Welding: A Skill Every Driller Needs

Part 2. Tips, safety, and use of hydraulic welders.

By Gary Shawver, MGWC

I outlined important tips necessary to ensure a good, watertight weld in my last column. In this one I will cover other tips, including some on safety, as well as discuss hydraulic welders.

Safety in welding is extremely important. There are many safety factors one should consider when welding.

  1. Proper equipment and attire
    Having a good welding hood with the proper tinted glass to protect your eyes is vital. Welding flash is extremely dangerous, and I can personally attest to that. I had my eyes severely burned by welding flash in my first year on the job—and I was not welding!

    Welding rod holders typically are available through your welding rod supplier.

    It’s equally important for a driller’s assistant to be cognizant of this safety issue as well as the person doing the welding. There are various colored lenses for various applications one can opt for in a welding hood. Be sure to keep spares on hand.

    Welding jackets and gloves are equally imperative for welders to wear as they provide both skin and clothing protection against burns. Again, there are a myriad of types available.

  2. Proper ventilation
    While you may be welding outside, welding in a protected area at the back of the rig may cause fumes from the welding not to dissipate as they should.Having a portable small fan that can be placed in the vicinity of the person doing the welding may be a consideration, especially if two people are welding at once.
  3. Nighttime welding
    Welding at night can be a serious problem for both the person welding and any driller’s assistant who may be helping but not welding.I mentioned flash burn to the eyes can be a serious issue and it is made more serious a problem with night welding. A person’s eyes are adjusted to the dark and the flash coming at night is enhanced and can still be a problem—even if one is not looking at the welder. It is well advised that a driller’s assistant wear a welding helmet as well.
  4. Storing welding rods
    I also discussed the importance of how moisture was the enemy of a good weld in my last column. Preheating your casing with a liquid propane torch is important before welding if you are in a humid or cold environment.And so it is with your welding rods. Some welding rods come packaged in cardboard cartons; some come packaged in metal cans that are sealed. While a sealed metal can is better than cardboard packaging, once opened, either one is subject to increased moisture.Most contractors buy several boxes to keep on hand so they never run short. These need to be stored in a dry area. Storing them in an old refrigerator at your shop with a small incandescent light bulb inside the refrigerator that is lit all the time will really keep your rods dry. This is especially important if a box of rods has already been opened.

    When taking the rods out to the jobsite, there are plastic rod holders that have a threaded sealed lid with a rubber gasket that keeps the rods both airtight and watertight. These are vital both for storing the rods while transporting and for keeping the rods dry.

    A hydraulic welder in a fabricated enclosure with a door that allows access to the welder. Typically, the door is opened to facilitate cooling when welding. Photos courtesy GEFCO Inc. in Enid, Oklahoma.
  5. Hydraulic welders
    Welding is one of the many phases in well construction, and again, a good weld is an integral part to the well’s integrity. But this step is time consuming. Finding ways to speed up any process on the job without sacrificing the weld integrity is always a plus.

    One of the things I did was install hydraulic welders on all
    my drill rigs and run them off the hydraulic system of the drill rig. Hydraulic-operated welders have been around for many years and are extremely reliable. We have used them for more than 20 years with great success.

    Mounting the welder on the drill rig will most likely add
    no more than 350 to 450 pounds to the weight of the drill. This includes the welder, hydraulic motor to operate the welder, control valve, and hydraulic hoses.

    Hydraulic-operated welders can be added on to an existing
    rig or mounted on a new drill when it is built. Coupling the requirements of the hydraulic motor to the drill’s hydraulic system typically isn’t a major engineering feat and a good hydraulic supplier can assist you with this.
    All of our hydraulic welders are enclosed in a fabricated enclosure to keep them clean. They can be mounted on the deck or under the deck, depending on your rig configuration.

    At the back of the drill, we have fabricated brackets to store both the extra length of the leads necessary for welding and the ground and stinger.

    Some other considerations that improve the efficiency of your operation with regard to welding is to permanently install the welding leads from the welder to the back of the rig where they are ready to go with a few short steps. The leads are typically routed along the frame of the rig to the back of the rig where they are easily accessed.

    If you do this, I would suggest you consider routing them through either a metal or a PVC conduit to keep the leads clean and free from oil and grease. Doing this will facilitate the life of the welding leads. Should they ever need to be replaced or removed, installing them in a conduit would assist in this as well.

    It takes but a matter of minutes to get switched over to welding. When the welding is done, it takes minutes to store the leads and close the welder door.

    Besides its weight and compact size, here are just some benefits of using a hydraulic welder that should be considered:

    -No refilling of fuel or having to carry fuel containers on your service truck (one less item to deal with in the mornings or at the end of the day)
    -No climbing on the rig to refuel the welder (an added safety benefit: not spilling gasoline on a hot welder)
    -No running out of fuel when welding
    -Not having to start the welder or shut down the welder
    -No dead batteries to deal with on the welder or starting issues in cold weather
    -No additional noise from an engine-driven welder.

    All our drills had the hydraulic welders added at the plant where the drills were built. The control system set up was a simple hydraulic lever to engage the welder and setting the drill at a given RPM to facilitate flow for the welder. Since the drill is required to set a string of casing in the hole, the operation of the drill added no additional fuel expense. In addition, these welders are built to military specifications.

    Using a hydraulic welder on a drill really simplifies the welding operation and eliminates many tasks that are often associated with a gasoline-driven welder and adds to the efficiency of your operation. Anything that can be done to eliminate extra steps and increase efficiency in your operation is money in your pocket.

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Like other skilled trades, welding is constantly changing due to technology. Welders are more advanced and newer welding rods are being introduced.

Therefore, it’s important, even though you may have learned the welding trade years ago, to consider taking an advanced welding course at a community college. It will give you an opportunity to stay up with any technological changes and safety issues, and perhaps enhance your welding skills or knowledge.

As with all things, continuing education is vital.


Gary Shawver, MGWC, is president of Shawver Well Co. Inc. in Fredericksburg, Iowa. He has been in the water well industry for more than 40 years and is a Master Groundwater Contractor. He served on the NGWA Board of Directors. Shawver is semi-retired, having sold his business to his employees. He can be reached at grs@shawverwell.com.