Home Drake Well Foundation About OilHistory.com The Author Contact
The Drill String
Cable Tools
Temper Screw
Down Hole Tools, 1880
Rope Socket
Sinker Bar
Auger Stem
Wrench Circle


Cable Tools

The author has found a number of abandoned downhole cable tools in the oil region of northwest Pennsylvania.  Some were laid out on the ground in a ready-to-use position near old drilling machines and were left there on the day the sites fell silent.  In a few instances the tools were found to be still in the hole suspended by a wire cable which was losing its strands one by one to rust.  Others were racked in what were once busy pipe yards.  The odd drilling tool can turn up almost anywhere in the oilfields.  Active scrap yards receive their share of these long and solid tools valued for their weight in iron.

The cable tools in America date back to the salt well days and, in spite of many improvements, have maintained a remarkable resemblance over the 194 years since the famous Ruffner salt well was put down in 1806-08 on the bank of the Kanawha River near Charleston, West Virginia (the Ruffner brothers were to salt what Drake was to oil).  Of course changes occurred in the tools, but these changes were mainly in the use of metal (steel faces), length (most tools were lengthened), weight, and tapered pins (replacing straight pins).  When truck-mounted cable tool rigs replaced the early derricks and portable walking beam rigs, tools underwent a change and finally the switch over to rotary drilling brought in a completely new set of tools, doing away with the old.

In the 1860's a few oil wells were drilled with wooden rods supporting the tools of the drill string, a method which dates to earlier artesian well drilling.  The rods may have been on the order of 1 3/4 inches thick, 20 to 30 feet in length and were fastened together by a screw and box.  In pulling out of the hole each rod had to be unscrewed when it arrived at the surface and fastened again when going back into the hole. The use of wooden rods in America was soon replaced by thick rope such as manila, sisal hemp or sea grass, thus eliminating the hookup time that wooden rods required.

Beginning in the 1860's the cable tools were suspended on a manila rope line and consisted of the following tools in descending order:

Temper screw

Hooks to the walking beam. Feeds out the drilling line.


Holds the line when the driller is winding up the screw.

Drilling rope
(line or cable)

Manila hemp. Wire cable later.



Rope socket

Attaches tool string to the rope line.

Sinker bar 

Works with the upper link of the underlying jars.


Jars the bit loose from the strata.

Auger stem

Rigidity and weight.  Longest tool.  Part of the drill.


Terminates in a blunt chisel-like cutting face.













© 2004, Samuel T. Pees
all rights reserved