How do dowsing rods work?

People seem to be using these things for locating pipes, but I have no idea how they work. A plumber came out to the job site with two copper dowsing rods. I didn’t see him using them, but another guy confirmed what they were and said he used them too. I thought these things were phony, but if these professionals are using them, now I’m not sure.

Minute muscle twitches in your hands make them swing together or apart. If your plumber pulls out dowsing rods, find someone else.
edit: It’s a phenomenon similar to the swinging pendulum trick. If you have a pendulum or a string with a weight on it, take a piece of paper and write 1,2,3, and 4 on it in a square shape. Hold the string in your fingers suspended in the middle of the square and start repeating 2 of the numbers. The weight will start swinging between the two numbers. Again, it’s very small muscle contractions that are doing it.


I guess it’s true that dowsing rods don’t work, or if they do it’s because of the dowser’s muscles, or something. Only, I have seen buried pipes located by dowsers, and I guess it doesn’t much matter how it works if it saves you having to dig up the whole yard.

Here’s what Cecil had to say: Does dowsing for water really work?

They don’t.

It’s a process called the “ideomotor effect” where the person holding an object subconsciously causes the object to move. The dowsing rod simply responds to minimal movements of the person holding the rods; it doesn’t “detect” water or any other substance.


I wonder if anyone could explain to me what lets the person who is holding the rods know where the water is. I know for certain that in at least one case the person dowsing did not know where the water pipes were and yet the rods indicated the location correctly, so what environmental clues told the dowser where the water pipes were? I am willing to concede that it doesn’t seem likely that “the rods” find water, but I would like some help explaining why sometimes it seems to work that way. How does it, in fact, work?

As for dowsing rods finding pipes… My guess is that the guy doing the dowsing probably has a rough idea of where the pipes should be based on experience, and so he starts in a high likelihood area. Then if he digs and hits it, it’s remembered as a hit, and if he misses, he tries again. Confirmation bias.

That’s how water dowsing works - in fact, in most places people dowse, there’s water underground everywhere if you just dig deep enough for it. So they dig, find water, and that makes a strong impression that it works. On the occasions where it misses, it’s chalked up to some other problem or simply forgotten over time in favor of the hits.

Dowsing is complete bunk.


Educated guessing, either unconscious or conscious and luck. If it were me, and they claimed to have been doing it for years, I’d want to know why they never took Randi’s million dollars.

Wow. I had to look and see how old this zombie thread was. But it’s un-undead. Huh.

There are all sorts of clues as to where pipes (for instance) run. You can figure out basically where they should go from the street to the house. Anyone who works in plumbing knows that after a short while. There are physically clues such as depressions, changes in the grass, lack of trees or rocks, etc. Basically, a knowledgeable person would be able to do the same thing without the dowsing rods.

Change the situation and remove all those clues and the dowser will fail every time.

Why in the heck would you have to “dig up the whole yard”?

There are professional locators who can easily find metal pipes in your yard, using real technology, not superstitious ‘dowsing rods’. You don’t even have to pay them! – in most US states, the cost is covered by a fee paid by all the utility companies.

There’s also confirmation bias.

When it works, everybody talks about that one time it worked like a charm. When it doesn’t work, even if it doesn’t work 20 times, you never really talk about it. You get a lot of mileage off a single success, even when your overall success rate is no better than random chance.

Ok, so it’s caused by unconscious muscle movements, and the same is true for Ouija boards, according to the article.

I recently got a book on dowsing… and it fell in a puddle! No, really!

I’ll give updates as available.

If there is water everywhere you dig, why do you have to know anything? Do you know how difficult it is to NOT find water most places on the Earth if you dig deep enough?

Oh, you mean water in pipes? Did someone change the subject? Most plumbers can make pretty good guesses where water pipes were buried. There’s a house over there, there’s a well over here…probably the pipes take the shortest route between them. Not much mystery to that.

As far as a forked stick (a common implement) turning down (or up) near water, I suggest you find a Y-shaped stick, hold it in the common grip, palms up, pointing forward. Next, squeeze your hands just a little. The stick, due to simple leverage, will spring up (or down). Using this technique, you can make the stick point to any place you wish. Magic!

Try talking to it. Yes, that’s the technique one famous dowser tried. The stick apparently spoke English, used linear measure, and could count. It dipped down for yes and didn’t dip for no. “Is it 10 feet to the water?” [dip] “Is it twelve feet?” [no dip] “It must be 10-12 feet to water. Start digging.”

Dowsing by itself cannot find anything. This has been proven time and again in tests where the conditions were controlled so there could be no cheating. If anyone can prove that he has the power to dowse, please have him apply immediately for the Million Dollar Challenge and prove it. It’s easy money if he’s right. If he doesn’t, he is a fraud.

Well, considering that it was a farmhouse out in the country, with no "utility companies’ involved, and that the farmhouse was over 80 years old, and that no one remembered in what order the water lines from our well to our barn and to another outbuilding were installed, so no one knew exactly where to look (between well and barn or between well and other building), and considering that my dad wasn’t living when the line was installed, and considering that the lawn was many years old too, then how the heck did the dowsing rods just happen to line up with the water line in question? On the first try? I wish I knew, since I know dowsing rods don’t detect water. My dad didn’t think the dowsing would work since he didn’t believe it and had never done it before either. So, how did it happen? Luck? I guess.

Is your dowser applying for the Million Dollar Challenge? If he’s so good, why doesn’t he earn the million and retire instead of working for peanuts?

Let me see…barn to the left, well to the right…the water lines must be, oh, I don’t know, between them?

Well, ok; so how did my “dowser” who if you will read my post was my dad, who is no longer living and who dowsed exactly once in his life, know exactly where the line was? The rods lined up parallel to the water line, right above it. I saw it. I am perfectly willing to grant it was not done by magic. But how was it done? Just, HOW??? I’d love someone to actually explain it, instead of saying it must be this or it wasn’t that. Trust me, I do know all the reasons why dowsing does not work. What I do not know is how my dad found the water lines!

It’s also been in the news recently, although that’s probably not related to why this was posted.

California farmers turn to dowsers for water