A T-Drill is a unique, incredible plumber's tool that I've relied on to give me a competitive edge for nearly a decade, yet most people–including many plumbers–have never heard of it. So when I was asked to review the new T-35, I was eager to see what kind of improvements they made to this amazing tool.

A T-Drill allows tees of various diameters to be branched off tubing without using fittings.
A T-Drill allows tees of various diameters to be branched off tubing without using fittings.

A T-Drill pulls a tee out of a continuous run of copper tubing. It consists of a drill motor with a high-tech business end that does the holding, drilling, and forming. Here's how it works: support legs at the head of the drill hold it centered on a piece of tubing. With the desired outlet-size T-Drill head attached, a pilot hole is drilled into the tube; then, with the bit still in the tube, two forming pins built into the pilot bit are extended by rotating a collar on the head.

After engaging the reverse-feed mechanism lever, the support legs push against the tubing, and the spinning forming pins back out of the tube, leaving a tee outlet of the proper size. And all of this is done in mere seconds.

Then the branch, or outlet, section of tubing is prepared by placing it in a T-Drill notcher, where it is cut to the sameradius as the tube run so the branch does not project into the run of tube. The notcher also leaves two dimples on the branch. These serve as a depth stop, an alignment guide, and provide for easy inspection of the joint. The branch tube is then joined to the run by brazing; because of the shorter depth of the tee, it cannot just be soldered.

I first saw the T-Drill at a trade show in the late '90s, and my first reaction was "this is a great tool, but maybe a little pricey." At the time, radiant floor heating was gaining popularity, and I found myself counting out 20 to 30 tees for an average heating job. A 1-inch copper tee had climbed to about $4 (the good ol' days) and it wasn't hard to figure out that the T-Drill would pay for itself in material savings in a short time. As soon as I bought my T-Drill and discovered how fast I could fabricate a tee, I realized that an even bigger savings from using the tool is time.

The tee outlet takes shape as the forming pins are pulled up while rotating.
The tee outlet takes shape as the forming pins are pulled up while rotating.

I always look at my jobs from a production point of view; whatever I can prefabricate in the shop will save me time in the field. Prefabricating also lets us use piles of material that would otherwise be scrap, and I am able to use less skilled labor than I would need in the field. And we get to do more of our work in a controlled environment: clean, dry, warm, or cool, and with the radio on!

The T-Drill lets me build custom manifolds and form outlets or multiple sizes with any spacing, or arrange the tees any way I want, such as opposing tees or at any angle relative to another tee. Imagination is the only limit; to this day, I am still discovering more uses for my T-Drill.

Another major benefit to the T-Drill is how easy it is to cut in a tee in retrofit applications in the field. Instead of having to cut out a section of old tubing to work in a tee, you can use the T-Drill to just pull a tee from the existing run, and away you go.

For the drive unit, this new tool uses a Milwaukee drill motor, a powerful motor that easily handles any tee-forming operation up to the T-35's 1-1/4-inch capacity.

I like the drill's handy Quik-Lok cord. It's a proven benefit for ease of storage and no-downtime replacement.

The biggest design revision on the T-35 is to the tube support mechanism. It is a one-piece design with much beefier tube support legs. I found it a little more cumbersome to change the T-Drill heads than with my older unit, but the manufacturer had good reasons for this change. The older models had individual support legs that could bend if you used the drill beyond its operating range. The one-piece design prevents this. It also limits the size of the heads that can fit in the tool, keeping the drill from being used outside of its rated capacity on tubing with too large of a diameter.

Another improvement to the T-35 is its larger capacity than the older units. It will form 1/2- through 1-1/4-inch tees out of 1/2- through 2-1/2-inch copper tubing. Refer to the capacity chart supplied with the T-Drill, because some of the tee-forming processes require the copper to be annealed.

Annealing is done by heating the tee area with a torch, which softens the tubing and keeps it from splitting–or worse, from breaking a forming head. This is needed mainly when a tee outlet is formed from the same size as the run, or when using large-diameter tubing.

This drill tested flawlessly as I used it to form 1/2- through 1-1/4-inch holes out of 2-inch tubing. It is a comfortable tool to use, although it weighs in at 15 pounds.

The T-35 kit comes in a sturdy metal box and includes an ND-54 notcher, three forming heads, (1/2-, 3/4-, and 1-inch), a gauge block and ring for calibrating the forming pins, and a bottle of lubricating fluid for the T-Drill heads. The 1-1/4-inch head is available as an optional accessory for now, but will be included in a higher-priced kit in 2008.

The T-35 also will fit heads from older T-Drills, which is a benefit for getting the most out of past investments. My old T-Drill has put in a decade of service and shows no sign of slowing down.

The Verdict

The new T-35 is a high-quality, professional tool that you can expect many years of service from. Every time I pick up one of these tools, I have to smile because I know that with my increased productivity, I save lots of time and money. The T-Drill lets me be faster and more innovative, and that lets me stay ahead of the pack. Now that my secret weapon is out, however, I'll be on the lookout for the next big thing. I'll keep you posted...

–John Myrtle owns JM Plumbing and Heating in Hotchkiss, Colo.

T-Drill Industries Inc.
T-Drill T-35
Price $3,995
(1 1/4-inch head: $423)