Digging post holes with a shovel can be time-consuming, blister-inducing, back-breaking work, but an auger rental will, at the very least, save you time, even if it might not save you from physical exhaustion and a sore back.
You can find either a hand auger rental or a power auger rental, and though both work on the same basic principal, the power auger is the one that will significantly shorten the time needed to complete a project. An auger has a screw running up the outside of a pole-like core. With each turn of the auger, dirt is carried up the screw, effectively digging a hole and removing the dirt at the same time. In addition to time, the other benefit to using an auger is that, unlike with a shovel, there is greater uniformity and consistency in the shape and size of each hole, improving the speed with which you can complete your project.
Before picking up your power auger rental or post hole auger, you will need to do a few things. First, call the utility companies to find out if there are any utility lines buried underground. Hitting an electrical line could cause you serious injury, but even hitting a cable or phone line will, at the very least, cause serious inconvenience. If there are any buried lines, the company will send someone out to mark their location, usually within 24 hours.
Once you know the location of the lines, determine the size of holes you will be digging, which will help you decide what size of the auger to rent. Then, map out the location of your holes. Measure carefully and mark the exact center of your holes with a stake. Once you begin digging, it is nearly impossible to change the location of your holes, so careful planning will save you a great deal of time and headache. Then, dig pilot holes using a spade or shovel. A pilot hole creates a space for the auger to begin, ensuring that it doesn’t slip or move as it begins spinning. Next, find a friend. Most post hole diggers require two people for operation, and even a single-person auger will be easier to use if you have someone else on hand to steady the machine as you start it, or even to take turns operating it.
Finally, go rent your auger. You can get auger rentals at most hardware stores, though your selection will be larger at a home center or larger outlet. You will have a choice of 4-, 6-, 8-, or 12-inch diameter screws. Keep in mind that the larger the diameter, the harder it will be to handle the auger. The size of screw you need will depend on the type of posts you are using. Holes for steel posts can be dug with a 6-inch, while 4×4 wood posts with an 8-inch. Though harder to handle, the 12-inch can be useful for any sized posts as it allows greater flexibility in the exact placement of the post. It also allows extra room for concrete footings. A standard auger will dig 3 ft holes. For deeper holes, you can rent an extension that will get you an additional foot.
When you turn on the auger, there will be significant clockwise force that you and your trusted friend will need to counter. Brace yourselves before turning on the machine, and place it in the pilot hole to get started. You will need to clear the dirt out after every 12 inches or so. Otherwise, the auger will be too heavy to lift out. The cleanest way to clear the dirt is to shut the machine off and raise it out of the hole, and then shake the dirt off onto the grass or a tarp. Shut the motor off before moving to the next hole, unless it is only a few feet away. Avoid laying the auger on its side, as this can cause the spark plugs to foul and the gas to leak. Auger rentals can significantly speed up a fence or deck building project, and, with a cost of only about $50 a day, will save considerable money over professional fence or deck building companies.