I don’t know why things come in cycles, but they sure seem to. This spring, I’ve had more than a couple calls and emails from drillers about bit balling problems and solutions. Bit balling is when the formation balls up around the cutters on a tri-cone bit until the wheels won’t turn and the bit quits drilling. Usually it is in a sticky clay formation, but not always. Bits can ball up in almost any formation due to a variety of reasons. Fixed cutter bits can also ball up.
The first step is prevention. Make sure you are running the right bit. On the last one I looked at, the driller had run a short, button bit in clay. The buttons were not long enough to remove the formation ahead of the bit, and it balled up. He changed to a tooth bit, and problem solved. Button bits are made for harder formations and remove material mostly by impact. A tooth bit drills by a combination of gouging and scraping, which is a different dynamic. So bit selection is critical. Very soft and plastic clays need pretty long teeth to do the job. As the formation gets harder, the teeth get shorter until it’s time to put on a button.