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Plumbing Custom Brake Lines on Project Pile House

Chopping the top, channeling the body, lowering the chassis, and smoothing the body are some of the common custom modifications that come to mind when talking about building a car. These jobs are very satisfying because of the instant gratification of the visual impact they make when finished. Brakes on a custom car is one of the things that isn't and can be overlooked and VERY under appreciated.

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First of all, if you're rebuilding an old car, whether it's a full blown 100 point restoration, or an out-of-this-world kustom, you shouldn't forget about completely redoing the brakes on your ride. Brakes are one of the most overlooked part of a build that can save your car and your life. Project Pile House is a full blown custom with little to be left original on the truck. It sits on a first generation Chevy S10 chassis, so the brake components on each corner are easy to get replacements for, but that's about where it stops being easy. I recently decided to plumb the brake system on Pile House, and show you what goes into a project like this.


For anyone that's been following along you may remember my saga with my brake pedal cluster and how I originally fabricated a custom frame mount for a brake booster and master cylinder to mount under the cab floor. This method just wouldn't work with the S10 chassis so I had to move back to a hanging pedal cluster setup that I mounted under the dash to keep a clean firewall. This worked well and got the pedal where I wanted, but it now made running brake lines VERY interesting. I had no old brake lines to use as a guide when making my new lines, and taking the lines in and out of the truck a dozen or more times to test fit wouldn't be very fun!


I should have known this project was going to be VERY tedious when I realized straight away that the proportioning valve and bracket wasn't going to fit on the Right Stuff booster behind the dash. I decided it would be cleaner, and easier to mount the proportioning valve on the frame so I only had two brake lines running out of the truck. I first cut off the old frame mount pedal cluster and mounting studs, but kept the box I had welded into the frame so I had a flat mounting surface for the proportioning valve. I drilled and tapped the box and mounted the chrome proportioning valve in its new home.

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I decided to start mocking up my brake line patterns by using 1/16" steel TIG rod bent to fit from the master cylinder down to the Right Stuff Chrome Proportioning Valve and then out to the four corners. Because the lines were going to be longer than a common TIG rod, I had to use painters tape to hold the pieces together to get the correct shape.

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Normally I would dread the process of straightening a coil of brake line, especially stainless like I was using on Pile House. No matter what I do I always over bend a section and then when I try and correct it I just make it worse and the line forever has a wave there. Recently we got in a new style tubing straightener that was handheld. I heard it was easy to use, and MAN were they right! You just slide the appropriate sized roller (available in 3/16", 3/"8, and 1/4") over your tubing and just push or pull it towards the coiled tubing and it will instantly straighten the line. I especially like this method over other vice-mounted straighteners because I could leave a coil of tubing hanging behind me if I was mocking up brake lines until I'm 100% sure where to cut it instead of guessing. I then measured out the amount of brake line I would need and used the professional tubing cutter to cut the stainless brake line to length.

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The two feed lines from the master cylinder to the proportioning valve really have tighter quarters to fit in and it took a number of tight bends to get them out of the cab and under the cab. I wanted my hard bends like 45's and 90's to be as clean as possible so I grabbed the Eastwood Triple Head Tubing Bender to start copying my TIG wire patterns. You can see below how involved it was to make all of those bends in the line to get it down to the chassis!

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I then pulled out the Pro Flaring Tool and flared up the master cylinder end of both main feed lines and fit them into the truck. I left the last couple bends to do under the car as they were too difficult to fish through the truck and the opening I had in the door pillar at the floor. Even though I have the body securely fastened to the chassis, the truck still will twist and potentially flex a little when driving, so I knew I couldn't run the feed lines from the master cylinder too tight or they could potentially fatigue the fittings at the proportioning valve. I decided to put some loops in the lines just before they went into the chassis-mounted prop valve. These loops act as a "spring" and will give a little if the body flexes or twists during driving. There's no fancy tricks in making these loops, I picked a bead roller mandrel and formed the lines around it to keep a uniform shape.


With the feed lines out of the way I had to move on to the lines that fed each corner out of the proportioning valve. The valve has 3 outlets; two for 3/16" lines that run to the front brakes and one single 1/4" line that ran out to the back of the car and then split at the chassis to rear end flex hose. The front brake lines I did first because they were going to be custom as well due to the longer brake hoses and relocated hose mounts needed for a the travel of air suspension. I made up my TIG rod patterns again and taped them to chassis to make sure everything jived and they weren't in the way of anything like the exhaust or oil pan for future servicing. With these lines ran I was on the home stretch.. or so I thought!

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I then moved on to the rear brakes, which were drums and I figured were going to be simple. I mean they're just a wheel cylinder, some springs, and shoes right? Until I dug in and found that I had the dreaded GM bolt-less wheel cylinders that use an odd round spring clip pressed into the backing plate. I'm putting it nicely when I say THEY SUCK! You pretty much have to go caveman and pry the wheel cylinders out to get the clip to pop off as it's recessed deep into the backing plate. I later found out that there's a special tool to install and remove, but it's still REALLY tough to get in there and I can't see how this was a good idea when GM decided on this design!


Once I had the old wheel cylinder out and straightened the backing plate back out it hit me... I had to get those horrible clips back ON the new wheel cylinders (insert my favorite swear words). After trying and trying I was thoroughly frustrated and ready to give up, but I decided to hit the web and see what others had done to get around this issue.. there HAD to be a secret handshake to make it just pop back on! I was wrong, the only real tip was to fit a socket in and hammer the clip in.. but even then the wheel cylinder may be loose and fit incorrectly. Luckily I read on and a couple guys mentioned a NAPA part number for a retainer kit that bypassed the clip and allowed you to bolt the cylinder in place. I quickly placed the order and I had these little brackets in the next day. The kit required me to drill 2 small holes in the backing plate and install the bracket over the wheel cylinder with a pair of self-tapping screws. This was a painless process and the wheel cylinders are very secure now. I highly suggest this modification if you don't hate the next owner or your future self!

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With the wheel cylinder saga over I moved on to restoring the brake hardware I'd be reusing and rebuilding the drum brakes. I used the new Eastwood Blasting Cabinet to blast the rust and crud off of these parts and primed and painted them with Satin Chassis Black Paint. I then painted the drums with brake gray to match the front calipers. The before and after is really amazing and almost made the hassle with the wheel cylinders worth it!

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I finished by making my split lines to the drums and ran them over the rear utilizing the original mounting tabs. It's almost a shame to cover these lines as they look so dang nice contrasting against the Chassis blacked rear and detailed drum brakes! I just need to go pick up some line clamps and drill and mount them on the chassis to securely hold the brake lines in place. Then I can bleed the system and move on to the next project on Pile House!

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All in all this project took me a 3-4 afternoons of work, but that was due to some complications and the difficulty of changing the routing, shape, and mounting of the brake lines over stock. This project normally is a weekend job, but it isn't something that should be rushed, it's your brakes we're talking about here! Now that truck will be able to stop itself soon, I'm ready to get the drivetrain tuned up and ready for a test drive around the parking lot!


29 thoughts on “Plumbing Custom Brake Lines on Project Pile House”

  • Jim A

    You need to install residual valves or your pedal will go soft and have to be pumped up. The front brakes need 2 PSI and the rear brakes need 10 psi. I think you need a porportional valve as well so the back brakes can be cut down so they won't lock up on hard braking.

  • Tom

    PLEASE !!!

    What's the NAPA part number for that rear cylinder installation adapter?

    • MattM

      Raybestos Part # GMB25851 Your local NAPA or good autoparts store should be able to order it in. I've also seen them for cheap on Amazon. Hope that helps!

  • Steven avis

    I just got the Eastwood flaring tool shown in your pictures. Practicing with steel lines and stainless lines. The steel flares come out perfect. The stainless come out with the flare offset or crooked. Any tips?

  • Charles B

    Two very dangerous mistakes!!! At the proportioning valve tubing projects below the frame. In the rear flex house is lower than axle. Brake lines must be protected from frame groundings. Rear brake line exposed to road snags. A curb strike or parking stop could disable brake system!!! Rework please!!!! This truck is lowered ground strikes are very probable!!

    • MattM

      The truck is channeled heavily over the frame, so the running boards, front bumper and entire front end sheet metal sit WAY lower (as in 2 or more feet) than the chassis on this project. In order for the lines to get hit the ENTIRE front sheet metal and running boards would need to be ripped off first, at that point I've probably got much bigger issues. Normally, yes you're correct.

  • Charles

    Truck is lowered. Brake line at proportioning valve is below frame. Rear brake hose exposed lower than axle. This truck is prone to ground strikes that will disable brakes. Brake lines must be positioned to protect from ground strikes and road snags!!!

    • MattM

      The truck is channeled heavily over the frame, so the running boards, front bumper and entire front end sheet metal sit WAY lower (2 or more feet) than the chassis on this project. In order for the lines to get hit the ENTIRE front sheet metal and running boards would need to be ripped off first, at that point I've probably got much bigger issues. Normally, yes you're correct.

  • Tony G

    I'm working on building a rolling chassis now for a '64 Chevelle. I ordered the Right Stuff no brainer brake lines. Cheating a bit but I'm sure I'll have to make mods. What did that Eastwood flaring tool cost you?

  • Larry D

    Matt, did you check your flares VERY carefully after completion for minute cracks? I have fought those and fought those in the past using the exact same flaring tool you are. I finally was able to determine the cause. I was using a line cutting tool you show using. Throw that bugger in the trash. For some reason, that thing and tend to anneal the metal at the cut. When you flare it, it can tend to crack about half the time. They are miniscule cracks...but they are there. I was able to use a cut off wheel to cut my lines. Dress the ends with a file (there are a couple different ways to do this to get perfect ends), debur the inside lip with a unibit, and flare. I have not cracked a single flare since. Done dozens that all came out perfect.

    Steven, the crooked flare is usually caused on the first step of the flare. You might try a high quality hand flaring tool and see if that helps. Matt's suggestion is also a good one. Working with stainless can be a real pain in the back side. Good luck!

    • MLW69Z

      Working the metal hardens it (work hardening) annealing makes the metal softer (more malleable). You want it to be annealed.

  • Jeff W

    The lower outlet line from the valve body to the front brake looks pretty vulnerable to damage as it appears to be curving below the frame. Wouldn't it be better to put a 90 degree fitting in the valve body and connect the outlet line to it, giving you the ability to reduce the curve in the line and get it higher and protected by the frame?

  • bob

    When your truck is finished with the dash installed, how will you be able to check the master cylinder and add fluid?

    • MattM

      The original fresh air vent/door opens/removes to allow filling and checking fluid.

      • bob

        You are fortunate to be building a vehicle that happens to have a fresh air vent/door positioned above the master cyl. If you were building a vehicle without that door, is there any "trick" way to check and fill the master?

  • Elmer Smith

    Who's booster & pedal assembles?

  • Tim

    I remember doing rear wheel cylinders on these in my shop. I had two awls the same size and tapped those in by the clip notches, then popped the cylinders out easily with a large screw driver.
    To install, I used a socket that just fit over the back of the wheel cylinder (removed the bleeder screw) to drive the clip back on while holding the wheel cylinder from the front with a wood wedge driven in between the axle flange and it. Worked great, no special tools!

  • Bob

    If the vehicle has rear/4 wheel disc brakes does a proportioning valve still need to be used in the rear brakes since all brakes have the same resistance. No spring pressure to overcome on rear brakes ?

    • Mark

      Yes, you still need the prop valve since you want more braking effort on the front discs. Typical is around 60% front / 40% rear, but that varies based on vehicle weight distribution, suspension rates, tire contact patches, etc. On most custom builds, you'll want to use an adjustable one to tailor the front to back ratio. What you're aiming for is balanced lock-up, i.e. 4 even patches when mashing on the stop pedal in an empty parking lot or deserted road.

    • George

      Proportioning valves are needed because vehicles function better braking harder in the front for a multitude of reasons.

  • clyde

    When flaring stainless line, it is a must to annual the line before flaring to prevent minute cracking. Heat the tip (3/8") to cherry red, let cool to touch, then lube die with anti-seize, and flare. This worked every time for me on double and metric flares. I used the Eastwood Pro tool. Invest in it. Well worth the extra bucks for excellent flares and less wasted time. I've tried them all.

  • Dave

    Hi I have used this flaring tool many times for stainless; you need to pull the stainless brake line back a little before making the first flare;; The setting-depth stop s not correct for stainless;; this tool is made for steel liness;; need a different- extra one gauged a little longer to do the flare correctly.. I use a tubing cutter made for stainless lines and oil;; their is a difference in cutters, go on Rigid website and you will see it.

  • Steve

    If you use anti-seize or oil on the lines, be sure to clean it off before installing. Any petroleum based lube can contaminate the brake fluid. I usually lube with brake fluid.


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