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Making a Flare – Quick Tips
This article is not a full lesson on making a flare, but it will give you some best practices to make a flare that doesn't leak.
First off, we need to clarify that very few unitary manufacturers use flares anymore. You will most often find flares on ductless and VRF/VRV systems and in refrigeration. A flare uses a flared female cone that's formed into tubing (usually copper). That cone is then pressed onto a male cone (usually brass) by a threaded flare nut. A flare shouldn't be confused with a chatleff fitting that uses a threaded nut and seals with a Teflon or nylon seal. Flares and chatleff fittings are both threaded connections, which is why it's easy to confuse the two. You can learn more about threaded connections by listening to a short HVAC School podcast episode about them HERE.
Best practices for making a flare
- Use proper depth; the old-school method is to bring the copper up a dime's width above the block, but modern flaring blocks usually have built-in gauges that work well.
- Don't trust factory flares. In many cases, factory line-set flares are made poorly; it's often better just to cut them off and start over.
- Ream the copper before flaring to remove the burr, but don't OVERREAM and thin out the copper edge.
- Use a good, modern flaring tool designed for refrigeration. This is a great one.
- When making the flare, use a bit of refrigerant oil. It's even better to use a bit of Nylog. You only need a drop or two; you can put one drop on the flare while making it to prevent binding and create a smoother flare surface. Put a bit on the back of the flare as well. That way, you can allow the nut to slide easily. I also like one small drop on the threads and spread it to the mating surfaces. It's worth noting, however, that some manufacturers disagree with this due to the effect it has on torque specs. So, I always suggest following their recommendations when in doubt. In my experience, a bit of assembly lubricant really helps.
- Use a flare wrench instead of an adjustable wrench. Then, tighten the flare nut with a torque wrench. I understand that very few techs do this, but it's a great practice if you want to get it right the first time with no leaks or damage. That can be done easily with a set of SAE crowfoot flare nut wrenches and a 3/8″ torque wrench. As always, use manufacturers' torque specs if available. If not, you may use the chart below. Make sure to keep the crowfoot at 90 degrees to the wrench (perpendicular), and place your hand on the end grip of the wrench. If you have lubricant on the threads, stay on the low side of the torque rating.
Using these practices, we have VERY FEW leaks on flare fittings.
Some things NOT to do that I've seen
- Don't use leak lock or Teflon tape on flares.
- Don't over-tighten flares to try and get them to stop leaking. If they are properly torqued and still leak, they are made wrong.
- Don't use too much oil or Nylog; a drop or two will do.
- Don't try and jam a Teflon seal from a chatleff on a flare.
Some other things to note
There is a company called Spin that uses a flaring tool that goes on a drill. Their tool actually heats and anneals the copper. They claim they don't need to get the flare to 45 degrees because the annealing makes the copper soft enough that the nut itself with finish the flare. We have used it a few times with good results.
NAVAC also has a great cordless power flaring tool, the NEF6LM. It's pretty light and easy to use in the field, and you'll get perfect flares as long as you follow the best practices I mentioned above. I filmed a demo and review of the product a while ago, and you can watch that HERE.
There are now companies that make nylon/Teflon (I'm actually not sure what they are made of) gasket inserts that go into a flare. Some techs swear by them. I really don't see the necessity, but I don't have any experience with them.
Finally, make sure to pressure test to the rated test pressure when your system has flares, and bubble test the joints. Then, perform a vacuum to below 500 microns and decay test. You can follow the steps below, and that will help ensure that you've got it right. If the flare leaks, cut it off and remake it.
- Use a good tool
- Get depth correct
- Ream properly
- Use a good assembly lubricant
- Torque properly
- Pressure test to 300+ PSIG (in most cases) and bubble test carefully
P.S. – A while ago, I made a video showing how to make ductless flares that won't leak. If you work on a lot of unitary or ductless equipment, you might find it useful. You can watch it HERE.