Hand dug well

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can anyone give me info on digging a well by hand ?

-- Howard Meter (binki@ix.netcom.com), October 04, 2000


At one time digging wells was a profession. Those who practiced it were of small stature to allow them to operate in a confined space. Tools were a short handled shove and pick.

A spot was chosen with a high likelihood of striking at lease seepage water within about 20' of the surface. The soil structure also had to be solid enough to support the shaft since it would ordinarily not be reinforced or bricked up until the shaft was completed.

Once the shaft was several feet deep one person was lowered in to dig with the dirt, mud or muck hauled out by bucket by another. They would take turns digging. This continued until the desired depth was reached. It would not be unusual for water to be standing in the bottom each morning so it had to be bailed out first. If rock was encountered a hole had to be drilled in it using a star drill and hand sledge. Then dynamite would be packed in the hole, the fuze lit and, hopefully, the digger hauled out of the hole before it went off.

It was not pleasant work and it is where the saying, "Colder than a well digger's ass," comes from.

I have a handdug well at the other end of the farm. Murray White told me it was the job one summer for him and a brother. When they stopped for lunch they would be so dirty their mother wouldn't let them into the house. After work they had to go down to the creek to bathe and wash most of the dirt out of their clothing, coming back home in their underwear.

Outhouse holes were dug the same way, just not as deep.

-- Ken S. in WC TN (scharabo@aol.com), October 04, 2000.

The well we are using was hand dug by my father and uncle before I was born. They went back and deepened it when I was a child. The main problem with hand digging a well is the danger of it caving in. This well began to cave in on my uncle when they were digging it the second time. Often the upper walls will be stable enough, but once the water table is reached things can change. If the water is coming from a layer of sand, not gravel, which is often the case in this area, the sand has a decided tendency to shift position and refill the spot that was just dug out. This can cause someone to be trapped and possibly killed in the well. I remember someone in the neighboring county being killed that way.

On the other hand many, many people have hand dug wells and not had any bad experiences with them. You just have to be careful and PAY ATTENTION. You also must never, never leave the person in the well without someone on the top side that is strong enough to pull them back out in an emergency. That is what killed the person from the other county--his helper had left to get some tools from some one else. He was only gone for a few minutes but that was too long.

If you hand dig a well, you should plan on having someone put concrete tile in it when you are done. If not, the well may cave in when there is a period of prolonged heavy rainfall.

-- Green (ratdogs10@yahoo.com), October 04, 2000.

I read something long ago about people digging wells by hand having to be careful about the air in the bottom, too -- I suspect they were pretty deep, though. Probably about the limit of how deep you could go by hand. (Can't remember where I read that.)

-- Kathleen Sanderson (stonycft@worldpath.net), October 04, 2000.

We had three hand dug wells on the family farm where I grew up. The shallowest was about 55 feet deep, the others 85 feet and 95 feet. Knowing the danger involved in digging something this deep, I think that I personally would rather die of thirst that have to go to the bottom of a 4 foot diameter shaft to dig it deeper.

In addition to cave-ins, like was mentioned, the possible build up of gas in the well overnight. Where's a canary when you need one?

A local written history of my area tells of one homesteader that dug well after well in an attempt to get water, and finally just gave up and left the area with his standing crop in the field nearing harvest ripeness.

-- Notforprint (Not@thekeyboard.com), October 04, 2000.

Not quite what Howard was looking for but I was curious about the safety of water from the shallower wells. Around here, it's not the best for household use but fine for gardens and such. I don't know if I'd even use it for my livestock except in an emergency. Just curious.

-- marilyn (rainbow@ktis.net), October 04, 2000.

Here hand dug wells are notorious for bacterial contamination, according to health dept environmentalist. Ours is an old hand dug well and it has a high bacteria count. It is clorinated using first pool shock, then a pool float and slow release capsule as suggested by same environmentalist, but we still do not drink from it.

-- Sharon WT(KY) (wildflower@ekyol.com), October 06, 2000.

has anyone had any experience with the well points you pound yourself, I was wondering if you could start with a backhoe and dig as deep as possible and then use the shovel on the backhoe to pound the pipe into the ground I used one to pound fence posts in and it works great, my father used to use the scoop on his tractor for fence posts.

-- ronda (thejohnsons_doty@hotmail.com), October 07, 2000.

I have a book published in 1977 by Rodale, called Build It Better Yourself, that describes a method for hand digging a well. They show the use of segments of well liner pipe that is 4 feet across. As you dig, you lower these segments into the hole. Then you dig under it. It is supposed to settle as you dig, and you put another segment on top of it. This continues until you are at the depth you need. There is no chance for a cave in because the liner goes down the hole with you. Sounds reasonable to me. The book doesn't mention a source for this liner, but with the drawing in the book, you might be able to find something. I would suggest a library. They can get almost anything through inter-library lending. Good luck.

-- Ron Quick (lightning@worldinter.net), October 10, 2000.

The old timers used a kerosene lantern to lower into the well to check for gas or lack of oxygen. In our area about 95 ft. is the absolute maximum one can survive regarding oxygen. The methane gas varies from location to location due to the oil field activity at each location. I'd consider making a drilling unit similiar to the "deep rock" drilling rig. With modifications, one can use and electric motor vs. the gasoline screaming little rigs. Everything can be built from scratch except the swivel. That can be ordered from 'deep rock' for a few bucks. These little dudes are capable of drilling a 6" dia. hole. Case with Schedule 40 PVC. Good luck. Matt. 24:44

-- hoot gibson (hoot@pcinetwork.com), October 10, 2000.

Advice is helpful, but think some more could be offered from those of expertise. We could not have survived for generations from hand dug wells, if every family story had someone dying from one well digging. It would be told and passed on. Who actually, in your family history, actually died while digging a well? Oh, not your family? Legend has it, it was a neighbor? Was it true? or hearsay? How the hay do you think the folks in the Deserts survived? Though the actual description and plan to dig a well, can seem daunting. Try reading the old Fox Fire Books, and pray for success.

-- Common Sense (ching@brain.com), October 11, 2000.

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