How did they build/dig water wells?

Hi everybody,

i am wondering how did they build well’s, i mean the ones they have on Farms
or in rural areas, the hole in the Ground with a hip height round wall around it,
where they lowered a bucket on a rope to get the water.
I am living in the Philippines and have been told by a old Aussie Bloke that i could reach Ground water by digging a well, but i have not found any detailed information on the Net how to do it,
Thanks for any replys

There are two old, abandoned wells on my farm that were dug by hand. I guess you just find a spot you like and start digging. There are steps cut into the sides of the well shaft so the workers could climb down or up as needed.

These days, a machine with a big auger bores the well. In this area, most dug/bored wells run from 60 to 80 feet deep with several feet of water in the column when finished.

Just looking at these old wells and by knowing something about physical work, this job isn’t something you’d like to do by hand. Look around for somebody that has a well digging machine.

A well is basically a hole in the ground down into the aquifer to get the water there. Essentially, you dig a hole in the ground. That’s it.
In the old days, you might construct a stone cylinder to keep the dirt walls from collapsing in (forcing you to re-dig the well), but if you were in pretty stiff or rocky soil you might not even need to do that. You could also erect a roof to keep stuff from falling in to the well (although there’s not really a point to keeping rainwater out). Try t keep from putting things there that birds will want to perch on, 'cause they’ll poop in your water. Some people put a lid on the well.
Of course, today there’s no reason for the well to be open to te air, unless you want to get all rustic and picturesque. my in-laws used to get atheir water from well, and they had a hose going into the ground that was attached to a pump, which beats using a bucket to get the water out. The water themn went through filters, a settling tank, and an ion-exchange column or similar filtration system to eliminate ions in the water.

I’m sure there are books on this, and probably on-line sites about wells.

My father dug the well at the house he built (he would have been 85 this year). My father was no stranger to hard work and was strong a a bull. That well still amazes me. He dug it all by hand in the evenings after work and on weekends. The help he got was someone to haul the dirt out in a bucket on a rope and someone to hold a mirror to shine light down into the bottom of the shaft. It is about 60 feet deep with handholes/steps cut into the walls across from each other. The shaft is about 3.5 - 4 feet in diameter.

The family business dealt with water pumps and such, and every time I have opportunity to look down that well I just can’t imagine setting out to do that kind of work by hand.


In relatively firm soil, the well was dug by hand and then sometimes lined with stone (sometimes mortared, sometimes not), as described above. In sandy soils that collapse easily, the other option is to dig as far as you can without the walls collapsing and set in a well tile (a 2’ high by 4’ wide concrete pipe with a tongue and groove type lip). You then get inside it and dig until it drops, set another well tile on top, and repeat until you get it deep enough. That’s how my dad dug the well we used until I was in high school. It’s nothing I’d ever want to do - lots of shoveling, lifting out buckets of soil, and bailing out the water that pours in.

Surface wells are very easily contaminated, and you’re much better off with a drilled well.

According to John Muir he had to chisel the family a well as a boy. He almost died from the bad air in the well. You need to be very careful at all times of what gases the well fills up, and worry about wall collapses. Somebody usually bucketed the debris up for the person that was in the well digging.

I’ve seen a program on History Channel, or maybe Discovery, where they were digging a well by hand. They had many boards about 10’ in length as well as some iron rings about the size of the desired hole.

As I recall they started to dig and as they went down they lined the hole with the boards. The iron rings were driven down to hold them in place against the side of the hole. They added rings and more boards as required. They went down about 30’ as I recall.

Umm… that sounds pretty hazardous. That big hunk of concrete has got to weight a considerable amount, and you’re digging the soil out from under it? I can’t imagine you get much warning when it decides to drop. :dubious:

But in the context of standing at the bottom of a hole you dug yourself, with no safety harness, no breathing apparatus, and allowing someone to bucket dirt out directly above you in a hole so small you couldn’t possibly get out of the way of if the rope broke…probably one of the safer aspects of the project :slight_smile:

It kinda creeps down as you dig its not a sudden drop. Your removing one shovel full of dirt out from under it at a time. My grandfather did a number of wells with this method never had issues with it safety wise.

For shallower dug wells they’d use a backhoe and dig a giant hole then stack the cylinders up and backfill around them.

Once portable drilling equipment became more readily available dug well methods became part of history.

In the last 10 years I think we’ve done one new dug well. Maybe a dozen driven points(drive a pipe into the ground with manpower till you get to water). The rest are drilled wells.

As was mentioned upthread, virtually all modern potable water wells are drilled wells.

The residential well for my house is a six-inch diameter drilled well that is 350 feet deep. Residential wells are routinely drilled as deep as 500 feet in my area. Until you hit bedrock the well is lined with steel pipe. Once the driller hits bedrock, the pipe is not needed, and you just have a rock well all the way down. A well pump is lowered down to near the bottom with an insulated power cord, and a discharge tube. The power cord and discharge pipe are run over to the house, and inside the house you have an expansion tank and the power supply. The top of the steel pipe out in the yard is covered with a bolted-down cap to keep out contaminants.

Bedrock wells are common for single-family homes. Typical flowrates from such wells are 10-15 gallons per minute (gpm). The water is deep groundwater that seeps in from cracks in the bedrock. The water that comes up is typically very clean. My water need not be treated at all, but we do so for aesthetic reasons. (We have relatively high levels of dissolved iron). In many cases, deep groundwater is also relatively “hard” (i.e. high levels of dissolved calcium and magnesium carbonates).

Out in rural areas and the outer suburbs, residential wells (and septic systems) are fairly common.

The groundwater wells used by municipalities and public water companies, on the other hand, need to be able to produce hundreds of gpm to be viable. These wells are typically much shallower (~50 feet deep) and are drilled into the unconsolidated deposits above the bedrock. These wells are much more affected by surface contaminants than bedrock wells and the water must therefore often be treated in some fashion.

Municipalities frequently use surface water supplies as well, if available (i.e. reservoirs). This water is always treated for contaminants.

As boytyperanma said, it creeps down as you dig. It’s not like you take all the dirt out from under one side, then turn around and dig out the other side until something gives. You can barely see it move unless you’re taking out a good sized rock that is in the way. Movement of the well tile is definitely one of the safer aspects of operation.

In Cameroon even the poorest village would drill their wells with machines. I don’t think I’d ever heard of anyone hand-digging theirs, although most wells I knew of wern’t particularly deep (and water would have to be boiled before using). Open wells, complete with buckets you have to pull up, were pretty much the standard although there are several NGOs working to promote better well technology (like treadle pumps that use a stairmaster type mechanism to pump water.) Small villages would often have only a few wells- many of which were in disrepair- but people in larger cities might have household wells.

Starting a well was a relatively expensive enterprise because you’d have to pay for the drill to come and for the concrete to reinforce the sides. Many communities make due with their only source of water being miles away.

I am almost certain you could find an NGO or something in the Philippines that is involved in well-digging projects.

Thanks for all the replys, i had something in mind like having lokal laborers which are readely available doing the work, the day labor wages being about 3$, it would not be to expensive. i also think that the easyest way to do it, would be to use the concret pipes, but they are not of very good quality and expensive.
Would it also be possible to use Holow Blocks, like digging out and building up the wall and then dig some more and build up again from below? it’s probably difficult to fill the Blocks with concret thought.
How about ordinary stones? Wood is not an option because of Termites.

Yes, there are Drillers here but horrendous expensive, i have a City water conection which is supplying drinking water from 5am to10pm but it is getting more expensive all the time, i am thinking of useing the well for watering the Garden.

thanks again, very helpfull info.

Whenever a customer mentioned using a dug well for outdoor watering I typically cringe. I’m not sure how much watering your looking to do or much about your water tables. Around here a dug well produces 2-5 gallons a minute of water. Running a hose can easily use 7-10 gallons a minute. With that math a dug well doesn’t provide all that much outdoor watering unless your doing so for very short periods of time and the well has a large reserve.

Dug wells can be done with hollow core blocks I’ve worked on a few built with that method.

I’d recommend against trying to build a well of this method at home :slight_smile:

If your actually considering a well I’d look more seriously at a Driven point.

This is one of the earlier google links for driven point wells

I can go into a lot more detail or answer questions if you’d like to try that method.

Thanks “boytyperanma”,

my situation is, that there is sand only the first 4 Feet, after that it’s clay with rocks of variyng size, our location is at the Foothills of a extinct Volcano! about 80meters above Sea level and i had a commercial Driller here a few years back and he told me that the Bedrock was at 180 Feet, the City Water Pumping station
is about a 200 meters away and they are getting the water at that deep.

As i mentioned in my first tread, i had this Aussie here, he used a divining rod, he found several streams at about 30 Feet with about 2-4 Gallons a minute.

Our demand for watering is not very great, there are also frequent Showers as we are in the Tropics after all, but the weather has become more unpredictable and with long dry spells it can amount to much more.

I would appreciate it if i could ask you some more questions, for example what are you using for digging, obviously a common shovel would be difficult to use in a 4 foot hole?!


Do you have any more reliable estimates of how deep the groundwater is? Divining is notoriously unreliable, to say the least.

In tropical areas with periods of heavy rainfall, perhaps a cisternwould be as productive as a well, and easier to build.

I doubt the bedrock is 180 feet down what would imply they used 180 feet of casing to reach the bedrock then continued to drill. More likely the well is 180 feet. more important info for you would be what is the static level of said well. ie how far down is the water. If you can not get water with a driven point your luck would be no better with a Dug well. The difference between the two styles is the amount of water the well has in reserve.

I have more faith in a flying spaghetti monster then some guy using magic to predict water. I’ve been in this business all my life when a customer contracts me for a well I can only guarantee I will hit water at some depth quantity and quality are completely beyond my control. Based on other wells in the area i can give good guesses but they are just that. Just because the neighbor has 10gals a minute at 100 feet doesn’t mean you’d get something similar.

Also throw out the concept that water is flowing in steams underground. Thats simply not how it works. Water seeps through the aquifer. The rate it does so varies by the density of the material that makes it up at a particular location.

Taking on doing dug wells in the style your looking at is before my generation. I have plenty of related experience do to cleaning out existing dug wells and working in well pits(prior to pitless adapters drilled well casings were cut off 6 feet bellow ground and the concrete casings mentioned up thread were used to create an access shaft to the well.)

When digging in close quarter situations the tools I use are an army shovel and a crow bar. Crow bar is used to loosen soil and pry out rocks while the shovel is used to move the lose material into a bucket. A coffee can often makes it into the inventory too for some applications even the shovel can be to large.

You’d usually be forced to hire a new digger as well.

Thanks again “boytyperanma”,

is it generaly possible that i will hit any Water source at all if i will just start digging?
i understand that, with a driven point approach i can get only as deep until i hit a rock i can not get pass/trought.
The other thing is that i noticed while they did the dug out for the foundation of the House that there were quite large boulders, ifen large stones would be difficult to get out if i encounter them at a greather depth.
It looks like a lot more complications as longer i think about it, maybe the cost the Driller estimated are justified?!