drain plugged; cleanouts appear stuck

Hi,
I have an older house (circa 1957) with septic tank. My kitchen drain is really slow and sometimes backs up into the tub. I'm guessing that since the clog is common to both drains it must be down near the tank.
The cleanouts are ancient and don't appear to have been opened in years, certainly never since I've owned the place (4 years). My neighbor just paid $400 to get one opened, I just can't afford it...it took the plumber 15 minutes, I just don't like paying $1600/hr rates.
Are there any tips or tricks to opening these old cleanouts? All I have are standard car-type tools...I'm guessing the pros must use some special sockets, breaker bars, etc? Where would I get these kind of tools?
Any other tricks (heat, lubricants, etc) to help get these plugs out? I've got a snake but I can't get it through all the sharp bends ahead of the cleanout (tips on using the snake are optional but appreciated!)
Thanks, Flash
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The couple cleanouts I've had to open, I used my pipe wrenches, sometimes fondly called monkey wrenches.
Lubricants.... Break Free, PB Blaster, that kind of thing.
--
Christopher A. Young
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I believe pipe wrenches have teeth; monkey wrenches do not. They are not the same.

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In those four years you spoke about, have you ever had you septic tank pumped out? That just might be your problem.
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FlashFyre wrote:

If flushing the toilet doesn't cause backup, then the septic is OK.
If the CO plugs are brass (typ 1/2 century ago), don't try to unscrew. Use a very sharp cold chisel and cut an opening or make a slice around the perimeter. The brass plugs are very thin just for this purpose. When you have chopped enough meat away, you can "collapse" the plug with a blow from the edge toward the center. Then it will either pop out or unscrew very easily. (Put a wire hook thru the opening you made so that the plug can't fall in...)
Large drains require use of a powered snake. Rent an appropriate size one.
Jim
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<< Are there any tips or tricks to opening these old cleanouts? >>
No real tricks except brute force applied properly. That said, it is so common for cleanouts to weld themselves to the opening that many pros will take the appropriate wrench and give the fiiting a good tug. If it doesn't work then it's time to go for the drill out and replace technique. On PVC fittings it is common to use a hole saw to remove the entire center section, leaving the threads intact. On older brass covers a series of close spaced holes and a chisel will do the same thing. When the remaining material is removed the threads will be just fine and a new cover can be installed with your pipe dope of choice. Might work for you.
Joe
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I had this problem and sawed off the square boss on the plug with a hacksaw, then removed the remaining ring with a chisel. It was tiring but not what you would call difficult. If you have a sawzall, it would probably not be tough at all--those suckers really cut stuff. Sure isn't worth $400 (unless you are being paid to do it, of course).

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FlashFyre wrote:

Thanks for all the tips...I can't get to this for a few days but I'll let you know how it turns out.
BTW, I had the tank pumped out 1-1/2 years ago and it was pretty full but otherwise in fine condition. It had not been pumped out for nearly a decade previous, according to the notes I found on the door. Not sure if they are accurate, though.
I've been single for awhile so it's just me using the system, I'm guessing it will take me awhile to fill it up. I don't know much about septic tanks but I think the guy said it was about 1500 gallons. It's handmade of concrete, and there are two deep wells, full of rock, further back in the yard.
The toilet works like a champ, no problems there, and the sink in the bathroom is fine, too. Just the sink in the kitchen and the tub are backing up.
Thanks again, Flash
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If the toilet works well, I don't think you have a bad line at the tank. You must have a partial blockage after the tub but before the sink.
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Keep the whole world singing. . . . DanG

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FlashFyre wrote:

Well I am back from vacation and have made a little progress, but still having problems.
1) After using penetrating lube, the cleanout next to the kitchen sink opened up. But the snake stops dead at 12 ft, and on one occasion I pulled back a clump of roots about 3.5" by 1" in size.
2) I had to drill/sawzall the cleanout for the tub. IT was brass so it was not too bad to cut it out. I can run the snake all the way to the septic tank on this line, and once I do this the tub drain works fine.
3) I pulled the inspection port on the septic tank and it is pretty much just liquid with the layer of sludge on the top. The single port entering the tank is several inches above the liquid and flowing fine.
The problem is if I try and use the kitchen sink, it plugs up both the tub and the kitchen sink almost instantly. If I don't use the kitchen sink, the tub will drain fine until I do.
So I'm guessing that at some point on the 12 ft. radius from the sink cleanout, something bad has happened, certainly a root invasion of some kind. I'm thinking that the two lines merge at this point, and whenever I use the kitchen sink, the flow pushes roots (or something) into the join plugging both lines.
I was trying to get agressive with my snake, it's a 3/8" x 25" hand snake from home depot, and kinked it up really bad. I'm going to be in town in a couple hours and will either rent a powered snake or buy a heavier duty hand snake.
Any other ideas are appreciated, maybe I should just start digging? The merge has to be on the 12 ft. radius somewhere.
My septic tank is 22 ft. from the house, almost a straight line out from the sink, and the tub drain is about 10 ft. away from the sink, think of a right triangle with the short edge x, (10ft) between the sink and tub and the long edge y, (22 ft) between the sink and septic tank, and the hypotenuse r sqrt(10^2+22^2) being the line from the tub drain to the septic port. Of course I don't know how/where the drains actually run...
Thanks again, Flash
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FlashFyre wrote:

<SNIP>
Go rent a sewer snake. Show them the size of the CO opening and let them recommend a machine. If you pulled one clump of roots out, there will be more. In *most* cases, nothing bad has happened to the pipe and removing the roots periodically will solve it.
Dig it up? That's up to you.
Jim
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Speedy Jim wrote:

Well the rental guy says my 1-3/4" (measured) cleanouts take a 1-1/2" plug, and from the description of the problem (roots, hard stop, 3/8" kinked by hand) he says anything he rents me will just kink (he showed me his stack of kinked auger cable).
So he wants me to put in root killer, wait til next weekend, and try picking at it with a 1/2" snake by hand.
He says to get a lot of rest this week because he thinks I will be digging, suspects a large root is in the joint and that it is all over except for the digging.
So I am putting in the root killer tonight and hoping for the best.
Assuming none of this works, I'm trying to figure out a way to determine the general direction of the pipe so I have something of a chance to dig it the proper spot the first time. So far I'm thinking I can run some large guage copper wire into the tub and sink cleanouts to get an idea of where they point and maybe I can get a decent shot of digging in the right place the first time.
Thanks again, Flash
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I know this is a DIY focus newsgroup but it is time to call in the pro's contact your local Roto-Rooter guy or copy-cat rooter..
They have blades on a Roto-Rooter machine that will cut most roots out of your line. Then you can use the root killer to prevent new root growth for a time... or if they are good they can camera your sewer line and tell you where the root intrusion is and if you need a spot repair, replace all the line or just continue with the root killer.
Randy
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