Pipe Ramming: 5 Methods Used in Horizontal Directional Drilling

By Phil Kendon
Published: June 25, 2019 | Last updated: July 20, 2023
Key Takeaways

Trenchless technology and the use of HDD techniques like pipe ramming for product pipe installations is developing on a continuous basis.

Pipe ramming is a trenchless technology used to install underground piping without digging a continuous trench. Pipes are struck by a ramming tool energized by a pneumatic system with consecutive blows, which force the open end of the pipe deeper into the soil.


The spoil that fills the pipe as it moves through the terrain is removed through the action of an auger, compressed air or water jetting.

A cutting shoe is attached to the front edge of the pipe in order to penetrate the soil and direct the cuttings into the pipe. Pipes may also be lubricated in order to reduce friction as it progresses through the soil.


Pipe ramming ensures that the installed pipe is stable in the ground as there is very little disturbance to the structure of the surrounding soil. It is thus suitable for use where there are difficult soil conditions, underneath rivers or infrastructure, like rail roads, etc.

Pipe ramming has been combined with horizontal directional drilling (HDD) techniques to assist the normal HDD operation in specific circumstances. (Read: A Step-by-Step Guide to HDD.)

Conductor Barrel or Washover Casing Method

Conductor barrel is a trenchless technique where pipe ramming is used to install a pipe casing through difficult soil conditions. When desirable soil conditions are reached, HDD techniques can then be used to complete the project.

The conductor barrel is rammed into the ground at a predetermined angle in order to reach the desirable soil conditions. Typical applications for this process are where a pipe is being installed underneath a riverbed. Pipe ramming is used to get through the loose soil of the riverbank until the dense soil underneath the riverbed is reached.

An added advantage is that the conductor barrel can be used as a frictionless section during pullback.


Conductor barrels can be installed at the entry and exit points of the installation, thus dealing with problematic soil conditions on both sides of a riverbed, for example.

Pullback Assist

During an HDD pipe installation, three steps are required:

  • Pilot bore – drilling a small bore along the pipe route.
  • Pre-ream – enlarging the bore to facilitate installation of the piping.
  • Pullback – the process of pulling the piping back through the bore created by HDD.


Free Download: An In-Depth Look At the Horizontal Directional Drilling Process

Hydrolock, or pipe jamming, can happen during pullback due to the soil conditions, the pressure of groundwater or drilling fluid pressure. These pressures cause the pipe to get stuck in the soil, or to be exposed to tensile stresses beyond its design conditions.

Pullback assist is accomplished by attaching a pneumatic pipe rammer to the product pipe during pullback. The constant percussive strikes on the rammer keep the pipe moving through the soil and help to break the hydrolock and free the pipe when jammed.

An added advantage of pullback assist through pipe ramming is that the stress exerted on the drill rig to install the product pipe in the bore is reduced, resulting in less maintenance and longer life of the drill rig itself.

There are three main connection methods from the pipe rammer to the product pipe.

The first method involves the installation of a steel sleeve, which is attached to the rammer by collets.

The second involves the connection of the rammer to a casing via collets. The casing is then connected to a high-density polyethylene (HDPE) pipe through a flange compression kit. (Read: The Lifespan of Steel, Clay, HDPE, and PVC Pipes.)

The third method involves the attachment of the rammer to the casing with collets and then the bolting of the casing to the HDPE pipe via side holes in the pipe.

Bore Salvage

Bore salvage is the operation to remove the partially installed product pipe, which has become stuck in the bore so that the process can be started again. The pipe rammer is attached to the end of the pipe so that the percussive blows will have the effect of loosening the pipe in the soil.

A winch, or any other kind of pulling device, is attached to the rammer to pull the pipe from the ground as the rammer strikes its blows. The pipe pulling can also be done through a fabricated sleeve to reduce the effects of friction.

HDD Drill Rod Recovery

If a drill rod becomes jammed in the ground during horizontal directional drilling, a pipe rammer can be used to loosen the rod and recover the drill rod to the surface. A predesigned and fabricated adapter is attached to the pipe rammer and then welded to the drill rod. The percussive force loosens the drill rod in the soil.

If the drill rod is still attached to the drill rig, the rig is used to pull the rod out of the soil.

Removal of Abandoned Pipe

The bore salvage technique has also been adapted to remove abandoned or damaged piping from an existing installation. The combination of pipe ramming to loosen the pipe in the soil together with a winch or pulling device enables the removal of piping without extensive environmental impacts or the need for more sophisticated technology.

Trenchless technology and the use of HDD techniques for product pipe installations is developing on a continuous basis, and contractors are combining different trenchless methods to improve efficiencies and reduce costs.

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Written by Phil Kendon | Technical Writer @ Trenchlesspedia

Phil Kendon

Phil Kendon has an undergraduate degree in engineering along with a masters in vocational practice. He has ten years of manufacturing experience in the oil and gas sector along with ten years of experience with non profits. Phil lives on the idyllic paradise island of Mauritius with his wife, Leigh, and 3 children, Timothy, Hannah and Luke. Here he pursues his work with non profits as well as his passion for writing.

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