We have an oil boom going on right now in our country, and along with a media storm of stories about striking it rich, many recession refugees of the credit crises have made their way to Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and many other areas to rebuild their lives. The oil field is a demanding place. When asked about getting a job out here, I always respond with, “Are you ready for a lifestyle change?” Many people have responded ‘Yes’ to this question, and I have helped them get out here.
On the rigs, there are many positions that vary in responsibility and pay. One of the higher up positions is that of tool pusher. New corporate ways of doing things have renamed this position ‘rig supervisor’, but we all know him as tool pusher.
The tool pusher plays a managerial role out here, but is not the highest man on the rig. He is literally in charge of every tool on the rig, from small screwdrivers to 3 foot long wrenches. Hence the term…tool pusher. He pushes the tools onto and off of the rig site. The name comes from Texas and no one knows its origin.
Along with pushing tools, the tool pusher must also manage the staff on rig. Breaking in the new roughnecks, called worms, falls onto the duty of the tool pusher and the driller. Both play crucial roles in training up the new guys. It’s not unusual to see a tool pusher slinging chains and making connections with the new guys.
How to become a tool pusher
All tool pushers start off as roughnecks and work their way up through the ranks of worm, motors, derricks, driller, and then pusher. The reason for this is simple. As the tool pusher, you need to know every corner of the rig from top to bottom. Also, you will have needed to drill in multiple environments and have seen every problem imaginable. A college grad cannot come out here and become a tool pusher; he/she simply won’t know anything about the rig.
Most tool pushers that I’ve run into were in the late 20’s or early 30’s. If someone starts rough-necking at 18, they can be pushing tools by 25 or so. Moving up is very easy in the oil field if you show that you care and want to work hard.
Once you start pushing tools, your role can change depending on which energy company you work for and what their requirements are. I’ve met tool pushers that strictly ran inventory and staff on one rig. I’ve also seen other pushers that were given multiple rigs to take care of.
What do tool pushers earn and what is there schedule?
Like my other articles, I’ll put disclaimer out there. I’m using numbers from different men that I work around. The pay changes greatly depending on company, experience, and location on the planet that one is working.
I’ve seen pushers get paid in different ways. The first, and least likely way, is by the hour. Hourly rates can run from $38-$45/hour plus a per diem of $45. Remember that they are being paid for 84 hours per week or more, so one week can bring in $5,000.
The normal way is salary and day rates. A common salary would be $3,000 per month and $500/day while on site. Add in the per diem of $45/day and the salary works out to about $120,000 per year. Tool bonuses are also given. A common bonus structure I’ve heard is that if the pusher can keep tool purchases under a certain amount, they can earn bonuses of a few hundred dollars for saving the company money. All flights and hotels are paid for by the company.
The typical schedule of a too pusher is 14/14. This means they work 14 days on and then go home for 14 days. They do not work while they are at home. So they end up working about 180 days a year. This can be good or bad. The good is that you work less than most people. The bad is that your 14 days on the rig can fall on important days such as Christmas, wedding anniversaries, birthdays, and other family events.
Rig life is a good life. Camaraderie naturally builds when working long hours in harsh conditions. It is very similar to the military. I know many people out here who are happy with their lives, working 180 days a year, and having plenty of money. They have simply learned how to deal with the schedule of the oil field.