How To: Dig a Fresh Water Well

Published on September 22nd, 2014 | by


Access to clean water is essential in any survival situation- and an especially critical issue for homesteaders and survivalists who plan to live off the grid for extended periods. One way to ensure a fairly long-term supply of water is to drive a fresh water well onto your property which, if you’re willing to put in the work, could provide you and yours with clean water for years.

Job done, then? Not so fast- over at Mother Earth News, they rightly point out that there are a number of factors to take into consideration before digging a well- or even buying your land:

Before you call a piece of land your own, you need to ask the right people the right questions. Less-than-honest folks can hide issues such as insufficient, bad-tasting or contaminated water until your name is on the deed. Asking questions beyond the real estate agent or the seller may be the most important water-related skill you exercise. How deep do wells have to go to find abundant water in the area? Will sulphur water, natural gas or other facets of the local geology cause problems with water quality? If you’re looking at a property with an existing well, what kind of well is it and how deep is it? How far from the surface is the water, and how much reserve water does the well actually hold? In addition to asking neighbors and your local health department and extension office agents, you can go to the Water Systems Council to find your state’s well-construction codes.

If you’re anything like me, you’re first instinct is probably to laugh that off and start digging- but remember that violating state and city codes can land you in jail (especially in Florida, which has moved to make even private vegetable gardens illegal). So, yeah- check the codes, then check out Backwoods Homes’ handy guide to driving your own well, which I’ve summarized, below, to give you an idea of what’s involved. Once you’re ready to go, however, I strongly recommend reading the original, much more detailed guide. Enjoy!



The hand-driven well shown over at Backwoods Home uses a well point similar to this 2″ Campbell well point, which features slotted holes along its barrel to allow water to flow into it. The openings to the holes are covered with a heavy-mesh screen to keep coarse sand and gravel out of your drinking water.

Once you determine the best place to dig your well (the original article recommends “divination”, or “dousing”), there are several methods of getting a well point down to the water table, but the one most used by people in remote places today is the driving method, in which the point is driven downward like a nail. A pipe cap screwed snugly, but not tightly, onto the threaded end of the well point can protect it from being damaged or deformed while being pounded from above – and that’s important, because it is absolutely critical that neither the open end nor the threads below it are harmed while the point is being pounded into the earth.

The actual well-digging begins by digging a pilot hole at least two feet deep using a hand auger or a shovel (a wider, shoveled hole will require that soil be tamped around the well point to keep it straight). Once the well point is in place, hammering begins. In softer soils, a wood-handled mallet is appropriate, while a pile-driver weight (a pipe filled with concrete) suspended from a tripod where it is hoisted upward then dropped onto the capped well point is preferred for more densely packed earth. A more physically demanding hammer, called a “slam hammer” (shown, at right) is comprised of a heavy, flat-bottom iron weight with a long steel rod that extends from the hammer into the well pipe (the rod acts as a guide for the well point).

When the well point has been driven down to the point that about 10″ remain above ground, remove the protective pipe cap and screw a four-inch pipe coupling (a collar with internal threads on each side) over the exposed threads of the well point, being sure to use a pipe joint compound plumber’s tape to ensure a watertight seal. Screw a length of pipe (precise length doesn’t matter, so long as you can reach the top of it comfortably) into the end of the coupling and put the protective cap on the other end. Next, hammer that down until 10″ remain above ground, and repeat the process with a new coupling and new length of pipe- always careful to avoid damaging the pipe’s threaded ends.

The pipe should move visibly downward with each blow from your hammer.

When you reach the water table you will hear a hollow “bong” sound that issues from the pipe with every blow. To test its depth, remove the protective cap and drop a weighted string down the well pipe until slack in the string tells you that the weight has reached the bottom of the well point. Pull the string back up and measure the “wetted” length. Ideally, you’ll keep driving the well until at least 5′ of the weighted string is wetted.

Next, screw on a pitcher pump, careful to seal the threads. Prime the pump to create suction for its vacuum cylinder by pouring a cup of water into the pump’s top, jacking the handle until water spurts from the pump with each downstroke. Initially, the water may appear muddy or cloudy- keep pumping until only clear water comes from the well spout.

Once that’s done, you can add a “check valve” between the well pipe below and the pump above to prevent water in the pipe from draining back down into the well, reducing the need to prime the pump between draws.

Driving your own water well is a lot of work, sure- but knowing that you and yours will have ready access to water, come what may, is more than enough reason to give digging your own well a try.







Sources | Images: Backwoods Home, Mother Earth News.


About the Author

I've been involved in motorsports and tuning since 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the Important Media network. You can find me on Twitter, Skype (jo.borras) or Google+.