Digging post holes
There's digging a hole in the ground, and then there's digging the right kind of hole in the ground for a fence post. That's what I'm going to be talking about here.
Just so you have an understanding about why I dig holes the way I dig holes, I'll explain my thinking as I go and then hopefully, if I've explained it well enough, you will know the best way to go about it.
So start where the post is going, obviously lol. I mark the edges of the hole with the spade first, so from the centre go out about a foot, away from the fence on both sides and just dig a groove into the soil or turf. Those are your outer markers on either side of the fence, and now you should have about a 2ft wide area marked. For the sides of the hole in line with the fence, that doesn't have to be as wide, so only 6 inches from the centre. Why? I aim to make the post hole a long oval shape, 2ft long by about a foot wide, a kind of mini trench if you like. The fence doesn't need much support along the line of the fence itself, because the line of the fence posts will deliver that strength just by the way it's structured. Where the fence needs a lot of support is perpendicular to the fence, where the wind is going to try and push it and pull it back and forth so to speak. Do you see what I mean?
I'm also conscious of how much soil I'm taking out of the ground and whatever comes out will need to be replaced with concrete, so we're being mindful of waste and concrete usage, and both of those have a price-tag so you want to be mindful of that too. You might think the waste soil can all be dumped into the garden, but that's not often the case. Good topsoil is only on the surface usually, and the sub-soil is more than often riddled with stones or bound up in hard, sticky clay, and you don't want that on the surface of your flower beds. I usually just take it all into gorilla buckets and cart it off to the recycling centre for them do do whatever they do with it. The disposal price for soil was around £17 per ton the last time I was in there and if you're doing the job for yourself, using a van or a trailer, you can dump it off for free at most council recycling facilities. I say free, but you're paying for it through your council tax of course.
Now, I had better tell you what tools I use for the job. You might have a couple of spades in the shed and that might get the job done for you. My personal weapon of choice so to speak lol, is a good quality, quite expensive drainage spade with a very well insulated handle and shaft. It's a very specific tool to do a very specific job and that is to get down deep into the ground, in a narrow hole like the one I'm describing to you, and it is insulated so that, if at any point, if my bare hands are in contact with the spade and I was to accidentally strike through a live electricity cable, the insulation is going to give me protection from electrocution. Nobody wants that lol. I'll grab a link and put it here so you can see the type of spade I'm talking about and get one ordered for yourself. It's money well spent, and in my experience, these are really good quality spades which last a long time.
This is the one I have used for years now and I don't even look at other spades now to be honest. It's true that you get attached to your favourite tools and this is one of those I can't do without. You can see the orange plastic insulation is one piece from the handle, all the way down the shaft where it's double thickness next to the blade so you can get a hand down there in complete safety. I like the narrow drainage spade for keeping the post holes nice and tight and the length gives you good leverage for picking out stones and half bricks. I like to keep the tip nice and sharp too, for cutting through tree roots, but that's my own personal touch.
I had better mention what a gorilla bucket is too. For those who have never heard the term, gorilla buckets have been around for a while and are those big oversize rubbery buckets with big grab handles on either side. They come in all shapes, colours and sizes now, and I really don't mind what colour they are, but I do tend to stick with the 40l size as it's about as much as I want to lift on my own. A litre of mucky wet soil weighs about a kilo, so 40kg is about as much as anyone wants to be lifting on their own. I think safety in the workplace guidance says around 20-25kg, but I manage 40kg quite easily, and if there are two of you working on the job, then you can grab a handle each and that makes getting waste away a lot easier. You choose whatever suits you. I'll put the link up for them here.
I think before we proceed, I had better do a little bit about how to find information on where electricity cables might be hiding in your garden. In my experience, there are still some cables which are not on the national database so when you submit an enquiry to find out where to take extreme care digging, these unlisted cables don't show up, and that can mean serious trouble for us out digging down to any real depth.
The contact page I use is here; https://www.ukpowernetworks.co.uk/safety/around-power-lines/request-plans-showing-where-electricity-cables-are
It's a FREE service to homeowners and there's a charge for businesses. I never pay, I just ask the client to request the details once we have a starting date in the works diary.
Here's their wee video explaining the importance of doing a utility search before you put a spade in the ground.
Now, like I say, this shows up 99.9% of utilities for you, but you still have to be wary of those 0.01% of cables where someone has probably done a DIY job of laying a cable in a shallow trench across their garden to supply a garden shed or a garage or gazebo, it could be anything. We found one supplying a set of driveway gates once and another going to a set of lights the homeowner didn't even know existed, and that's the problem here. Properties change hands so often now, these issues are not being passed on. You can probably imagine, no-one selling a house is going to openly declare that they laid a power cable across their garden and didn't register it on the national utilities database. Let's face it, most people don't know there even is a national utilities database.
Ok, I've put the link up, I've put the wee video bit up, I've went on and on about it lol, I think I've done my duty and explained the hazards of hidden electricity cables. You have been warned lol.
Can you tell I've hit a few lol? It's not what I would call a pleasant experience, coming that close to death, I can tell you that.
Moving on, you've got your hole dug. Time to set your post in concrete. See you on the next page. How To Set Fence Posts in Concrete