PHOTO: J. Keeler Johnson
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December 10, 2019

When it comes to digging fence post holes for a new pasture, augers are the way to go. Whether you’re using a handheld auger or (better yet) a tractor-mounted model, augers significantly speed up and simplify the process compared to manual post-hole diggers.

It’s tempting to just fire up the auger and head out for a day of drilling, but a little caution and advance preparation can go a long way toward ensuring you drill the right holes for the job. Here are four tips that will help you drill a precise line of perfect holes every time.

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1. Remove Sod First

Considering how quickly augers drill through dirt—even heavy clay soil—it might surprise you to know they can choke when tasked with drilling through a thick layer of sod. Especially if conditions are wet, the grass and vegetation may clog the end of the auger, sticking in place and making it impossible for the blades to get a grip on the soil below. Save yourself some time (and your auger a little trouble) by using a shovel to remove sod before you drill.

2. Line It Up

You want your posts to be set in a straight, precise line—particularly if you’re building a wooden fence. An easy way to do this is to drive temporary stakes from one point on the fence line to another and stretch a long rope between them. This gives you a simple, straightforward way to measure and mark the location of each post.

But your caution shouldn’t stop here. Once you’ve carefully marked the location of each post, make sure the tip of the auger bites into the soil at precisely the point you’ve marked. It may not seem like a big deal if the auger slips and drills a little too far to the left or right, but if your posts are close together (eight feet or so), you’ll definitely notice the resulting holes weaving in and out of line. Adjust the auger as necessary to ensure evenly placed posts across the whole fence line.

3. Point Straight Down

Don’t let the auger enter the ground at an angle. At best, you’ll wind up with a hole that’s difficult to backfill, and at worst you’ll face the challenge of a crooked fence post. This is a bigger concern if you’re using a handheld auger, but even tractor-mounted augers have some play. It can be difficult to tell if the auger is entering the ground straight when you’re sitting on the tractor, so enlist a helper to stand a safe distance to the side and watch your auger’s position. Have them give you a warning wave if the auger starts to angle.

4. Drill Wide Holes

If you’re able to choose the diameter of your auger, go ahead and drill a hole significantly wider than your posts. A hole three times wider than the post really isn’t too much. If you drill wide, spacious holes, you’ll have a much easier time thoroughly backfilling to lock posts in place. And if the hole is too narrow, it can be difficult to pack the backfill, resulting in insecure and wobbly posts.

Good luck with your next fencing project!

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