Pneumatic piercing tools are convenient tools for installing small diameter pipes (for gas, cable, electric, water or irrigation systems) over short distances.
By using a pneumatic piercing tool, contractors can avoid the extra time, cost and risk of digging large trenches. And, this allows them to decrease the use of a mini excavator or the use of several people with shovels.
Pneumatic piercing tools are simple but effective. The tool has a striker, which is what penetrates the earth. On the other side, the tool is connected to a hose, which is connected to an oiler (sometimes called a mister), which is hooked up to another hose, on the other end of which is an air compressor.
The air compressor provides the power and the oiler provides the lubrication.
When using a pneumatic piercing tool, clearly mark the start and end points of the installation. Then dig out the two points. Measure how far down you want the pipe installed. Insert the head of the tool into the ground at that point. Ensure the tool is accurately pointing in the direction of the installation end point. Activate the tool.
Maintenance is key
Pneumatic piercing tools, like a lot of ground engaging tools, require regular maintenance and monitoring.
Failure to properly maintain your pneumatic piercing tool can lead to unwanted changes in direction and to tool seizure.
“You don’t want your tool to seize when it’s underground; it will be very difficult to retrieve it,” says Jake Jeffords, director of sales, marketing & global accounts for Vermeer MV Solutions. Proper maintenance and use will not only improve field performance but will also increase tool life.”
As mentioned, pneumatic piercing tools have strikers; these strikers move across rings. Oil gets pumped into the tool and causes these rings to swell, which creates a buffer between the striker and the metal chamber; metal on metal increases wear and risk of damage.
“Those rings are critical. Ensuring the width hose doesn’t have tears in it; constantly monitor it for signs of torn rubber. If you have any damaged components, repair or replace them,” says Jeffords.
Also, constantly monitor the head of the tool for defects. If the tool head becomes misshapen, the tool will go in a direction different from the intended direction. Tool head symmetry offers the optimal trajectory. If the head is loose or worn down, your shots will not as effective a shot and production will be compromised.
Choosing the right equipment
Choose a pneumatic piercing tool that matches your application. Your tool should have more than the minimum capabilities you need. Besides size and manufacturer, there aren’t a lot of options when it comes to pneumatic piercing tools. You either want one with an active head or a flat head.
An active head is well suited to harder grounds; it strikes, grabs the soil, and on the next strike, pulls in the body. A flat head simply pushes ahead. However, in sandy and soft soil applications, the active head can’t grab onto anything, and its movements will lead to the tool drifting from its intended target. The phenomenon is called swimming and it leads to less accuracy in reaching the target.
“You really need to understand the ground conditions you will be working in. States like Georgia have a lot of clay with rocks, so an active head is a great for this soil condition. In Florida, however, you will want a flat head, because it has a lot of sand,” says Jeffords.
If you need to install pipe over a longer distance or if there are any obstacles in the ground that you need to maneuver around, a pneumatic piercing tool is no longer an option. At that point, you need a horizontal directional drill. These drills have the power to install even larger pipe over a longer distance. With them, you can also change direction of the installation while the tool is underground.
Other considerations include:
- Pair the tool with the correct air compressor. Look at the power requirements. Not enough power will negatively affect performance. The wrong oil could cause the rings to swell too much and that could ruin the strike.
- Consider hose length. “Vermeer offers a 50-foot hose when you buy a pneumatic piercing tool, and 50 feet is a good rule of thumb. You don’t want to go longer than that,” says Jeffords.
- Use the proper oil. Using an improper oil will affect performance and longevity. Also, use the correct amount of oil. Not enough oil negatively affects performance and, although too much oil doesn’t have any negative effects on performance, you are wasting money.
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