Photograph of a drilled well casing Well Pipe Grabbers & Fishing Tools for Retrieving Stuff you Dropped Into the Well

  • WELL PIPE RETRIEVAL TOOLS - CONTENTS: how to grab and retrieve pipes, pumps, tools, or other things dropped into a well: easy-reach, fishing tools, spears, and overshoots: designs, sources, techniques to get back what you wish you had not dropped
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Well retrieval tools & methods: this article describes methods & tools bought or home-made that can be used to fish materials out of a water well if you've dropped the pipe, well pump, or tools down into the well casing.

The poly rope shown in our page top photo can be used to pull the well piping from this drilled well - if the rope remains intact.

But what if the rope breaks or what if the well piping separates while the pipe and pump are being pulled. The solutions are here.

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Well Pipe Fishing Tools, Grabbers, Overshoots, Spears, Retrieval Tools: sources & designs to get pipes, tools or whatever out of a well

Well pipe being pulled out of the casing (C) D FriedmanReader Question: we were pulling an old pump and piping out of the well when the pipe broke and fell back into the well - how do we retrieve the well pipe and pump now? How to Fish Stuff out of a Well

Help! 50 ft well.. old - the . pump not been replaced in over 20 years that we know of. We use this well as our main source of water.

We pulled black plastic pipe out, broke off and snapped cable connected to it. The previous owners left no information.

We used a come along and that is how it snapped. We dropped a weight in water, hit water at 45ft.. bottom of well at 50ft... can't see the pump.. don't know what to do? thank you! - P.T.

Reply: How Do Well Drillers & Well Plumbers Retrieve Pipes, Pumps, Tools dropped into a Drilled Well Casing

Dropping stuff into a well, or worse, a person or animal falling into a well is a problem as old as mankind and wells. [See Luke 14:5 and Matthew 12:11.]

And I know about this "Honey I dropped the Pump" problem too, and haven't added a full article on retrieving stuff from water wells at InspectAPedia because of lack of photos of the array of in-well-stuff grabbing tools, and also because I don't think most homeowners will have much luck retrieving stuff that has fallen into their well on their own.

First off, it sounds like a horrible problem when a well pipe breaks and we drop stuff into the well. But don't panic. You have to figure that you're not the first people to have such bad luck - and it happens most often to well drillers not homeowners.

Our photo (left) shows an old galvanized iron well pipe being pulled out of the steel casing at a Minnesota home. [Click to see a larger detailed version of any image at InspectAPedia] . You can see the clamp being used to secure the well pipe at the top of the casing while the well driller removes the upper length of well pipe that has just been lifted.

Well pulling clamp keeps from dropping the pipe back into the well (C) D FriedmanOur second photo (left) illustrates the pipe grabber clamp used to grab the well pipe to keep it from falling back into the well during a pause in lifting to allow other tasks.

The well drillers/plumbers I've worked with, including this one, tell me that once they've had a few bad experiences the are scrupulously careful to avoid a repeat of breaking a well line or dropping the whole shebang down into the well - say while trying to pull things out of the well in the first place, or during reinstallation of a pump and piping.

But sometimes bad luck, or a mistake, or a bad fitting or section of pipe can cause a length of pipe plus well pump, foot valve, what-have-you to fall back down in the well.

Because it does happen, just about every well driller and most plumbers who work on wells have a collection of grabbing devices, some of them home made, that can be lowered into the well to grapple around and grab on to the upper end of what now sits deep down in the well casing. It may take a few trials, but eventually they get stuff out by that method.

When the length of pipe and pump is pretty long, the weight can be considerable, more than you could pull out with a rope or cable.

In that case the rigger brings in a truck or a portable winch system that includes a powered well pipe pulling mechanism that can handle the weight. As the well pipes are lifted out of the well, the driller or plumber may run the pipe through a clamping device that is larger than the diameter of the well casing - that prevents dropping it all back down in the well.

Certainly that device is used when, during the well pipe and pump pulling process, the operator has to stop to remove vertical lengths of well piping. Otherwise we'd have many feet of pipe sticking up in the air - creating another problem.

As a length of well pipe rises out of the casing, leaving the winch assembly attached to the top of the pipe, the operator will stop the winch, tighten a clamp around the well pipe a few inches above the top of the well casing, gently, using the winch, lower the pipe back down so that the clamp rests on top of the well casing - to "test" that the clamp is secure.

Then, trusting the clamp, the upper length of well piping is removed, the winch pulling connection is made to the newly exposed top of well piping just above the clamp, and the process continues.

I Would Call a Well Driller for Help Getting Stuff out of the Well

You can infer from all of this, that in your case the bottom line is you'll need to call your local well driller/well installer who should have the winch equipment as well as a clamping system to both grab and retrieve the top of the broken well piping as well as to pull it out without further catastrophes.

Or if it falls back in again, the well driller or plumber will be in charge of getting the pipe and pump back out for you themselves.

Sources of Home Made & Ready-Made Well Pipe Grabbers for Picking Up Lost Pipes or Other Stuff in Wells or Holes

Watch out: when buying or fabricating a tool to pull a dropped well pipe or something else out of a well, be careful not to drop your new tool into the well alongside what's already in there. Test your device above ground first and also be sure it's strong enough and long enough to do the job.

Watch out: also that you do not jam the item you are trying to retrieve. For example, using a grappling hook to try to fish out a well pump from the well bottom risks jamming the whole assembly inside the well.

Concepts useful to understand when fishing stuff out of a water well:

There are just a few basic types of pipe or junk grabbers used to pull stuff out of oil or gas or water wells:

  • Spears are fishing devices that are inserted into the interior bore of a well pipe and then grab onto the interior sides of the pipe. Logan Oil Tools calls devices of this sort "internal catch" devices.[12]
  • Overshoots or Overshots are fishing devices that fit over the exterior of the well pipe and then grab onto the well pipe exterior to enable lifting the pipe. Logan Oil Tools calls these "external catch" devices. [12] The overshot may be a metal mesh device, or a spiral device, one or more round or oval loops, or similar devices that grab on to the pipe exterior.
  • Grappling hooks are sometimes used to try to hook onto tools, or other non-pipe-shaped items that have fallen into a well.
  • Magnets are sometimes used to retrieve smaller metal objects that have fallen into a well; it's doubtful that a magnet could pull a steel well pipe however.
  • Grinders: in the oil and gas industry a "junk mill" is sent into the well to try to grind up smaller junk that has fallen into the well. The Junk mill works with a boot basket to retrieve the ground up stuff - if it works. This probably won't help with water well troubles.[11]
  • Reamers: are devices used to ream out collapsed well casings in the oil and gas industry; [11] and those clever folks also use an impression block to figure out the shape of whatever it is that has fallen into the well if they don't already know. [12]

Any tool you make or buy is going to be of one of these classes.

Fishing Tools to Retrieve Stuff from Drilled Steel Casing or Other Water Wells

  • Overshot mesh well pipe or item retrievers for fishing stuff out of a well: the most effective tools we know about for pulling lost well pipes out of a drilled well are various versions of overshots. Overshots, an "overshoot" type tool, are a bit easier to get over the outside of a well pipe than spear type tools are to get into the well pipe, unless the upper end of the pipe is near the top of the well.

    Overshots are used in the oil and gas well drilling business[11] as well as water well drilling to retrieve pipes fallen into the well.
  • Overshots is a generic term that might be used to describe a braided metal sleeve (the "basket") or a spiral grapple.

    The overshot is lowered over the end of the pipe in the well. If there is enough friction around the object the braided sleeve will contract and grab the object when the line is pulled up - like that braided rush "chinese finger trap" trick we played with as kids.

    Other pipe grappling tools or terms for them used in the oil and gas industry include specialty tools that can help guide even a do-it-yourself effort that may work at least in more shallow water wells:
    • Basket Grapple - see the text just above.
    • Die Collars - used to retrieve a lost well pipe, the die collar is a coupling lowered over the lost pipe; the gas or oil version may not be easily workable for a plastic water well pipe; see our "double bite metal loop" pipe retriever discussed below.
    • Free-Point Indicator - used to locate where a pipe is stuck in the well, not for retrieval
    • Spears - are expanding devices inserted into the interior of the lost pipe. Pulling on a line attached to the spear (along with mechanical design of the spear) or turning it expand the spear inside the lost pipe.
    • Spiral Grapples - helical grapples lowered over the lost well pipe end, using twisting torque or friction to grab on to and lift the pipe.
    • Wall hooks - used to center the lost pipe in the well so that it can be grabbed by another device. A home made "wall hook" is sometimes fabricated out of funnel of appropriate size, pushed over the lost pipe by a rigid pipe length.

  • Store bought or home made single or double bite metal loop well pipe retriever: some well pipes can be successfully retrieved by fabricating a flexible pair of metal rings with squared or sharp edges connected and hinged to a rod that is in turn connected to the bottom of a working pipe long enough to reach down to the top of your well pipe in the well. When the pair of metal rings slip over the exposed upper end of the well pipe, push the assembly a few feet further down over the pipe.

    If you've got your design right (test it above ground first) when you pull up on the assembly the rings will hinge to an angle that will "bite" onto the vertical pipe in the well and allow you to pull the assembly back out.

    A rope with a large sharp edged "washer" or any other round object that can be dropped over the well pipe can do this same job. Some technicians call this assembly a cam cleat but more often that's a nautical device for halyards and one that doesn't work in this application.

    A home-made "corkscrew" that increases in diameter towards its upper end, affixed to the end of a rigid pipe can also be pushed into the interior (or with some grapplers the outside) of the pipe in the well, turned until it grabs the pipe. I'm not sure this method will be strong enough to lift many feet of pipe in the well.

    Some of the home-made approaches to lowering a metal or wire loop over the well pipe incorporate an upside-down metal funnel that can be used to help center your grabber over the upper end of the pipe in the well. We like these methods.
  • EasyReach™ is one of a series of grabbing devices that can retrieve rocks or brick sized objects that fall into a well or hole. I'm doubtful this tool is able to grab a round well pipe (the maximum length is about six feet and the end looks like suction cups) but the company may have tool ends that can be adapted for that purpose.

    EasyReach™ claims it can pick up anything from a dime to a brick. The device is sold by General Pipe Cleaners, Tel: 800-245-6200, website:
  • Expanding rubber plug pipe retriever: a home-made stack of rubber plugs placed over a threaded rod can, if your well pipe is not too deep in the well, be pushed into the top end of the pipe in the well.

    The down-end of your threaded rod is locked onto a washer and nut and rubber plug just small enough to force into the upper end of the pipe in the well. If you can stab that plug into the well pipe you then tighten the upper end of the treaded rod (a nut and washer will do) until you've expanded the rubber plug enough to grab onto and lift the in-well pipe.
  • Hooking onto existing fittings on the well pipe in the well: if the length of pipe that fell into the well includes couplings or a pitless adapter fitting, often any small grappling hook and line can grab onto the edge of that protrusion and pull the assembly out of the well. Pull slowly and smoothly and as soon as you can mechanically grab the end of the lost pipe as it emerges from the well, do so.
  • Mini grappling hooks to retrieve a fallen-in well pipe are sometimes fabricated using a heavy duty triple-barb fish-hook. I'm a little nervous about this approach because if the attempt fails and you leave the hook and a section of line in the well you've added to the mess that needs to be pulled out of the well.
  • Mousetrap well pipe retrievers:
  • PVC glue-on well pipe retrieval: some report success by lowering a new section of PVC pipe down into the well onto the lower end of which has been cemented (and dried) a coupling that will just fit over the exposed top of the plastic well pipe that is already in the well.

    With fresh glue inside the mating end of the coupling the retrieving well pipe section is pressed down onto the exposed top of the pipe that is already in the well. Wait for the glue to dry and try pulling out the whole assembly. If the broken-off plastic pipe is below water level, or badly damaged, this approach may have poor chances of success.
  • Well pipe grapplers or well pipe grabbers that will grab onto plastic pipe or iron pipe down inside of a well casing are sometimes home made based on designs such as the item listed above.
    to submit photos and product names for additional well pipe or part retrieval tools - to assist other readers.
  • Small portable winches for lifting well pipes can be site-fabricated using an automobile engine puller - something you can usually rent from a rental center


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