Building fences is tough. Between handling heavy posts and awkward panels, just shuffling the materials around your yard can be exhausting. And when it comes to digging the post holes, the amount of hard work involved often surprises first-time fence builders.
But there’s a solution to all the hole-digging troubles: a post hole digger. The best post hole diggers can make excavating appropriately sized holes at the proper depth a faster and less arduous task. Whether you choose a powered or manual option, these tools will enable you to dig straight down into the soil without digging out large, round craters that require refilling once you finish. They’ll save you both time and stress on your back.
- BEST OVERALL: Southland SEA438 One Man Earth Auger
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: XtremepowerUS 1200W 1.6HP Electric Post Hole Digger
- BEST UPGRADE: Landworks Earth Auger Power Head Steel 6″ x 30″ Bit
- BEST MANUAL: AMES 2701600 Post Hole Digger with Hardwood Handle
- BEST GAS: ECO LLC 52cc 2.4HP Gas Powered Post Hole Digger
- BEST ELECTRIC: XtremepowerUS 1500W Industrial Electric Post Hole
Types of Post Hole Diggers
There are plenty of tools to help dig holes, from standard shovels to heavy-duty excavators, plus multiple types of post hole diggers to choose from. Below is a breakdown of the most common types of post hole diggers, with an explanation of how they work and what it takes to operate them.
Manual post hole diggers are the most common and traditional option for digging holes for fence posts, mailboxes, and lots of other projects. They look similar to giant salad tongs, with a pair of long handles and two hinged scoops on the end.
Manual post hole diggers work by thrusting the scoops into the soil, working the handles back and forth a few times to loosen dirt and rocks, and then scooping them out of the hole. Some post hole diggers come with measurements on the handles to track progress quickly.
This option is the most portable choice, and the easiest to operate—in theory. But the effort required to dig deeper and deeper can wear out the user’s hands, arms, and back.
When it comes to boring deep holes in a hurry, a gas-operated post hole digger is the way to go. These machines have gasoline-powered engines mounted on top, similar to those found in weed whackers, chainsaws, and lawn mowers.
The engine turns a large auger, allowing it to bore deeply into the ground. On the way down, the auger excavates some soil and rocks from the hole, but it also loosens the rest, to enable clearing the hole relatively easily with subsequent passes.
There are occasions where a gas-powered post hole digger will bury itself in the ground, catching on a tough root or rock. In those cases, removing the digger can be a bit more challenging, so it’s something to keep in mind.
Electric post hole diggers work similarly to gas-powered models, but with an electric motor to power the auger. The electric motor is quieter and creates none of the exhaust fumes of a gas option. They’re often lighter, more convenient, and require much less maintenance, but that can come at the cost of power.
Not only are electric post hole diggers more convenient than gas-powered ones, but there are also battery-powered electric models available. These options blend the portability of a gas digger with the weight and convenience of an electric tool. When tackling post holes to fence in a smaller yard, a battery-powered post hole digger is certainly worth considering.
What to Consider When Buying the Best Hole Digger
Before shopping for the best post hole digger, there are a few factors to think about. First, make sure the digger has the power to get the job done. It also has to be light enough to handle when working alone. This section will highlight those areas as well as point out some other factors to keep in mind when shopping for the best post hole digger.
Engine or Motor
Some soils and surfaces are easier to dig into than others. When using a powered post hole digger, be sure that it is capable of handling the task at hand—much of that depends on the engine or motor (also known as a powerhead) that powers the auger.
Gasoline powerheads come in engine sizes expressed in cubic centimeters (or cc for short). Look for a model 40cc or larger. Electric powerheads usually come with information about wattages and amps. Models with 1,200 watts or more work best; also be sure the motor has at least a 10-amp motor to prevent it from overheating.
For powerhead style, look for a model with at least 1½ horsepower. If the soil is tough, compacted, or full of stones, consider a higher horsepower option—closer to 2¼. It might be challenging to get that type of power from an electric post hole digger, so beware that tougher terrain may require a gas-powered model.
Another point to understand when choosing a powered post hole digger is the auger. The auger is the spindle that bores into the ground. It looks like a drill bit. Augers come in a few sizes, so it’s essential to choose the proper size for the project and machine.
Choosing the proper auger size depends on the project. Any projects requiring concrete, like posts for taller fences and deck footings, require a large auger. An 8-inch auger will allow for placing a 4×4 post in the ground with enough room for concrete to anchor it. A 12-inch auger, best attached to a heavy machine, will create a hole large enough for a 6×6 or 4×6 post and plenty of concrete. Smaller augers, like 4- or 6-inch options, are appropriate for light-duty work like mailboxes as well as metal fence posts for chain-link fences.
Keep in mind that the larger the auger, the more friction it will create while boring into the ground. Only a powerful engine can turn a 12-inch auger in densely compacted soil, where a 4-inch auger might seem to zip into sandy terrain with even light-duty models.
Pro tip: If digging a hole is proving difficult, consider starting with a smaller auger first, then swap in larger augers as the job progresses. Save time by digging all holes with the smaller auger and then coming back through with the larger auger.
One of the most important factors to think about when digging a hole is how deep it will need to be. Tall privacy fences create a lot of leverage in windy conditions, and they can easily uproot a shallow post. Also, installing a fence post above the frost line could cause the ground to heave it up and out of the hole in cold weather.
Most manual post hole diggers have long handles that enable digging down to depths of around 4 feet, which is code in many areas for deck and fence posts. A depth of 4 feet will also bring you below the frost line in all but the most frigid climates.
Powered DIY post hole diggers rarely come with 4-foot augers, but there are extensions that will increase the depth capacity. Start slow, though. Burying an auger 4 feet deep into the ground will make it very difficult to remove, so clear the hole out every 6 inches or so.
While power, auger size, and depth are important, none of them matter more than weight to safely or easily operate the post hole digger. The user needs a machine he or she can handle and remove from the hole even when it’s loaded with soil and rocks.
- Manual post hole diggers are the lightest option, often weighing around 10 pounds. Even with the scoops fully loaded with rocks and soil, it’s rare to need to lift more than 20 pounds from the hole.
- Electric post hole diggers rank in the middle when it comes to weight. They usually weigh in the area of 20 pounds, making them the most convenient blend of weight and power for the casual DIYer.
- Gas-powered post hole diggers are by far the heaviest option. They can often weigh more than 40 pounds. The extra weight allows them to dig into the soil easily, but it can also make them more difficult to remove.
Whether using a manual option or a post hole digger with a powerhead, give some thought to the handles. They’ll be the user’s main points of contact with the tool for hours on end, so they need to be comfortable and offer the leverage needed to bore or scoop and remove the tool as easily as possible.
Long-handled manual diggers allow for exerting more leverage in the hole for scooping dirt and rocks, making it less likely to lose the soil back into the hole as the tool comes out. They also can dig deeper.
Generally speaking, wider handles are better for powered units. Wider handles enable greater control over the twisting nature of a post hole digger, and a partner can help should the digger get firmly stuck in a hole.
Our Top Picks
Now that you have a bit more background on what goes into choosing the best post hole digger, you can start shopping. Below is a list of some of the best post hole diggers on the market. Be sure to compare the important factors like weight, power, and style before deciding which model would make the best post hole digger for your projects.
When hunting for a great post hole digger that can handle most projects around the home, be sure to consider the Southland SEA438 One Man Earth Auger. This gas-powered post hole digger features a 43cc engine similar to the type found on chainsaws. The engine produces up to 316 RPMs of running speed. It has a .32-gallon fuel tank, enough to tackle several posts between fill-ups.
The Southland SEA438 comes with an 8-inch auger that can bore holes up to 2½ feet deep without an extension (which can be purchased separately). It also has wide, ergonomic handles with a grip-mounted throttle for easy boring and control. Weighing just under 40 pounds, it’s lightweight for a gas-powered post hole digger.
There’s no need to break the bank to break ground. The XtremepowerUS 1200W 1.6 Horsepower Electric Post Hole Digger can handle many excavating projects at a reasonable price. This post hole digger will run on an extension cord plugged into a standard house outlet, providing quiet hole-digging anywhere the cord will reach.
The XtremepowerUS has a 1,200-watt, 10.9-amp motor that produces 1.6 horsepower and 90 pounds of torque. It weighs under 30 pounds and features a grip-mounted lockout switch and trigger, making it comfortable and easy to use. It also comes with a 4-inch auger that measures 28 inches long, but that can extend with XtremepowerUS’s extension kit.
Landworks Earth Auger combines the portability of a gas-powered post hole digger with the convenience and easy use of an electric model. This battery-powered post hole digger has a 2-horsepower motor that runs at speeds up to 320 RPMs, providing enough power for some pretty compact soil. It comes with wide handles and a grip-mounted trigger for added control over this lightweight 22-pound machine.
It comes with Landsworks’ 48V 2Ah battery and charger, powering the brushless motor for up to 30 holes. The powerhead even features a built-in LED for lighting the work area or checking in the hole. It comes with a 6-inch auger that measures 30 inches long, but you can add a standard ¾-inch extension for boring even deeper.
Digging holes manually isn’t a lot of fun, but sometimes it’s the most convenient or even the only option. For these scenarios, check out the AMES 2701600 Post Hole Digger with Hardwood Handles. This traditional manual post hole digger has a 6¼-inch spread at the point and weighs just over 8 pounds, helping to dig holes for 4×4 fence posts without a large machine.
The 2701600 Post Hole Digger has two hardwood handles with cushioned grips for avoiding blisters and fatigue. The handles are 48 inches long, providing an overall length of 58 inches. They also have measurement hashes for determining the depth of the hole without taking out a tape measure.
For a project that requires a heavy-duty post hole digger, consider the ECO LLC 52cc 2.4HP Gas Powered Post Hole Digger. The powerful two-stroke engine powers the auger into tough, compacted soil, good for installing posts faster than many other gas-powered diggers. It also has two wide handles with a grip-mounted throttle for easy control and a 1.2-liter gas tank for extended use.
This kit comes with both a 6- and 10-inch auger, providing the capability to handle smaller projects like metal posts and mailboxes as well as heavier-duty 4×6 posts and footings. It also comes with an extension to dig holes to depths up to 55 inches.
Beware that this burly machine does weigh around 50 pounds, so it could be a handful for some users.
Digging into hard, compacted soil can be a difficult task for light-duty electric post hole diggers, but not so with the XtremepowerUS 1500W Industrial Electric Post Hole Digger. The high-wattage, 10.9-amp motor creates up to 90-foot pounds of torque—enough to wiggle stubborn rocks loose.
The XtremepowerUS has two thick, nonslip grips for keeping this powerful post hole digger under control. It also features a grip-mounted trigger and a safety lockout switch. The kit comes with a 6-inch auger that measures 28 inches long, but it can easily connect to an extension kit for digging deeper. It also weighs under 30 pounds, making it reasonably easy to handle.
The Advantages of Owning a Post Hole Digger
While it might not seem like a lot of work to dig a post hole or two with a shovel, the size of the hole needed can end up seeming enormous. Owning a post hole digger means the opportunity to make holes almost anywhere in the yard without a large-scale excavation project or mess.
For the average person, digging post holes is the least enjoyable part of a fence project. They can be backbreaking to dig, and the process can seem to go on forever. Using a post hole digger can substantially cut the amount of time spent digging holes.
Post hole diggers have other uses as well. Many ice fishers use post hole diggers fitted with 4- or 6-inch augers to drill into the ice’s surface. A post hole digger can also dig holes for planting flowers, shrubs, and bushes—just choose an appropriately sized auger for each.
- Avoid large-scale excavations and the messes that go with them.
- Post hole diggers cut down the amount of time it takes to complete projects.
- Dig holes for ice fishing or planting flowers and shrubs.
FAQs About Post Hole Digger
If you don’t have a lot of experience with post hole diggers, you might still have some questions about them, what they can do, or how they work. This section is for you. Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions about post hole diggers.
Q. How deep can I dig with a post hole digger?
Post hole diggers can dig quite deep, as you can add extension pieces to continue digging. However, too many extensions can cause the machine to be difficult to lift or place in the hole. Generally speaking, auger lengths over 5 feet can become difficult to manage.
Q. What are the advantages of a manual option over a powered one?
The main advantage of a manual post hole digger over a powered one is the cost. Manual diggers are far less expensive. They’re also highly portable and don’t require a battery, gasoline, or an extension cord.
Q. What is the difference between an auger and a post hole digger?
The difference between the two is in how they dig holes. You thrust a traditional post hole digger into the ground and remove the soil between the scoops. An auger “screws” into the ground and transports dirt along the blade up to the surface.