Previously, I wrote about choosing wire lines for a cable-tool drill rig. We would have three types: a drill line, a sand line and perhaps a casing line. Whatever size of rig and lines that we are using, these lines need to be cared for.

All steel cable will be purchased in a lubricated state. Small, individual wires that make up the line work against each other and need lubrication. The lubricant also protects the steel wires against rust and quick deterioration, especially when drilling in harsh conditions. There are lubricants available to re-lubricate wire lines after some service, but I have found these difficult to use and, in case of lubricants in a spray can, downright wasteful. An effective way to lubricate lines on the rig is to brush on heavy oils or even light grease. This works well for the drill and sand lines but can prove time consuming.

I learned another method to re-lubricate these lines years ago. While effective, we might look poorly on it in 2021. This method consisted of pouring engine oil drainings — preferably while still warm — over the bull reel and sand reel while they held as much line as possible. Of course, you would place a container under these reels, as not all of the oil is absorbed and we would not want to contaminate the ground under the reels. I usually did this while the rig was in our yard. The owners of most drill sites would take a dim view of pouring oil on things at the location. I recommend allowing the wire line to absorb the oil for 24 hours. As I mentioned, I have read that using crankcase drainings for any use other than in an engine is frowned on these days.

There is no reason the operator of a spudder could not use brand new, fresh lubricating oil — probably in a straight grade and 10 or 20 weight — and pour it on the reels. This method will leave dry some feet of line still on the mast. To lubricate that last big of line would require setting the mast up and pulling that line off the reel, then lubricating it by whatever method until the wet part was found and wrapping it back up.

Casing lines do not come in contact with water or mud down the hole. They need require lubrication, but not nearly as often as drill lines and sand lines.


Carefully Handle Wire Line

Whatever the lubricating method, wire line needs careful handling. Never, ever pinch a wire line and take care when transferring a drill line from the storage side of the bull reel to the working side. Another big no-no is to beat on wire line with a hammer. People sometimes do that to compact the coils when starting to apply line to a reel. If you must move the line on the drum, use a wooden block, rubber mallet or hammer with a plastic head.

Another thing to look for on wire line is deterioration. If you start to see breaks in the small wires, the line has reached its useful life and needs replacing. Remember, a sudden break in a line can have bad results for the equipment and, especially, personnel in the area. I find that a properly cared for line could last for years and years. Changing lines and starting up with a new one was always a fun experience, as new lines have a lot more spring in them. Cable-tool drillers often say that “nothing drills like an old line.” I agree, but changing lines when the time arises is part of operating a drill rig.

I’ve discussed selecting a cable-tool rig, and described the use and care of the lines in service. Starting next month, I’ll talk about  the most important part of a cable-tool operation: the drill tools. First, I want to comment on the history, and pros and cons of this storied method.


A Long History of Cable-Tool Drilling

Drilling by spudder or cable-tool method, as it is often called, has gone on for a long time. Many believe the Chinese first used it before the time of Christ. I don’t know if this is true, but cable-tool has a long history. It has the advantage of being able to drill any formation, anywhere if — and this is a huge if — you have the time, patience and money to see the job through.

Operating a spudder may appear simple but it, indeed, is not. I actually believe that a good cable-tool driller may need more skills and work harder than a good rotary driller. A good driller friend who runs a successful, multi-generational operation recently acquired a cable-tool rig. This man operates several rotaries and a large fleet of pump service trucks. We spoke some time back and he said he believes the spudder rig is more efficient than rotaries for drilling water wells — under some conditions.

I learned many years ago that there is no perfect drilling method. Each has pluses and minuses. Mud rotary, which is very popular in Michigan these days, is certainly a faster way to drill than with a spudder. However, the spudder still has its place, as does the hollow-rod machine (a method I wrote about years ago). I have been called a true spudder man, as that method and hollow-rod drilling are the two methods I used. I have nothing against rotary. In fact, I have two wells on my property, a 6-inch steel-cased well for our house and a 5-inch PVC-cased well for my shop. The 6-inch was drilled with a casing hammer and the 5-inch by mud rotary. Both wells are plenty adequate.

While I am a cable-tool man and proud of it, I have nothing against any drilling method as long as it gets the job done. Another old saying among drillers is, “You can do a good job or bad job by any method.” This includes a hand-drop weight and some short lengths of 1¼-inch pipe to drill a “stab” well.

Well, long-winded John has gone on and on, and not talked about a single cable tool yet. I will do that next time. Stay tuned, readers.

I write this column over the Fourth of July weekend, an important time for my wife, Shirley, and I. We met at a picnic held on the Fourth in 1957, or 64 years ago. It sometimes seems like the day before yesterday. Our weather recently has been kind of poor. We’ve seen high humidity, warm temperatures (at least for us), a few tornado touchdowns and other nasty weather events — including a lot of flooding in the Detroit area. You will read this after the peak of summer has passed. Here’s hoping that you enjoyed summer with your families and your work too.


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