Wayne Nash discusses bit selection.

It could be a helpful exercise to examine your company's used bits: A consistent failure pattern could suggest areas for improvement. A worn drill bit. Photo courtesy of the USGS.
Proper bit selection is part science and part art. An understanding of the formations to be drilled is part of it and is based on experience in the field. The other part is understanding how the bit actually drills.

The basic idea of a bit is to remove formation ahead of the drill string in order to advance the hole. The cuttings must be small enough to circulate out freely with- out balling or bridging the hole, but not so small as to force the bit to regrind them. Regrinding slows the progress of the bit and accelerates wear. The economy of bit also is a factor. A bit that lasts forever but doesn't make much hole is just as expensive as a bit that drills like a house-afire, but has to be changed before you reach total depth.

The first consideration in bit selection is the formation's compressive strength. In general, a formation's compressive strength is classified as low, medium and high. Low compressive strength formations include unconsolidated sands and the softer clays. Medium compressive strength formations include such formations as shales and sandstone. High compressive strength formations include granite, basalt, dolomite and volcanic tuff. Knowledge of the area in which you are going to drill is very helpful in bit selection.

A bit removes formation and advances the hole one or more of three ways - gouging, scraping or impact.

Gouging is an action where the cutting surface of the bit actually penetrates the formation and plows it up ahead of the bit. It works the same as when you stick the knife in a jar of peanut butter to make a sandwich. You plow up the formation (in this case, peanut butter) ahead if the bit. Formation removal is ahead of the bit teeth.

Scraping is an action where the teeth of the bit scrape and compress the formation to failure. It works like scraping your knife across the top of a frozen stick of butter. Some of the formation is removed ahead of the tooth and some is removed by the rebound effect behind the tooth.

Impact is an action where the tooth of the bit does not actually penetrate the formation, but transmits shock, which causes the formation to fail and advance the hole. It is like when you whack a piece of peanut brittle against the counter to fracture it: The counter doesn't penetrate the formation - the impact causes it to structurally fail. In impact-mode, formation removal is behind the tooth of the bit.

Roller cone rock bits come with a bewildering array of options, all of which are designed to enhance one feature or another. Tooth length, tooth spacing and tooth overlap all are bit design considerations.

Long teeth are important in soft formations to allow the tooth to gouge deeply into the formation. Tooth spacing is important because the number of teeth acting on the bore face dictates the amount of force, or energy, used.

Fewer teeth and most of the energy is expended in a small area; more teeth and the energy used to drill is expended in a larger area. Tooth overlap also is important. When the teeth of each adjoining cone overlap, the bit is a lot more self-cleaning and resistant to balling in sticky clays.

Another design consideration is skew angle. This angle is a relationship between the axis of the cones and the centerline axis of the bit itself. A large skew angle causes the teeth to gouge and scrape more; a small, or no, skew angle depends on scraping and impact to drill.

After selecting a bit and drilling with it, close examination, when you pull it, can help a lot in the selection of your next bit. Wear patterns and failure analysis are crucial steps to proper bit selection. Ideally, a roller cone bit failure is when the cutting structure (teeth) wear out at the same time as the bearings. There are other factors but, simply put, if the teeth wear out first, it probably is because of too much weight and/or not enough RPMs on the bit. If the bit is flat-spotted, it has balled up and a less-than-attentive driller has allowed it to fail. Conversely, if the bearings fail before the teeth, it usually can be traced to not enough weight, RPMs that are too high, or poor solids control. I've seen bits with the center cut out completely because the driller essentially was pumping “liquid emery-cloth” through the system. Imagine what his pump, swivel and pipe must look like!

I hope this helps in your bit selection. As an exercise, why not go out behind the shop and take a look at that pile of used bits lying around? I'll bet you can find a consistent failure in most of them. Recognizing that and fixing the problem, and maybe selecting a slightly different type of bit, should help raise your penetration rates and lower your bit cost, both of which go directly to the bottom line.