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This manual is a guide on how to use the hand-powered version of the percussion drill and I want to use this introduction as an advertisement for this particular drilling method -- especially as an ideal technology for water procurement in the rural developing world.

The percussion drill is one of  the oldest known tools for making deep holes in the ground to get water.  It was developed by the Chinese in 1100 B.C. and remains a very popular method of drilling even today.

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The early percussion drills used strips of bamboo tied together with a heavy metal weight on the tip.  This tool was lifted and dropped by man and beast working together, sometimes for years, to chop a hole from thirty to three thousand feet deep.   Today's giant drilling trucks use steel cable, long steel bits weighing several thousand pounds, and rugged diesel engines to raise and lower the tools quickly and easily--so that two men can drill hundreds of feet  in a matter of days.

Between 1100 B.C. and today there have been many variations of the percussion tool, but the basic design has remained the same.  For most types of soil, the percussion drill is a solid, reliable, and fast way to make a well at a low cost.

As a simple technology for developing countries, the percussion drill has a lot going for it.  The drill design is adaptable to whatever level of technology is available.   It can be made from scrap steel and carried into remote, road less areas.  It can be powered by a dozen men pulling on a rope, or by a system of levers and springs, or by an automobile, or by any size engine mounted on a truck bed.  A driller trained on one system can easily adapt to any one of the others, thus allowing training programs to start with simple drilling technologies and move into more complex systems later.

An American Springpole Percussion Drill from the early 1800's

Percussion drilling is easily learned and can be practiced without much formal training.  In the case of the simpler hand-powered systems, a full drill can be constructed from $200 to $300 in easily designed tools and free or low-cost local materials (like poles, sticks, twine, etc.).  So it is possible to train local craftsmen to be drillers and for them to equip themselves inexpensively.  Also, since the tools can be used to drill numerous wells before needing replacement, the driller can work at a wage his community can afford, supplying the much needed economic incentive to attract and hold craftsmen to the business of water development.

This handbook is the result of several years of research by many, the advice of professional drillers, and well drilling projects carried out by Wellspring Africa in Liberia and Nigeria.  Most of the photos in this manual are from the Nigerian project. 

Through most of this manual I am going to describe the basic hand powered drilling method, though I will discuss other drilling methods in the final chapter.

This manual remains a work-in-progress and I plan to update it as new information arises.  I am most anxious to hear your feedback on this manual and the techniques described here.  Please feel free to write me at:

Cliff Missen
Wellspring Africa
1005 Penkridge Ave.
Iowa City, IA  52246

Better yet, email me at:


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Wellspring Africa's
Hand Powered Percussion Drill

Copyright @ 1986-2012
by Cliff Missen and Wellspring Africa