Review: Ditch Witch JT2020 directional drill

By: Dave Lorimar, Photography by: Dave Lorimar

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A landscaping operation in Tauranga reckons the Ditch Witch JT2020 is the “Ferrari of directional drills”.

Review: Ditch Witch JT2020 directional drill
Directional Drilling with the Ditch Witch JT2020.

Contract Landscapes Ltd found the Ditch Witch JT2020 an ideal solution for laying down some of the government's ultra-high-speed-broadband cabling.

Don Iggulden and Terry Johns run a crew of six for Contract Landscapes' trenching operations in Tauranga. Two of the team work ahead of the drill, two stay and operate the drill, and two work behind, cleaning up. The two at the front have locators, which they use to try and identify all the services that the drill is likely to encounter, including its depth. This is the time consuming part of the job, Don explains. "Knowing where to setup, the location of services, an obstacle etc takes most of the time. The drilling side is the easy part".

Once an area is ready, the drill is moved in. It can be controlled via a tethered control, with manual backup controls on the unit, in case the controller is damaged. Two jacks at the rear of the unit help with achieving the angle of entry into the ground. A small transmitting device is placed just behind the drill. This enables the drill head to be located when it is under the ground. One person stays with the machine while the other walks ahead with a locator. The user with the locator can follow the drill, giving turning commands to the drill operator via a wireless headset/microphone setup. The drill operator also has a display that mimics the locator display.

The drill head is shaped very much like a spatula. The drill can be rotated so that the flat part of the drill is either pointing up or down, left or right. A clock reference is used, so for example, 3 o'clock means go right, six o'clock go deeper, etc. Then the operator will push the rod forward, and the drill head will move in that direction. To make the drill go straight, it is rotated as it is pushed forward. A high-pressure jet of water travels up the centre of the rods to assist with boring and this also helps the spoil flow back down and out of the hole. The drill will normally go about 100-150 metres before it breaks into an access-hole, which has already been dug ahead. Then the cable or whatever is to be laid is pulled back through. If the hole needs to be made bigger, then a different head can be attached that will widen the hole on the pull back. The pull back is where all the power that the machine can produce is used. The 2020 is rated at 20,000 pounds pull-back force. Using two augers on the front of the drill, the machine can be anchored about one metre into the ground. An earth cable is always used in case an unmarked electrical cable is hit. These are known as strikes and can kill an inexperienced operator, as the entire machine can become live with electricity. Unmarked gas and water pipes can also create their own unique problems.

The Unit

The JT2020 has been out for a while. It has the highest ratio of power-to-size enabling the unit to do big jobs in tight areas. It uses a large capacity pipe lubrication system coupled with a high fluid flow for longer installations and when working in sandy soil. The Cummins diesel has an advanced, high-capacity cooling system for hot conditions, and when running at full throttle is still quiet at only 103 dBA.

Sean Dixon and Josh Tesseaar were working the machine the day we dropped in. When asked they said they loved the machine. It works really well and it's easy to operate. They consider it to be the Ferrari of directional drills. Apart from a small teething problem with the fuel gauge that was fixed in minutes, the machine has been faultless in its reliability and outstanding in its performance. Their longest bore was 147m, but with the right soil conditions, up to 300m is possible; as long as new rod stacks are continually added. The standard rod stack holds 120m of rods.

DOW Tester

We got our regular tester, Grant Solley, to have a play with a brand new JT2020 at the Mt Wellington DitchWitch NZ office. It had arrived in the country on Christmas Day 2011, only days earlier; it was literally, straight out of the crate.

The first thing Solley noticed was how quiet the unit was when operating at full throttle. It has good operator visibility. He couldn't see any grease nipples, which should help keep the machine clean. Mud also shouldn't be much of a problem with a sleek, clear and open design. Once the operator gets used to the two joysticks, the operation becomes very user-friendly. The engine compartment is easily accessible with the hood light to lift. It stays nicely out of the way, which is an excellent feature. Some people think that it might be a bit unstable due to its height, but Solley found it to be a solid unit. "Any machine can be rolled if the operators' a cowboy". "It's a good machine that has everything a directional drill should have. It's clearly easy to maintain. If I had the money, I'd buy one, I wouldn't have any second thoughts about it," Solley states.


Don and Terry are both very happy with the JT2020. "In the end we hope to get another two units, giving us three in total. Then work up to five. Then maybe one of those DitchWitch Quad Tractors!" Don says with a laugh and a wink.

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