bottom of the tail. I tried, but when it got to the bottom it just tightened up against the loose nut and bound up solid. It was only a plastic nut and if I had persisted I would have stripped its thread, so that was also a failed effort.

However, with the tap no longer attached firmly to the basin I could wobble it around. I first considered fetching a hacksaw and cutting off the tail. Then I could replace the tap and the adapter with new ones, but that would necessitate changing the cold tap as well, and I wasn’t sure what sort of tap I could buy to replace them. It was true I don’t much like the finish on the existing taps, which is pewter, or perhaps gun metal. It’s past the first flush of youth and now just looks dirty. Chrome or brass would be nice, but a glimpse at my watch showed it was too late to get to any shop anyway.

If I could get the tap at a convenient angle to get enough grip I might be able to remove the insert and push a tool down the tail to break whatever bond held tap and adapter together. Then again, if I could get the insert out, maybe I could service it as originally intended and it might be unnecessary to take the tap off further at all. That, of course, depended on whether the joints were now leaking, but maybe I could find a way round that. I fetched my socket set.

This proved the first success. The insert finally came out and I dismantled it, cleaned the threads and graphited them with an ordinary HB pencil. Then began the laborious task of putting everything back together, facing the same challenges as taking it apart. The whole job probably took six hours!

This morning, I turned the valve on. This was difficult as it’s stiff and the screwdriver slot is badly worn so the blade keeps slipping out. A small smear of water appeared round the joint, but it didn’t drip. I hope if I watch it, hot hard water evaporating off this tiny leak will seal it in a few days and I’ll be able to leave it as it is. I also hope the graphite does its job. We shall see. Otherwise, it really will be another six hours of struggle and a hacksaw, and I’m not looking forward to that!

About the Author

K J Petrie has a Full Technological Certificate in Radio, TV and Electronics, an HNC in Digital Electronics and a BA(Hons) in Theological Studies.

His interests include Christian and societal unity, Diverse Diversity, and freedoms from want, from fear, of speech, and of association. He is a member of the Social Democratic Party.

The views expressed here are entirely personal and unconnected with any body to which he belongs.

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