Removing old cast iron steam pipe

15 Replies

What's the best saw/blade combination for removing old steam pipes from a basement (asbestos insulation already removed)? Is there a better option than a sawz-all and a metal cutting blade? Any chance it can be taken apart at the joints considering its almost 100 years old? Thanks in advance for any tips you can offer.

If the pipe is the right size, a cutter like this works very well on cast:

I've used one like this on 3" cast iron drain pipe.  Its unwieldy and can be challenging to get into tight spots.  But if it can get to the pipe with a cutter like this, it works a LOT better than a sawzall.  These can be rented at any tool rental location.

When we cut cast iron pipe for underground utility work we typically use a chop saw with a graphite cutting wheel. Depending on the size of the pipe and the age you described, you could also get the same kind of wheel for a hand-held grinder that might be easier to work with, especially if you're working overhead.

I like that idea @Jon Holdman although I'm curious to know approximately how long it takes to get through the pipe. I also like the idea of a handheld grinding wheel with the right blade @Matt Motil . I wonder if that would make quicker work of the job. It's in a basement and all overhead so a chop saw would get heavy after a while. Thank you both. 

My guys use a portable band saw - it's SUPER quick. But, it has an exposed blade so if you're not skilled or comfortable with that use, probably better to go with something easier to control.

BTW - I'm not endorsed by nor do I specifically endorse Dewalt tools, though I wish I was 

The cutter I posted will break through the pipe in very little time. Under a minute once its in place.  It works just like a tubing cutter.  The hardest part is getting it in place.  Once you do, you tighten the screw that pulls the cutter chain as tight as you can, then work the tool back and forth.  With a tubing cutter, you would spin the cutter around the tube.  But you rarely have enough room to do that when removing cast.  Tighten, work back and forth, tighten, etc.  It looks intimidating, but it works like a charm.  Far better than any saw.  It does not cut.  It scores the pipe and puts pressure all around and it cracks.  I was skeptical until I tried it.  

about 50 years ago I dismantled a freezer plant that used ammonia as a refridgerant runnning through steel pipe with cast fittings. The piping consisted of banks of horizontal piping on all four walls of many rooms. I used a heavy 6 or 8 pound hammer to break the fittings. It was very fast! 

They make a blade for a sawzall that works, I've used it on cast iron drain pipe. It doesn't look like a blade, it has an abrasive edge- no metal teeth. 

Cast iron is brittle, you can also just smash it with a hammer.

I'm thinking the OP has misidentified the type of pipe, I've never seen cast iron for steam, just steel. Either way a sawzall type saw with a 14-18 tooth blade should make short work of it. I cut 2" galvanized pipe all the time with a cordless.

I don't think so.  It'smade for cast, which is brittle and so breaks under the pressure created by that cutter.  I think a sawzall or that portable band saw is your best bet.  Do you have enough access to disassemble the pieces?  Or at least some of them?

I agree with Jon.  I was thinking that from the get go here too,,,most steam was galvined steel pipe with cast fittings.  IF you have the right eyeware and decent clothes includung a reasonable hat, 2 hammers  makes for quick work at the joints,,,or a sawsall on the pipe BUT hot sparks everywhere.

For cracking cast off flush and square Jons tool is top notch.  I have been trying off and on to score a reasonable priced one on e-pay but my luck it would come with worn out cutters no longer available.  He is double right when he says fast and easy,,,getting it where its going is half the battle.  And the rental shops minimums are so high I thought my own would be a GOOD buy.  When you need one you need one.

Depending on the environment around the pipe, you may also consider a cutting torch for steel pipe.  If the area is surrounded by a lot of old wood (likely), you may not want this option.  Using some thin aluminum sheeting for a heat shield is a good idea, as is keeping a fire extinguisher nearby due to sparks/hot metal flying.  Another alternative to those ideas already posted.

We just took the old steam pipes out of a house....tried a sawzall for a bit, but used the grinder because it was so much faster....just buy a couple extra wheels because it will wear them down.  we ended needing 3 to cut the boiler, 11 radiators, and all the associated pipes.   

Originally posted by @Rick C. :

We just took the old steam pipes out of a house....tried a sawzall for a bit, but used the grinder because it was so much faster....just buy a couple extra wheels because it will wear them down.  we ended needing 3 to cut the boiler, 11 radiators, and all the associated pipes.   

 Thanks Rick. Great advice.

Originally posted by @Rick C. :

....just buy a couple extra wheels because it will wear them down.

I agree, and would also add, "don't buy cheap grinding wheels".  Buying wheels from Home Depot, Lowe's, Ace, True Value, etc isn't the cheapest, but it's a pretty safe bet.  Sometimes the welding-gas store (like Airgas or Praxair) will carry good grinding wheels for reasonable money.  Harbor Freight wheels... not so great.  If you happen to know somebody that does steel fabrication or repair work for commercial construction, big boats, oil and gas, etc, ask them what wheels they like and where they get them.

The best thing a cheap wheel can do is wear down too fast; the worst thing it can do is shatter and send pieces everywhere, including into you.

Also, before you start, check the max RPM of your grinder (it is written on the grinder) and compare that to the max RPM of the wheel (written on the wheel).  Usually this isn't a problem but occasionally you get a surprise.

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