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Plumbing Valve Basics

Get a close-up, cutaway view of a stop valve, gate valve and ball valve, along with detailed explanations of how they work and advantages and disadvantages of each type.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Stop valve vs. Gate valve vs. Ball valve: Who’s the winner?

There are three basic valve styles, making this a classic case of good, better and best (described in order as follows). All three can be used for water, oil or airflow control if the casting has "WOG" stamped on it.

Stop valves are closed by screwing a rubber gasket down onto a seat in the middle of the valve. Pros only use small versions that act as shutoff valves for fixtures such as sinks and toilets and outdoor sillcocks. Flow is inefficient because of the circuitous route the fluid (water, in most cases) has to follow. It's important to orient the valve in the right direction with the arrow (cast into the side of the valve) aligned with flow direction. That way, water flows against the bottom of the rubber gasket. If the valve is put in backward, the flow will force the gasket away from the top of the valve.

Gate valves are called "full-flow" valves; there's a direct unobstructed path for flow right through the middle of the valve. A wedge-shaped brass gate is lowered into a machined slot to close the valve. They should either be completely open or completely closed. Water flowing through a partially open gate valve wears away the metal and causes the valve to fail over time.

Ball valves contain a finely machined stainless steel ball with a hole drilled through the center that pivots in plastic bushings. Like the gate valve, it's a full-flow valve. The hard steel allows this valve to be partially open without wearing out. In the closed position, the lever is perpendicular to the pipes; in the open position it’s parallel, so a glance will tell you if it's open or not. The downside? If the pipes are tight against the wall, you may not be able to operate the lever.

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

    • Adjustable wrench
    • Plumbers tape
    • Slip joint pliers
    • Soldering torch
    • Tube cutter

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

    • Stop, gate or ball valve
    • Solder
    • Flux

When used for water, valves can be soldered in place.

Comments from DIY Community Members

Share what's on your mind and see what other DIYers are thinking about.

1 - 6 of 6 comments
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June 07, 10:35 PM [GMT -5]

The rules for valve usage were not really explicit

1) Ball valves are full flow and unless designed as such are NOT flow control valves.

2) Gate valves are full flow valves and can be used as flow control and/or pressure reducers under dynamic conditions. I used a gate valve to "chew up" pressure on the line to my refrigerator. Pressure will return to full pressure (i.e. line pressure) when flow stops.

3) Stop valves can be used as described in the article (faucets, toilets) and have very high pressure drops. They cannot be used as the main water service valve or as isolation on a hot water heater. They are also called globe valves and are effective as flow control valves. Water best flows up past the disk (globe/stop). Hose bibbs are globe/stop valves.

The article did not cover such things as needle valves or even check valves, butterfly, etc.

I love and prefer ball valves b/c of ease of use, lots fewer turns to open or close.

September 15, 12:23 PM [GMT -5]

Thanks for sharing! Don't forget to scrap the old valves for some extra cash.

Find local scrap yards with the iScrapApp.

April 26, 12:01 PM [GMT -5]

midyoung1- according to the article:

"If the pipes are tight against the wall, you may not be able to operate the lever."

i assume this means that the ball valve is used most of the time but the others exist for specialty cases. hope this helps.

Jim Donahue

January 18, 10:51 AM [GMT -5]

I enjoyed the article; the only thing is what is the application for each? If the ball valve is the best as far as completly stopping the water, then why do the other valves still exist? I've always been confused about this and wondered which valve to use where.

September 19, 1:44 AM [GMT -5]

You're exactly right, shacko. Even the picture in this very article shows a ball valve assembly that has a smaller hole than pipe diameter. It is amazing just how much less water flow and pressure that you'll get from using a valve with too small an opening. The money you save with a cheap valve isn't worth the callbacks and complaints that you'll get in return..

September 18, 2:22 PM [GMT -5]

>>>Ball valves contain a finely machined stainless steel ball with a hole drilled through the center that pivots in plastic bushings. Like the gate valve, it's a full-flow valve.<<<

That is not true, if you buy the cheap valves the hole in the ball is smaller then the pipe size, you have to buy the ball valve that bulges in the center to get a true full flow.

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