Last Updated on March 19, 2023 by Editors
If you want to install a fence in your yard or plant small trees in your garden, are you ready to dig holes? Not everyone is a big fan of digging holes manually. If you live a busy and fast-paced life, you might have to buy the expensive services of a contractor. However, if you are on the hunt for an inexpensive way to drill or dig many deep holes, look no further. The post hole diggers are the garden hand tools that will help you with that.
If you need to dig perfect holes, you need a tool that is designed specifically for this task. If you are searching for a good way to dig deep holes and not just holes then you have come to the right place. Whether you are a new homeowner or you’re replacing an old post chances are that you’ll benefit from a good post hole digger.
What is a post hole digger?
The posthole digger or post hole digger is a garden tool to dig post holes. Post-holes are holes that are straight, narrow, and deep. Generally, digging with the best post hole digger is the best way to dig deep holes. That is if you are strong enough and have the stamina to use it.
What are post-hole diggers used for?
When it comes to digging, most gardening hand tools are not able to dig deep enough. Additionally, if you have to make holes to install posts, making straight and deep holes matters a lot. And the sheer amount of labor you have to put in is extremely important. Luckily, a post hole digger will surpass your expectations when it comes to these three categories. These digging tools are designed specifically to make holes in the ground. And while they are capable of drilling or digging deep holes, they are best for those who want to dig nice, clean, straight holes.
Where can you use them?
You can use these hole digger tools in every outdoor space. If you want to make a deep hole in the ground, these garden hand tools will dig or drill it.
For example, you might need to install new fencing or a flag pole in your yard. With this digging tool, you will manage to dig narrow and deep fence post holes.
If you plan to make deep holes to plant or transplant shrubs and trees in your garden the post hole digger is the perfect digging tool. In addition, you can dig holes deep enough to place support stakes for your plants.
Do you plan to make in-ground support for your new deck? Use a post hole digger to dig holes for the deck posts.
You can use a fence post hole digger tool to make post holes for a privacy fence around your patio. Moreover, with this digging tool, you can make holes for installing umbrellas, tents, or patio covers.
5. Lawn and walkways
One of the most popular uses is for making a hole to install the post of a cast aluminum mailbox. In addition, you can make proper holes for securing the shepherd’s hooks to hang lawn decorations, lanterns, lights, planters or other beautiful decorations and improve your outdoor decor.
6. Improve every soil
Does your garden or lawn have awful-quality soil? You can improve it with post hole digging tools. You can make deep narrow holes to aerate, improve drainage and insert organic matter for deep root fertilization in the holes to improve your soil’s condition.
Types of post hole diggers
There are two basic types, the clam-type post hole digger which is the most common and the auger type. These types vary in terms of versatility when it comes to making a hole. You can use the first type for digging in a variety of soils. On the other hand, manual augers drill holes. However, the second type has limited uses. There are two styles of driller type and one of them is good enough only when you drill holes into dry, sandy or somehow loose soils.
1. Manual post hole diggers
Typically, manual post hole diggers are two shovels (aka spades with curved blades) that are connected and facing each other. Each blade is sharp enough to penetrate the soil and cut through thin roots. These hand tools dig deep enough to make holes for posts. In addition, most of them are great for removing loose soil from the hole.
A common type of manual post digger has a design that resembles the motion of a pair of scissors. You pull apart the two handles to open the blades and you push them together to close the blades. You want them closed when you dig, grab and scoop the soil and open them to remove it from them.
However, the most common type of manual post digger is the classic one that has a design that has a reverse-scissors motion. This is the complete opposite design of the previous type. You push the handles together to open the blades and pull them apart to close the blades.
Also, there are some designs of post hole diggers that have more than one pivot point, others that have blades with pointed edges, and many more. We prepared a special guide for the manual post-hole digger in case you want to learn more about them.
2. Manual augers
There are two styles of manual auger post hole diggers. Both manual post hole augers have long shafts and a T-shaped handle at one end of their shaft. You have to push and turn the handle and spin them to make holes in the ground. These two styles of garden augers differ in their shaft length and the other end of the shaft – their head. Despite that, the way they make holes is the same: they drill. Also, both make perfectly round holes.
The first style of these earth augers can be used to make holes in many different types of soil. Some of these styles of garden augers have cutting heads that you can adjust to increase or decrease the width of the hole you want to make. In addition, you can extend their shaft length either by buying a separate extension for them, buying a steel pipe and attaching it to them with couplers, or by design because they are telescoping augers.
As for the second style of manual augers, you can use them to make holes in loose soils. The head of this style is a spiral, an auger bit. In order for the post hole driller to make holes the soil must be dry enough because if not it will stick on the drill head.
You can learn more about both styles of manual augers in our special guide where we mention more information about them, how to use them, care tips, and more.
How to use a post-hole digger
Prepare for an upper-body workout. These are manual tools that should be used by strong people with muscle power. Whether they are manual augers or diggers, they are heavy tools and sometimes you have to use brute force when you work with them. Typically, the best post hole diggers are even heavier.
Before you start you have to make sure that there are no underground electric and/or communication lines or gas/water/utility pipes in or near the area where you plan to dig. Some states for example require a permit or call 811 to find and mark/locate all those lines before any work.
For starters, mark the hole you want to make and remove any grass with a spade. After that:
- Hold the handles and drive down the manual tool.
- Depending on the tool’s weight and soil condition, drop the tool into the hole and let its weight do the work or thrust the digger tool into the soil.
- Grab the soil and lift it up to remove the loose soil and clear the hole.
- Remove the soil from the hole digger’s head.
- Repeat until you dig 5 to 10 inches deep. If you have a manual auger, use it. Put it in the hole, push the auger, and twist the handle clockwise, lift, remove soil, and repeat. If you do not have a manual auger, then continue to step 1.
Depending on the pole digger’s design you use you might have to pull the handles apart or push them together to grab the soil. You will have to do the opposite to bring the dirt out.
In the case that you want to make a hole deeper than half of the post digger’s shaft length then you should prepare for some lower-body workout. You will have to do squats.
If you are digging post holes in rocky ground and your post digger cannot remove the rocks, then read the following paragraph to find an easy way to dig post holes.
What else do you need when you dig with these tools?
If the soil has big roots then most post hole diggers will not be able to cut them. Moreover, they are not designed to cut through solid rock. In addition, some of them are not designed to dig into hard, tough soil.
When you run into an obstacle, having a digging bar to probe around it and remove it is a lifesaver. Use it to dislodge any stones. For prying the crowbars or pry bars are far better than digging bars. Moreover, you can use a shovel with a narrow head to remove stones. For the thick roots, a saw will be able to cut them or a pickaxe or mattock will manage to chop them. If the hole is narrow you will not be able to use pickaxes.
Furthermore, if it is deep then you might not be able to use a saw. Anyway, the digging bar is the tool you will have to use again. It is a narrow, heavy, and long tool. If the bar has a wedge part, use it to obliterate and cut the roots.
Moreover, you can use the digging bar to break and loosen the tough soil. Water is another ally to you, especially when you dig into dry clay soil. You use water to add moisture and soften it a bit. Lastly, it is always good to have with you a metal tape measure, a spade and a shovel if you plan to make wider holes.
Drain spades vs post hole diggers
If digging with one drain spade (or drain spade shovels if you like) is good, then in the case of the manual post hole digger, digging with two shovels at the same time and with less effort is a lot better. Moreover, with the proper digging tool, you will be able to scoop out the soil from the hole. In the case of the drain spade, you will have to bend your knees or squat to clear the hole. In either case, digging a hole will take the same amount of time.
However, many times it is not a matter of which is better. If you need to make wide holes then you might have to use a spade as well. Dig deep with your post hole digger and widen the hole diameter with a spade. Clear the hole with the hole digger or a shovel.
Post diggers vs motorized post hole diggers
Electric or gas-powered post hole diggers are complex to operate and dangerous to use. But once you manage to use them properly they will dig twice as fast compared to the manual post hole diggers. Additionally, by using a powered one you will manage to dig holes with less fatigue than using a manual digging tool. However, if you use a manual auger along with a manual one the difference in time for digging a hole is a lot shorter.
Moreover, you will make holes faster and with less effort only if the soil does not have rocks or big roots and only if you are digging on an even surface. We feel like saying “Good luck” when using a powered post hole digger on a slope alone. It is extremely difficult and unsafe. A general rule when you use a motorized post hole digger is to also have with you a manual one, a digging bar, and the other tools mentioned before in this article for the – not so rare – instances that you will need them.
Typically, you will have to buy or rent a motorized digging tool if you have to make a big outdoor project. However, compared to the motorized ones the manual ones are cheap post hole diggers. Electric or gas-powered post hole diggers have a much greater acquisition cost. In addition, you might have to pay for one or more bits. Moreover, they need the power to operate and they have far greater maintenance costs.
Last but not least, with manual tools you can control where the extracted soil goes. Most motorized post hole diggers leave the extracted soil near the hole which is not so efficient. Furthermore, it is not so uncommon for motorized diggers to fail to clean out the bottoms of the drilled holes. In this case, you will have to use a manual one to remove the soil.
What else to consider before buying post hole diggers
When buying the best post-hole digger or choosing one that fits your limited budget, there are many other features that you should also consider before making the final choice. Typically, bigger and heavier are better than smaller and lighter in weight. By combining the right features, you can set yourself up to be able to dig nearly anything. Some of those considerations are mentioned below:
Normally, the weight of the digging tool is a crucial factor when you are considering buying one. Generally, you want your garden tool for digging holes to be heavy. In the case of post hole diggers, the extra weight will help to dig faster and make a hole deep. This happens just because of… physics (gravity). However, it is not so simple. For the same reason (gravity) a heavier post hole digger or manual auger will be more tiresome when you pull it up out of the hole.
In most cases, the benefits of the extra weight are far greater than its disadvantages. For example, the added weight will help you overcome some obstacles like small roots or solid clay soil. Our personal weight preference for such digging tools is a weight of over 10 pounds. Still, most homeowner models weigh about 6.5 to 9 pounds. The post hole diggers for professionals weigh from 12 to 16 pounds.
There is not a great variety of blade materials. The most common material for the head or blades of these tools is carbon steel. It is tough and it does not bend. However, this kind of steel is not rust-resistant.
Another feature to look out for is how much the blades of the tool spread. Generally, the blade spread will determine the width of the hole you are going to dig. You have to find the one post digger tool that fits your needs. The point spread of the blades of most of these tools for homeowners varies from 5.5 to 6.25 inches.
However, there are models on the market that have the space between their blades is longer when they are opened. And on top of that some are able to dig straight holes up to 8 inches in diameter.
Material of post hole digger handles
The common materials used for manual post hole digger handles and manual auger shafts are wood, steel, and fiberglass.
- Fiberglass handle
Typically, fiberglass is very lightweight, durable, waterproof, and weather resistant. It needs very little maintenance. However, it is more expensive than a wooden handle and it is a lot harder to replace. Moreover, fiberglass is brittle under very cold temperatures. Another main downside of fiberglass handles is that they tend to be brittle after sun exposure.
- Hardwood handle
Wood is the classic material for garden tool handles. Typically, this handle material is very strong, especially if the wood is oak, yellow birch, ash or hickory. Wood absorbs shocks which means fewer vibrations and recoil, thus less fatigue for the user. A wooden handle compared to a fiberglass handle is less expensive. In addition, it is available everywhere in case you need a replacement for your hole digger tool. However, it needs some extra care and a bit more maintenance.
- Steel handles
These are hollow handles. The steel pipes are strong but need extra care because they might rust over time. One of the main advantages is that you can find or make a solution to extend the length of the steel pipe handles if you need to dig very deep. However, there are some serious disadvantages. These metal post hole digger handles get hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Another major drawback of these handles is the feedback from striking the ground. However, steel mainly is used as shaft material for manual augers so the recoil from striking soil should not concern you.
Handle length and width
The most determining factor of any digger is how deep it can dig. Depending on the type and style of your post hole digger, you can dig as deep as their handle length and maybe a little deeper if you widen the hole. The standard length is about 48 inches (4 feet). In the case of manual augers, sometimes you can attach an extension to dig even deeper than the length of their shaft. As for the width of the handles, each handle is something more than 1 inch in diameter.
Handles max spread
Handle max spread is about how wide the handles grips are when the blades are closed. To visualize this, it is about how far the distance between the handles grips is when you grab the soil with the tool’s heads and lift it up or the opposite in the case of a manual post hole digger of a different style. In addition, for the case of manual augers, this is about the length of the T-handle that is connected to the auger’s shaft. There is no exact, clear answer to this;
However, many models on the market have a typical handle max spread of 15 inches. This is important because as you dig deeper the handle spread will begin to hinder your digging efforts.
- Some post digger models on the market have measurement markings printed on the side of one of their two handles. Many people find this handy feature to be crucial because they do not have to constantly stop digging and measure the depth of the hole they made so far.
- Another useful feature on some models is the cushioned end grips on their handles. They give more control to the user of the digger tool and prevent the hands from slipping.
- Coatings like powder coating are good to have if they do not add much to the overall cost of the digger tool. The powder coating is a finish that is tougher than conventional paint and protects the steel parts of the tool from corrosion. Some models on the market have this kind of finish. It will protect the handles if they are made out of steel. On the other hand, after a few diggings, it will begin to wear off from the blades.
Post hole digger price
If you spend a lot of time in your garden then there is a great chance that you will have to dig deep holes. Investing in a quality post hole digger is an essential part of gardening. Unfortunately, you will not see a uniform price on the market. It all comes down to your needs and how much are you willing to invest to acquire a tool to help you fulfill them.
A budget solution costs under 60 bucks. For 30 dollars more you can buy better ones. Manual augers for home or pro use that can dig deep enough to install fence posts and post hole diggers for professionals like landscape contractors cost well over 100 bucks.
Where to buy post hole diggers
Unlike most of the other garden hand tools, the best place to buy post hole diggers is at the stores of online retailers. Our favorite retailer is Amazon because there you can find many post hole diggers of almost every type and style.
Our buying advice
If you have to complete a project in your yard or garden that demands many deep holes to be made, for example, 20 holes of 3 or more feet deep, and you are not comfortable using a manual digging tool then you should buy the services of a contractor or rent a motorized post hole digger.
That is if you are comfortable using the motorized digger with safety and your landscape and soil condition support its use. In the case that you are OK with manual labor ( free exercise 🙂 ) and your soil and budget support it then go for an 80 to 120-dollar post hole digger. If you need to make 4 holes per month or less then go for a budget solution for half the cost.
In order to keep your post-hole digger working properly you should do the standard gardening hand tool maintenance. As for sharpening their blades, generally, it makes a small difference if you sharpen them. However, if they become very dull they will not be able to penetrate the soil with ease. In that case, use a mill bastard cut file to sharpen them. For manual augers with spiral heads use an auger bit file or a mill file.
Clean your digging tools
Clean the dirt after each use. Use a brush to remove any soil stuck on the hole digger tool. Dry it well with a damp cloth. Additionally, check if the pivot nuts and bolts are loose because they tend to become loose after some digging. Always oil its metal parts.
Wooden handle care
Typically, the handles of post-hole diggers for home use (i.e. the budget ones) are wooden. If that is the case then, use a finishing oil to polish them. This way they will last longer.
Before storing the hole-digging tools make sure that there is no moisture on them. Also, you should oil their metal and moving parts. Store them in a dry place like your garage or a storage cabinet.
The best post hole digger is going to be efficient at digging deep holes, backed by a company guarantee, and somewhat heavy. Although garden hole diggers vary in handle material, weight, and style, using one will help you to dig holes to plant your favorite trees, and to install flagpoles, mailboxes, birdhouses, fences, decks, or patio posts.
Whether you are a homeowner or a contractor, there’s a post-hole digger tool option that will support your needs. At the end of the day, you are the one to decide which one is best for your wallet and needs.
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