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Cable tool rigs are a traditional way of drilling water wells, these rigs raise and drop a drill string with a heavy carbide tipped drilling bit that chisels through the rock by finely pulverizing the subsurface materials. The drill string is comprised of the upper drill rods, a set of "jars" (inter-locking "sliders" that help transmit additional energy to the drill bit and assist in removing the bit if it is stuck) and the drill bit.

During the drilling process, the drill string is periodically removed from the borehole and a bailer is lowered to collect the drill cuttings (rock fragments, soil, etc.). The bailer is a bucket-like tool with a trapdoor in the base. If the borehole is dry, water is added so that the drill cuttings will flow into the bailer. When lifted, the bailer closes and the cuttings are then raised and removed. Since the drill string must be raised and lowered to advance the boring, casing (larger diameter outer piping) is typically used to hold back upper soil materials and stabilize the borehole.

Cable tool rigs are simpler and cheaper than similarly sized rotary rigs, although loud and very slow to operate. Since cable tool drilling does not use air to eject the drilling chips like a rotary, instead using a cable strung bailer, technically there is no limitation on depth.

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