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Why the "Cheater Pipe" is a DIY Boater's Best Wingman

Is a rusted nut stalling your install? Here's an easy way to get more leverage.

A Trusted Friend—the Cheater Pipe

Let’s say that, for some reason, you are replacing your old windlass with a brand-new one. And, right off the bat, you note that the old model is secured with four through-deck bolts, backed up with four, thoroughly rusted sets of fender washers, lockwashers, and nuts. And yeah, as you wade into the project, breaking three of these sets loose is a job but it’s doable. With an assist from lots of slimy penetrating oil, a wait time of approximately one whole day, and the application of a couple of oversized, box-end wrenches, you manage to pull it off.


But then, there’s that fourth freakin’ nut that positively refuses to surrender. So after you’ve spent almost the whole dang weekend trying to either break it loose or cut it off, and bruised your knuckles on an assortment of tools and methods that have failed miserably (including a hacksaw, a variety of cold chisels, and a so-called nut-splitter), you ultimately scratch your head in desperation and cast an accusatory look at the heavens. “There’s a brand-new windlass sitting in that box over there,” you cry out, “but how the heck am I going to install it?”

The answer comes in the shape of a guy—every marina has at least one of ‘em—who happens to be walking down the dock at the precise time you are contemplating forsaking boating for golf. “Having some trouble,” he asks while easing along a tippy finger pier so he can facilitate a therapeutic conversation with you. You calm down after a while. And finally, he tosses into the discourse an exceptionally simple but wholly invaluable tool that you’ve never heard of before—a “cheater pipe.”

Boat US

Boat US

Cheater pipes (sometimes called “breaker bars”) have been keeping the U.S. Merchant fleet (or what’s left of it) as well as the U.S. Navy going for years. The technology, as stated above, is so uncomplicated it’s amazing. To employ it, you simply procure, cut, or otherwise customize an old piece of pipe—galvanized works particularly well—that is, lets say (for a comparatively small job like removing an old, recreational-boat windlass), three feet long and possesses an inside diameter that allows you to slide it over the handle of a ratchet-type wrench, a pipe wrench, an adjustable wrench (although for tough jobs adjustable wrenches are bad about rounding off the flats on nuts), or some other kind of bolt-twisting device you happen to have on hand.

The point, of course, is to add leverage to your chore, lots of it. But just remember—once you’ve tacked on a couple of feet to the wrench you are pulling on or pushing against, be careful. Apply pressure steadily, but slowly, slowly, slowly.

Leaning heavily and peremptorily on the business end of what has effectively become a wrench with a five-foot handle can be dangerous, both to you and your project. Moreover, ten chances to one, just a little pressure at the end of your new cheater pipe will break that exasperatingly recalcitrant nut free.

And one more thing. Don’t throw your newly created tool away. The little jewel will stow easily in your engine room or lazarette. And it’s surprising how often a cheater pipe can come in right handy onboard a boat.

For more tips like this, visit the Vetus-Maxwell DIY Workshop at

Capt. Bill Pike is deputy editor of our sister publication Power & Motoryacht magazine.