Hand Tunneling

Definition - What does Hand Tunneling mean?

Hand tunneling is a method of excavation at the heading of a tunnel by workers using hand tools. It is a traditional method of tunneling that has been used since ancient times, however, modern hand tools are far more advanced now. Even today, the practice is still economical for some conditions. Hand tunneling is sometimes used in trenchless construction when automated methods are somehow unsuitable.


It is also known as conventional tunneling, hand mining, or hand-mined tunneling.

Trenchlesspedia explains Hand Tunneling

Tunneling by hand has been around since the ancient eras. Possible uses may have been to extend cave shelters or to store food. There is evidence that Stone Age people sunk shafts to search for flint for their tools. Tools for tunneling included bone, antler, flint and wood. Later tools were made of bronze, iron and steel.


Every great civilization built tunnels, including the Incans, Aztecs, Egyptians and Babylonians. A 3,000-foot pedestrian passage was completed in Babylon about 2160 B.C.E. This was long before mechanized tunneling techniques were available.


Today, hand tunneling may make sense when potential obstructions may be in the tunneling path. Cobbles, boulders and hard rock may be insurmountable for modern small-diameter tunnel boring machines. Generally, tunnels should be 48-inches in diameter so that workers can have room to move. Workers make use of pneumatic tools and other mechanized equipment and may rely on blasting to tunnel through hard rock.


Hand tunneling techniques include forepoling, breasting and spiling. A tunneling shield is often used for support and safety.

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