Wednesday How to: Digging a Post Hole

I’ve been thinking that I might do a bit more how-to posts.  You never know who might find this information valuable.  This time I’m going to share one of my better known skills.

Yes, digging post holes.  You never know when you might need to dig one and there are a number of methods you can employ.  I’ve dug lots of post holes – maybe as many as 20 or 22 – I’m an expert.

Post holes are to put posts in and in our modern world most posts, other than blog posts, are for fencing.  Fences are important to keep out the neighbors, stray dogs, and to hide the junk you haven’t taken to the landfill.  Every homeowner has one.  In general renters have to rely on their landlords to provide and maintain fencing.  Sometimes you might need a post hole for a really large trellis or to anchor a very large planter box.

So once you’ve identified the need for a post hole you have a number of methods available for digging one.  Here are the top five:

  1. By hand with a traditional post hole digger
  2. Powered post hole auger 
  3. Credit card
  4. Creative procrastination
  5. Find a reason to not dig the hole

Let’s explore each method starting with number five.  In my professional life as an engineer I told people that I had three options with every request that I do something: I could do it, I could find someone else to do it or I could convince you that it didn’t need to be done. 

In the case of post holes you just ask why you need a post hole and are there other options.  Maybe you could plant a hedge or just prop up the existing fence with a stick.  You could do something like I recently did – when they were installing my new workshop shed and I had to remove 22 feet of fencing.

Now, demolition is fun so there was never any question that I’d knock that fence down.  Sadly, removing the fence raised the specter of having to replace the fence when the shed was completed.  In this case I have Heather to thank for saving me the work of digging five post holes to replace the fence.  Turns out that one 16 foot wall of the shed sits exactly on the old fence line and Heather correctly pointed out that the wall of the shed makes a fine fence.  That left just six feet of fence and two post holes to dig.

Method four is really just another way of avoiding the job while pretending that you’ll do it some day.  There are all kinds of really good reasons to delay digging.  Weather is a good one – it’s raining, too hot, too cold, etc. Then there’s the, “Should we call the pipe location people first?” Since most people don’t know how to do that you can buy weeks of delay with that.  There’s health – My recent bout of gout bought me a good 10 days of delay on the post holes.

Once you’ve been convinced that you have to dig you move to option three: credit card.  What you do is to take the card, your cell phone and start calling fencing companies, landscapers, handymen or anyone who might trade money for labor.  That extra six feet of fence I mentioned above, yeah we had a fencing company installing the catio so I showed them the six feet of needed fence and two post holes we needed.  For just $150, they added the job to the project and dug the holes.

Well, just yesterday I did in fact dig two post holes here at our home.  Heather and I have been redoing the front court yard area and just this week it hit us that we needed to put up a really big trellis along one wall to grow a vine on.  This would add some needed planting in an otherwise bare area.  Here’s a picture of the finished trellis frame: (<insert pic>)

This meant digging two post holes.  I’ll say right now that I don’t always try to avoid digging.  In fact sometimes digging big holes can be fun – just ask any boy, no matter their age …

With just two methods left, I quickly rejected the idea of a power auger.  First the holes are too close to the house and I’d have to go rent one.  Then there is the problem of the soil in our area.  It would be generous to call what we have here, ‘soil,’ it’s rock and sand with a bit of dirt.

Okay, mostly rock.  Big rocks that would likely break the power tool and then I’d lose my deposit plus the embarrassing phone calls to the insurance company right after I got out of the emergency room.

So instead I opted for the good old hand dig using my favorite tools (<insert pics>) – my trenching shovel, the post hole digger and the large iron bar.

Here in the desert, digging a post isn’t like most places where you thrust a shovel into the ground and remove dirt.  Here, your first push into the ground will hit a rock.  In fact the whole digging process here is really just finding and removing the rocks.  Thats where the iron bar comes in.  Lift the bar with the pointy end down and drop it to locate and pry out the rocks.  The post hole digger is used as a large pair of tongs to remove the rocks.  I don’t use the trenching shovel much for the holes, but it’s my favorite shovel and I just like to have it around – it’s an old and reliable friend.

The process just keeps repeating until you get to the desired depth.  In this case I chose 18 inches.  How deep to dig is really a function of how tall the post is and most times you’d want to dig 24 inches, but if you’re over 60, digging 18 inches feels like 24 so you can just stop at 18.  Folks under 35 need to dig down 30 inches.

And that’s it. Now you have a hole ready to drop a post into.  I’ll cover placing, leveling and cementing in the posts in a future post …

This is a different kind of subject for this blog.  Please let me know in the comments if you find this kind of how-to useful and what other things you’d like how to do.  Don’t limit yourself, I know how to do lots of stuff.

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Friday Wisdom – Down at the Lake

Did you know that a ghost’s favorite place to go sailing is Lake Eerie?

I was a the lake shore when someone from the other side yelled, “How do we get to the other side?” I replied, “You’re on the other side!”

Don’t tell jokes on a frozen lake – it might crack up.

I dropped my phone in a lake – it’s syncing …

A friend of mine owned a lake full of ducks, but he sold it. He said there where too many bills.

A friend keeps asking me to help him build a dock at the lake – I’m feeling a lot of pier pressure.

A warning – don’t go swimming in Philosophy Lake: It’s really deep.

Why were the elephants swimming at the lake? Well, they all had their trunks.

We saw a boat on a saltwater lake. It was saline.

A friend of mine dug a big hole and filled it with water. He meant well.

How did the water bottle introduce itself? “The name is Bond, Hydrogen Bond.”

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Wednesday Drywall, Table Saw and Quilting

In between a couple of days of painful gout, I’ve gotten a few things done.

This last Saturday, my grandson came over and helped me hang some drywall in my soon to be shed workshop:

By helping I mean that he did most of the work while I gave instructions and helpful advice while staying out of his way.

I was able to get a couple of hours to work on the table saw and now it’s ready for the final adjustments. Hopefully, I’ll have this running next week:

and finally, when I thought I might be stuck inside to let my knee heal, Heather and I went to the fabric store to buy fabric for the back of my quilt:

Also, summer isn’t too far away and here in the desert that means afternoons will be too hot to go outside so I wanted to make sure I had plenty of indoor projects ready to go.

Seems like a lot, but it’s amazing what you can get done even if you can only work for a couple of hours at a stretch – and have a strong teenager around to do the heavy lifting.

If you need me – I’ll be looking for my gout pills.

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View of the Week: Gout and Literature

My view this week has been clouded by gout.  Normally I don’t like to talk about it as it brings up painful memories, but this week is a little different.

Normally when I think of that oh so fun condition known as gout, my first thought is the writings of Benjamin Franklin.  You know that guy who started Poor Richard’s Almanac, went to France get money for the American Revolution, and generally made tons of money while suffering from gouty attacks. You can read more about poor Ben and his gout here:

Okay, first, there are two kinds of people: Those who’ve had gout, and those who haven’t.  There are also those who’ve heard of it and those who haven’t.  If you’ve had it, you don’t need to read any further – you get it.  Take your pills, drink plenty of water, and sorry no steak and beer for you. You can join me with your lemon water over at the salad bar (easy on the oil and vinegar) while we let the rest of the non-gouty persons read on.

Gout is a kind of arthritis.  Bad arthritis – okay, there’s no good arthritis, but gout has its own special level of fun.  By fun, I mean pain.  Imagine putting your big toe in a vice, tightening down hard and leaving it there for a week.  Imagine ground glass in the joints of your foot.  Imagine wishing you’d broken your leg instead, and you’ll get some idea.

I’d like to stay I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.

Gout is when your body has too much uric acid in your blood and then it crystalizes and settles in your lower extremities – the big toe is the most common target, but knees, ankles, hands and other joints sometimes get it.  Once the crystals are there, they cause inflammation.  Industrial strength inflammation as in swelling, pain, heat, painful swelling where even the weight of a sheet can cause agony.

Mr. Franklin was a major sufferer of this horrible condition.  In his later years he was often debilitated by acute gouty attacks.  Sadly for him, he didn’t have medications like colchicine, naproxen sodium, or indocin and had to suffer through without the aid of medication.  Likely he had some wine or distilled sprits to ease the pain and likely that just helped prolong the agony.

Now, it wasn’t all bad for Ben – Since I was diagnosed with gout, I figure we have something in common, so I just call him Ben.  I’m sure he’d say, “Dude, you too?” and would pour a glass of wine for both of us.

You see, even though there were few medical treatments at the time, Ben did know some of the key factors that caused a gouty flare (as the docs call it) and when he had an attack he would realize that’d he eaten too much red meat, drunk a little too much wine and had not been exercising enough.  In fact he wrote about this – yes this is where I get back to literature into this post.

Among Ben’s writings is this little gem, Dialogue Between Franklin and the Gout. Click the link to read the whole thing. For those who don’t want to read, here are the first two lines of the dialogue which will give you the flavor of the piece:

FRANKLIN: Eh! Oh! eh! What have I done to merit these cruel sufferings?

GOUT: Many things; you have ate and drank too freely, and too much indulged those legs of yours in the indolence.

FRANKLIN: Who is that accuses me?

GOUT: It is I, even I, the Gout.

Ben both pokes fun at himself and shows how his behavior has caused his gouty attack.  During the dialogue Ben implies that gout is doctor and tormentor.  On one hand Ben knows that gout is simply trying to get him to take better care of his health and on the other argues with gout, pleading for mercy and some few indulgences.  At point Ben pleads, “As much instructions as you please, Madam Gout, and as many reproaches; but pray Madam, a truce with your corrections!”

The whole text assumes that Ben alone is at fault for his gout and Ben skillfully argues his case.    In the end Ben promises to follow gout’s teachings and to “live temperately.”  Gout knows him better and replies, “I know you too well,” telling Ben that Gout knows that Ben will relapse in a few months and Gout “… visiting you again at a proper time and place …”

I imagine Ben was laid up in bed with an acute gouty attack when he wrote this.

My guess comes from my own experience with gout.  I was diagnosed with gout in my twenties and I’ve been on medication for it since then.  I’ve had my share of acute attacks and when I read this dialogue I can feel some connection between Franklin’s writing and my own experience.

One of the things I like to argue against is the notion that a gouty attack is the fault of the sufferer.  It is natural to think, “What did I do,” when we get ill or sick or injured.  Often we do things that do affect our health – we don’t exercise, we eat junk food, or take risks, but just as often it’s none of those things.

Still, this last week I had a gouty attack and the first thing that came into my mind was this text by Franklin that I read many years ago in an English class.  It’s a clever bit of writing and of special interest to me as I have the same thing.  I also have an advantage over Mr. Franklin because modern medicine understands the condition much better -causes, cures and preventions.

It’s been a long time since I had an attack, years – so long that I’d let my prescriptions laps and didn’t have the medication on hand so had to message my doctor to get meds sent to the drug store.  Honestly I can’t think of anything I’ve done to trigger an attack.  Only one thing, and this one seems weird to me, is that two weeks ago I had my second covid vaccine.  I noticed my joints aching a bit the day after, but a full attack seems too far fetched as a trigger.

Stranger things have been true and I’ll be asking my doctor about that.

I’ve also noticed that I’ve written a far longer post than I normally do.  Makes me wonder if the great prolific authors had gout that forced them to spend long hours in a chair with nothing to do but think and write.

Hum, maybe gout causes literature … 

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