Buying for the Long Haul

When it comes to buying and using any tool, being well prepared and aware can save a lot of time, money and grief in the long run. Piercing tools easily fall into this category as the purchasing and maintenance of the machine can be thorny if the customer doesn’t know what to look for and the operator isn’t regimented to a maintenance routine. Being sure the appropriate type of piercing tool is used and is cared for can make ground piercing jobs a cinch.

Purchasing the Correct Piercing Tool

Piercing tools have a wide range of capabilities for many applications involving a fairly large scale of diameters. Jobs can range from installing utility lines of all kinds to pipe bursting, pipe ramming and horizontal pipe pushing.

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“We have seen piercing tools used for a variety of other applications including pile driving, aeration, fence post installation, tree transplant, etc.,” said Will LeBlanc, national sales manager for HammerHead Trenchless Equipment. This demonstrates how versatile and powerful a piercing tool can be when selected correctly for the proper application.

Determining the appropriate size and type needed when buying a piercing tool should be decisive decision-making tools for the customer. According to Greg Smith, marketing communications manager for Allied Construction Products LLC, buying a piercing tool that bests suits the job you want it to do should be a top consideration for any buyer.

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Size-wise, the diameter of the piercing tool “should be approximately ¾- to 1-in. larger than the majority of the product you install,” according to LeBlanc. An expander may be used on some models for an increased diameter for larger product installation, but is “not preferred for regular use as production is decreased,” he continued.

The right type of piercing tool is a second important consideration when buying the best piercing tool for the job. There are two common kinds of head styles available, says LeBlanc: one is a fixed or solid head and the other is a reciprocating head. When determining which head is most suitable for your job, it is most prudent to look to the soil type you’re dealing with. Fixed heads take care of average and softer ground conditions more quickly and are typically less pricey to maintain because they have fewer moving parts. Reciprocating heads work best in tough ground conditions as the head moves independent of the rest of the body.
“The head initiates the bore with more impact than fixed head tools,” LeBlanc said. “The first impact of the striker transfers 100 percent of its kinetic energy to the head of the tool, providing incredible energy to a precise area and creating a pilot bore for the body.”

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The larger number of parts in reciprocating heads, however, increases the cost of ownership and has higher maintenance costs than fixed heads. A good rule to follow is to use a reciprocating head only when fixed head production falls below 1-ft per minute, according to LeBlanc.

Smith implores buying from a distributor that is well versed in the underground construction industry. You can feel safe with your purchase if the distributor has repair parts on the shelf, implying it is capable of repairing the tool if something goes awry.

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“Buying a piercing tool from a ‘catalog distributor’ only leads to headaches, downtime and lost profits for the contractor,” Smith said.

While prices may not always be negotiable, both LeBlanc and Smith insist that the high return on investment and long-term savings are worth the sticker.

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Maintaining for the Long Run

Keeping the piercing tool in top shape is essential for smooth operations and a long lifespan. Smith points to Allied’s example of a Model 1000 Hole-Hog nicknamed “Old Reliable” on display at its headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio, which was put into service on January 1975 and retired in July 1994. LeBlanc has also been witness to long-living. well maintained tools.

“It is not uncommon to hear of HammerHead Mole piercing tools that have been in use for more than 10 years,” LeBlanc said. “Most customers will run a piercing tool until the body is literally worn off the tool.”
Ensuring a piercing tool will run to its optimal longevity doesn’t have to be a burden to the operator. Simply following the manufacturer’s guidelines may seem like a common sense place to start, but it will always keep tool success rates high and failures low. However, knowing soil types and weather conditions to avoid is also beneficial to keeping a properly functioning tool. Smith says compactable soils are best for piercing tools to work in. Free flowing sands and loose cobbles are the most difficult types of ground conditions to work with, LeBlanc said. Other difficult areas or ground conditions to avoid include: high water table areas, extremely humid weather, muddy or very wet soils and frozen ground. However, by choosing the right equipment with a skilled operator, most areas can be bored successfully.

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Having a routine checklist of things to inspect before each use can be helpful in extending the lifespan of a piercing tool. Checking the safety equipment and integrity of parts should be a priority. Making sure the tool is oiled sufficiently is a second step in a successful job. LeBlanc believes keeping the tool well oiled is the most integral maintenance tip.

“This keeps the tool lubricated as well as helps to keep it clean,” he said. “Proper lubrication helps maintain tool performance and reduces wear on internal components. An oily tool is a happy tool!”

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The piercing tool’s air compressor should also be set to the manufacturer’s recommended PSI. After the job has been completed, the piercing tool should be flushed to rid the tool of any moisture.

“Many problems can be avoided by simply flushing the unit at the end of each shift,” Smith said. “If moisture is allowed to remain inside the unit, this can cause internal components to rust.”

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Flushing and cleaning the tool regularly is a good way to keep operations running smoothly. Oiling the exterior of the tool, leaving a thin coat of oil, and running the tool above ground for at least 20 seconds is a simple yet effective cleaning measure. LeBlanc recommends a thorough internal cleaning every 100 hours of operation.

Storing the piercing tool correctly is also vital in keeping it in top condition. According to Smith, improper storage of the tool can lead to internal components rusting, rendering the tool inoperable. Properly oiling the tool should be the first step in storing a tool that won’t be in use for a while. Hoses should be covered or positioned to avoid contamination or from being damaged. Storing the piercing tool horizontally and securing it to prevent rolling are the final steps in proper storage.

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Finding the right piercing tool for the job doesn’t have to be a challenge. With some research and preparation, any bore can be a successful one. And by maintaining the piercing tool appropriately, it should give the care you gave it right back to you with effective bores and a long life.
Leanne Butkovic is an editorial assistant for Trenchless Technology.

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