Pipe Fitting Basics

Pipe fitting is the installation or repair of pipes that transport liquids or gases. Proper pipe fitting involves selecting and preparing pipes from a variety of materials including copper, plastic, steel, iron, aluminum and lead.


Determine the distance where the pipe is to be located by using a measuring tape. From this distance, subtract the distance the pipe is inserted into the fitting, which is typically 1 inch. Cut the pipe at a right angle using a sharp hacksaw, and clean any rough edges off the end with a sharp utility knife.


Before final installation always perform a dry-fit, which involves piecing everything together without the use of any fastening agents. All fittings should attach snugly to the piping and there should be no play left in any part of the assembly.

The method of fastening your pipes together will be determined by what type of material you are working with. Plastic PVC pipes require PVC cement that is applied to both the ends of the pipe and inside the fittings. Apply the PVC cement using a PVC cement brush and reassemble the pipe and fittings. Twist the fittings 30 to 45 degrees to ensure complete cement coverage, and wipe away any excess with a damp rag. It typically takes one to two minutes for a PVC fitting to set up and dry.

Fastening copper pipes and fittings together involves a technique called "sweating." Clean the end of the pipe with a fine wire brush, as well as the inside of the fitting. Use a paint brush and apply plumbing flux to the outer end of the pipe and the interior of the fitting. Reassemble the pipe and fittings and using a propane torch, begin to directly heat the fitting. As the flux melts the copper will get shiny, then moments later it will dull and begin to lightly smoke. At this time remove the flame and touch lead-free plumbing solder to the joint. The solder will work its way into the joint by capillary action and create a strong, watertight joint.

It is important to only attach like materials together, such as copper to copper and plastic to plastic. Joining different types of tubing together is difficult and requires the services of a certified pipe fitter.

John Geisel

Based in Western New York, John Geisel has been a technical writer for over 9 years. Although the majority of his work is considered proprietary information, he has twice been considered for publication in ASME Codes & Standards. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial engineering from the Rochester Institute of Technology.