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How to Open a Broken Gate Valve: Steps and Tips

A broken gate valve, whether broken open or closed, can be a nuisance in your plumbing system. In addition to being inoperable, it can mean costs in terms of repairs or replacements. Most often, a broken valve of this type cannot be easily opened, especially if the stem has snapped. Here, we show you how to open a broken gate valve and how fix it.

What is a Gate Valve in Plumbing?

A gate valve in plumbing is a type of shut-off valve that features a vertically moving part (called gate) to open and close. The “gate” connects to the stem via packing material and nut, with a hand wheel to operate its up and down motion.

Gate valves are a simple construction and inexpensive. This makes them popular in many different settings, the most common being the plumbing systems of residential buildings. Other common uses include the control of wastewater lines and in the oil and gas industry.

Like any other type of plumbing device, this valve can—and does—fail. In the below section, we take a detailed look at what causes gate valve failure and how to go about fixing the problem, especially if the valve won’t open.

Gate valve broken stem

Broken Gate Valve

Gate valves can break and become difficult to open or close. Sometimes, the stem snaps in two, denying you access to the “gate” via the handle. This can happen with the valve open or closed, making the affected line inaccessible for shut-off or any other operation.

Why do Gate Valves Break?

Several occurrences can lead to a broken gate valve. If left unopened for too long, the mechanism to open or close it may seize from rusting and corrosion, causing it to require more force. During such situations, the stem may also break.

These valve types are also known to accumulate deposits in the space around the “gate”. Over time, that can lead to the valve not closing completely. The problem could also be a foreign object that got lodged inside the valve.

Gate Valve Failure Modes

As we have seen, gate valves fail in a number of ways. When checking them for damage, therefore, it helps to understand what their different failure modes are. The modes include the following:

  • Valve cannot open: in this mode, you have the gate valve not opening. This can be caused by a snapping of the stem or seizing due to rusting or corroded parts.
  • Valve not closing: you have the gate valve not closing completely. This often results from a buildup of sediments that take up space and prevent the gate from fully lowering.
  • Broken valve stem: the stem is broken due to wear or the use of too much force to turn the handle.
  • Leaking stem: most often, this problem is caused by a loose packing nut or hardened seal. If so, a little bit of tightening could restore the valve. Alternatively, you could change the packing material.
Gate valve broken closed
Gate valve broken closed

Gate Valve Broken Closed

Sometimes, the valve breaks in the closed state, either fully or partially. This shuts off the affected line, which means you cannot restore the flow of water or any other material. This can cause a lot of inconvenience.

If you have a gate valve broken closed, the only way to restore flow would be by finding a means to open it, especially if it broke closed. Once opened, you could either choose to replace it entirely, or only change damaged parts.

Small valves are best replaced. Larger valves, on the other hand, are best repaired since changing them would be quite expensive. In the next section, we show you how to open a gate valve that’s either stuck or has the stem broken.

Opening a stuck gate valve
Opening a stuck gate valve

How to Open a Broken Gate Valve

In an emergency, you want to open the valve before you can fix or replace it. There are two main ways of opening a broken gate valve: using penetrating oil and with the help of heat. Penetrating oil loosens stuck or seized parts by lubricating them, while heat works by expanding the parts to unstick them.

You will need the following:

  • Penetrating fluid
  • Source of heat such as blow torch
  • Wire brush
  • A clean piece of cloth or rag
  • Adjustable wrench or similar tool

Start by finding a way of isolating and draining the broken valve. This can be done by shutting off the flow upstream and disconnecting the downstream pipe. If shutting off the flow isn’t possible, consider freezing it upstream but next to the valve.

How to Open a Broken Valve Using Penetrating Oil

The first step when you have a gate valve broken or stuck is to use penetrating fluid. This fluid oils the sticking parts, making them easier to unscrew.

  • Clean the valve surface to remove material deposits
  • Apply a generous amount of penetrating fluid around it
  • Wipe off excess amount of the fluid
  • Using a hammer, give the valve a slight tap to loosen seized parts
  • Use a wrench or other appropriate tool to open the valve

How to Open a Broken Gate Valve Using Heat

Depending on the level of damage or corrosion, the valve may not easily open, even with the use of penetrating oil. If that is so, consider heating it with a blow torch.

  • Remove any penetrating fluid from the valve’s surface
  • Aim the flame at the body of the valve
  • Heat the valve for a few seconds
  • This should free the sticking components
  • Use force to raise the gate
Gate valve broken stem
Gate valve replacement parts

Gate Valve Assembly Procedure

After opening a broken valve, you may want to install if afresh after repair, or use a new one. Either way, it’s crucial that you understand how to do so correctly. Start by inspecting the disassembled pars for dirt and damage. Clean those that contain deposits using a brush and replace the damaged ones. Then, proceed using these steps.

  • Slip the spindle through the packing material and nut.
  • Using an appropriate tool, tighten the packing material o the spindle
  • Insert the handle or hand wheel on top of the spindle
  • With an adjustable wrench or spanner, tighten the locking nut
  • Screw gate to the spindle
  • Insert the assembled top into the valve housing by screwing it on
  • Tighten the packing nut until the two pieces and firmly joined together.


A broken gate valve can cause a line to be unusable, especially if broken in the open or closed state. As we have seen, you can easily free and open a broken or stuck valve of this type. To help avoid future issues, it’s recommended to occasionally exercise the valve, regularly flush out deposits or sediments, and replace worn parts on time, or even the entire valve assembly.

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