WHEN THE PIPE STICKS
I have gotten at least 90 E-mails from folks wanting to know what to do
when the pipe sticks. So, I apologize for not having worked this
out and posted it earlier. I kind of had the solution bouncing
around in the vast open space between my ears for a while but I had not
yet used the technique to free a pipe. Accordingly, I was hesitant to
Well, (pun intended) this summer (2013) I stuck a pipe quite thoroughly.
I drilled 35 feet on the first day without any problems. I was
using bentonite so at the end of the day, with the pipe quite loose, I decided to leave it in the ground. The next morning
when I resumed drilling, the pipe was perfectly free. It was just
like I left it the day before. Nice, huh?
The second day, I drilled on to 68 feet. Again, I used plenty of
bentonite. The earth between 35 and 68 feet was really soft,
almost pure sand all the way. That should have been a clue to me!
At the end of the second day the pipe was so free in the ground I could
work it up and down with a couple of fingers. Given my experience
the previous night, I figured I could leave it in the ground for another
night. I propped it up about three feet off the bottom of the hole
and quit for the day.
- big mistake -
The next morning I absolutely could not budge it. I twisted it.
I turned it. I got help and with all
the folks I could round up, we still could not pull that pipe up an
inch. I tried pumping water down the pipe and it blew the
drillhead off. Nothing worked.
The original title for this page was, "IF THE PIPE STICKS." After
thinking about it I changed it to "WHEN THE PIPE STICKS" because if you
drill enough wells you will stick the pipe at some point. Its just
gonna happen. Guaranteed.
Real well drillers have powerful gasoline engine powered hydraulic jacks
built into the derricks mounted on the back of their trucks to pull the pipe out of
the ground. Even the small drilling rigs are routinely capable of putting 20,000
pounds upward pull on the pipe. I don't know about you but, on a
good day I can, for a fleeting instant, put about 200 pounds upward
pressure on a pipe. As you may have already discovered
(since you are reading this!), that just ain't enough.
There are several techniques you can use to pull the pipe up so please
don't feel restricted by my suggestions below. I have tried to
present a lever system, something that most folks can construct and operate.
Other ideas include a winch, a block and tackle pulley system, and
vehicle jacks, both mechanical and hydraulic. For our purposes, I
think a simple lever will be easiest. It is likely also the
The Greek mathemetician Archimedes said, ďGive me a lever long enough, a
fulcrum strong enough and Iíll move the world." I kind of wonder
if he was a driller too....
There are two primary issues involved in putting upward force on the
pipe. The first is getting a good grip on the pipe. I find
when the pipe sticks and I twist and push upward on the handle, the
handle tends to slip upward on the pipe. So the first thing we
want to try is improving the grip the handle has on the pipe.
Fortunately, a two inch flexible coupler is perfect for this.
Below is a photograph of a a couple flexible two inch couplers from Lowes.
The flexible coupler is item number 22473 and costs $4.33 The rubber sleeve fits
perfectly over our two inch pipe. Slide it on to your pipe and
then mount your handle on it, as shown in the photo below.
RUBBER SLEEVE WITH HANDLE MOUNTED
That piece of wood on the bottom is just a piece I use to keep stuff
from slipping down inside the guide pipe. It has saved several
tools and clamps from certain burial.
The second primary issue is putting upward force using a lever.
You'll need to come up with something stable to use as a fulcrum for the
lever. I use a small table with a board under the load bearing
legs. It is shown below.
TABLE USED AS FULCRUM
Next you'll need the lever itself. Since we want to apply equal
pressure to both sides of the handle, I like to use two 2" X 4" boards
as shown below.
READY TO PRY
Next you simply pry the pipe up. The closer you have the fulcrum
(table) to the pipe then the more leverage you have. Take the
photograph above. The table is about about a foot from the
handle/pipe. Since the pry boards are eight feet long, there is an
eight to one (8/1) mechanical advantage. If I can apply 150 pounds
of downward pressure on the lever, the upward pressure on the pipe will
be 1200 pounds. By moving the fulcrum closer to the pipe, say four
inches, the mechanical advantage becomes 24 to one. With that kind
of leverage, even my old weak ass can apply 3600 pounds upward
pressure on the pipe!
This brings us to our next problem. If we put that much upward
pressure on the handle, it could still slip, even with the handle held
to the pipe with four pipe clamps mounted to rubber. For this
problem we simply need to improve our system of mounting the boards we
are prying to the pipe.
Here is the system I used. I put seven of the two inch sleeves
with a two inch wide piece of oak on each side. One pipe clamp
holds each sleeve to the piece of oak. It is a bit cumbersome to
move the clamps/sleeves,oak pieces down a few inches between pry, but it
is very strong and works quite well. A photograph of the setup is
IMPROVED PIPE MOUNT FOR PRYING
A video showing the system in action on an actual stuck pipe is below:
I have heard from folks who used backhoes, tractors, and vehicle mounted
winches. If you come up with a good system you think others might
be able to use, please send me pictures and I will post them!
NEXT: PVC Couplers