How to Dig a Well for Free Independent Water: 3 Simple Steps

It has been well documented that humans can go for extended periods of time without food, but water… well thats just impossible. Understanding how to dig a well and it’s key principles are a highly touted skill to add to your knowledge bank! In this guide we’ll go though a simple 3 step process to help you gain access to this precious commodity so long as a few pieces of criteria can be met! Whether you are prepping your own property or planning an off the grid lifestyle, this post is for you. Let’s check it out shall we?

Types of Wells

There are 3 main types of wells that you could consider digging. They all serve a specific purpose and have pros and cons that need to be assessed before beginning the planning process. They all work just as well as each other for under ground water storage.

1. Dug Wells

Dug wells are what you think of when you first think about a well. They are those olden day looking things that you see with a tin roof, a bucket hanging by a rope and a rusty old crank that needs a good old clean. The hole or opening of the well is usually surrounded by impermeable, sturdy materials such as concrete, stone or bricks. This is to keep any surface water from seeping in and contaminating the water.

Pros: This variant of well is generally dug quite shallow so requires less effort and it is also pretty cheap to drill.

Cons: You need to make sure that the water you are trying to tap into is at a shallow level. They are not really suited for deeper aquifers.

2. Drilled Wells

Drilled wells are super common these days as opposed to the others. They are pretty much just deep (up to 3000 feet) but narrow shafts that are usually drilled into your desired area. You would use machine or manual driven equipment depending on time and budget. Quite often, this type of well will extract water from more than one aquifer which allows for much purer water and better flow. These wells can be identified by their form of pipe poking out of the ground.

Pros: Much purer water

Cons: They are often much deeper than dug wells so can be much more time consuming, this also means more man hours which in turn would run the budget up. The deeper the hole, the heavier the equipment required and again, the cost rises.

Types of wells

3. Driven Wells

Driven wells aren’t used that often due to more work being required but that’s not to say that they are uncommon. This type of well is created using a pounding method. The equipment pounds in a perforated pipe that doesn’t require a casing unlike in the dug method. The pipe is forced into the ground until it gets to the level that the aquifer sits. Once in, the well extracts water.

Pros: Doesn’t require any casing which saves time and money.

Cons: The equipment may be a little trickier to get a hold of due to other more accessible methods used these days. Of course they are not impossible though.

Well Compartments for Under Ground Water Storage

Before we go too deep into the digging part, it’s probably best to understand all of the parts involved in a well so you have a better idea of how they work.

Well Hole –This is the hole itself. From above the surface area down to the water area.

Well Casing – This is the inner lining of the well that helps keep anything from the inner shaft between the surface and the water source falling into your water source. Including any ground material, contaminated groundwater, etc.  Depending on the depth of your well and the stability of the material you are digging through, the casing may not be necessary. The more common casing materials these days are plastic or metal and can be prefabricated or constructed on the spot.

Steining – This is the wall section of the well that is constructed above the ground. It is usually built on top of the well curb and needs to be strong enough to hold the weight of the well cap.

Well Curb – This is a protective rim constructed around the base opening of the well. It acts as a foundation for the steining. This is also where any raising/lowering mechanism for water retrieval can be attached.

Well Cap – This is the protective capping cover of the well that helps keep any dirt, debris, insects, animals, etc from entering which in turn can cause contamination. 

Well Screen – This component ‘screens’ debris such as rocks, gravel, sediment, insects or small animals. It is installed at the lower part of the well casing. Like the casing, the screen is most commonly constructed from metal or plastic. It contains hundreds of very small slits (big enough to let water pass through but small enough to filter debris). This enables the well to have access to constant clean water.

Pump – This is what pushes the water from the well bottom up to the top. Most modern wells have a pump these days. There are 2 common types of pumps.

  • Jet pumps –  A better option for shallow wells and use suction to extract the water up to the user via a pipe/hose. This type of pump is mounted above the well.
  • Submersible pumps – A better option for deeper wells where the pump is installed at the base of the well and uses more of a pushing motion to get the water up through a pipe/hose.

Vessel – This component isn’t as prominent these days as a pump is usually a more beneficial option. Although, for wells constructed on a budget, a bucket and rope on a pulley system is still a very useable vessel type. It’s advisable to avoid this method if possible as the risk of contamination is higher, of course, budget plays the biggest role here.  

Now that you have a general idea of the basic construct components of a well, let’s have a look at the requirements for planning and digging one yourself so you can obtain what is effectively your own underground water storage facility.

Consider the Following Quick Prepper Kit List Before Digging

There are a few minor things to organize before you can even turn over that first piece of dirt. All of these factors revolve around the proposed location of the well.

How to dig a well - permit contractor

Firstly – Check to see if there is any local laws that may hinder of even prohibit your type of project. Some laws may restrict depth or require you to obtain a permit. You may even need to have your well professionally drilled according to your areas regulations.

Secondly – As mentioned when going through the ‘well casing’, never install your well near any sources of contamination. All of the nasty stuff can easily seep into your well and end up in your drinking glass which could be very dangerous for any human. Aim to drill with a minimum distance of 50 feet between the well and type of any animal pens, sewers, septic tanks or general muddy areas.

Thirdly – This is a very important point. Make sure you contact all utility companies in the area of your proposed well before you do ANYTHING. They will  have  plans and drawings of any electricity, gas, telephone, fiber optics, water, and other services mapped out. They will be able to provide you with any details regarding where you can and can’t install your well as well as what to look of r underground. This will ultimately determine the location of your well so cover this step in great detail.

Lastly – If possible, have your proposed area geo-surveyed for water. This is also a crucial step.  You don’t want to setup your well so that yields hardly any water. Check out your local survey office to see if they have any ground water/water table maps or even indication of areas where others have already successfully dug. There could be rock beds underground that hold more water in the water tables than other areas. Some tips on decent areas if you don’t have access to a surveyor are:

  • Look for areas with lush vegetation, this will give a good indication of an abundance of water. The trees, plants and shrubs will be getting their water from somewhere, there’s a hint!
  • Valleys and hill bottoms at a lower elevation can reveal water tables. Also around other bodies of water such as streams, rivers and ponds.

How to Dig a Well – 3 Proven Steps

1. Prepping of the Well Screen

Once the planning phase is complete, The well construction can begin. The most important part of your well is the well screen and must be put together in a certain way to optimize its usage. Here are a set of steps that will help to achieve optimal water flow.

‣ Start by Marking Out the Well Screen Pattern

  • Measure from the bottom of the pipe up around 4 inches (10 cm). This lower 4 inch (10 cm) gap/space will be what connects to the PVC pipe so nothing is required to be done below the line.
  • The next step is to mark out 3-4 slits around the circumference of the pipe, about 7 inches (18 cm) long. So, starting from the 4 inch gap mentioned in the above step, mark the first of 3-4 slits The slits should be equally spaced at about 1.5 inches (3.5 cm) apart.
  • When you have the first set of slits marked out, continue up the pipe by marking out another 3-4 slits every 2 inches. Rinse and repeat. It’s ideal to have around 6 feet (1.8 m) worth of slits as this will be ample space for a decent amount of water flow to run through the slits.
  • Next mark a straight line from the top of the highest slit to the bottom of the lowest slit on each side of your horizontal slits. This will give you stop points so you don’t cut the whole way around the pipe and remove whole chunks unnecessarily.

‣ Cut the Slits

  • Using a fine bladed, small toothed handsaw like a hacksaw is perfect for the cutting process. Cut out all of the slits that have been drawn on the pipe. Make sure you don’t saw all the way around the pipe but instead stop at the vertical lines as you’ll just remove a whole piece of pipe.

‣ Find a Well Screen Cap

  • Find a PVC cap that will fit snuggly when attached to the well screen. You can pick them up from any decent hardware store or pipe supplier, just check it’s the right size.

‣ Priming and Sticking

  • Paste a liberal amount of primer on to the end of the well cap where you will slide over the well screen. The aim of this is help set the cap on tight and stop leakages.
  • Do the same with the well screen. Slap on a decent amount of primer around the area where you will set on the well cap.
  • Next, use pipe cement or good quality PVC glue. Paste it over both of the previously primed parts.
  • Take the cap and slide it over the top end of the screen and hold it for a good 20-30 seconds to ensure the glue/cement completely dries to prevent leakage. You will need to do this process quickly as the glue/cement is usually designed to dry very fast.

‣ Install and Glue Foot Valves

  • The foot valve is a purchasable mechanism that let’s water to come in but not allow it to flow back out again. The one you have purchased contains 2 foot valves. The first is at the bottom end of the 6 inch PVC pipe and the second is at the bottom of the 4 inch PVC. (They should both be included and pre-installed on purchase)
  • Prime and cement/glue the foot valves to the bottom of the well sreen.
  • The foot valve(s) allow water to enter the 6 inch pipe on the upstroke of the well and push water through the 4 inch pipe on the down stroke.

Here is a short clip on the process of cutting a well screen.

2. Boring the Well

Before choosing the right drilling method for your well, you will need to consider the materials that you will be drilling into. For example, if you are drilling into hard clay or any rocky type terrain, you may need to organize a professional as they are pretty tough materials to drill into by hand. Otherwise, you can use a DIY drill, a hand auger or even a well point. Keep in mind that a lot of elbow grease may be required.

This is where the magic happens, not instantly but your well is going to begin to take shape after this step.

‣ DIY Drill Method

There are a few different options for DIY drills. Research is key here. There is a lot of great information out there, online and with local farmers. Some are a little tricky to put together and can be quite laborious. 2 of the more simpler options are:

  • You can modify a tractor or digging machine with a post hole digger or auger. These generally dig to around 10 feet deep so aren’t ideal for all cases. They also require a bit of money to hire or purchase unless you have friends or neighbors that could help you out.
  • The other option is a water drill. Again these can be costly but are well worth the hassle. They work by using high pressure water which blasts away the material in a downward motion and kind of spits it back out the top of your well

Hand Auger Method

The hand auger method requires a lot more elbow grease and patience but will cost a lot less so it definitely has it’s pros and cons. An extendable auger may be required depending on the required depth.

  • Start by setting the auger in the spot where you are going to drill and turn the auger anti- clockwise. As the auger spins, the dirt will begin to exit from the hole area and land on the ground around the auger base.
  • You will notice that the auger will fill up with material (soil) from top to bottom so you will need to remove the material and put it to the side. Preferably somewhere out of the way as the pile can build up quite high and you don’t want any falling back in your hole.
  • The idea is to drill deeper and deeper into the earth and as the auger gets shorter, extension augers will need to be added depending on your required depth.
  • Once you are down to your required depth and remove all remaining material so the well shaft is clean, you can start to bail out the water.

‣ Well Point Method

The well point method is probably the easiest method to use as a beginner as it requires less specialized tools and or instruction. It requires you to attach a well point to the bottom end of your well shaft which was shown how to create earlier on. Well points are usually constructed using any kind of sturdy metal that can handle being pushed into most surface materials. They come in a range of sizes so it’s worth going and checking out your local hardware store or pipe supplies for more info.

  • You will need a pilot hole first as this will aid the well point into position. 2-3 feet deep is a perfect depth to begin so use a shovel, pick or whatever tool you’re comfortable with to remove the material.
  • Once you reach your desired depth, push the well point into the hole and start turning it the correct way so it drills itself into the ground. You can use a rubber mallet if the material is soft enough otherwise, you can use any wrench type tools to help get the first part of the well point in.
  • As your well point screws itself down, keep lowering the pipe shaft until the top sits just above the ground. Add another section of pipe and continue with the process. Keep screwing on extra pieces of pipe until you reach your required depth.

‣ Bailing the Well

Bailing the well is the method used to remove any dirty or stagnant water that has been sitting at the bottom of the well. A bailer is a piece of equipment that is thin and hollow rod on a string that you use to draw up the water.

  • Once attached per the manufacturer’s instructions, lower the bailer down your PVC pipe. When it hits the water line, it will start to fill with dirty water.
  • Once filled, draw it up to the surface and remove the water making sure that your release it well away from your surface hole.
  • Continue this process over and over until the water is completely clean.

Here is a short clip on the process of bailing a simple well.

3. Installing Your Pump

There are a few simple steps required to installing the pump into your well.

  • First and foremost, you will need to setup your tripod. This should be assembled directly over your well hole, making sure that it is locked in place and stable.
  • Next, you’ll need to install the outer foot valve. This is the part of the well that is it at the very bottom and holds the inner foot valve inside it. If you used the well point method then this part would have already been pre-installed. If you used another drill or the auger method, you’ll need to lower in your well screen first then sink the outer foot valve inside the well screen.
  • Then you’ll need to install the inner foot valve pipe. If you used the auger method, lower it into the outer foot valve. Keep in mind that it is easier to screw together and tighten all lengths of pipe before lowering them into the hole. 
  • The last piece of the puzzle is to attach the pump. Make sure that it is attached and connected super tight to the top of the now installed well.
  • Once the installation is complete, it is advised that you test the water to make sure that it is safe to drink. Simply draw up some of the water and send it off to a lab to have it tested before you start using the water. You can purchase self-testing kits but it is very important that you know what you’re doing. 

Here is a short clip on how to go about getting your water tested before you can use or consume it.


The Verdict

That’s basically all you need to know when I comes to understanding how to dig a well on your property. There was always going to be a level of elbow grease involved when the word ‘dig’ is included but when it comes to creating your own source of water, that should be the least of your concerns. If all else fails, make sure you have your survival backpack packed with bug out bag essentials such as filters or tabs to enable you access to drinking water.

 If you have tried to dig one for yourself and succeeded, leave comment below on what worked well and didn’t work well for you that may be able to help anyone else in the same situation.

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