For a quick dose of humility, there's nothing like celery strings dangling from your ears," says This Old House plumbing and heating consultant Richard Trethewey, recalling one encounter with a clogged kitchen drain early in his career. Rather than empty the greasy, overflowing sink, he went to the cellar, opened a pipe, and worked a snake line up from below. "I thought I was clever, until the entire contents of the sink came rushing down, hitting me square in the forehead ? a real Three Stooges move," he laughs. Today, Richard says to start with a plunger and gently escalate the action as needed. "Old house plumbing can be delicate," he explains. "You don't want to come in with guns blazing ? blasting water down the drain or ramming the clog. You could burst a pipe or blow apart a coupling." The next attack should come from a hand snake ? a coiled metal cable or flat steel wire that winds down the drain and breaks up the clog with gentle twists and tugs. Richard advises a slow, deliberate approach. "Best not to be hasty," he warns. "Most people advance several feet of wire before turning it. Then it either kinks ? or flips out, scratching the fixture or splashing mucky water all over you." Feed the snake in one foot at a time, he urges, then turn it, feeling the way. "It's like fishing," he explains. "You sneak up gradually, patiently, and when you get to the clog you can feel it, like a nibble." When you hit the block, work at it gently. While this can take time ? "Even the best of plumbers," Richard says, "can lose hours to a clogged line" ? it minimizes trauma to both plumber and pipe.