Digging Post Holes the Easy Way

Tools: big Shop Vac, 6-foot digging bar, and post hole clam shell digger

All of us homeowners and handy persons have had to dig the dreaded post hole at one time or another. Holes in the ground are good for many projects – anchoring fence posts, anchoring retaining wall posts, foundation piers, new top soil space for plants, tether ball poles, basketball poles, etc. As an experienced home remodeler in Mill Valley, CA, I would say that digging a post hole is no fun task, but I’ve found a way to make it easier.

In this post, I will share one of my favorite tricks for excavating an 8 to 24-inch post hole as deep as you desire in record time. The first foot or two of any excavation can be done with a digging bar and post hole tool, easy enough! The next three feet or more is the problem. As the hole goes deeper, getting the dirt out gets exponentially more difficult.

One day on a project in Mill Valley, it was necessary for my crew to dig multiple 12-inch diameter holes, 4 to 5 feet deep, for a retaining wall. I had my guys digging away and they did not seem to be having fun or moving along at a reasonable pace. On site, I happened to have a large newer Ridged Shop Vac just sitting around doing nothing and I keep thinking why not vacuum the dirt out of these deep holes? Hmmm, might work.

I figured that the worst case scenario would be that I ruin my $120 dollar vacuum and need to buy a new one. I could live with that; this project was just taking so much time and effort. So I walked over and grabbed my shop vac, hose and 4-foot hard tube extension. I fired up the vacuum and had my worker loosen the dirt at the bottom with the digging bar. In seconds, the hole was clean, and we repeated the process until the hole reached the desired depth. The hole was finished in a few minutes and no one was sweating, and the vacuum was still working. On the next hole I removed the filter from the vacuum as the soils we were digging were non-dusty. I pointed the exhaust away from the workers and turned it on. Wow, the vacuum had twice as much suction, and excavating the hole was even easier. In the next 8 hours, we had excavated 12 or more holes, 4-5 feet deep, and no one was over tired and my vacuum was still working. This was 15 years ago, and although I have gone through two more vacuums since then, I still dig deep holes this way and it works every time!

It will happen that you run into rock digging your post holes. When this happens, it will be necessary to rent a small electric jack hammer with digging extension. Do not try to break the rock up with the digging bar as you will be worn out on the first hole. Break the rock into smaller pieces with the hammer and vacuum them out or use the post hole tool. Rocky soil is no fun at all, and it may be necessary to hire a helper at that point to keep your body intact.

Marin Home Restoration is always available to help excavate all your foundation holes. We are a company that offers professional construction and landscaping in Mill Valley, CA and surrounding areas.

Happy digging!
– Dave

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