Drilling a Well using a Mud Pump

Many thanks to George in Fayetteville NC his stories and pictures!

A mud pump represents a huge improvement in drilling over just using two hoses.  It improves water flow.  A typical mud pump will put out 100 gallons per minute whereas two hoses are only good for about 12 to 15 gallons per minute.

It saves water.  Just as important, a mud pump allows you to employ a re-circulating system so you can use bentonite or other gelling material that will solidify the sandy, crumbly walls of your borehole long enough you can drill without worrying about your hole collapsing on your drillpipe.  

As you can see from the photo above, a portable mud pit is being used. 

Additionally, a six inch PVC pipe has been inserted into the ground.  A tee has been placed on the top of the six inch PVC pipe.

Water is pumped, using the mud pump, down the drillpipe.  At the bottom of the borehole it turns and goes back up outside the drillpipe carrying cuttings with it.  When it reaches the top it goes out through the tee over to the portable mud pit.

The portable mud pit is continiously shoveled to get the mud out of the water.  A water/mud mixture is then pumped out of the pit and back down through the PVC drillpipe.

This is a much more powerful drilling operation than can be fashioned with two house water hoses supplying the drilling fluid.

Before we go further please take a look at the drawing below.It is from an excellent site, http://www.lifewater.ca/ndexdril.htm,  that is dedicated to helping third world countries drill for water.  The drawing shows their drilling rig, an LS-100  instead of our PVC apparatus but the mud pit arrangement is excellent.  If you have time, it would be a good idea to go to http://www.lifewater.ca/ndexdril.htm and browse around as well.  They have many other excellent ideas.

diagram from http://www.lifewater.ca/ndexdril.htm

The drilling fluid (water & bentonite) is pumped by the mud pump down the drilling pipe.  At the bottom of the borehole it picks up cuttings and carries them to the top.  At the top of the borehole the mixture of drilling fluid and cuttings go into a ditch that leads to a settling pit.  The cuttings fall to the bottom in the settling pit while the drilling fluid goes over a small ditch into the the mud pit.  During the drilling process, the cuttings are occasionally or continually shoveled from the bottom of the settling pit.  From the mud pit, the mud pump pumps the fluid back into the drilling pipe and the process continues.

Note I am saying "drilling fluid" and not water.  That is because bentonite or some other gelling agent is added to the water to make drilling fluid.  As the hole is bored, this drilling fluid causes the sides of the borehole to harden.  This is extremely helpful because the driller doesn't have to worry (as much) about the borehole caving in on his drilling pipe.  Any of you who have had a PVC drillpipe stick in a hole can appreciate how useful this trait is!!

Now let's move on to George's arrangement.  Rather than dig up his yard to make the settling and mud pits, he is using a portable mud pit.  He has inserted a six inch diameter piece of PVC into the ground where he will be drilling.  Then he attached a tee with a four inch pipe coming off the side.  This four inch pipe leads to his portable mud pit.



Quick Jel is added to the drilling fluid to solidify the walls of the borehole

A two inch hose connects the mud pump to the drillhead


A six inch PVC Tee is placed over a piece of six inch PVC that is
inserted into the ground.  This will direct the returning water through
horizontal piece of four inch PVC to the mud pit


Standing up the Drillpipe - Preparing to drill


Drilling away!


Below are a series of eMails George sent as he was drilling the well.  As you can see, it took a bit of experimentation to find the right combination of size, speed, and drilling mud.  He kept at it and his ultimate success is most impressive.  I left off a couple of the first emails.  As the story begins, George has a two inch pipe stuck in the ground from an effort using two water hoses as drilling fluid.


Hello Mike,

Using the mud pump method was GREAT !  I set everything up and had my neighbor over to help.  I put the 20’ piece of 3" pvc over my stuck 2" pipe …. fired up the mud pump and got the water recirculating into my 110 gallon livestock tub.  In less than 30 minutes, I had washed down to where the 3" pipe was on top of the 2" pipe.  The 3" pipe started wanting to stick in the soft sand, so I had my helper to add about 15 lbs. of “Aqua Gel" that I picked up at the plumbing store where I buy my well screens from.  It’s a combination of bentonite and a vegetable polymer.  Within a few minutes, I was able to easily slide the 3" pipe up and down/side to side to enlarge my bore hole …… it quit caving in and sticking like it had been doingJ   Instead of having to take the 2" pipe out, both pipes washed down together !  At about 19’, I hit hardpan … so I decided to stop and pull out the 3" pipe.  After doing this, I had so much room left in the borehole, that I was able to pour 2 bags of pea gravel down  the outside of my 2" pipe all the way to the bottom …. without any caving in issues.  I think I could have easily put down a 4" pipe and well screen down that hole.  The Aqua Gel was doing its job nicely.

Total time using the mud pump from starting to when I finished putting in the gravel pack was only 1 hour !  The guy at the plumbing shop told me I would have to backwash the well to remove the Aqua Gel because it would stop up the aquifer.  I did that using my 110 gallon sprayer tank that was standing by full of clean water.  I then hooked up my mud pump to the well and pumped it for 10 minutes … only getting about 9 gallons/minute flow.  During this time, I filled my 110 gallon sprayer tank back up with clean water.  I back flushed the well again …. after this time, I got a 16 gal/min flow …. getting better J  On the third time I back flushed the well, I surged the mud pump from slow to fast … back and forth as it back flushed.  Hooked everything back up and started pumping from the well ….. now getting 30 gal/min !!  I decided to quit while I was ahead …. plus the temperature was pushing 100 degrees !!

Next weekend, I’m moving over about 14’ and putting down a second well so that I can eventually combine the two for my irrigation.  I’ll take pictures and email them to you.  I used a 6" tee that had a 4" side port to recirculate back to my 110 gallon stock tub.  I only put 3’ of 6" pvc in the ground and packed around the pipe to prevent leakage.  Everything worked great … just like in the PVC video you sent me where the guy was using two dug pits to recirculate from.

I know this email is lengthy, but I just wanted to say THANKS for all your effort and help !

(next eMail)


We jetted down the second well this past Saturday morning.  It took only one hour from the time we started the pump until I finished with the gravel pack !!  I used a 3" pipe to jet with …. dropped in my 2" pipe with 5’ well screen …. then pulled out the 3" casing.  At this point, there is enough room to pour 2.5 bags of pea gravel down the hole beside the well pipe. By using the Quick Gel, the hole does not cave in on the well pipe.  The big difference this time was that I immediately back flushed the well with 110 gallons of fresh water to clear out the Quick Gel …. instead of trying to pump from it at the beginning like I did with my first well.  This second well pumps a huge 60 gpm !!!  I was amazed … to say the least.  Tied together, both wells produce 90+ gpm with the pump slightly above idle speed J  I’ve included some photos in this email and will send you some short videos in a follow up email.  I hope it does not clog up your Inbox.


Thanks so much for your help …… and inspiration from your website which got me started on this project !

(next eMail)

Here are the short video clips.  One thing I forgot to mention earlier was that you really have to mound up and pack the dirt around the bottom of your 6" tee.  We had a couple of times when the circulating water tried to come up around the 2.5 foot piece of 6" pipe we had in the ground below the tee.  It would be better if you could drive that pipe in the ground maybe another foot, but I did not have anything to do that with.  Using the Quick Gel gives you enough time to stop and fix your leaks as you go without risking a cave in on your pipe J





Here, George is setup to use the mud pump to test pump the well


Looks like it worked - 60 GPM!!



Gene in Waller, Texas previously posted a video but for reasons unknown to me it has been pulled.  Gene's video is the one George was referring to.  Gene uses five foot lengths of three inch PVC for his drillpipe.  He has attached threaded PVC couplings to his PVC for easy assembly and disassembly during the drilling process.  He uses set screws, going in from the side to keep the pieces of of three inch PVC from unscrewing during the drilling process.  Pretty crafty Gene!




The main mechanical seal went out on the pump right after we made the video and they are shipping me a new pump. I was only down about 9 ft. when the pump quit sucking.  I pulled the pipe out and am waiting for the pump. I was into some real hard clay when I quit. Could only make about a couple of inches an hour.  I used a 3" steel nipple to make my cutter.  Seems to be doing a good job except for this hard clay.  A well driller told me that I should have a nice course sand at 30 to 40 ft with some gravel in it.  He thinks the water table should be about 20 ft.   He is a pro well driller and he told me they use coarse sand instead of gravel for the pack.  He said the “play sand" at the box stores will work fine.  I bought 2 sacks of sand and 2 sacks of pea gravel and If I get to 40 ft I will put it all in for the gravel/sand pack as high up as it will go.

 Thanks a million for your videos. I learned a lot. I went to the recirculating method because my water pressure is low and I wanted to do the 3" pipe to make the gravel pack easier.   Youmhay try the play sand with the 2" drill. the sand should go between the 1 1/4 and the two inch if you use internal couplings.

Another thing I have done is install screw couplings in the 3" in order to facilitate removal of 40 ft.   To keep them from unscrewing I run a couple of drywall screws into the side of the couplings as I go down. Coming out I just back out the DW screws and unscrew the 3 in.

(next eMail)

The 2" trash pump is working great. Since I am using 3" PVC I found out that cutting the 10’ sections in half and using the threaded couplings makes the whole thing easier to handle. I told you about using screws in the coupling. I took two strap wrenches and tried to unscrew one and could not.

My well is going pretty slow as I seem to be in clay laced with some kind of sea shells. I’m now @ 25’. Probably an old oyster bed. I got some bentonite to use when I get in sand.  I usually only work in the late afternoon when I am in the shade.

(next eMail)

A couple of things I have learned:

1. When you use a metal cutter on the bottom it will make your hole a little larger if you bend every other tooth out a little and therefore less prone to sticking the pipe in hard clay. You might also bend the balance of the teeth in a little thereby increasing your cutting area.( Sorta like setting a saw blade.)

2. If you use the play sand instead of pea gravel with 2 “ it works well if you wash it down with water while pouring it. A large funnel would help.

3. Well driller buddy said if you use water w/out Bentonite the sand will pack a lot tighter around the pipe if it sticks. Sometimes, due to the wrong PH of the water the Bentonite will not mix properly. If that happens you need to add a very small amount of soda ash.  If you stop drilling say  overnight and your pit settles out and is clear on top then you know you need to add the soda ash. That will keep the bentonite from settling out.


NEXT:  Using a Mud Pump with a Portable Mud Pit