If we set up a spudder operation in 2021, we have choices but not as many as we once had.

As I wrote in my most recent column, I believe it nearly impossible to purchase a brand new spudder rig today. We still have a choice of brands if we can find them: Bucyrus-Erie, Speedstar, Cyclone, Alten-Loomis and other brands, including some good shop-built rigs. With luck, we can find a used rig in excellent condition. But it’s more likely to find one that needs to be rebuilt — a big but not impossible task. The size of the rig we need, of course, depends on the hole size we drill and the formations we expect.

We also have some choices on how to mount our rig. It could mount on a truck, a two- or four-wheel trailer, or even a skid. This too will depend on what we want to do with our rig.

Whatever make and model we select — and however it’s mounted — we still need tools and lines. Without these two items, all we have is a yard ornament (or, if the rig is truck-mounted, something to drive to the coffee shop or the grocery store). Without drilling tools and lines to connect them to the rig, we have nothing. Since lines are the first thing to put on the rig, I will write about them first. The sizes of these lines, like the rig itself, depend on what formation we drill.

The most important line on our spudder rig is the drill line. This gets by far the most use operating the tools that make the hole, our ultimate goal. Modern spudders use steel wire rope for the drill, sand and casing lines. I have a list of the strengths of different available grades of steel cables. I don’t think the properties of steel have changed that much over the decades. If we look at the choices that we have in wire rope material for a drill line, we can choose from iron, cast steel, mild plow steel, plow steel and improved plow steel. Each category has a bit higher strength than its predecessor. Improved plow steel has three times the strength of iron, but this steel would be too stiff and brittle for drilling line.

Over the years, I have learned and found for myself that the proper material for a drilling wire line is mild plow steel. Use on a rig subjects this line to a lot of bending over its life. The drill line on our spudder will have to go around the bull reel, then the heel sheave followed by the spudding sheave and, finally, the crown sheave before it attaches to our drill string. I once heard an engineer describe a spudder as a wire line torture machine. Certainly, our drill line will bend and straighten millions of times in its life. We want something flexible enough to withstand this bending and straightening. Suppliers have several types of steel wire line available, but we want 6 x 19 construction. This type features six sub-wires wrapped around a hemp core, with the sub-wires themselves each made up of 19 smaller wires.

We also have a choice of the “lay” of our wire rope: left or right. For drill line, we want left lay rope. If we look at this line in a vertical position, the sub-wires as we go up turn to the left — thus the designation “left lay.” Left lay rope will turn our tools to the right keeping the joints tight. I don’t think right lay line could really loosen a properly tightened joint, but it might be possible. I’ve always been told to use nothing but left lay drill line.

The line size depends on the rig we run and the size of the tools. On a small spudder, such as a 20W Bucyrus-Erie, a 55 or 61 Speedstar, or a 35 or 36 Cyclone, ⅝-inch diameter line should suffice. These rigs are all limited to 1,200-1,500 pounds of tools, and a ⅝-inch line is good for 1,800 pounds. If we run a larger rig, like a 22W, a 71 Speedstar, or a 43 Cyclone, and use it to its max potential we will want to run ¾-inch line. Large-scale spudders — like the 28L Bucyrus-Erie, or 72 or 81 Speedstar — will need to run ⅞-inch cable for a drill line.

I have an older Bucyrus-Erie catalog and it lists ⅝-inch cable as good for 1,800 pounds, ¾-inch for 2,700 pounds and ⅞-inch for 4,000 pounds. Now, 4,000 pounds of cable tools goes far beyond anything I have seen on a water well spudder in this part of Michigan. I have heard of and talked to other contractors about really big, deep holes by spudder in other states. Since I haven’t done drilling of this size, I cannot address this issue or what drill line they use.

All this is not to say that you can’t use lines smaller than ⅝-inch as the drill line on a spudder. For many years, my father and I ran a shop-built spudder — kind of a copy of a 55 Speedstar. For many of those years, we ran ½-inch drill line and later, when it wore out, replaced it with 9/16-inch. However — and this is a big however — we only ran about 700 pounds of tools on this rig. That comes in at less than half of the recommended capacity of ⅝-inch line.

For all the reasons I lay out, based on decades of experience, if you run a small spudder like a 20W, a 55 or a 36, I highly recommend using a ⅝-inch mild plow steel drill line in 6 x 19 construction with left lay. Next time, I’ll address sand and casing lines on our rig, and touch on the care of wire lines.

As I write this in early April, our snow is thankfully just a bad memory. My infamous lawn has started to turn green, but is nowhere near ready to mow. We have had some cool days with strong winds that are not ideal for grass growing. Until next time, keep working hard, work safe, and remember to enjoy life now and then.

For more John Schmitt columns, visit www.thedriller.com/schmitt.