Rock tooling can be especially challenging

Considering Buying Used HDD Tooling? Here’s What You Need to Think About

As HDD professionals, we like taking money to the bottom line, not throwing it downhole. We are always looking for ways to improve our margins but is spending money on used downhole tooling the right place to save money? The answer is yes, it can be if you know what you’re looking for.

In this article, we will discuss why you should be selective, what questions to ask, the used pieces that will save you the most, how to examine them and what pieces we recommend you buy new.

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To save money in the long term, not just the short term, you need to educate yourself and be selective when purchasing used HDD tooling.

If you are not selective, in the short term you will save money over buying new but in the long run, the used tooling you purchase can cost you more than it would have, had you just purchased a new piece, to begin with. For example, it can be costly and time-consuming to remove and reweld adapters, face a breakoff downhole because of a loose swivel or have your hole opener stop working. In certain scenarios, some contractors may lose tens of thousands of dollars between downtime, loss of tooling and electronics downhole, tooling retrieval and now the cost of buying the new tooling you should have bought from the start. So being selective is key.

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HDD tooling and pipe is not all manufactured at the same level of quality. Part of the being selective process should be to determine the original manufacturer.

RELATED: Reamer Repair and Maintenance 101

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Does the person you’re buying the rod or tooling from know the original manufacturer? Can they tell you where they bought it from? Is the person selling the pipe because of a bad experience? Or maybe they have sold their drill rig after a job and have excess pipe and lightly used tooling they are now getting rid of? Finding out where they used the tooling may also help you determine the ground condition it was used in.

Asking good questions will help you avoid inheriting someone else’s headache.

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Top Questions

When shopping for used tooling, ground condition makes a difference. If you’re going to be drilling in dirt finding used tooling can be met with success, saving you money. Used drill head setups and fluted reamers used in softer ground conditions don’t get as much abuse as tooling being used in rock, so they often have much less wear and they are more readily available than other more specific downhole pieces. If this type of tooling fits your needs how do you determine if you found a deal or you should pass? You need to check threads, adapters, swivels and interchangeable parts.

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What Exactly Are You Looking For?

Whether you’re buying a drill head, reamer or drill pipe, the first step is making sure you are getting the correct threads to make the connection to your existing tooling. If it is not the correct thread an adapter or even custom adapter is an option, keep in mind to calculate this additional item into your overall cost. Then you need to make sure the thread is in good condition. Familiarize yourself with the thread profile when new, that way you can determine the extent of the wear. There are also thread template tools to help you, so it’s not just left up to your eye. No matter if the body of the tooling or drill stem is in good condition or not, overly worn thread can easily lead to the costly and frustrating issue of breaking off underground.


Used reamers or drill heads (also known as housings) may have an adapter at the front of the reamer or the tail of the housing. Often, on used tooling this adapter has been welded in place and this can be expensive and time-consuming to remove and reweld if needed. Finding a used housing with no welds is a great money-saving option as the blade or bit can be replaced. Pullback reamers with built-in swivels are another item to make sure to examine. You will want to make sure the swivel is tight. Worn out swivels will also eventually come apart and lead to a break-off downhole.

RELATED: Shopping for Used HDD Tooling? Here Are Some Tips to Keep in Mind

Rock tooling can be especially challenging to buy on the used market since it will experience much more wear because of the harder ground conditions. If you are looking to buy used rock tooling these are the things to look for. The roller cones on a hole opener or tricone bit should feel very tight when turning; they should not roll freely. Look for side to side movement, as this will indicate the amount of wear in the bearings. If there is a lot of side to side play, the bearings quite likely are broken. Cones can be replaced but this also can be very costly and time-consuming. Also, when one cone is needing to be replaced, it is usually a sign that the other cones will also need to be replaced soon. On roller cones themselves, examine the buttons to ensure there is plenty of carbide left. Welds on the sides of a roller cone can damage the seals and bearings and are a good indicator that the reamer may be getting close to the end of its usable life.

With regards to hole openers, it is suggested that unless there is little to no wear on it you should buy new. On a high-profile job where you will likely be using a hole opener, the downtime, tool retrieval, and tool replacement cost if the used one fails is just not worth the gamble of trying to save on the initial investment.

There is good used HDD tooling to be purchased on the market. By keeping these tips in mind, you will likely find success and may save a substantial amount of money. To find savings and peace of mind, it is helpful to buy used tooling from an experienced professional who knows exactly what to look for and has given it a thorough inspection.

Owen Weaver is marketing manager at MTI Equipment.