How to Dig Post Hole Without a Post Hole Digger?

If you need to set up a fence around the house, digging a post hole is the most critical part of the process. The integrity and security of your fence depend entirely on how well you can set up the posts. If you’re not doing this part of the job right, your posts probably won’t be able to hold their own weight and will topple over very soon.

So, when it comes to digging post holes ‘the right way,’ the first thing that probably comes to your mind is a post hole digger, and that’s a perfectly reasonable thought. It’s a tool specifically made for what you intend for it to do. To be fair, it does make the job ten times easier. 

Should You Skip Out on a Post Hole Digger?

Most of the individuals reading this are DIYers – people who might not have that many tools at their disposal but still want to be their own handyman. Buying equipment is fine, but buying equipment that’s just going to sit in the shed a couple of days later is just a waste of resources. So, it’s totally understandable if you want to skip a post hole digger. However, that’s not always the best solution. 

You can get your hands on an electric Auger post hole digger or even a manual digger to take several hours off the job. Here’s a video showing exactly how easy things get with a proper digger.

However, if you like a challenge, it’s possible to go toolless and work with what you’ve got. It’s not easy, but definitely possible. So, in this article, we’re going to walk you through how you can dig a post hole completely without using a post hole digger. The only equipment we’re going to use is stuff easily available in the average household.

Without further ado, let’s jump right into it.

Required Equipment

  • A shovel
  • A pickaxe (optional)
  • A trowel or a spade
  • A tape measure

Step 1: Do Some Prep

There are a few preliminary steps you need to take before you start the digging.

Deciding the Depth and Width of Your Post Hole

Firstly, you need to decide the depth and width of the post hole. The general rule of thumb is that your post hole needs to be one-third the length of the actual post. If you’re looking for added durability or expect there to be increased force brushing up against your fence, you can even make the post hole half the length of the post. Anything less than that, and your post will get knocked over even by a strong gust of wind.

For instance, if your post is 6 feet long, the post hole should be 2-3 feet deep into the ground. 

The diameter of your hole is also something you should pay attention to. On average, the diameter of the post hole should be two to three times the actual diameter of your post. If the post is 3 inches in diameter, the hole should be at least 6-9 inches in diameter.  

Marking Underground Pipes and Wiring

If you’re digging into the yard, this is always a good precaution to take. Call the local utilities and inform them of your intention to do some digging. If there are some underground gas or water/sewage pipes underground, they will probably drive down and mark it for you.

Pipes aren’t that big of an issue. You’re not using any heavy machinery. Even if you do hit a pipe, you’ll just need to seal that hole and dig in a different spot. However, the bigger proper is if you hit an electrical wire. This is a serious safety hazard, and it’s best to give the professionals a call. In the United States, 811 is the national call-before-you-dig helpline to ensure you’re digging safely.

Check the Temperature

There’s probably going to be some concrete involved in your fencing adventures that help improve the durability of your fence. Concrete can be used in a variety of different temperatures. But, if you really want to make the process convenient, you should be pouring concrete when the air temperature is between 50-90 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the most suitable range for concrete that lets it cure evenly. 

Step 2: Mark the Ground For Your Post Hole

Before you start digging, you must ensure that you’re digging at the right place and with the right measurements. You probably have the desired measurements you want to work with, so it’s going to be pretty simple for you to do. Simply use the diameter measure and mark the area you want to dig into. It’s okay if you go a little past it during the digging, but you should generally try to stay in the ballpark. 

Step 3: Start Digging

Now that you’ve gotten the prep out of the way, it’s time to start digging! You can use your pickaxe to break up the clustered dirt around your digging area and follow up with a shovel to take it apart. 

It’s possible to pull off this job without a pickaxe, but it loosens up the dirt and makes things easier. Keep digging with the shovel and the pickaxe until you’ve hit the sweet spot with the required depth and width. Keep your tape measure close by. 

Step 4: Use a Trowel/Spade to Remove the Rocks

The next step is to make sure that you get rid of all rocks and pieces of debris from your hole. Rocks create air pockets that are going to trap water under the surface and mess with the foundation of your fence post. 

Use the trowel or spade to fish all the rocks and break up the dirt inside the hole. Tamping down the soil also helps prevent air pockets and makes your post much more resistant to natural degradation.

Step 5: Smoothen Out the Flooring

Once you’re done with the rocks, try to make sure the ground is as even as possible. Every degree of tilt in your post is going to reduce the overall strength and durability of your fence post. 

Some people even go the full mile and throw in a heavy concrete slab to make sure they have a flat surface. If you’re going that route, make sure you use a level gauge on the concrete slab and tweak it till you’re right in the middle. 

After this, you’re pretty much done with your post hole and are steady to start installing the fence post!

Closing Thoughts

And, that’s how you dig a post hole by using only tools that are probably sitting in your shed! While it is possible to dig a hole without a post hole digger, it’s really not worth the hassle. A fence that requires a couple to set up might take days and a lot of extra effort. Even if you don’t want to buy a post hole digger, you can probably rent one for a few bucks from a Home Depot or your local hardware store; that would make the process substantially easier.

Regardless, if you want to go full-on manual with your post holes, you now know exactly how to do just that!