Steel pipe water wells – not so dry at BSI

Modern drinking water wells

When we think of a water well, many of us picture brick or concrete-lined dug wells, with stories of people or animals having fallen down them – and indeed in rural areas in many countries these types of wells are used.

Many modern drinking water wells today, however, are drilled.  They can get water from a much deeper level than dug wells - often up to hundreds of meters.  The most common casing and screen material is steel tubing or piping.  Steel builds up a protective oxide coating when exposed to water or soil, which assures a long life for the well.  Its elasticity and resilience reduces the chances of it being displaced by any underground movement after installation.  It is also easy to weld pipes together.

Most modern drilled wells for residential properties use a 6 inch steel casing pipe.  This is inserted into the drilled hole prepared by the well driller.  It is then sealed at the top and bottom against contamination by surface water or runoff.

Larger wells used by municipalities tend to have a diameter of at least 12 inches.

First British Standard appears at the start of WW2

In 1939, the War Office requested BSI’s Mechanical Industry Committee to prepare a standard for steel water well casings.  BS 879 applied to lap welded (where ends of the pipes overlap and are then welded) and weldless steel tube casings from 4 inch to 48 inch bore sizes.  It specified requirements as the physical and chemical properties of the tubes, and covered bending, flattening, tensile and weld tests.

After World War 2, the methods of water well drilling expanded and in 1965, BS 879 was revised to reflect the changes.  Some types of joints used in the 1930s had become rare by the 1960s and were omitted fro the new version.  Carbon steel pipes and tubes for pressure purposes specified in the new BS 3601 from 1962 were also taken into account.

BS 879 today

In 1985 the standard was revised to metric specifications.  It was divided into two parts, Part 1 covering steel tubes and a new Part 2 was released in 1988 covering thermoplastic tubes.  It is currently going through the process of being reconfirmed as a British Standard.

What’s available in the Knowledge Centre?

BSI’s Knowledge Centre can provide access to the withdrawn editions of BS 500 back to 1933. Members can view withdrawn publications without charge in Chiswick, and they are available for purchase in hard copy and PDF.  BSI members receive a 50% discount, free postage and can buy on account.

To find out more please contact the Knowledge Centre at: or on +44 (0)20 8996 7004

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