Cement Footings, Post Tools, and Digging Barriers
We no longer recommend lots of cement footings. Here’s why: If a pull or load on your fence is sufficient to tilt posts lacking cement feet, then it’s likely to bend those same posts when they have cement feet–and tilting is easier than bending to correct. In this vein, current knowledge says it’s best to put your posts close enough together and do enough bracing (assuming the fence will face snow loads or falling limbs) so that tilting or bending is unlikely. Then limit your cement footings to anchor posts (those posts that are brace posts or that have earth anchors attached to them). This prevents sideways stress from being transferred downward and pushing the anchor post into the ground.
If you are using corner/end/gate braces instead of earth anchors, it’s a good idea to put both the main posts and the bracing post or posts in cement footings. Since the main post comes with a drive sleeve, this means putting the drive sleeve in a cement footing, which is perfectly all right. In the case of the side braces, one can substitute “dead men” (cement blocks placed so as to block the post ends) for the cement footings. This approach involves a bit less labor that the footings; but it is also less effective–because if a block is not properly aligned the blocked post can move.
Happily, in places where no earth anchors or brace posts are called for, cement footings are not needed.
Manual Post Driver: There are lots of ways to install metal posts that lack sleeves. One can use a post-hole digger, or if the ground is really tough one can rent a mechanical auger. But the first method is time-consuming and the second is expensive. So unless the soil is rock-hard, a better way to install posts is with a manual post driver.
You can get fancy drivers; but ours, the better basic model, works just as well. You don’t need to get up in the air to drive in seven or even eight-foot posts. Just slip the driver (a heavy tube closed at one end with two long handles) over one end of the post. Then put the post bottom where you want it to enter the ground; raise the driver up a bit; and drop it on the post. This typically drives the post into the ground 2 to 6 inches, and repeating this action will soon get the post down two feet or more. It’s really very simple. Putting a bit of tape at the 2-foot mark on the post so you will know when it is deep enough is a good idea.
Digging Bar: Of course, rocks and roots can block the descending post. If that happens, you may need to pull the post out and start over. Or else, you may want to start ahead with a digging bar and “prove out” a path two feet deep for the post before you drive it.
To do this, take the digging bar (a heavy metal bar like a crowbar that instead of being bent is straight). Push or tap the bar’s pointed end into the ground a few inches; rotate it to enlarge the path; push or tap it down a few more inches; and repeat the process until you have reached the necessary depth. Now, when your take up your driver, you will know the post has an open path.
The digging bar offered on this site is a four-footer well-suited to getting two feet down that is less expensive than most digging bars available in local stores. If you need to get three feet or deeper, we recommend that you get a 6-foot digging bar locally.
Drive Caps and Drive Sleeves: If you’re installing posts that come with drive sleeves you won’t need a manual post driver but you will need one or more drive caps. These are heavy steel caps that fit into the top of the sleeve. With the cap in place, you can hit the cap-sleeve combo with a heavy hammer, driving the sleeve into the ground without damaging its top. Doing this repeatedly will mash the drive cap, so we recommend that you get one drive cap for every 20 sleeves you intend to drive.
Please note that if you already have your 1-5/8 inch round posts on hand and want to get sleeves for them, there could be a problem. The sleeves for all the 1-5/8 inch posts have a crimp one foot down that stops the post. So for a 5-foot fence with sleeves you would want a 6-foot rather than a 7-foot post. You can easily remove a foot from your posts with a hack saw or pipe cutter, but it’s worth knowing about this in advance. Forewarned is forearmed.
The digging barriers offered in our catalog are two feet wide and designed to have grass grow through them. Once attached to an existing fence, laid down flat on the ground (so that lawn mowers can go over them), and staked down securely with long stakes provided in the kit, they should end just about any digging problem.
The down-side is that these digging barriers are expensive. So before getting them, determine whether a modicum of training can discourage your dog from digging along the fence line. And help the training along temporarily by applying some dog repellent along the fence line. We’re happy to sell you digging barriers, but we don’t want to do so if you don’t need them.