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Shallow Well

Posted by Steve on May 30th, 1998 03:28 PM
In reply to shallow well by Jack on May 30th, 1998 01:23 PM [Go to top of thread]

23 of 24 people found this post helpful

Jack, I did that project a few years ago, but don't have the
time to write everything out. But, I did find the following
post on a newsgroup last year that is really excellent.

A sand point shallow well is mostly just a pipe driven into
the ground. Water flows into it from the surrounding wet
sand and a suction pump pulls it up to the surface. The
water originates as rain or snow then filters down through
the sand replenishing the water table.

Obtaining water in this way is can be simple, inexpensive
(about $300 or $400 for many years of service) and very
satisfying - if a lot of things go right. There are,
however, many uncontrollable factors so it isn't surprising
that water witching has survived to recent times.

Before deciding to install this type of well you will want
to contact your local government about what if any permits
you will need. This little pipe probably isn't going to
break through into the region's main aquifer but ground
water contamination is very difficult to remedy and some
level of caution is understandable - the regulations aren't
always enforced very well.

Next, try to determine whether the water table at your site
is likely to be within 22 feet or so of the surface. This
is necessary for the pump to be able to pull up a reasonable
volume of water. Contact your local hardware stores and
plumbing supply outlets. If they stock shallow well
equipment there is probably some demand. Smaller outfits
are definitely more helpful. You may even find someone who
knows something about it. Your local equipment rental place
may have some tools and information. Listen closely for the
words "rock" and "clay."

Old settlements were established where water was readily
available. Windmills and hand pumps operate with an
underground piston mechanism which is able to push water up
much farther than a shallow well pump can suck it. So don't
rely on this as an infallible indication. Water tables
change too.

Look over the sand points and pumps and pipe fittings and
electrical wire and supplies and so on to get and idea of
the scale of such a project. You won't need a lot of this
stuff until you are sure you have a well. (We have a 3/4
h.p. pump which operates on 220 volts.)

The sand (a/k/a drive) points I am familiar with are 1 1/4"
and 1 1/2" in diameter, 3' and 4' long and contain 60 mesh
or 80 mesh screens. For more water volume, more expense and
more difficulty choose a point of 1 1/2" diameter, 4' long
with 60 mesh screens. For cheaper, easier but less water
choose 1 1/4", 3 feet long and 80 mesh. In my situations
the smaller size with 60 mesh screens have worked out ok.

Get three galvanized drive couplings. They are thicker than
regular ones and will stand up to the pounding better. They
also fit a little tighter sometimes.

Have the store cut and thread three 7' lengths of galvanized
water pipe of the same diameter as the point.

Obtain a point pounder (driver). Typically, it will be a
three foot long, weighted section of 3" pipe with handles
welded to the sides. They aren't real expensive but nobody
has ever worn one out either so borrowing or renting one
should be possible. If you are working alone, look for one
that weighs 40lbs. or so. Otherwise, you might try a
heavier one. A 70lb. driver is quite a handful but it
really makes things happen.

You also need a drive cap. This is a heavy cap with a small
hole drilled in the top that screws onto the top of the pipe
and protects it from the impact of the pounder. Be sure the
pounder fits over it. Don't try using a drive coupling. The
top of the pipe will be damaged and you will have to either
cut and re thread it in the field or jack it out of the
ground as far as the next lower coupling.

Other things you will need are 2oz. of pipe thread compound,
two 18" pipe wrenches, a #2 shovel, a 6' folding ladder.
Handy to have are a pipe vise, 2' ladder, small spirit
level, string and a pitcher pump.

Choose the best location. You will eventually need to run
electricity to it etc. Be sure you have room overhead to
operate the pounder. Consider hiring a douser?

Read any instructions which may have come with the point.
Assemble the point, a drive coupling and a section of pipe
applying pipe compound to the threads. Make sure it is
screwed together very tightly because you won't be able to
get to it again. I use a pipe vise. Some people try to
weld these connections but it isn't necessary and usually
doesn't work. Screw the drive cap on and snug it up with
the wrenches.

Dig a 12" wide hole as deep as is convenient. Digging is
easier than pounding - everything is easier than pounding.
Set the ladder up next to the hole and move the tip of the
point to the hole. Slide the driver over the cap end and
pick the driver and pipe up together allowing the point to
slide into the hole. Climb the ladder to a convenient level
carrying the driver and pipe with you. You are going to
repeatedly lift the driver then slam it down onto the top of
the pipe so get arranged accordingly. The whole
neighborhood is going to hear it and you're going to look
real good if it works.

Before you start pounding adjust the pipe so it is vertical.
A helper can eye it up with the edges of two buildings or
check for plumb with a level. Adjust this after every two
slams until you can't correct it anymore. It get can get
away from you very quickly and none of the consequences are

Start pounding. Progress slows down quickly. I count
twenty then rest for about 30 seconds. Do this five times
then re tighten the coupling and cap - use both wrenches
whenever possible so you don't rotate the point. Repeat ten
or fifteen times and your first piece of pipe will probably
be in the ground. Put on another length and do it again.
Keep in mind that this is "good for the figure."

Pound the point down far enough so you can sit on the ground
to tighten the next length on and so you don't have to climb
the ladder as high to get the pounder back over the top.
Remove the cap and tighten it onto the next piece, spread
pipe compound on the threads and assemble with a coupling.

Tighten using both wrenches in opposite directions. When
tightening the couplings don't rotate the point any more
than is necessary as it will destroy the earth's grip on it
and you won't be able to tighten the lower couplings using a
wrench on the top. (Loose couplings allow air into the pipe
and you will pump bubbles instead of water.)

Start looking for water after the second piece of pipe is
well along. (It is possible to go right through a layer of
water - sitting over a clay layer.) Tie something to a
string. It should be smooth, small and sort of heavy - I
don't like using lead sinkers because they might get wedged
in the point and stay there (yuk). Most objects I have
tried get stuck somehow and are difficult to bring back up.
I made an electronic sensor once and it worked great but I
took it apart to make something else. Resist any temptation
to put a tape measure down the pipe.

Measure the string so you only let down a length equal to
the distance to the tip of the point. It is difficult to
feel when the object hits the bottom. Some of the string
may be wet when you pull it up. Six feet of water would be
great but less might be ok. The well at home began with
damp sand - no water - and I couldn't go any deeper - and it
was the third location in two days - and it is 50 yards to a

Some experts run water from a hose into the pipe to backwash
the screens. I do it because I have seen them do it. If
there is little or no water in the point let it sit for a
few hours then check it. Fine grained silt can prevent the
ground water from flowing into the point. Even with no
water in the point connect and prime the pump and try
pumping it. In some cases a small pitcher pump works better
than an electric one.

If all the pipe is in and its dry then you're probably done
with that particular well. I don't know any more tricks.
You could drive a little more pipe maybe, or wait a few days
- put a cap on it. You can spend the time thinking about
how you are going to pull it up - hope it isn't bent - or
leave most of it down - re driving bent pipe is not easy.

Or maybe you hit a spring of crystal clear fresh cold water.

Wells need to be pumped off which means that you run them
for several hours at full flow - it may not look like much
right away. This removes fine sand from inside the pipe and
screens and from the area around the point. As the fine
sand is pumped out the water flows to the point better and
the well works better. A slow well may keep improving for
two or three years before leveling off. Eventually the
screens may lime up and the flow will diminish. An old
plumber I worked for used to fire his .38 down the pipe
which, I imagine, blew the screens out - literally.

Now you might start thinking about a pump, check valve,
union, pressure tank, nipples, electric wire, switch box,
receptacle, spade or trencher and shelter. If you are going
to run your pump on 220 volts you might spend a little more
money and pull four conductor wire so you can have a neutral
and a 110 volt outlet at the site. I didn't and I'm stuck
with using my ground wire. It wouldn't be difficult to
spend a week at this. Remember to always cap the well
rather than leave the pipe open. Keep in mind too that the
impeller housing will freeze and crack pretty easily.
Disconnect the pump each fall, drain it out and take it in
the house if you can.

Afterthoughts -

As I mentioned above, one thing which might go wrong is that
there just isn't any water in your pipe. You could try
again fifty feet away and find it and maybe not. Jack your
point out and try a second place. The underground is a
complex three dimensional structure. In excavations we see
it in limited two dimensional cross sections. Water soaks
in everywhere at the surface but it may then flow away from
your site, either sideways or down.

Another thing which might be a problem is rock. You can
bash through small rocks. Your point may deflect sideways
off others. Some pipes go down quite curvy because of this
and require a lot of pounding. Other times you are just
stopped dead. When this happens, jack your point out and
move a couple of feet to one side. My neighbor spent just
about every weekend for more than a year trying to locate a
spot where he could get through the rocks below us. Finally
he dug a hole twelve feet deep with shoring on the sides and
pried an opening in the rocks to pound his point through -
god I laughed - he was determined.

Another problem is silt. A couple of years ago I worked on
a point for a guy who had advertised and sold his house with
a working sand point. When he realized it wasn't working he
tried pulling it but it broke off. Then he hired me to
pound a new one.

It went down easy with water at 12'. After another 10' feet
I tried to pump it off. Within fifteen seconds the pipe and
pump were plugged solid with fine doe colored sand - like
the kind on very fine sand paper. He then told me that he
had had the same problem when he put the original point
down. Back then he went out after supper every evening for
a couple of weeks and pumped it with a hand pump for about
an hour. He thought this must have created a cavity around
the point. Following that he ran a high volume electric
pump for several years. (To clear the pipe of silt push a
running hose down it and the silt bubbles out - don't let it
get stuck. Take the pump apart.)

Another problem is clay. Sometimes you can pound your way
through a thin layer or it isn't too sticky. Other times
not. A clay layer is often good because it prevents ground
water from seeping away deeper.

I was fixing a well one time and an old timer told me that
under this end of this particular town there was a three
foot thick layer of blue clay. A week earlier I had needed
a well machine to pull the point and it came out with a bend
in it. I thought that maybe with a big pounder and some
luck I would be able to put the new point down the same
hole. I used a 70lb. driver with a big tripod and a pulley.
At twelve feet the driver was bouncing and the pipe wasn't
moving and that was it. Luckily there was plenty of shallow
water for the hand pump and it tested fine so that's where
it ended.

Some places rent out a machine with a gas engine that
rotates the pipe and a special point which shoots a stream
of water fed by a hose. The assembly slides on rails and
the point pretty much just sinks into the ground. If you
have to get through clay this thing might be just the
ticket. It is quite another story when it hits rocks
however - you should have seen my neighbor. He was running
this thing and had even put on a second length of pipe and
was laid back in his lawn chair watching it work, smokin' a
butt and suckin' a beer when it started bouncing then locked
up in the rocks. Whoa. It was a year before he had water.

JW Flower

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