Can you imagine casing a well with galvanized tin? What about terra cotta? Sounds unimaginable to modern ears, but the industry employed these types of materials not all that long ago — during the lifetimes of some of the more-veteran drillers out there.

Contractors, of course, now have great options for casing and other well materials. From PVC with easy locking connections to high-tech composites, the materials contractors use in 2023 have plenty of advantages over earlier materials when it comes to minimizing corrosion, scaling and microbial growth. But, it’s useful to take today’s contractors on a walk through the history and evolution of the materials that go into a successful well. Now, drilling is probably never going to be easy, but knowing how drillers 30, 40 or even 50 years ago worked — and still somehow managed to make hole — can give you an appreciation for advances in methods and materials commonplace today.

First, let’s start with an overview of casing history written by Howard “Porky” Cutter. (Mr. Cutter passed away in 2017, but his legacy of drilling knowledge lives on here at The Driller.) Cutter discusses using tin casing and screen in the 1950s, and terra cotta for shallow wells as late as the 1970s. He also talk about being a PVC pioneer in the ’70s, too. Have you ever made your own slotted screen with a hacksaw and a length of PVC?

Longtime The Driller columnist John Schmitt takes up where Cutter leaves off. Whatever materials a contractor chooses for a well project, one thing many of them have in common is availability. But what would you do if you went to your local or regional supply house, only to find they were out of casing? Schmitt takes us back to the days of WWII and right after, when war efforts constrained access to many of the materials folks rely on to install a well. Think about trying to out-flank your competitors to get scarce lengths of stainless steel or cast-iron pumps — all so you can just do the basics of a good job for the client.

We finish this cruise through casing and materials with a few columns from the ever-popular Wayne Nash. (Sadly, Nash also left us in 2020, but we highly recommend you check out our archives of his columns.)

“Almost every well constructed, and virtually all drilled wells, use casing to support the hole and allow access to the producing horizon, be it oil, gas, water or most anything else under the ground,” he reminds us in this article on running and cementing casing. “The design of the casing is very important to the success of the well.” This article also goes into some of the “jewelry” that drillers use to get casing in and keep it straight.

Nash goes on to remind drillers, “When you reach total depth and are ready to set casing, make sure to circulate and condition the mud and the hole, so it will remain stable until you get the ‘steel wall cake’ in it.”

Whether your completed “wall cake” is steel, PVC or another material, as a 21st-century driller you have options that would make contactors of just a few decades ago envious. Use them. Appreciate them. But check out the perspective of some of these drilling veterans and know that, as tough as drilling can be, it’s been tougher. Innovations in water well materials and methods over time have made a it much easier to minimize corrosion, scaling and microbial growth while providing the highest-quality, most-durable well possibly.

Talk to veteran drillers about their first well and you might be surprised. Drill rigs have evolved dramatically over the last 50 years, but so have the materials drillers use for success.