Post Hole Digger Options

When it comes to post hole digging, get Hank’s advice on power augers, hand held augers and more.

| November/December 2014

Post hole digging

We’ve all seen them: old — and not so old — fence lines with posts akimbo, or pole structures with a serious wrack in the direction of prevailing winds. And while it’s true that sometimes the elements or environment make it difficult to set your posts perfectly vertical and tight, even under the best of conditions straight posts will have a tendency to wander. You can minimize unwanted post movement by following a few guiding principles and choosing and using the right tool to the best advantage. In general, if you focus on getting the posts set with as tight contact against undisturbed soil as possible, you will minimize problems later. If your posts will be subject to physical strain, you will need to install bracing (read The Kiwi Brace: Good Braces Make Good Fences).

Driven to succeed

Generally the tightest posts are those that can be driven straight into the soil, or into small-diameter pilot holes drilled into the soil. When posts are driven, the undisturbed soil is further compacted up against the post, and, in many cases, you will not be able to move the post back and forth at all after setting.

You can readily drive steel T-posts and relatively small diameter steel pipe posts using a sledge hammer, but it is much easier and safer with a hand-held or pneumatic post driver. The simplest of these tools are essentially 3- to 4-inch diameter pipes with a heavy solid steel plug welded to one end and handles welded to the sides. Slide the device over the post and slide it up and down to hammer the post home. The air-powered versions automate the hammering to some extent but still require a good workout to operate. The advantage to these tools is that they are inexpensive and effective — they can also be used in some instances to drive sharpened hardwood stakes, stout fiberglass rods, ground rods and heavy wall PVC pipe, depending on how hard the soil is.

If you have a long stretch of T-posts to install, you can start them with the hand-held post driver and finish by carefully pressing them into the ground using your loader bucket equipped with a clamp-on attachment that slips over the top of the post and prevents it from slipping out of contact with the loader.

While most folks are aware that T-posts are generally easy to drive into the soil, it might surprise you to know that it is also possible to drive wooden posts up to 10 inches in diameter, or more, in many soil types. In some cases the posts are sharpened at one end and in others a 2- to 3-inch diameter pilot hole is drilled in the ground ahead of driving a larger diameter post. In other cases, both sharpening and pilot holes are used.

Most large post drivers are tractor or truck attachments — front mount or three-point hitch mount on the tractor and flatbed or trailer mount for truck versions. These machines use a combination of hydraulics and heavy weights to slam (hammer) a substantial piece of steel into the protected top of the post repeatedly. In relatively soft soils, an 8-foot-long 5-inch-diameter post can be driven three feet into the ground in minutes. In central Ohio and elsewhere, driven posts are often installed right through thin limestone layers lying a foot or two below the surface. In places like Kansas, where raw limbs from Osage orange trees make up a good portion of the wooden posts in play, hydraulic post drivers are not generally impeded by bark, irregularities in trunk shape or mild crookedness.

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