18 Common Pile Driving Problems And Solutions

In this post, I’m going to show you the 18 most common pile driving problems and solutions.

In fact:

If you want to be a successful constructor and efficiently build pile foundations for your project, you need to know about these problems and learn to solve them.

Let’s dive right in.

Common Pile Driving Problems And Solutions

Pile driving involves working with soil.

And there are hidden features and unknown things that lie in the earth.

So things always don’t go as planned.

That’s why problems are common in pile driving.

Not surprisingly, most of the problems are related to adverse or unexpected soil conditions.

In most cases, stopping the work and testing the soil, and inspecting the driving equipment helps to find out the cause of the problem.

Below, I listed 18 common pile driving problems and their solutions.

Problem-1: Blow Count Is Significantly Higher Than Expected

We can predict the required number of blows to drive a pile to the desired depth.

Actually, soil analysis tells us this.

But sometimes, we require substantially more blows than expected.

If this happens, we can say there is something wrong.


To solve this problem…

First, confirm that the pile has sufficient driveability.

Next, check if the driving system is matched to the pile type. Common driving system problems include:

  • Preignition,
  • Preadmission,
  • Low hammer efficiency, or
  • A cushion that is too soft.

If you still don’t find any problem it indicates that the problem is in the soil.

Possible soil issues can include:

  • Greater soil strength than anticipated,
  • Temporarily increased soil resistance with later relaxation (this requires a restrike to check),
  • Large soil quakes, or
  • High soil damping.

Problem-2: Slightly Lower blow count than expected

In this problem, pile driving requires fewer blows than expected.

The possible reasons for this are:

  • Soil resistance is lower than anticipated.
  • Better hammer performance.


This problem actually doesn’t need any solution.

However, you can consult with the structural engineer.

Problem-3: Blow Count Is Substantially Lower Than Expected

This problem happens when the blow count to drive the pile is much lower than desired.

The possible causes for this are:

  • Soft soil layer.
  • Pile breakage below grade


To solve this problem:

First, re-evaluate the splice detail and field procedures for possible splice failure.

Next, Investigate both tensile stresses along the pile as well as compressive stresses at the toe.

If the calculated stresses are acceptable, investigate the possibility of obstructions or uneven toe contact on the hard layer or other causes of pile toe damage.

Problem-4: Piles Are Driving Significantly Deeper Than Expected

This is the problem we sometimes face in our construction site.

For example, the pile is designed to drive 50 feet into the ground. But we require to drive more than that.

Some of the causes for this problem are:

  • Soil resistance at the time of driving is lower than anticipated.
  • The driving system performance is better than anticipated.


To solve this problem:

First, perform restrike tests after an appropriate waiting period to evaluate soil strength changes.

Next, check the drive system performance and restrike capacity, using dynamic measurements.

If the problem still exists then the soil conditions may be weaker than anticipated.

And, piles will probably need to be driven deeper than originally designed, or additional piles will be required to support the load.

In this case, contact the structural engineer to identify the proper design changes.

Problem-5: Abrupt Change Or Decrease In Blow Counts For Bearing Piles

The blow count for a group of piles suddenly changes or decreased due to this problem.

And the possible reasons for this are:

  • The soil condition.
  • Damage to the pile toe.


First, check the soil condition using borings.

Next, check for pile toe damage.

If the piles allow internal inspection, you can reflect light into the pile toe and inspect the damage.

If the piles don’t allow internal inspection, you can take dynamic measurements to evaluate the problem.

Or consider pile extraction.

Problem-6: Lateral Movement Of Previously Installed Piles

This problem happens when you’re going to drive a new pile and the previously installed piles move.

Possible reasons for this problem are:

  • Soil displacement.
  • Soil failure in the adjacent slope


  • Redrive the installed piles.
  • Change the sequence of pile installation.


  • Reduce ground movement by predrilling the pile location.

Problem-7: Piles Are Driving Out Of Alignment

This problem happens when piles move out of alignment tolerance.

This tolerance limit is not more than a 1/4 inch per foot variation at the tip from the vertical or batter of the pile.

Possible causes for this problem are:

  • Controlling issues with hammer-pile alignment.
  • Soil conditions, such as near-surface obstructions or steeply sloping bedrock having minimal overburden material.


If the problem is in controlling issues with hammer-pile alignment, you can use a pile gate, template, or fixed lead system to improve the ability to maintain alignment tolerance.

If due to near-surface obstructions, you can take initiative to remove that.

Problem-8: Piles Are Driving Out Of Location

As a general rule, the piles shouldn’t vary from the planned location by more than 4 inches.

This rule is called tolerance limit.

For abutment, this tolerance limit is 1 inch.

This problem happens when piles shift locations out of these tolerance limits.

Possible causes for this are:

  • Hammer-pile alignment control.
  • Soil obstructions.


If the problem is due to poor hammer-pile alignment control, a pile gate, template, or fixed lead system may improve the ability to maintain location tolerance.

When the problem is for shallow obstructions, remove the obstruction by excavating. It’s feasible if the obstructions are within 3 feet of the working grade.

If the obstructions are at deeper depth, spudding or predrilling of pile locations may provide a solution.

Problem-9: Pile Driving Obstructions At Depth

This problem happens when you encounter deep obstruction during pile driving.


The ultimate bearing capacity of piles hitting obstructions will need to be reduced based on pile damage potential and soil matrix support characteristics.

Additional piles may be necessary to compensate.

Contact the engineer for remedial design.

Problem-10: Shallow Pile Obstructions

Shallow pile obstruction happens when you encounter obstacles within three feet of the working grade.

Due to this problem, piles can drive out of location or alignment.


The solution to this problem is simple.

You can remove the obstruction without significant impact to the surrounding soil.

Problem-11: Concrete Piles Develop Partial Horizontal Cracks In Easy Driving

This problem happens when cracks develop horizontally in concrete piles.

And, this is the most common problem in hard-driving situations.

But, it can occur in easy-driving too.

Possible causes for this problem are:

  • Bending due to poor hammer-pile alignment.
  • High combined tension and bending.


To solve this problem:

Check the hammer-pile alignment.

If the alignment appears to be normal, the combined tension and bending may be too high.

Problem-12: Concrete Piles Develop Complete Horizontal Cracks in Easy Driving

In the previous problem, we talk about partial horizontal cracks.

But this problem is about complete horizontal cracks in easy driving.

And it happens due to tension stresses.


To solve this problem, determine the tension stresses along the pile for the observed blow count.

If the calculated tension stresses are high, add cushioning or reduce the length of the hammer stroke.

If the calculated tension stresses are low, the cause may be hammer performance.

Problem-13: Concrete Piles Develop Complete Horizontal Cracks In Hard Driving

It’s a common problem in hard driving.

In this problem, you’ll find complete horizontal cracks in concrete piles.

Mainly, this problem happens for two reasons:

  • Due to higher tension stresses along piles.
  • Due to higher quakes of piles.


To solve this problem:

First, calculate the tension stresses along the pile.

If the tension stresses are high, use a heavier ram.

But if the tension stresses are low, take measurements and determine the quakes, which are most probably higher than anticipated.

Problem-14: Concrete Pile Is Spalling or Slabbing Near the Head

In this problem, a concrete pile is damaged near the head of the pile.

Possible causes for this problem are:

  • Higher stress on the pile head.
  • Poor pile quality.
  • Inferior hammer performance.
  • Poor hammer-pile alignment.


For solving this problem:

First, determine pile head stress for observed blow count and compare with allowable stresses.

If the calculated stress is high, add pile cushioning.

If the calculated stress is low, then the possible causes are either poor pile quality or inferior hammer performance, or hammer-pile alignment issues.

And, you know how to solve these issues.

Problem-15: Head of a Steel or Timber Pile Is Deformed

This problem mostly happens in steel piles or timber piles.

Normally, the head of the steel pile is deformed.

And, the head of the timber pile is formed a mushroom shape.

Possible reasons for this are:

  • The size and shape of the helmet.
  • Strength of the steel.
  • The unevenness of the pile head.
  • Bending of the timber pile head.
  • The stress on the pile head.


To solve this problem,

First, check these things:

  • Helmet size and/or shape.
  • Strength of the steel.
  • Evenness of the pile head.
  • Banding of the timber pile head.

The problem may lie in these things.

If not, calculate the stress on the pile head.

If that is high, reduce the hammer stroke for low blow counts.

And, for high blow counts, you may require a different hammer or pile type.

Problem-16: Diesel Hammer Stroke Is Higher Than Calculated

This problem happens with the diesel hammer.

In this problem, the hammer stroke is higher than the calculated stroke.

Possible causes for this problem are:

  • Ram friction
  • The soil resistance
  • Higher combustion pressure of the engine


To solve this problem:

First, compare the field stroke of the diesel hammer with the calculated stroke.

If the field stroke is less than 90% of the calculated stroke, then the ram friction may be the cause.

Next, compare the observed and calculated blow counts.

If the observed blow count is lower, it’s likely that the soil resistance is less than expected.

If the blow counts are comparable, reanalyze with lower combustion pressure to match the observed hammer stroke.

Problem-17: Cannot Find Hammer In Data File

If you cannot find your specific hammer when entering data for the wave analysis, look for a hammer of the same type and with a similar ram weight and energy rating.

Then modify its data to fit the application.

Problem-18: Cannot Find A Hammer That Meets Driving Stress And Resistance Limits

When there is no hammer available that matches the driving stress and resistance limits required by the wave analysis, both the calculated stresses and blow counts on the piles may be too high.

When this is the case, you can Increase the pile impedance or material strength, or redesign for lower capacities.

If the soil is fine-grained or known to exhibit setup gains after driving, the end-of-driving capacity may be selected to be lower than required.

Confirm the capacity by restrike testing or static load testing.


That’s it for the common pile driving problems and solutions.

As someone that works in the building construction sector for a living, I really enjoyed putting this list of common pile driving problems and solutions together.

Now I’d like to hear from you:

Which pile driving problem from this list do you encounter the most?

Or maybe there’s a pile-driving problem that I overlooked (It happens 😃).

So go ahead and leave a comment below.