View Full Version : Post hole diggers, as a PSA:

Jan. 22, 2010, 08:45 AM
I will repeat this in a thead all it's own, because it is VERY important if you ever think you may have holes to dig:

One warning to anyone looking to add implements to any tractor, if you have auxiliary hydraulics, get the hydraulic post hole diggers.

The PTO ones, that we had for many years, are not worth having, they just won't dig but where it is easy digging and then, you could almost do it by hand just as easy.

We drilled four holes on the side of our bucket and bolt ours to it.
Easy to put on and take off by just digging a little bit, until it stands on it's own and unbolting it.:yes:
Easy to see get to hard to reach places and to see what you are doing, better than with those diggers on the back.

The voice of experience here, as a public service announcement.:winkgrin:

Jan. 22, 2010, 09:02 AM
We too had problems with a pto post hole digger, not doing the job. We replaced the cutting edges for the auger, with the type with teeth. What a difference! Auger cut right through hard, dry, packed ground. It also went through shale and tree roots.

Jan. 22, 2010, 09:12 AM
Double posted, post is below

Jan. 22, 2010, 09:12 AM
Hmmm. We did almost a mile of fencing with a pto auger ... and had no problems. We actually got to be quite good with it -- being able to position the hole exactly where we wanted it with no jockeying of the tractor. Yes, it does require regular maintenance - the auger teeth need to be turned / sharpened / replaced regularly, particularly if you are working in rocky ground. While the hydraulic model might be easier, it is also more costly.


Jan. 22, 2010, 09:13 AM
Are these the spiral screw post hole diggers on the back of the tractor? Please, what does PTO stand for. Do you have a pic of your side loader set up? Are you saying you remounted the back end digger on the side of the shovel?

Just trying to understand without as much experience as I would like mechanically.

Jan. 22, 2010, 09:13 AM
Are these the spiral screw post hole diggers on the back of the tractor? Please, what does PTO stand for. Do you have a pic of your side loader set up? Are you saying you remounted the back end digger on the side of the shovel? Not

PTO - power take-off. It runs of the engine the same way your mower does.


Jan. 22, 2010, 09:40 AM
Yup, what ShotenStar said a PTO is.
AR, it's the little spinning thing on the arse end of the tractor. It's powered off of the engine via a long crank shaft running under the tractor.

Hydraulics are normally located at the front of the tractor, they are "tubes" or "pipes" that use fluid that does not compress for their power. (hydraulic fluid)

However on a tractor you can find hydraulic hoses in other places so you can hook up hydraulic powered implements behind the tractor, like a backhoe. Those will bring hydraulic fluid to the newly attached implement and allow it to work.

Hydraulics have more power than non-hydraulic stuff.

A PTO just spins, it has good power but not as much power as hydraulics do.

For augering...we used a small one-man stand on type auger to dig our fence post holes. Simple to use in general...wasn't the most powerful thing though. Especially since shale and ledge and rocks grow like weeds in my dirt. We'd auger for a minute...hear a "clunk" and then one of us would move to the next hole to start it and the other would stay behind and dig out the #%@& rock so we could come back and dig another 6" to the next rock. :lol: A hydraulic one would have worked better.

However IMO...hiring a pro fencing company with a post pounder and having a handful of extra repacement posts laying around to replace any shattered ones is probably the best way to fence. :D At least then the d*mned fence line comes out straight. Boy did we screw up that part!

Jan. 22, 2010, 10:20 AM
When we still had our PTO post hole digger, a friend that has built fences all his life and his father before him, had to use ours when a hose broke on his.

He told us after that:
"Now I know why I go dig holes for people when I see they have one of those xzyz@ things right there.
Those things are u-s-e-l-e-s-s!":lol:
Ours was a new one, still had paint on the shaft, because it was not worth the trouble to hook it up and then still have to keep pouring water in the hole and wait before it would dig in the harder clay.:rolleyes:

Glad that they seem to work for some, but if you ever compare them, well, there is no comparation and they don't cost that much.

If you have auxiliary connectors on the back, you can do as we did, run some hoses to the front.

Here are pictures of both kinds of diggers, ours is bolted on the bucket itself, not the arm, as in that picture on the bottom:


Jan. 22, 2010, 12:19 PM
We've dug over a thousand hole with our PTO driven
auger with very little problem. Thankfully our days of
digging holes are mostly finished. Twenty two paddocks
are enough. This is in rocky new england soil.

Jan. 22, 2010, 12:32 PM
We rarely have trouble with the PTO type. But we have broken a couple. I'm not talking shear pins either. I'm talkin' BUSTED.

Jan. 22, 2010, 12:55 PM
Anyone that has used only PTO diggers just don't even have any idea of the difference, that is very large in favor of the hydraulic ones.
I know, we had a PTO one since 1940, then still got a new one about 1970's and were happy with them, didn't know any better.
Since we got this hydraulic one 5 years ago, well, let me tell you, there is NO comparation, at all.:p

Now, I have seen big fencing companies using the pounding kind.
I don't know about those, their cost or how much better they may be to all.
Evidently better enough for them to prefer them over other kinds.

Jan. 22, 2010, 12:55 PM
Just a word of warning to any digging people, CALL FOR LOCATING FIRST!!

Somewhere in the front of the phone book is a universal number to call that will bring out the locator folks from all the Utility companies. They will mark gas, water, sewer, telephone, electric, whatever is buried around your place that could be a problem.

You REALLY want to call early, before you plan to dig by at least a week. That lead time gives them the ability to schedule your work into the workdays. Service is free for the locating, but YOU HAVE TO CALL THEM!

If you do NOT call, any damage you do is your expense. It is quite surprising how many places have underground services with no marking signs to be seen. It can be VERY expensive to have a whole crew out replacing Toll Cable for the Phone Company or cut a hole in a gas line and the associated dangers there. I don't think your Home Owners Insurance will cover these things either.

Any hole you plan to put into the ground, should have had a call in for Locating service done first thing. Mailbox installation is among the worst for hitting stuff! Knew a guy who went out to fence a pasture way out back. Never called for locators. He hit the 1200 pair Toll Cable EVERY 16ft. for over 1000 ft. But using power auger he just applied MORE power as he drove the machine along! Put out the service between major cities. Cable splicers putting overtime, matching those little wires for MANY hours, AFTER the crew found a new piece of cable to replace the damaged one with. It was a mess that just didn't seem to end for DAYS! Then he got the bill!!!

So better safe than REALLY sorry later, call for the locators WAY BEFORE you get working on the project. Here in Michigan, it is 1-800-MISS DIG. Other states use a similar easy name for the phone number, which will be in the front of your phone book.

Jan. 22, 2010, 01:02 PM
That is a good warning, unless you have been in your place for 100 years, like we have.:winkgrin:

Still, if we are even close to an utility line, that we know are there because of the easements, we still call, just in case.
Now, I can witch the location of any pipeline or cable and hit it within inches, but still, we call first.
Some of our soil/wildlife conservation government projects require that you call them first before you start anyway and have proof of it, if you have any digging to do, even to place a sign post.

Here, the number is 1-800-TESTDIG.

Jan. 22, 2010, 01:44 PM
I work for a natural gas compression company. We used to have a pipeline maintenance contract, and I handled the UFPO calls. You would be suprised what people do... one Amish guy dug a pond under and around our pipeline. The guys were doing their annual line patrol and all of a sudden... pond. The pipeline was running right through the middle of it. Had he knicked that line hard enough, it would have dug the pond for him.

Jan. 23, 2010, 12:18 AM
?WOW.... (shaking head)

I don't envy the guy who hit the toll cable.

When we were preparing to put in our new septic system, I KNEW there was live power cable buried in the area the tanks had to go - so in addition to calling the regular locate service, I PAID a real live locator to come our and find the cable, as well as the powerline to the OLD septic pump, which I was "pretty sure" ran along the pipe out to the soon-to-be-abandoned old system. Well, old system's pipes and powerline didn't go quite where they were "supposed" to be, so that was real handy info to have. The guy located the live cable (from meter to barn and shop) and even told me about how deep it would be - qualifying it with a stern, "you didn't hear that from me!". Liability issues...

SEptic guy was hard at work digging when I got home and I saw the cable(s), THREE of them - only one live, but hey, he's managed to leave them ALL draped in midair in his excavation - about 15 feet wide by 40 feet long for the three tanks. I was duly impressed by his fine touch with that big excavator. The locator guy was within half a foot on his estimated depth, too. Double-checked at the meter, and flagged the live cable - then I cut out the others for him, just to make Mr. Septic Guy feel better :)
OK, so I cheated and put the current tester on them first :D

Moral of it all is that the $279 I paid the locator was worth EVERY penny and saved us a lot of headaches and unneeded expense...

Oh, and we LOVE our hydraulic auger drive. Having dug way too many the hard ways, it is like driving a Cadillac after climbing out of a 48 CHevy truck.

Jan. 23, 2010, 02:36 AM
Not sure if I understand correctly after looking at the link Bluey.

Is the advantage to a hydraulic over PTO, mostly power?

Jan. 23, 2010, 08:24 AM
Not sure if I understand correctly after looking at the link Bluey.

Is the advantage to a hydraulic over PTO, mostly power?

With the PTO you don't have much turning power for the auger or down pushing power.
We had three people bouncing on the PTO, used big crowbars to add pressure, you name it, for tens of years and still could not get it to dig in hard clay well.

First time we used the hydraulic digger, we positioned it exactly where we wanted with great ease and it practically dug itself in.:cool:
We were in some of the harderst clay around.
Now THAT will put a smile in your face, after years of fighting to get holes dug in that kind of ground, barely getting in hard won inch by inch.:lol:

Not only that, the posts we had set with so much trouble there 30+ years ago, treated and wrapped in black roofing paper, for a cattle shed, termites had eaten them to one foot above ground.:eek:
We went with metal portable sheds this time around, that will give those termites indigestion.:p

That little job turned into a satisfying and memorable one in more than one way.:yes:

Jan. 23, 2010, 11:18 AM
Just a word of warning to any digging people, CALL FOR LOCATING FIRST!!

Somewhere in the front of the phone book is a universal number to call that will bring out the locator folks from all the Utility companies. They will mark gas, water, sewer, telephone, electric, whatever is buried around your place that could be a problem.

:yes: We don't have a land line because some previous owners were digging on our place and severed the telephone line and it's ridiculously expensive to fix--over $500 they said! :eek: I was going to set one up for work but I didn't need it that badly!

Luckily they missed the gas line that runs through, which they were less than five feet from.

Jan. 23, 2010, 11:44 AM
Had he knicked that line hard enough, it would have dug the pond for him.

Not that the Amish guy would have a camera but that would make a cool "Hey guys watch this!" vid for utube. :winkgrin:

Jan. 25, 2010, 12:02 PM
For those that have had issues with the PTO driven augers, how many HP does your tractor have / put out at the PTO? What kind of tractor do you have driving it? I've been looking at purchasing an auger, but might have to go with the hydraulic one if the PTO driven one really won't cut it.

Tom King
Jan. 25, 2010, 05:45 PM
PTO horsepower doesn't really make a whole lot of difference for a PTO auger. It's more limited by downforce than what's turning it (beyond a hp point-whatever that is) which is just the weight of the unit and whatever you can hang on it.

We have a PTO auger but only use it if I'm building a pole building now. I welded some brackets on it for a lever that one of our bigs guys can put some downforce on if we absolutely have to have a hole while the ground is hard. If I did that much I'd get a hydraulic auger for a Bobcat, but we use it so seldom that we just make do.

Anything will make a hole easily when the ground is soft-I'm sure that varies with location. Here we only bother to install fencing in the spring when the ground is soft. The PTO auger will do it fine but it's still a pain to have to twist around to get it in just the right spot for each hole. We have two REALLY BIG guys that work for us. They can go down the line with a 2-man auger and dig 15 holes in the time I can get the tractor in place for one. When the ground is just right it takes them longer to walk from one hole to the next than it does to go down and up with the auger. That's the only way I bother to install fence now. The rest of the year when the ground is hard as a rock, it just has to wait.

Augers themselves vary too but that's another topic.

Jan. 25, 2010, 05:49 PM
Hrmm... reason I asked is because those links that were posted to the different augers for sale listed different horsepower requirements. Just wanted to make sure I'm comparing apples to apples here. :-)

Jan. 25, 2010, 06:19 PM
We have a 38hp old Ford tractor. We have spent the last 3 weekends completely replacing our internal fencing, using a pto post hole digger. Maybe it wouldn't be any good if we were doing 1000s of fence posts, but so far we have put in about 70 with another 50 to go maybe, and I sure as heck wouldn't have wanted to dig them with the hand held digger. We have saved a fortune by doing it ourselves rather than have a professional company do it and each hole - approx 2' deep has taken me about 5 mins maybe, start to finish - lining up the tractor, digging the hole, checking the post height, moving off. This has been through a variety of soft, soggy ground and much harder clay, with areas with tree roots.

I'm sure hydraulics is probably much better, but maybe depends on the quantity that you plan to do. I paid $250 for my post hole digger, brand new, from a neighbor who had got it in a tractor package and had no clue what to do with it.

Jan. 25, 2010, 06:56 PM
I just dug some holes, set some posts today and here is a picture:


The tractor is a 65 HP, but they make these diggers for all size tractors.
Thre friend that builds fences for a living has one on his old, little, handy to haul around 35 HP tractor.
I just bolted mine to the bucket, but you can get a frame for it and hang it in the middle of it, or whatever you want, they are very versatile.

Sure, you can dig with the PTO also, but way, way better with hydraulics.
We too were hardheaded for all these many years, but once tried the hydraulic, we wonder why it took us so long.;)

I sure hope we don't have to wait for it to rain to dig holes, because, well, we are in the time it never rained right now.:(

Jan. 26, 2010, 09:02 AM
Just a word of warning to any digging people, CALL FOR LOCATING FIRST!!

Somewhere in the front of the phone book is a universal number to call that will bring out the locator folks from all the Utility companies. They will mark gas, water, sewer, telephone, electric, whatever is buried around your place that could be a problem.

You REALLY want to call early, before you plan to dig by at least a week. That lead time gives them the ability to schedule your work into the workdays. Service is free for the locating, but YOU HAVE TO CALL THEM!

I just have to put my $.02 in here....service for locating is FREE only IF you are talking about services at the road. Our house has electric brought from the road overhead to a pole in my pasture, and then underground from that pole to the house. One would think that when National Grid signed off on the "all clear" that they could include this area but they do not. Luckily my fence installer understood this so I kept trying to find a locating service.

If you call the 1-800 number in the front of the phone book you will likely find commercial locators who do road & and commercial construction. I could not get a locator for less than $1200/day and the would only charge in 1/2 days no matter how little time it took. I called local electricians and they assured me that National Grid would mark the location, and none of them would come locate the electric for me; in fact many of them don't have the necessary equipment.

In desperation, I finally called a local contractor I knew and he had an electrician friend who would be willing to try to mark it for me. When I asked why there aren't more local contractors who do this, he said that the liability seems pretty high and that he's not sure how to charge to cover his costs.

Anyway, it worked out for us, but what a frustrating experience. Another time I had to go through the same route to get the water/electric marked that runs from my house house to my barn. I think I paid $350 for that 10 minute job.

As a result, I can understand why some things don't get marked, although services at the road are supposed to be marked if you call. In our case, the telephone lines got marked 2 days past the legal deadline, so it's lucky we didn't start pounding posts. :no:

Jan. 26, 2010, 01:46 PM
We got a very nice PTO auger as part of our tractor package. Two different sizes of bit. Great for Indiana, where we bought it. Not so great here with slabs of limestone and strata close to the surface. Two days to sink two posts and we sheared pins left and right, got the auger stuck (it corkscrewed it's way past a rock plate and could NOT be pulled back up, AFAIK they don't have a reverse to unscrew and if they do please tell me how, apart from unhooking it and manually walking it up). There's different varieties of tipped bits too, for your soft stone and then your granite.
In a perfect world I'd either have won the lottery and could afford to have a fancy pro fencing company or get a nice hydraulic auger.

Tom King
Jan. 26, 2010, 04:31 PM
When an auger gets stuck by screwing itself down beside something, unscrew it with a BIG pipe wrench. It's really not that hard but you have to have at least a 3' pipe wrench. You don't even have to unbolt the auger bit, just disengage the PTO and cut the tractor off.

Jan. 26, 2010, 08:21 PM
Hydraulic ones will back out of the hole just as easy as they go in.

We rebuilt our cattle pens and just remodeled the horse pens, all in some of the hardest clay ground we have, like concrete, since we have not had any moisture forever.
No rock here, so that was good.
We would never have even attempt it with our PTO auger.

There are rock bits, we use one for steel posts in rock, but it takes a little longer and it helps to pour water as you go, to keep the bit cool, if you are in really hard rock.

Jan. 27, 2010, 09:46 AM
Nice tractor Bluey! :yes: So jealous of having an enclosed cab...I would enjoy that when plowing snow in 0 windy degrees!
Is that set up expensive? And it can be attached to the bucket without bolts? Is yours easy to remove? I have a 33 hp tractor...that might come in handy. Although I am planning on paying a fence pro to fix the fence I already put up (and screwed up) and to fence my second paddock and attach my electric rail. I really suck at fencing, but might be able to do a better job with one of those.

One of my biggest issues (among the MANY) when fencing is once the hole is augered...I can set the post, backfill the hole and tamp it enough so it's tight. The screwed up part of my fencing that's already up is (besides the fact that my fence line are crooked as hell) that over time with run off sheeting past the posts the augered holes have washed out/eroded and the fence posts are either no longer tight or leaning like drunks. At first it was just the backfilled prts that washed out, but over the last year now even the edges of the augered parts are now eroding. :no: I keep refilling and pcking it as tight as I can, but apparently it's not tight enough. I tried using quik-crete instead and that didn't help one bit.
How do folks refill around the augered posts and get it tight enough to avoid leaning or washing out? Am I just not strong enough to tamp it down tight enough? Am I doing it wrong? Would it make more sense to auger a hole slightly smaller than the post and then use the bucket to slam the posts home?

Jan. 27, 2010, 10:50 AM
Bluey - what is the price difference in the two? Just a rough estimate as I am sure there are a ton of variables. I was thinking of getting an auger.... and glad I ran across this thread first!

Jan. 27, 2010, 04:17 PM
On the price, you need to check with the companies that sell them, as all augers are geared for the PTO or HP of the tractors they will be used with.

I know that several years ago, there was not hardly any difference in price, but since people are catching on hydraulic being better, I think the PTO ones have come down in price, for what one dealer told me.

If you have trouble with crooked lines, do you lay a string to line the holes with?
That is what we do, a string line or a wire will do.
We have learned that with setting posts, you can't really get it perfect, some are not going to be quite as plumb as the others in some places, but we make do.;)

I don't know why your tamped posts, tamped with, say, a 1" tamping bar, are not staying in.
Ours have over many years.

Concrete has it's uses and helps also, but you need to be sure the braces and corners are secure, then the rest of the fence won't give that much, although there will always be some give over the years.

There are way too many variables, fence material, ground posts go in, topography, installers and installing methods, all can affect how a fence ends up.

Our friend that builds fence for a living can lay a straight fence in his sleep, I think, better than we can after lots of measuring, but even his fences at times lean.;)

Tom King
Jan. 27, 2010, 05:33 PM
I guess the ground in different parts of the country will vary a lot so it will have an effect on setting posts. Here we have red clay subsoil with few rocks in it. There has to be some moisture in it to pack but not too much either. Too dry and it doesn't stick together enough and too wet and it just turns to jelly.

When we set a straight line of fence posts, I set the posts on the ends of a run tight and pull two mason's lines top and close the the bottom on the outside (opposite side from the boards). This way plumb only has to be checked in one plane as the posts are tamped.

To mark the holes, I pull a 300' tape measure tight for the straight run and mark the center location for each hole. The guys go along and drill the holes. I only build fence here in spring since the ground stays saturated through winter, when it's too wet, and by the end of summer it's bone dry and turns into a giant brick. By the time in Spring when I can drive a truck and trailer on the ground to not leave tracks any more the ground is right for both ease of digging and proper consistency for tamping.

After the holes are punched, the trailer is driven along the line and a post is inserted in each hole and leaned to the inside to leave the lines clear.

When we start setting the posts, I have one of the guys on each side of the line with digging bars (weigh 16-20 pounds and have a chisel end on one end and a round flat for tamping on the other end-available in Lowes or Home Depot where the shovels are). I hold the post with a little clearance between the two lines ( if a post touches a line anywhere you can't maintain a straight line-even a 1/2" clearance will still look pretty straight-I go for a little daylight clearance_this is the way masons lay bricks and blocks in straight lines) and a level to plumb it in the other plane. The guys kick some dirt in the hole and start tamping. The dirt has to be tamped a little at a time. You can't fill the hole all the way up and get it tamped tight.

Once we have the section of posts set, we measure the location for the top of the top board and tack them in place so we can easily get one back down if we need to. Once the top boards are tacked in place, I move the truck and trailer out of the way, and stand back and look at the flow of the top boards. The guys may move some ends up or down to suit my eye. Once those board locations are extablished, the lower boards heights are marked and all the boards are installed.

After all the boards have been installed (the strings are still in place on the outside of the fence), we walk it with a tamper on inside and outside and do any adjusting that may be necessary for a straight line.

Here doing this fairly efficiently requires doing it when the moisture in the ground is just right. It's funny, sometimes we have more dirt than can be tamped back in the holes and sometimes we have to bring in extra. The guys say it has something to do with the moon phase, but I've never spent time trying figure that one out, or bother to try to fence by the moon.

The only fenceline we have that leans, (and some are 30 years old), is one that I bent the boards around a turn, staggered the ends, and the curve in the boards has pushed those posts out. Now I do turns in straight line sections even if the straight lines are 8'. I stagger ends of boards on straight runs but not on turns for that reason.

Pulling lines and sighting the top board will give you a fence that some people will even ask how it was possible to build one like that. To me, no matter how nice the materials are that a fence is built from, if the lines are crooked and the flow jagged it doesn't look good.

Jan. 27, 2010, 06:40 PM
Yep, that's what I used. A digging post; long/tall metal bar, 20 lbs, chisel on one end and a 1" round flat end on the other. Tamped at about 3 depths. But they still washed out and leaned.
I'm assuming a lot of the issue is probably due to the point that the 20 lb metal pole felt like it weighed 40 lbs by the 4th post and weighed about 4.5 tons by the 20th post. I'm a small person, with two crappy shoulders. So my upper body strength kinda stinks. It might be a combo of that coupled with our dirt/subsoil?
I did lay a plumb line...and then we used spray paint to paint the ground in a straight line. I know some posts are off center due to hitting ledge and having to pick a spot a few inches in another direction. But my fence lines are all over the place. My paddock looks like an 80 sided parallelogram. :lol:

Jan. 27, 2010, 08:24 PM
When we set a straight line of fence posts, ...

Nice tips Tom, thanks. Some of that I had figured out on my own, but I've not used two mason's lines.