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12" Threaded Pipe

I (the estimator) have been quoting and repairing steam leaks in 100 plus year old buildings for years now. Of course we flange and weld our repairs but it always amazes me how those old timers would have threaded that 12" pipe (8 and 10 also), our guys struggle with 3 and 4".
Does anyone have any idea how they were able to do this? I cant find anything online that talks about how they did it.


  • Intplm.
    Intplm. Member Posts: 1,386
    That's a very good question. One that I have asked many times.

    I've also wondered how they screwed it all together and not have it leak.

    It is my understanding that they used a type single bit that was rolled around the pipe, cutting the threads.

    Nowadays, a CNC machine at a machine shop would do the threading.
  • jerryb46
    jerryb46 Member Posts: 56
    when the dead men put those systems in they were not afraid to work, When i started 45 yr ago i asked an old time steam man in NYC how it was done when he started in the 20's and explained to me about chain falls scaffolds, jacks and cribbing.
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 5,967
    So they threaded it with a milling machine with an auto feeder that matched the thread pitch that probably also rotated the pipe?
  • dopey27177
    dopey27177 Member Posts: 873
    55 years ago I worked in the Brooklyn museum in New York City.
    I was a young mechanic at the time we had to remove a 12" nipple and cap from a T at the end of a steam main just outside of a concrete wall and install a short nipple (not available for purchase) The short nipple was needed to install a transmission piece to weld an adapter to a 12 x 8" fitting so a new extension to the steam main could be installed.

    My boss had to rent a stock and die and a donkey with a bench vise from a pipe yard in Virginia.
    He also had to buy a 1/2 length of 12" pipe. The cost for the rental and pipe was $1700.

    It four of us to make a 48" nipple 6 hours. The wrench we used was a giant chain wrench which was rented also, luckily we did not have to use a hold back wrench.

    Let me tell you those steam fitters were men of iron.

  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 5,967
    Wouldn't it have made more sense to cut the nipple and weld a flange to it in place?
  • retiredguy
    retiredguy Member Posts: 618
    edited April 2021
    About 30 years ago, I visited a high school in Erie, Pa. where I was sent to answer questions the contractor had about a couple of H B Smith boilers. The 16" steam header and all the piping in the boiler room from 12" down was threaded as was all the OS&Y valves and fittings. What a sight it was. According to the head fitter who looked as old as dirt, said that those pipes were threaded by hand with a ratchet threader. Then the fittings and valves were put together with pipe tongs using a pipe dope similar to "litharge and glycerin". Then the threads were set by someone using a 4-6 lb hand sledge pounding on the inside of the pipe. I am not positive if that is how it is actually done but that is what that guy said.

    By the way, there is a Hadley landis style heavy duty 13" large capacity threading machine for sale on E'BAY for only $39,500.00 . Imagine taking that to a piping job. They do not say how much it weighs but it would definitely strain a muscle or two.

    I forgot to add 1 thing; there is a company in the south side of Pittsburgh, Pa called B M Kramer that has a HUGE pipe machine that can thread very large pipe sizes. They stock just about everything for piping.
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 3,759
    You sure don't want to get a leak in a 16" steam header the first time you fire it up I'm guessing, what a pain!
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 12,336
    They used the same type of threaders we have available today like the Ridgid 141 that does 2 1/2-4' and the 161 that goes up to 6"

    They also made larger sizes which went up to at least 12". Can't remember if it went bigger but I have and old brochure around here somewhere from Toledo threaders if I find it I will post it.

    They also had bigger machines to use in a shop.

    I was told the put strings up for all the pipes and measured off the strings then made up a lot of the pipe and fittings and cut threads at the shop.
  • Intplm.
    Intplm. Member Posts: 1,386
    edited April 2021
    I've used chain tongues on the six-inch threaded pipe a very long time ago.

    Still have no exact info as to how that twelve-inch pipe was threaded back in the day. At least nothing specific like the excellent picture that @EBEBRATT-Ed posted above. Is that really a machine that would have been used?
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 9,905
    Do you think his right foot is on some form of dead man safety switch or clutch?
    Or maybe a foot operated oil pump?

    Looks like a machine you want to stay alert while operating, clear headed in the morning.
    OSHA would have a clipboard panic attack with the open belts etc.
    Larry Weingarten
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 12,336
    No, that was not me as a first year apprentice LOL

    If any one has seen or used the Ridgid 141 or 161 threader thay had those back in the day. Toledo made them as well, I think Ridgid came along later.

    The made sizes up to 12" as I recall, maybe larger. I used to have a very old brochure from Toledo but I think I tossed it as it was mostly destroyed

    But i do remember 1 thing. The 8" threader was heavy maybe 150-200 lbs but the brochure said "Can easily be put on the pipe by one man".

    Difficult to imagine them threading pipe before electricity was widely available and they must have hauled pipe and fittings to the jobs in a horse and wagon

    probably used water power to drive some machines
  • mvickers
    mvickers Member Posts: 12
    We have a Ferg fab facility here in Front Royal, VA
    Threading up to 12", & roll grooving up to 36"
  • RayWohlfarth
    RayWohlfarth Member Posts: 982
    When I see stuff like that on a job site, I marvel at the ingenuity of the people who did it. Their knuckles must have dragged on the ground.
    Ray Wohlfarth
    Boiler Lessons
  • ratio
    ratio Member Posts: 3,235

    When I see stuff like that on a job site, I marvel at the ingenuity of the people who did it. Their knuckles must have dragged on the ground.

    I don't think it was their knuckles that were dragging on the ground...

    Can you imagine anyone threading 12" pipe today?

    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 12,336

    Great story!!

    No propress, megapress or pex for those boys, not even copper tubing.
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 9,905
    I checked out a steamer in a USPO building that had the same chrome plated brass plumbing. It was a one pipe system from that era. May have been WPA projects.
    From when they had more time (cheap labor) than money.
    And only about 80 miles west of Sioux City.
  • Jackmartin
    Jackmartin Member Posts: 184
    When I still had hair I worked at Eatons pipe shop. They did not believe in welding steam pipe because they wanted to be able to retrieve the flanges when the pipe rotted or they were renovating for some job. The threader they had was circa 1896 and the whole shop ran off one 20 horse dc motor with flat belts and pulleys in the ceiling. The threader could go up to 10 inch and it used one chaser die to cut the threads, to cut pipe you could drop a cutter die and cut the pipe at whatever you needed. The first job I did with old Stan was a chilled water bypass six inch pipe, threaded elbows and flanges. We used chain wrenches and red lead dope, I remember I was doing chins on the wrench handle and I still couldn't get that joint tight. My job ( it seemed like) every Friday afternoon was to take a cutting torch cut a kirf at the base of the flange on old pipe and take a bull head chisel and hammer the pipe inward so I could get the threaded flange off. The boss of the shop who had been there for 42 years bragged to me one time, when I said I was fed up pounding pipe to rescue flanges, he told me he didn't think they had bought a new flange for 60 years. The whole store all two blocks of it, was high pressure 125 psi steam it was an education from the early 20 th century. They used water elevators ,when they used dray horses the horses stalls were on the second floor of the shipping building, the water main was cast iron factory flanged cast iron 24 inch diameter, quite the place.
    Alan (California Radiant) ForbesPC7060
  • Ironman
    Ironman Member Posts: 6,900
    Dan has an article somewhere on here where he tells how mules were use to turn the 12" steam mains in the Empire State Bldg.
    Bob Boan
    You can choose to do what you want, but you cannot choose the consequences.
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 12,336
    Maybe that's why some call a Ridgid 700 a 'pony" threader