The tools required to install an irrigation system are pretty basic; a shovel, hacksaw, wire cutter, a couple of wrenches, and a knife will get the job done in most cases. But like most projects, a few special tools make the work much easier and faster to perform. So here is a list of the tools commonly used by professionals.
Round Point Blade Shovel: Almost everyone has one of these. You'll use it to dig larger holes needed for valves, multiple pipes, etc.
Square Point Blade Shovel: Handy for back-filling trenches and for scraping mud off of sidewalks.
Trenching Shovel/Spade: The first of our specialty tools. This shovel is very similar to the Round Point shovel only it is narrow - usually only 4 inches wide so it can fit in trenches. It is used to remove loose dirt from the bottom of trenches dug by a machine or for digging trenches in soft soil. Remember you're going to be using it in a deep trench, so get one with a long handle, not one of the short "D" handle versions. If you use a short handle version your back is going to really hurt the next day!
Mattock: By far the handiest tool for putting in irrigation systems! A mattock is a cross between a pick and a shovel. It has a narrow blade like a trenching shovel but you use it like an ax or a pick. I use a combination mattock/pick for digging short trenches and removing rocks. It has a mattock blade on one side and a pick on the other. A railroad pick is similar to a mattock/pick, but the blade is narrower than a standard mattock. A mattock digs twice as fast and twice as easy as a shovel. Again, a longer handle is much less tiring to use than a short one. If you were to only buy one specialty tool this should be the one.
Tamper Bar, Pry Bar, Digging Bar: These closely related tools all consist of a heavy steel bar about five feet long. A tamper bar has a head on it similar to a huge nail head which is used to compact soil. A pry Bar has a point on the end and is great for loosening rocks. A digging bar has a wide, flattened point similar to a large chisel. Most bars are a combination of a Pry bar on one end with a Tamper or Digger on the other.
Broom: Everyone knows what one is and what to use it for.
Landscape Rake: A landscape rake is a 3 or 4 foot wide rake, usually made of aluminum, with teeth on one side of the rake head and a flat surface on the other. It is used for shaping the ground prior to planting.
PVC Pipe Cutter: This is a handy cutting tool used for cutting PVC pipe and poly hose. It looks something like a pair of garden shears. It works much faster and easier than a saw, and results in a square cut with little or no burrs. A real time-saver. Proper technique is essential when using a cutter! Follow the instructions that come with it and make several practice cuts to get the hang of it. Using the cutter wrong can result in almost invisible hairline cracks in the pipe which will not be noticed until it is too late. Often it takes a year or two for the water to burst through these cracks. If the pipe deforms at all while you're cutting it you are doing it wrong!
Work Gloves: A pair of heavy gloves is essential to prevent blisters. If this is a weekend job you're likely going to have enough aches the next day, don't add blisters to the list.
Latex Gloves: Latex gloves can help keep PVC cement off your hands when assembling pipe. You will need several pairs. When you get glue on a pair they will stay attached to the next pipe you touch! By the way, acetone will remove PVC cement from your hands, clothes, car seat. (Take a tip from someone who knows, make sure the cap is tight on the can of cement before placing it in your car! It takes a lot of acetone, rags, and elbow grease to remove a quart of cement from the seats.)
Pipe Wrench: If you're using any steel or brass pipe you will need a couple of pipe wrenches to assemble it. Do not use wrenches or pliers on PVC fittings, hand tighten them only!
Measuring Tape: A measuring tape is needed to lay out the irrigation system. A 25' tape works well for most residential systems.
Riser Extractor: Hopefully you won't need this! Sometimes a piece of threaded pipe will break off right at the point where it is screwed into a fitting. The result is that there is not enough pipe extending out of the fitting to grab with pliers or a wrench. A pipe extractor has a toothed probe that you insert into the open end of the broken-off pipe. The teeth bite into the pipe allowing you to twist it out. Riser extractors come in 1/2" and 3/4" sizes, you must use the correct size. An indispensable tool to have when you need it.
Hack Saw: Used to cut metal pipe and PVC pipe. In tight places you can use just a hack saw blade. Wrap half the blade with duct tape to make a handle. I've been known to use a bent hacksaw blade to reach into tight places that I can't even get my hand into.
Wire Cutters: Needed for cutting the wires. A combination wire cutter/stripper is even more handy.
Screw Drivers: One flat blade and one Phillips for connecting wires to the controller.
Sledge Hammer: A long-handle 10 lb. sledge hammer is useful for breaking chunks of concrete and rocks. Wear safety glasses! A sledge hammer also makes a great tamper to compact soil in trenches.
Garden Hose: Water is the best tool for settling soil around the pipe in trenches. You can also use water from a hose to bore under sidewalks and driveways. You'll need a long enough hose to reach anywhere you are digging a trench. Tip: If you're installing an irrigation system to get rid of long hoses, it doesn't make sense to buy a lot of hose just for the installation work. Many rental yards will rent you a hose, or borrow them from your neighbors!
Hose Sweeper Nozzle: This non-adjustable type hose nozzle is used as a boring tool . Attach the nozzle to one end of a length of pipe and a garden hose to the other. Turn on the water and use the concentrated water stream from the nozzle to bore a hole under sidewalks, driveways, or large tree roots.
Trencher Machine: Unless you're planning to install irrigation systems for a living I wouldn't suggest running out and buying a trencher. You can rent one from most rental yards. When you do, get the newest, biggest, meanest, most powerful one available (but make sure it will fit through your gate if you're working in a fenced yard!). Rider type trenchers are the best, but few rental outlets have them. Operating the typical, dull-bladed, on it's last legs, walk-behind-style rental trencher is a bone-shaking, tough job (actually walk-behind is not the right term, you walk backwards in FRONT of a trencher, so don't fall down!). You will feel like you have wrestled a bear when you are done. Have lots of aspirin and sore muscle lotion on hand. Tip: In many areas there are companies that will dig the trenches for you. Where I live you can actually hire someone to dig the trenches for you for less than the cost of renting a trencher! Look into it. If you can't find a trenching company in the phone book ask a local sprinkler supply company that specializes in sales to landscape contractors. Most will be able to recommend someone who would be more than happy to bust their back for you! Sit back, grab a glass of iced tea, and watch them make it look easy!
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