How to Replace Old Fence Posts by Hand

Keep your fences in working order and looking their best by taking time to replace worn out fence posts with new, sturdy ones.

by J. Keeler Johnson

Maybe you backed your truck into your fence. Or maybe your cows decided it was entertaining to chew fence posts during a long winter. Or maybe wet weather and fungi conspired to rot your fence over time. There are multiple reasons your farm’s fence posts can break down, but one thing is clear: You’ll eventually need to replace them. Fortunately, replacing fence posts is a relatively simple DIY project that requires little more than some strong hands, a few tools and a couple of hours. Here are step-by-step instructions to help you make your fence repairs.

Materials and Tools You Need

  • claw hammer
  • electric drill/screwdriver
  • nails and/or screws
  • new fencepost
  • bucket(s) of dirt
  • shovel
  • post-hole digger
  • digging bar with a tamper head
  • safety goggles
  • level

Step 1: Remove Fencing From Post

Whether your fence is electric, wire, plank or something else entirely, you will need to remove the actual fencing from your fence posts before you can replace a post. The way the fencing is attached varies, but in the majority of cases, it’s nailed or screwed into each post. To remove the fencing, use the forked end of a claw hammer to pry the nails away or an electric drill or screwdriver to remove the screws. If the fencing itself is undamaged, you can save the nails or screws to reattach the fencing to your new post.

Step 2: Remove the Old Post

To remove the old post from the ground, use a digging bar to loosen the ground around the post, methodically working from all sides while wiggling the post back and forth to free it from the dirt. A shovel can also be useful if the ground is particularly hard to remove dirt from around the post as you work.

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Depending on how long the post has been in the ground and how well it was set in to begin with, removing the old post can take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour—even longer, if concrete was used to secure it. If concrete was used to fix your post, you can use your digging bar to break it up into smaller pieces, but be sure to wear safety goggles in case any pieces should chip off.

Step 3: Modify the Hole

After you have removed the old post from the ground, you will have a hole that is roughly post-shaped and can be reused for your new post. Before placing your new post in the ground, use your post-hole digger to deepen and define the hole, which has likely lost some of its shape during the removal process.

Step 4: Place the New Post

Once the hole has been prepared, carefully lower your new post into place, using a level to ensure it’s not tilting. If the post stands too high above the ground, use the post-hole digger to make the hole deeper.

Once you’re satisfied with the height of the post, fill the sides of the hole with dirt to secure it in the ground. Use your digging bar to push the dirt deeper into the hole, and use the tamper head (the flat end) of the bar to pack the soil firmly into place.

Step 5: Reattach the Fencing

Now that your post is in the ground, all you have to do is reattach the fencing. Using your salvaged nails or screws, or fresh ones if the old hardware was damaged or rusty, secure the fencing back into place using a hammer or drill.

Tips for First-Timers

  1. Don’t work in wet weather: Replacing fence posts in damp conditions can be extremely challenging, even if it’s bright, sunny and seemingly dry when you begin your work. If you experienced heavy rain in the days leading up to your project, the soil just underneath the surface can be extremely moist and muddy, making it difficult to secure your fence post firmly in the ground. Wet conditions can also make it more challenging to remove old fence posts, in addition to getting your tools (and quite possibly your clothes) rather muddy. For these reasons, it is best to wait until you have had several days of dry weather.
  2. Don’t struggle with rotten posts: If you’re replacing an old post due to rot, it’s possible that the underground portion of the post may have rotted to the point that removing it isn’t feasible. If this is the case, or if time is an issue, simply saw or break off the old post at ground level, flatten the remaining stub so it doesn’t stick out of the ground, and dig a new hole beside the old one to hold your new post.
  3. Make a checklist of supplies: Replacing fence posts is a job that requires many tools, and it can be frustrating to trek out to the farthest pasture only to realize you’ve forgotten your drill, your digging bar, or worst of all—your new post! To avoid unnecessary trips back and forth with extra supplies, create a checklist with all of the equipment you’ll need and confirm you’ve gathered everything before setting off on your latest post-replacing excursion.
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