This is an updated version of the product training course introduced by Supply House Times in 1979, authored by Don Arnold.

The College of Product Knowledge ran in Supply House Times for three years and resulted in a reprint manual that sold for many years to follow, totaling thousands of copies. It became something of an industry classic. Much of the original training material is still applicable to the products sold today - but there is also much in the wholesalers' product mix that is new since then. The purpose of this updated series is to look at what has come along since the first edition.

The items we'll be discussing this time differ from other subjects in our series in that they are not products in the conventional "hardware" sense. In fact, most of them are not even related to each other in terms of function. About the closest thing to a common denominator we can offer is the fact that many such items are available as a "line" of products from certain industry manufacturers. Another rather simplistic definition is that the majority of these products are packaged in cans, bottles or jars.

Within this broad range of unrelated items, however, there are a few subcategories of products that do have a "family" relationship. We'll take a brief "glossary" look at each.

Solders And Fluxes

Solders: Though there are several applications for the soldering process in the plumbing, heating and air conditioning field, one of the most common involves the assembly of copper piping systems. For making joints in potable drinking systems, lead-free alloys are required today. These are typically formulated as various combinations of tin combined with antimony and/or silver, copper and bismuth. Solder is available in two basic forms: wire and paste.

Fluxes: The mating surfaces of a joint to be soldered must be clean (free of oxidation) and be prepared with a good "wetting" surface to facilitate the free flow of the molten alloy into the joint. That's the function of flux. The basic chemical is usually suspended in either a liquid, gel or paste, available in tubes, jars and cans.

Thread Sealants, Gaskets And Packing

Thread Sealants: Also referred to as pipe dope and pipe-joining compound, these have a twofold purpose: 1) to lubricate the mating threads in facilitating the assembly of the pipe and fittings, and 2) to seal the joint against leaking. Thread sealants come in two basic forms: paste and Teflon tape.

Teflon Cord: This versatile material comes packaged in coil form, and is cut to length for a variety of applications. Available in several diameters, it is a compressible solid that conforms readily to the shape of mating surfaces. Typical applications include packing for valve stems and pump shafts (low speed), and acting as a gasket between flanges.

Repairing And Sealing

Plumbers Putty: This is an all-purpose compound used for a wide range of plumbing installations. Many fixtures and fittings are sealed in place using such a material. For example, in setting a sink or toilet bowl in its installation, a bead of plumbers putty is typically placed around the underside of the flange or base to prevent water, which might be splashed around the fixtures, from seeping under.

Likewise, in mounting a faucet to a sink or lavatory, or a shower valve escutcheon to a wall, a bead of such putty is often placed around the perimeter of the underside.

Cold Solder: Unlike the solders already discussed, this is a type of cement that contains powdered metal, typically used to repair cracks in cast-iron soil pipe, boilers, radiators, etc. As the name says, it is applied in cold form. After hardening, the surface can be sanded smooth or even sawed.

Caulk: Sometimes called butt caulk, this is another compound that finds many purposes in plumbing applications, such as caulking or repairing soil pipe joints (instead of using lead), or repairing leaks in pipes. Other applications are parallel to those of cold solder -- the repairing of cracks in fixtures. Like cold solder, caulk can be sanded smooth after hardening.

Epoxy: Though not unique to chemical lines in our industry, epoxy kits are offered by certain manufacturers. Such a general purpose adhesive is furnished with two elements that, when mixed together, activate to form an extremely hard and strong bond. Typically, epoxy applications are similar to those of cold solder and caulks.

Roof And Flashing Cement: This is a more specialized type of compound, often used for sealing around openings in which pipes, tacks and vents penetrate a wall or roof. It is also used for a variety of other sealing needs involving building construction and repair.

Cutting Oils, Penetrating Oils And Lubricants

Cutting Oils: These products are used to reduce friction on pipe ends during the threading operation, thus making the work easier and the threaded finish smoother, while prolonging the life of the dies. Most manufacturers offer two basic versions for such use: a clear type for use with hand threading equipment, and a dark version for machine threading.

Penetrating Oils: This next type is used to free parts that become "frozen" together. As the name says, they penetrate between the mating surfaces to loosen the bond of corrosion or rust. There are a number of formulations available in this category, including products that contain molybdenum disulfide and Teflon.

Lubricants: There are a variety of lubricants available from chemical manufacturers, ranging from multipurpose to specific application types. Typical applications include use on motors and bearings. Some combine functions, such as those that provide a penetrant, demoisturant, rust inhibitor and lubricant.

Cements, Primers And Cleaners For Plastic Pipe

Cements: Not really a cement in the sense of a glue, these contain a solvent that actually melts the mating surfaces to then flow together as an actual welded joint. In addition to the solvent, these cements contain a suspension of the specific plastic material to be joined. Thus, there are ABS, PVC and CPVC cement options.

Primers: Because PVC and CPVC have relatively hard, glossy surfaces, it is recommended that a coat of solvent be applied to soften the pipe and fitting socket before the actual solvent cement is brushed on. This assures a proper softening of the surfaces, permitting a good flow together and resulting bond.

Cleaners: In addition to solvent cement and primer products, certain manufacturers also produce a "cleaner" type of product. Intended for use on pipe ends and fitting sockets, this fluid removes dirt and grease from the mating surfaces.

Cleaning And Maintenance

Iron Removers: These solutions are used to remove rust and iron stains on most surfaces. Applications include water heaters, sinks, tubs and tile.

Oil Absorbers: Here we have granulated compounds used to spread over spills of oil, water or other liquids that could cause a slippery condition on a floor. Such compounds soak up several times their own weight.

Degreasers: Products in this category are essentially solvents used to remove oil, grease and sludge buildup from metal parts (such as oil burner nozzles). They are available in spray can and lid-can versions. Certain types are furnished with a strainer basket for dipping parts.

Removing Hard Substances: Also intended for professional use only, these solutions are used to loosen and remove lime, rust, scale, concrete, urinary salts and minerals from piping, fixtures, tanks and other components related to plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems.

Root Destroyers: Since tree roots seek out moisture by their nature, they often work their way into sewer lines, either through joints or cracks, or in some cases, causing the cracks themselves. Products to combat such obstructions are simply dispensed into a toilet or other drain of the house or building. The roots "drink" in the chemical, which kills them and leads to their decomposition.

Septic And Cesspool Cleaners: These chemical formulations are designed specifically for the purpose of dissolving organic matter and grease in clogged, sluggish or malfunctioning cesspools, septic tanks and grease traps. The resulting reaction causes the organic matter to liquefy and move on through the system.

Bacteria-Restoring Products: Since active bacterial life is fundamental to the digestive process of a septic system, it is necessary to add cultures to new installations, or to existing ones that have been treated with caustic cleaners.

Drain And Sewer System Cleaners

Cleaning & Clearing Products: Products of this type have a variety of functions, including the dissolving of grease in drain lines and traps; clearing septic tanks and drain fields; clearing accumulations of sludge, soap and detergent; reducing odors; and inhibiting the growth of mold and mildew. Although they are effective in removing accumulations of grease and other substances already in drain lines, they are not intended as a product to free up ones that are clogged.

Drain-Opening Products: Unlike the above, these products are designed to free drains that become clogged. Two basic varieties are available in this category, liquid and crystal. Generally, the liquid types are stronger and more effective -- so much so, in fact, that some are sold for professional use only.

Boiler And Heating System Stop-Leak

Hydronic Baseboard Sealants: Products in this category are similar in concept to the type of thing you use to seal a small leak in a car radiator. In other words, the solution is simply added to the water in the system, and it coagulates at the point of any small leak, sealing it shut. Leak-plugging products are used both for repair of leaks in existing hydronic systems, and as a preventive measure in new installations.

Boiler Sealants: Similar in function and usage to the baseboard sealants just discussed, the boiler variety is designed to plug leaks in steam and hot water heating boilers (for heating system boilers only, not water heaters).

Boiler Solder: For boilers with more severe leaking problems or even cracks, boiler solder is inserted when the water is hot, and then pressurized to force the material into the faults.

Boiler And Heating Systems Cleaners

Boiler Cleaners: This product is used for both corrective and preventive maintenance. Inserted in the boiler during normal operation, such compounds are effective in removing and preventing the accumulation of rust, scale, oil, foam and other foreign matter from the internal surfaces. There are types formulated specifically for steam boilers, and others for use with both water and steam types.

Soot Removers: The control of soot is handled by products placed into the combustion chamber of the heating plant. With the combustion temperature set as high as possible, the contents are vaporized and deposited on the surface of the soot. This lowers the ignition temperature of the soot, causing it to burn out.