There’s an age-old debate among drain cleaning professionals on which method of cleaning is better: Drum machines or sectional machines.

In the end, they are both effective, with their own advantages as well as tradeoffs. It is best to be well-versed in both, as you may find one job is best for a drum machine and the next job is better suited for a sectional machine.

This is a rundown on sectional machines. Read on if you’re in need of a refresher about the basics or are looking for information to pass along to someone just entering the field.

Sectional Machine Basics

The general concept of sectional drain cleaning machines is the same across the board — sections of cable, typically of 7 1/2- or 15-foot lengths, are coupled together one at a time and fed down a pipe to scour the inside as they spin. It allows the user to take only the necessary amount of cable to a job site. This differs from drum machines, where the entire 100 feet plus of cable is stored on the machine and must be brought to every job. Carrying only what you need can obviously ease the burden of transporting equipment.

In addition to improved portability, the shorter sections minimize the effect of a broken cable. If a sectional cable kinks or breaks, you are out that section of cable — again, typically 7-1/2 or 15 feet — as opposed to an entire 100 feet or more of cable. And because sectional machines operate with low torque, the cables don’t need to be wound as tightly as drum cables, which allows for a more open, flexible wind and less weight.

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All sectional machines operate at a higher speed than their drum counterparts, typically in the 400 to 700 rpm range. To create rotation, sectional machines feature a hand-operated clutch that causes a set of jaws to clamp down on the cable when engaged. When the clutch is released, rotation of the cable stops immediately. This element of control on the cable is a top feature for sectional machine advocates.

Within the sectional machine market, the primary difference lies in the capacity of the machine.

Different types of sectional machines will have different capacities in terms of the sizes of drains they can clean. This is a result of both clutch jaw sizes and motor power, which must work in conjunction. A large capacity set of jaws doesn’t do any good if there is a weak motor to power the unit. Likewise, having an overly powerful motor for smaller cable sizes can increase the risk of damaging the cable.