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Can I Dig A Post Hole With A Shovel?

Postholes are deep, narrow shafts in the ground. To dig one, you typically need a tool that can penetrate the soil to create a long, narrow hole to accommodate a post. But what if you only have a shovel? Can you use it to dig a posthole?

Well, we did some research and have the answer for you!

It is possible to dig a posthole with the right shovels, such as a trench, spade, or a pointed digger shovel. A posthole needs to be a deep narrow shaft into the ground. A standard shovel won't do because the shape is too wide to dig a narrow hole.

Therefore, if you dig a posthole using only shovels, you will need to use several different types in combination. The kind of shovel you need will depend on the soil.

Read below to learn the proper way to dig a posthole and the best tools for digging. We'll also include a rundown of the different types of shovels you can use to dig postholes.

Can You Dig For A Fence Post With A Shovel?

A small pile of wooden post

Do you need to dig a posthole for a flag pole, birdhouse, or a simple structure, but the only tool you have available is a shovel?

Yes, it is possible to dig a post hole using only a shovel, but this depends on your shovel type.

Digging hole using a shovel at the garden

If you have a standard shovel like the one shown below, then, unfortunately, using only this won't get the job done efficiently.

View this round digging shovel on Amazon.

Standard round digging shovels like the one above are too broad. This means pushing it into the ground will create a wide crater instead of a deep hole.

A shovel of this type will be handy in digging away grass, roots, rocks, and upper soil.

But when it's time to dig a deeper, narrow hole, you need to use a different tool, something more narrow, like a track shovel, spade, or a posthole digger.

What Are The Best Types Of Shovels To Dig Pot Holes?

Manual shovels have evolved over the years. The days are long gone when you could only purchase a standard shovel in different sizes.

Today, there are dozens of different sizes and shapes of shovels depending on the purpose. If you're planning to dig several postholes for a fence, purchasing a shovel specific to the job might be a good idea.

Here are your choices:

Spade Shovel

See a spade shovel on Amazon.

Spade shovels are narrow with a flat blade. It is ideally used for digging deep and small holes.

The handles are usually wider, have a foot platform, and sharpened blades, all features that allow for better control when pushing down into hardened soil.

Root Slayer Shovel

View this carbon steel root slayer shovel on Amazon.

Root slayer shovels are narrow with side-cutting blades, ideal for grass and root growth soil. It can help dislodge rocks and deep roots for better penetration into the ground.

Trench Shovel

See a trench shovel on Amazon.

A trench shovel has a long and narrow blade designed explicitly for digging long trenches. It is meant to dig straight down into the ground, making it another ideal tool for digging a posthole.

Track Shovel

View this excavator/track shovel on Amazon.

A track shovel has a narrow blade with teeth at the tip. It is typically used to aid tractors and excavators to help clear thick mud and debris buildup.

Its shape, however, is also an excellent tool for digging post holes.

Posthole Digger

See one on Amazon.

A posthole digger is ideal for fencing projects because it is made to dig postholes. It can dig holes up to 12 inches deep, it can scoop out loose soil, and the blades can cut through hard soil.

How To Dig A Posthole Using Your Shovel

Here's one way to dig a posthole using only different types of manual shovels:

  1. Prepare the soil for digging by making sure it is softened (this will be discussed further below)
  2. Use a standard shovel to remove any grass, rocks, debris, and topsoil in the area that you're planning to work on
  3. Loosen the topsoil using a spade shovel to slice through the ground and cut through the roots
  4. If the soil is too hard to dig into, use a garden hose to give it a thorough watering and soften the soil
  5. Using a narrow shovel of your choice (spade, track shovel, etc.), push it down into the ground and dig a hole
  6. Use a posthole digger to scoop out loose soil and penetrate deeper into the ground

One good piece of advice we found is to dig the hole wider at the bottom and more narrow on top. This way, when you seal it with gravel and concrete, it will be sturdier and prevent the post from heaving when the ground is frosted during wintertime.

Check out this video showing how to dig a posthole using a rounded shovel and a track shovel:

How Can I Soften The Ground Before Digging A Post Hole?

If you need to dig a posthole in an area with compact, rocky soil or clay-like hard soil, the first step is to soften the ground so you won't break a shovel.

The good thing about compact, clay-like soil is that it can hold water. Therefore, a simple procedure of deep watering will help soften the ground.

Depending on how tough the soil is, you may need to do it repeatedly a day before you plan to dig. You can also water the area thoroughly in the evening and leave it to soak overnight.

Softening the soil before doing any groundwork will help get the job done faster and more efficiently.

How Deep Can You Dig With A Shovel?

Digging hole using a shovel

Using the full length of a standard shovel blade can dig as deep as 10 inches down the ground.

If you're planning to dig deeper using only a shovel, you can go down as low as 15 feet. This is, of course, provided you have the equipment for climbing out, such as a ladder or someone else who can help you climb out of the hole once it gets too deep.

Gardener stepping on blue shovel, Can I Dig A Post Hole With A Shovel?Gardener stepping on blue shovel, Can I Dig A Post Hole With A Shovel?

But if you're planning to dig a pit or a deep excavation on the ground using only a shovel, you need to know specific rules.

In the United States, you can only legally dig up to 5 feet deep if you are a property owner. The rules may vary depending on the state. A permit is required to dig deeper to protect yourself against legal liabilities.

This is because of the danger that you might hit underground utilities such as phone cables, electrical lines, gas pipes, and underground water lines that you may be unaware run under your property.

What Is The Fastest Way To Dig A Post Hole?

Tractor drill used for digging a hole for a post

Shovels are manual tools and may not be the fastest means to dig a post hole. It will be especially backbreaking if you plan to dig up several holes for an entire stretch of fence.

For a faster and more efficient way to dig post holes, you'll need to invest in power tools such as a post hole digger or an auger digging drill.

We've discussed what a posthole digger is above, so here's what an electric auger digger looks like.

See the product below:

See an electric auger digging drill on Amazon.

An auger is the fastest way to dig a posthole because it requires less time and manual work. This powerful tool comes in gas-powered or electric units.

The auger has a drill bit of high-strength steel that can easily dig and cut through the soil. All you need to do is fill it up with gas or plug it into the electricity.

Then turn the equipment on, hold it tightly in position, and let it do its work by digging deeply into the ground.

To Finish Things Up

Gardener stepping on blue shovel

With the right kind of shovel, you can dig a posthole yourself. You can do it without the help of any specialized equipment. You can use manual tools such as a standard shovel, spade, trench shovel, or root slayer.

Thank you very much for reading through. We hope you understand the pros and cons of using a shovel to dig a post hole.

For more readings on fence post-related troubleshooting, check out the articles below:

How To Remove A Metal Fence Post From The Ground [Step By Step Guide]

Can You Use An Edger Along A Fence [Without Causing Damage]?

How To Fill The Gap Between A Fence Post And House