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.

About Andrew Reynolds

Born in California Did the school thing studying electronics, computers, release engineering and literary criticism. I worked in the high tech world doing software release engineering and am now retired. Then I got prostate cancer. Now I am a blogger and work in my wood shop doing scroll saw work and marquetry.
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20 Responses to Wednesday How to: Digging a Post Hole

  1. This was really funny, Andrew. Nice work. 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dave says:

    More “How-To” posts please, Andrew! Just include a generous helping of Andrew humor and then I’ll be entertained even if I don’t need to know “how to”.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “Folks under 35 need to dig down 30 inches.” – Bahahaha!!! Sounds like your “soil” is like ours: A shovel will penetrate 1/4″ or less before it hits a rock. So your pry bar sounds like a perfect solution – thanks for that.

    But lately we’ve discovered an even better option: An excavator. Scoop out one large bucketful, place the post, and dump the bucketful back. So much easier. And only $30,000! The post holes will only cost about $1,000 apiece… 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Debra says:

    I know that I search out “how to” posts and sites all the time! It’s good to have something informative to contribute. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I enjoyed your ‘post’ on posts so much, I had to read it out loud to my hubby, who is also an ‘expert post hole and trench digger (not by choice). He wanted to know what was making me laugh and when I read your top 5 methods. he wholeheartedly agreed, especially with the last 3. LOL again.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Entertaining as always Andrew 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “Digging a post hole’ has got to be a metaphor for something. Give me a moment…

    Liked by 2 people

  8. This is such a delight! If you’d be willing to tell (or read) this on “Our American Stories” (give them a listen first to see what kind of things they broadcast) and send me a note. j***** They’ve aired a few of my stories, but it’s been even more fun finding great storytellers for them! (edited to remove email address).

    Liked by 1 person

  9. davidprosser says:

    Very useful Andrew. In fact so good that if I ever have to dig a post hole I shall ask if you’d perhaps come and give me private lessons. I regret though, I’m a slow learner.

    Liked by 2 people

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