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Equipment Options for Water Well Drilling Processes

Four generations of experience installing, maintaining and
repairing wells throughout Utah and Wyoming.
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When it comes to drilling and installing a new water well on any property, the equipment and approaches used are naturally very important. There are a few different ways this process may be carried out today, and having some basic knowledge on your options is never a bad thing. 

At Mike Zimmerman Well Service LLC, we’re happy to offer the very best water well drilling and installation services in Utah. Our most common form of drilling is rotary drilling, which we’ll go over below, but there may be certain other settings where other methods are required. Here’s a broad primer on the methods out there in the water well drilling world today.

equipment water well drilling

Manual Digging

While this method is far less-often utilized than it may have been a couple generations ago, there are still old-fashioned clients who want their water well drilled the old-fashioned way. This equipment-free method usually means a team of two or three workers will be taking shifts manually digging the hole for your new water well until it’s completed.

Simply put, you need to be prepared for some significant expenses if you’re wanting to go this route. Not only is manual labor very costly in terms of employee hours, but you’re also looking at a longer turnaround time for the job as well.

On the other hand, some people simply prefer the more traditional approach and are willing to pay whatever it takes to get their water well drilled this way.

Rotary Drilling Formats

As we mentioned above, our most common format for drilling new water wells — and perhaps the most common such format in the entire industry today — is rotary drilling. This refers to the use of a drill bit that’s attached to a very long rod, which is in turn attached to a large machine known as a drilling rig.

The entire assembly is then lowered into the hole that’s been dug (or will be dug) for the water well, and the operator of the machine will begin turning or rotating the drill bit. This action will cause the bit to cut through whatever materials it encounters, including dirt, rocks, and other debris.

Once the hole has been drilled deep enough, a well screen and/or casing can be inserted to provide stability and keep contaminants out of the water as it’s brought up to the surface.

There are actually a couple different types of rotary drilling to consider:

  • Mud rotary: This method utilizes a water-pressure-based jet for power, plus a large cutting bit, a steel drill pipe and a motorized rig. It’s a very efficient way to drill through softer soils and sedimentary rocks, and there’s no drive casting necessary because the borehole is kept open during the entire process. This is one of the fastest methods of drilling, and is often used in settings where time is of the essence. It can be somewhat pricy in some cases due to fuel usage, but this is made up for by how quickly it can be done.
  • Air rotary: As the name suggests, this method uses compressed air to both power the rig and clean out any cuttings that are produced by the bit as it drills through different materials. It’s a good choice for drilling through harder rocks, but can also be used in softer soils and sediments as well. It’s more efficient than the mud rotary method in some ways, but can also be more expensive because of the air compressor that’s required.


A process that’s somewhat similar to mud rotary drilling, at least in terms of forcing water through a small opening to create power, jetting is most often used in shallower water wells. In this case, the water is forced through the small opening at an incredibly high pressure, which then helps to break up any materials that are in the way and make it easier for the well drilling process to progress.

In most cases, jetting will only be used for soft sediments and soils, but it can also be used as a first step in drilling through harder materials. It’s a very efficient method and is often much faster than using a rotary drill, but it can be more expensive because of the high-pressure equipment that’s required.

It’s limitations, however, are seen when you get to harder rocks and materials, which is where rotary drilling will usually take over.

Cable Tool

Also sometimes called the percussion or impact method, cable tool drilling is another very old and traditional approach to water well drilling. As the name suggests, it involves using a large drill bit that’s attached to a long cable, which is in turn attached to a massive rig.

The operator will lower the bit into the hole that’s been dug (or will be dug) for the water well, and then use the rig to pound or hammer it into the ground. This action will cause the bit to break through any materials it encounters, including dirt, rocks, and other debris.

For those who need to drill through particularly hard or stubborn materials, cable tool drilling is often the best choice. It’s also one of the most affordable methods in many cases, making it a good option for those who are working with a limited budget.

The only real downside to this method is that it can be quite slow, particularly when compared to rotary drilling or jetting. Those who need a fast, expedited process may want to look into other options.

Drilling a water well on your property can be a big job, but it’s important to remember that you have options when it comes to the equipment and approaches that will be used. Consider your needs and budget carefully before making a decision, and always work with a reputable professional to ensure the best processes and equipment are utilized.

For more on this, or to learn about any of our water well drilling, installation or rehabilitation services, speak to the team at Mike Zimmerman Well Service LLC today.