5 Lessons Learned From Replacing Wooden Fence Posts

Replacing wooden fence posts is an ongoing project on any farm with a lot of fence mileage, and these five lessons make the job easier.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: Daniel Johnson

Wooden fence posts don’t last forever. It would be nice if they did, but wear and tear from animals and the elements takes a toll. Eventually, posts become too rotten or damaged to safely perform their job, and that’s when it’s time to replace them.

Replacing wooden fence posts is an ongoing project on any farm with a lot of fence mileage. I’ve lost count of how many posts I’ve replaced through the years. Along the way, I’ve learned a few lessons to make the job easier.

If you’re familiar with the rigmarole of replacing wooden fence posts, then I’m sure you’ll enjoy laughing along as I (humorously) share these five valuable lessons.

Read more: Replacing old posts by hand? Here are some things to keep in mind.

Come Prepared with the Right Tools

Don’t assume, “This job will be easy. I only need a few tools!” Even if you’re able to remove a post from the ground easily enough (which isn’t guaranteed—see lesson No. 2), you’re bound to encounter other unforeseen obstacles:

“Wait—why did I nail these electric wire insulators in place. And why didn’t I bring a hammer to remove them??”

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“This hole should really be deeper. Did my neighbor ever return my post-hole digger??”

“I sure wish I had a pair of pliers….”

In other words, don’t skimp on the tools and supplies you bring along. Load up all your fence repair equipment into a wagon, drive out to the site, and get to work.

In the long run, you’ll save yourself a lot of trips back and forth fetching forgotten tools.

Can’t Get the Post Out? Try a Tractor

Some posts won’t give up their duty without a fight. They might be damaged or broken aboveground. But underground can be another story.

Particularly if they’ve been installed with concrete (see lesson No. 4), some posts can be a nightmare to remove from the ground.

This is when you bring in the heavy artillery—a tractor. Attaching the post to the front-end loader or three-point hitch allows you to harness the power of your tractor’s hydraulics to hoist stubborn posts from the ground.

Just proceed with care and caution. If the post absolutely refuses to budge, you might find the tractor’s front or rear wheels rising up instead of the post.

Read more: Stubborn fence posts? It’s time to fire up the tractor.

Augers Make Digging Holes (a Lot) Easier

Sometimes you have to make an existing hole deeper, or even dig a new hole from scratch. (Yep—sometimes it’s easier to cut the old post off at ground level and start a fresh hole alongside.)

Now, I’m all for using tried-and-true hand tools, and I’ve installed many posts using the manual power of a post-hole digger. But digging a deep hole can be backbreaking work if the soil is hard and/or compacted.

For example, the clay soils found on my farm make digging down more than 2 feet a tough task. And even if you don’t break your back, you might break the post-hole digger. There’s a reason why one handle on my post-hole digger is a few inches shorter than the other….

If you’re going to be digging a lot of holes, and if you can afford a handheld or tractor-mounted auger, go for it. They’ll do a better job and save you a lot of time and effort.

These four tips will help you get the most out of your auger.

Consider Sparing the Concrete

Concrete can be a good way to lock posts securely into the ground. But it can also be problematic when you need to replace a post.

Depending on the style of fencing you’ve installed, concrete can be worth the trouble at corners (which bear the brunt of tension from electric wire fences), or any other location where the posts will face tension or pressure.

But some posts (including line posts for electric fences) don’t benefit as much from concrete. If you can safely get away without it, I encourage you to favor gravel or good old-fashioned dirt over concrete.

When it comes time to uproot the post, you’ll have a much easier time—no breaking up chunks of concrete required!

Don’t Bother Replacing Posts in Wet Weather

Please—don’t try replacing posts after a heavy rain! I can only speak from my experience with clay soils, but if there’s standing water aboveground, there’s no point in removing posts or digging holes.

Any hole you open up will flood with water before you know it. And any attempt to pack dirt around a new post will turn into an amusing (but ultimately frustrating) game of playing with mud.

If a post gives out during a rainy spell, I suggest concocting a temporary (but safe) repair and waiting until a drier spell to actually replace the post.

So there you have it—five lessons I’ve learned from replacing wooden fence posts. I’m passing on my knowledge so you can skip the stage where you try to remove a concrete-encrusted fence post … from clay soil … during monsoon season… using nothing but a shovel.

You’re welcome!

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