Written by 2:34 pmSurvival

How to Dig a Well

Close up photo of hands cooperating to build cement water well

If you want to be the ultimate survivalist and be prepared for anything, digging a water well is the way to go. I think we can agree that water is probably the most important thing you’ll need in a survival situation. As humans, we can only live without water for three days, so it’s vital for surviving!

By creating your own hand-dug well, you’ll have a self-sustaining source of clean water, meaning you and your family have a much better chance of being able to survive a sudden or unexpected disaster. Although digging a well will take time and effort, it will be worth it because you’ll be safe in the knowledge that you’ve provided a safe, clean supply of water for your family.

In this handy guide, we aim to show you the best ways on how to dig a well and some tips to make the process easier and less stressful. If you don’t know one end of a well to the other, don’t worry, we’ve also broken down the parts of a well and answered some FAQs so you’ll be ready to tackle this mission confidently.

So if you’re ready to jump in, then go ahead and check out the useful advice and tips below!

What are the Parts of a Well?


The parts of a well can be confusing once you start to look into them. But they’re actually quite easy to understand and most residential wells work in the same way and feature the same components.

The hole is usually referred to as the well itself. It’s essentially the hole in the ground that’s been dug to reach the water table. How deep you’ll have to dig the hole depends on the location you’re in.


Next, we have the well casing. This could be described as the body of the well. It’s a long structure that’s inserted into the hole of the well, from the water table all the way up to the surface. This gives it structure and support so that it doesn’t all just collapse in on itself.

The well casing will generally be made of either metal or plastic and usually have a diameter of around 5 inches. Some states actually enforce a minimum length of a well casing in residential areas. Their main purpose is to stop the water that’s traveling up from being contaminated.


Following on from the casing, we have the steining. This is the main wall of the well that sits above the ground. It’s usually built over the base known as the curb. The steining can either be built in place or pre-built already.

Generally, it’s made from reinforced concrete but it must be thick and strong enough to support the weight of the components above it such as the well cap.


The well curb is the rim or other construction around the top of the well hole opening. The curb offers protection and prevents accidents such as people or animals falling down the well.

It also offers a platform for adding a covering or installing any kind of device that you’ll use to retrieve water.


Throughout the years, many different kinds of vessels have been used to collect water from wells. Probably the most common one is a simple bucket and pulley rope or even by hand. Other methods include ladles or a waterskin made from leather.

Unlike pumps, using water retrieving vessels comes with the risk of contamination. However, it may be the only method that’s able to be used in severe or harsh environments.


The 5 Easiest Ways to Dig your Own Well


There’s no way around it, digging a well by hand is tough and strenuous, no matter which method you choose. It’ll likely take days, or more realistically weeks depending on how deep you need to dig and which soil type you’re working with.

Fortunately, people have dug wells by hand for hundreds of years. Using nothing but hand tools, they’ve managed to create perfectly functioning wells, so if they can do it, you can too!

Needless to say, this is the simplest but most exhausting method. Creating a well by hand is not for the faint-hearted and you’ll need to allow a lot more time to get the job done. Tools that are commonly used for this approach are shovels, picks, buckets, and axes.

The great news is that you don’t need any special skills to dig a hole in the ground. As long as you can pick up and swing a tool safely then you’re all set. If you don’t have a massive budget but you have the time then this would be the best method.

The only issue with this method is that the hole must be dug wide enough to accommodate you or other workers. This increases the chance of the water being contaminated. Other risks include the structure caving in, injuring workers down below. However, if you plan and execute the steps correctly, you’ll reduce the chance of this happening.

Sand Pointing

Next, let’s look at sand pointing. This is also sometimes called drive pointing. It’s quite a simple method of digging wells. It involves driving a perforated pipe with a sharp metal point at the end, into the ground with the help of a sledgehammer.

If you’re creating a shallow well, this method is ideal as it can easily be done by just one person and it usually only takes a couple of hours to complete, perfect if time is not on your side.

Unfortunately, there are a few downsides to this method. The first is that, without stating the obvious, it’s only suitable in sand or soil that’s very loose where you’ll find the ground water quite near to the surface. If you intend to dig a well near a river or a lake then this approach would work well.

Unfortunately, once you get to around fifteen feet deep, it’s going to be very hard to dig more, because the soil will have reached maximum compression quite quickly. It’s also very difficult to seal a sand point completely, which can make contamination more likely.


Sludging is an incredibly ancient method of water well installation. It involves teamwork! Basic physics also plays an important part too. An open-topped pipe is attached to a gantry, which is then erected. The pipe will then be raised and lowered using a lever.

This is performed with a well that’s already full of water. With a team effort, the pipe is lowered into the hole with force where it’ll start cutting into the soil. One person from the team will then cover the hole in the pipe at the top, immediately before it starts to drop down again they’ll remove the cover allowing the sludge to come out of the top of the pipe.

This approach has been designed for a deep or shallow well and you can use pretty much any materials for it. This makes it ideal for harsh environments, however, it can be very tiring and is probably only suitable if you’ve got a large team of people to help.

It’s also only doable with soft soil types with clay being the hardest material to penetrate. Much like sand pointing, it’s difficult to create an adequate hygienic seal too.

Manual/ Hand Auger

If you think that drilling a well would be better, let’s talk about manual auger. Although this drilling method is easy to perform, it does require a specific type of drill to get the job done. The drill consists of the head which is attached to the bottom of a rod. This runs up to the surface of the well to the team, who then turn it using the handle which is t-shaped.

As the handle is turned and the auger rotates, it will then fill up with the cuttings. Then it needs to be pulled to the surface and disposed of before being plunged into the well hole again.

This is a quick and efficient way of creating a shallow hole, however, if you’re dealing with hard rock or tough soil it simply won’t work. It will also become harder the deeper you go, which is why it’s not advisable to use this approach if you need your well to be very deep.


While squeezing is not technically a method to actually dig a well, it is used to collect ground water after you’ve dug a well that’s shallow. To perform this approach, you’ll need to dig a hole that’s shallow but as wide as possible. The wider the hole, the more water it’ll produce.

Next, you’ll need to place a container in the center of the hole, this will hold the water. Once you’ve done that, you’ll need to put an airtight plastic sheet over it, make sure the edges are sealed well by weighing them down with soil.

Finally, place a small weight such as a stone, on the sheet so it sits directly above the container. Essentially, this allows condensed water in the hole to simply drip into the container.

Although this is a slow method, it’s very effective at getting clean drinking water, using less manual labor than previous approaches. You’ll need to watch out for water that doesn’t travel toward the center of the sheet though. This is usually due to the type of sheeting that’s used.

Top 5 Tips to Digging a Well

Site Selection

The first thing you need to think about before you dig a well is the location. You need to find a place that actually has a water source. You also need to dig it in a safe area that’s away from toxic contaminants such as sewers or septic tanks.

It’s important to never just pick a random area to start digging as you’ll likely end up with an inadequate water source or unclean water that could cause serious illnesses.

Always test out various locations before you decide on one. If you can, it’s a good idea to hire an expert who will be able to locate the best aquifer spots on your land. They can also test out the specific areas on your land as well.

It may cost extra to hire a professional, however, it will be well worth it. If you choose otherwise, you run the risk of ending up with an unsafe location and potentially put yours and your family’s health at risk with unsafe water. It will also be a massive time-saver as well.

Not only that but your expert will be able to tell you if your state has any specific laws and rules you need to follow when it comes to well drilling and digging. This is especially important because in certain states, only certified professionals are allowed to dig wells at all.


This is an important factor to take into account as the costs will go up the deeper your water well is and you’ll probably want to keep those costs down or not go over your budget.

Generally, residential wells can be anywhere from 100 to 500 feet deep. They can be deeper though, up to 1000 feet in depth. How deep your well needs to be depends on a few factors.

Water quality is the first. Usually, the deeper the well, the better quality water you’re going to get. When you dig a well that’s deep you’re more likely to find water that’s full of minerals. With that said you don’t need to pay through the nose for a deep well. You can install a filter to add those minerals to your water supply.

Throughout the year, the water table will rise and fall again, depending on how much rainfall you experience in your area. Because of this, your well needs to be deep enough to handle those times when the water table levels are low. It’s a good idea to learn about the levels in your area.

Generally, wells are engineered and are equipped with elements that are able to repel bacteria, debris, and provide clean, safe drinking water. The deeper your well, the less likely the water will be contaminated. This is because any bacteria that do manage to slip through will have further to travel, and it’s likely that they’ll die before they get into your home.

Remove Dirty Water

Now that you’ve dug your well and the pipes have been installed, the next thing you need to do is remove any dirty water. This step is super important otherwise all of your efforts before will just go to waste.

All you need to do is lower a bailer rod down the pipe and it will start to fill up with water once it reaches the groundwater. Once it’s full, hoist it up, empty it and then repeat until the water comes out clean.

Preparing your Well Screen

Next, you’ll need to set up your well screen. This will get rid of any debris and keep the water clean. To achieve this, you’ll have to make hundreds of tiny slits in the well screen.

Each slit should be spaced at least an inch and a half from each other. The best thing to do is to mark the slits with a pen before making them with a hacksaw.

Choose a PVC cap for the well screen that fits tightly so no leakages occur. It’s a good idea to seal the cap with cement and primer to ensure it stays put.

Pump Installation

Next, you’ll need to install a pump. This will suck the ground water from the earth using pressure. All you need to do is screw your pump into the PVC pipe fully and make sure there’s a handle on it.

Do a test pump and check the quality of it. However, don’t do a quality test by drinking it. You should be able to find a facility in your area that will test water for bacteria or nasty contaminants. If you’re in a survival situation though, you can filter the water yourself.


How do you know where to dig a well?

When you come to dig a well of your own it’s super important to know the right location to do it. If you choose the wrong location you run the risk of breaking the law or coming into contact with contaminated water, putting you and your family at risk of serious illness.

The first thing you need to do is make sure your chosen spot is legal. The only problem with this is that the laws are different in each state and also by many cities. In some areas, you won’t need a permit to dig a well, whereas, in other states, it may be mandatory for you to have a license or permit.

You’ll also find that in certain areas they’re even more strict about people digging wells. Sometimes only approved experts are allowed to dig wells. It’s vital that you read up or research the various laws in your area before you start.

It’s usually easier to find the trouble spots to avoid rather than trying to find a good location. Steer clear of any man-made systems as these could be prime areas of contamination. Marshes, sewers, dumping areas, and other potentially toxic areas should also be avoided at all costs.

How do you manually dig a well?

If you’re a survivalist, there’s a lot to be gained from knowing how to dig wells. There are three main types. Dug wells are the oldest and most commonly used and then there’s also drilled and driven wells. When you come to dig your well, it’s important to know about the different Earth layers you’ll have to go through.

Beneath us, there are many different layers of soil. Every layer is a different material, rock, clay, and sand are just a few examples. Sand is going to produce the purest water, however, you’ll need to dig deep enough to reach it as sand is usually a few layers deep.

Unfortunately, there’s no getting around it, manually dug wells are exhausting and challenging to create. You may want to allow at least a few days or even weeks to complete the task, depending on how much spare time you have. How long it will take also depends on how arduous the soil is.

Wells have been dug by hand for centuries and all you’ll need are some basic tools and a lot of determination. People have been digging wells for centuries using little to no equipment, so fear not, it can be done!

How deep do you have to dig to make a well?

Wells that are dug for survival or off the grid usage are usually at least 200 feet deep. They can be dug by hand or created using power or drilling tools. A well with a depth of 200 feet will supply you with more than enough water for survival purposes.

Once you start digging, you should start to find water when you hit the twenty feet mark. When you get deeper you’ll reach different types of water, because every layer is made from a different mineral.

However, you’ll find the best water in the sand layer, which is going to be further down. If you want, you can stop at twenty feet deep but if you’re wanting the purest water possible it’s advisable to keep going, preferable another 100-200 feet.

A method that may make it easier to reach that coveted pure water is percussion drilling. This approach is over 4000 years old and is still a common practice today. It involves dropping a heavy drill bit repeatedly into a hole half-filled with water.

Although it does require specific tools, it’s an approach that anyone can use. It’s much quicker and also safer. As well as that it’s perfectly capable of reaching depths of at least 200 feet. With a good quality bit design, the drill can also go through solid rock. You can also seal the borehole to stop surface water from getting into the well.

How much does it cost to dig for a well?

Unfortunately, working out how much digging or drilling a well will cost isn’t straightforward. Water well projects can range from as little as $1000 all the way up to $12000. You’d expect to pay around $30 per foot deep, or $60 if the going is tough.

Water wells are a major project and if you’re not 100 percent sure what you’re doing, it’s always advisable to seek the help of a professional. Although the costs will be higher, it will ensure that you and your property are kept safe.

The exact cost of your well project depends on a lot of different factors. The location, how deep you need to go, how far it is from your home, any permits you may need, and many more.

The cost of a permit varies wildly from state to state, up to $400 in some areas, so it’s important to research this and add it to your estimate. If you don’t get yourself a permit, you could get into trouble legally, so it’s not a good idea to risk it by not obtaining one.

A good way to keep costs down is to dig a well close to your house. This means the water and electricity supply lines are shorter, making it cheaper. Considering how expensive it can be to invest in a water main, the closer you can get to your home, the cheaper it will be!

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