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A kelly drive refers to a type of well drilling device on an oil or gas drilling rig that employs a section of pipe with a polygonal (three-, four-, six-, or eight-sided) or splined outer surface, which passes through the matching polygonal or splined kelly (mating) bushing and rotary table. This bushing is rotated via the rotary table and thus the pipe and the attached drill string turn while the polygonal pipe is free to slide vertically in the bushing as the bit digs the well deeper. When drilling, the drill bit is attached at the end of the drill string and thus the kelly drive provides the means to turn the bit (assuming that a downhole motor is not being used).

The kelly is the polygonal tubing and the kelly bushing is the mechanical device that turns the kelly when rotated by the rotary table. Together they are referred to as a kelly drive. The upper end of the kelly is screwed into the swivel, using a left-hand thread to preclude loosening from the right-hand torque applied below. The kelly typically is about 10 ft (3 m) longer than the drill pipe segments, thus leaving a portion of newly drilled hole open below the bit after a new length of pipe has been added ("making a connection") and the drill string has been lowered until the kelly bushing engages again in the rotary table.

The kelly hose is the flexible, high-pressure hose connected from the standpipe to a gooseneck pipe on a swivel above the kelly and allows the free vertical movement of the kelly while facilitating the flow of the drilling fluid down the drill string. It generally is of steel-reinforced rubber construction but also assemblies of Chiksan steel pipe and swivels are used.

According to the ″Dictionary of Petroleum Exploration, Drilling and Production″, ″[The] kelly was named after Michael J. (King) Kelly, a Chicago baseball player (1880-1887) who was known for his base running and long slides.″[1] As steel was not as good a quality back then as it was today, the kelly was always hanging up in the kelly bushing. There was a popular song for the famous baseball player at that time called, ″Slide Kelly, Slide!″[2] ″Sliding″ is the act of a kelly passing through the kelly bushing as it drills.

Alternatively, some say the name kelly is derived from the machine shop in which the first kelly was made.[citation needed] It was located in a town formerly named Kellysburg, Pennsylvania.

See List of components of oil drilling rigs to view a diagram.


  1. ^ Dictionary of Petroleum Exploration, Drilling & Production By Norman J. Hyne page 281
  2. ^ King Kelly