A look at some of the current industry trends.

Expect drill bit prices to increase significantly.
I recently checked in with our guy Denny Shea, vice president of the distribution firm Techline Services Inc., to get his perspective on the current state of the hammer and bit market.

Techline has been in business for 17 years, and operates out of a two-story, block-long building that's 95 years old. “We supply everything from the top-head on down - all the rope, soap and dope,” says the vice president of the Butte, Mont.,-based firm. Techline distributes products and equipment for mining, water well, construction, exploration, oil and gas, and quarry drilling. In addition to the extensive line of drill bits and drill fluids that it distributes, Techline also is a reliable source for miscellaneous drilling tools and supplies. These include a complete line of liquid O-ring joint and drill collar compounds. The company distributes roller deck bushings, shock subs and deck bushings. It also markets various sizes of drill steel, subs and adapters, 100-percent natural latex rod wipers and dust curtains, and blast hole liners and plugs. “We service the entire United States, plus Canada and Mexico, representing about 40 manufacturers,” Shea explains.

“Business is up over the past few years,” he notes. Where did the bulk of that come from? “In the tri-cone rock bit business last year, we were up over 60 percent. We've got a tri-cone rock bit product line that we bring in from Russia; we're the exclusive distributors in North America for that product line. That's for the water well market and it's probably our most popular line - mostly because of the exclusivity. We also deal in the mining industry with other tri-cones and with down-hole hammers and hammer bits and all the miscellaneous extendable drilling tools.”

Asked about his bread and butter, Shea tells us, “Mining has been real strong; that's our backbone. That's what keeps us going and allows us to do the water well business, which probably represents about 30 percent of the business we do overall. Everything we deal with water well-wise usually is either 6-inch or 8-inch. We'll sell an occasional 5-inch hammer or some 51⁄2-inch bits. Despite the constant changes in what the manufacturers offer in down-hole hammers, those sizes have remained the same.”

Be forewarned, advises Shea: “Prices are going up. After holding steady for a good number of years, we're seeing more price increases lately and we're going to continue to see them.” Asked to put a number on the price increase, he ponders and says, “sizable - 25 percent. Industry-wide, we're seeing prices going up; down-hole hammers and hammer bits are going up. Of course, back in the mid-1980s, they dropped dramatically. When I first sold a hammer bit to a water well driller, it was $606, not $385 to $400. So we still aren't where we were 20 years ago.”

Asked about what he sees coming in the foreseeable future, Shea points to the “improvements in underreamer systems that we're seeing today. They have become fairly popular in the last 10 years or so. The manufacturers in that market are making continual improvements and the demand is going way up at that end of the drilling business.”

Citing the maturity of the water well market in his area, Shea says, “Our company is going after the directional market very hard. It's coming back, so we're dealing with sealed tri-cone rock bits and sealed-bearing stuff. We've already got a good chunk of the water well business. I might get a few more distributors out there this year but we're pretty much saturated in that market as much as we can be.”