Not changing out worn equipment tends to be a big reason for major repairs on the machines.


Directional drills and pulling accessories play small, but vital roles when putting in underground lines. Keeping drills and accessories in good condition requires simple, but regular care, according to industry experts.

“With tooling, the biggest issue is wear,” says Jeff Davis, Ditch Witch product manager for HDD Tooling. “It’s like the wear on a tire. The more you use it, the more wear there is.”

Kayla Breja, utility product marketing specialist with Vermeer, agrees most operators fail to change out worn equipment and try to make it last as long as possible. “Many people will wait until an item has completely failed before changing it out due to the costs associated with that repair,” she says. “Sometimes, contractors feel they can get more time out of the suggested maintenance parts and wait to change them out, but then forget until the part breaks.”

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At that point, Breja says the repair may end up costing more than the original maintenance. “Maintenance is something that you can look at as a difference-maker,” she says.

A great piece of advice to follow is to start each day with a walk around the equipment to see if anything is amiss, Davis says. Beyond that, here’s additional advice on maintaining pulling accessories and directional drills:

1. Clean parts daily

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Use water to clean the swivel and vise dies daily to keep them in good working condition, Davis says. “There’s no life expectancy for swivels. They work until they lock up or they break,” he says.

As for the vise dies, use a wire brush after the daily washing to maintain a good tooth profile. That will prevent slipping during rod makeups and breakdowns. “Pulling accessories are wear items and need to be maintained after every bore,” Breja says.

2. Don’t skip the grease

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Davis says swivels and other pieces of equipment last longer when they are greased regularly. For example, if gearbox rollers are not greased properly, they can break off and fall into the rack and pinion, causing damage.

“There’s no specific grease you have to use on equipment. Just keep greasing it until it comes around the joint pieces,” Davis says. “The grease will keep it operating optimally. I preach day-in and day-out about using the proper levels of fluids on equipment.”

3 Look for wear

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Monitor equipment daily for abrasive wear. Tooling sub savers, for example, touch the drill rod twice — once when you’re drilling out and when you’re putting the rod back in. If that gets worn, it can damage the box end, which can then damage the new rod’s pin nose.

“Pay special attention to bolts and threads when watching for damage,” Davis says. “You don’t want to use a worn-out bolt since you may end up losing your product in the hole.”

4. Drill maintenance

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Breja says directional drills have a maintenance schedule set for every 250 running engine hours.

“If you maintain your drill on a regular basis, not only can it help extend the life of your machine, but you have the opportunity to catch items before they fail,” she says. “More times than not, if maintenance is avoided a machine can fail on a job site, causing frustration, loss of efficiency and extra funds.”

5. Look beneath the wheels

This may sound a bit odd, but Davis says looking at ground conditions are a must in keeping swivels and drill bits in good condition. “If you don’t watch it, you can get significant wear,” he says.

Davis says contractors need to consider pulling capacity and limits before starting any job. “Make sure that you have enough. If you have a 20,000-pound machine, you need to make sure to have a swivel with the same capacity,” he says.


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