Piling Canada

Augering Upward

When you have to get below ground, Jeffrey Machine is tops in tools
Written by Kelly Gray
June 2015

When you have to get below ground, Jeffrey Machine is tops in tools

When Tervita’s Calgary office needed to ramp up their capability on a recent deep foundation job, they turned to Jeffrey Machine for expertise that made a difference. Based in Birmingham,

Ala., Jeffrey Machine has become a world leader in drilling tools by working closely with customers such as Tervita, a major North American environmental, energy and construction service company. In this case, they were able to create a 6.1-meter belling tool that was double the diameter of anything the contractor had used in the past. It enabled Tervita to successfully execute the construction of the abnormally large bell pile efficiently and safely.

“We needed the tool fast and we needed it designed to exact specifications and to perform. What we got was a spe- cially designed belling tool that exceeded our expectation for performance,” said Tervita’s Nick Baldwin, remarking further that Jeffrey Machine was able to make design changes to the belling tool that enhanced its capability for the specific job and specific soil conditions. “We needed it fast and they delivered. From design to delivery, it was less than two and half months,” added Baldwin.

This type of custom approach has been Jeffrey’s stock in trade for decades. Beginning as a small father and son machine shop in Birmingham, the company was built on one-on-one customer service and precision manufacturing.

“We started as a machine shop and have carried over the skills to make tools that are exact to design,” said David Alexander, sales manager at Jeffrey Machine, pointing to a cohort of some 65 skilled personnel who are dedicated to an approach to customer service that has made them the go-to company for augers, foundation tools, barrels and cylinders as well as a host of services that include drilling tool rebuilds and auger hardening.

Tracing its roots back to the 1920s, a tool and die machine shop was started by family forebears and the knowledge they gained was passed down through the family. In 1977, Frank Sager put that knowledge to use when he started Jeffrey Machine (named after his young son). Sager excelled at his craft and word spread. In addition to tool and die projects, local contractors began to seek out their services to repair equipment like broken augers. Quite often, the Sagers’ repairs proved better than the original tool. It was a natural progression to start manufacturing better tools that would hold up to Alabama’s limestone and rocky soil. Indeed, this is why the company has grown to be North America’s largest independently owned manufacturer of augers.

“Really, it’s our roots as a small family shop that is our foundation today. Over the course of generations, metallurgical skills as well as the common sense approach to business – where you listen to your customer – have been bred deep into the company culture,” said Alexander, noting that with some manufacturers, customers only get what’s in the catalogue. “Some of our customers might want a specific angle to the auger cut. We will make the change. In fact, our people will work side by side with the customer to create drilling tools that are as unique as the job demands. We can do it all here and can put someone on the task 24 hours a day if necessary.”


Recent innovations that serve to highlight the understanding at the core of Jeffrey’s success are many. However, the invention of the Dragon’s Tooth bit serves to spotlight Jeffrey Machine’s unique capabilities. Unlike round bullet teeth that hold a tip of ultra-hard carbide and rotate in the holder as the auger turns, the Dragon’s Tooth does not rotate. Instead, teeth are held in a stationary position. These may use twice the amount of carbide found in a bullet tooth but the product’s efficacy is such that in tough drilling situations, it’s become the only answer.

A good case in point and testament to the Dragon’s Tooth is a recent job in North Carolina where a contractor was tasked with boring holes for utility poles in solid rock that is some of the hardest found anywhere. The crews were finding a full day’s digging was yielding less than a foot of borehole; their traditional bits were turning to dust when they met the blue granite underground. The answer proved to be the Dragon’s Tooth bit. The first day the new bit was used, the crews were able to achieve a 2,500-per cent increase in productivity with two complete holes dug and the job finished the next day.

“Digging always involves a bit of crystal ball work,” said Jeffrey Machine’s sales and marketing representative, Tracy Phifer. “Anything you can utilize that can give you an edge against the unexpected is a valuable asset.”

When it comes to customer service, few major manufacturers can match the commitment Jeffrey Machine offers. For example, this summer, Phifer went to a site in Arkansas where crews were seeing slow progress on a utility job. He advised workers consider a 72-inch Dragon’s Tooth Core Barrel to allow them to drill around the difficult area and then remove the rock. With timing a matter of big dollars for the contractor, Phifer had the equipment made in six days before having it placed on the bed of the company truck where he personally drove it over state lines to get it to the crew.

“I was happy to do it for them,” he said. “For us, a lot of what we do is build relationships. We want to be part of the solution that gets jobs done,” he added, remembering that he stayed on site and discussed the work as it progressed, closely monitoring the new piece of equipment.

In another example, Phifer remarks that they have flown to Canada with their fabricators to get an understanding of the job before starting the machining process back at the plant in Alabama.

“Canada has unique criteria because of its shorter construction season and difficult rock in some areas. Not many companies would go this distance to get a better understanding of the customer’s needs. We know that our reputation is what keeps us in business and we work to succeed in every job. If a customer wants his engineering staff to stand beside the fabricator of his equipment and input directly at the manufacture, we can accommodate this request,” Phifer said, adding that in the end it’s all about how well their tools work in the tough world of underground drilling. “Precision is key. In drilling, a mistake that puts you just two or three inches off can be expensive.”

Jeffrey Machine keeps the ball rolling with constant equipment and facility upgrades. The once small family shop is now more than 100,000 square feet and includes both proprietary and standard equipment that has made them the world leaders in auger tools. Just recently, the company added a European manufactured state-of-the-art rolling press that greatly increases their capacity to quickly roll cylinders of up to two-inch thick material and up to 10 feet long. Diameters can run as small as two feet and as large as 14 feet, making it perfect for barrels, cylinders and coring products that need a quick turnaround from shop floor to job site.

“Every year we are busier, but we never stray from our roots,” said Alexander. “While we might have grown a bit over the years and have become a world-leading manufacturer of augers and drilling tools, at our heart we are still a precision machine shop that is small enough to offer personal service. Our ability to deliver the right tools and to understand our customers by listening to them has made us number one. We plan to stay there.”

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Piling Canada is the premier national voice for the Canadian deep foundation construction industry. Each issue is dedicated to providing readers with current and informative editorial, including project updates, company profiles, technological advancements, safety news, environmental information, HR advice, pertinent legal issues and more.

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