Whenever we build new fence using wood posts, setting the posts is usually considered the hardest job. The best time of the year to build fence is in the early spring while there may be good moisture in the ground. In locations where it gets cold enough to freeze, frost heave also helps loosen the soil.
I remember my dad using a digging bar and shovel as the only way to install posts.
Here are some of the advantages of setting posts by hand digging.
1. Only simple, low cost tools are required – Dirt shovel and/or digging bar, clamshell digger, hand-turned auger.
2. Good exercise.
3. You're safer from personal injury.
4. You're less likely to damage underground utilities.
5. The post can be set more precisely.
6. The post can be put in locations where the use of power equipment is difficult.
7. The job is so small nothing else is cost effective.
The first PTO-powered post hole auger we had was made from an old Ford rear axle. I remember how hard it was to repair when a key sheared inside it. Later models weren’t so bad since they had a shear bolt on the shaft. A wrench was handy to turn the PTO shaft backwards when the digger got stuck. The hydraulic motor-powered augers are much easier to back out when they get stuck. If the ground is really dry and/or rocky, most three point hitch-type diggers don’t go down. Loader mounted hydraulic augers with a special rock head and carbide teeth generally work in difficult areas. Sometimes a jackhammer or something like a rig for drilling blasting holes is required.
The only dirt/rock augers Kencove presently sells are mainly designed to fit with post drivers. They are hydraulic powered and generally are used with rock heads and carbide teeth. The Kiwi auger can also be modified to fit several models of the Shaver-built post drivers.
Hydraulic post drivers are used by most high-tensile fence contractors because they put the post in so quick and tight. The first time I built high tensile fence, I didn’t feel I could afford a driver. I tried to use a tractor with a front end loader to push posts into the ground. I don’t recommend that system. I was only installing 3” posts for electric fence. They didn’t push in so I loaded the bucket with a lot of weight. When I pushed down, taking the weight off the front tractor wheels, the tractor often shifted sideways while the post tilted. I was lucky no one got hurt.
The next time I built fence I bought a three point hitch-mounted Shaver 10 Post Driver. It’s hard to foresee how easily a larger post can be driven four foot into the ground. It also takes a bit of time learning how to use the tractor-mounted driver efficiently. Although it is possible to drive posts by yourself, it is much better to have one person driving the tractor and another running the post driver. On larger jobs, I like to distribute the posts along the fence line by having a person pace off the distance between posts while another person throws posts off the truck or trailer. Drive the post with the small end down and hold the post vertical at the proper spot leaning it slightly into the post driver. Lightly drive the post at the start. After the post is about a foot deep, have the driver come closer to the correct position for the post to be straight. If you start driving the post when it is perfectly straight, the post may start leaning away from the driver. Then you may need to bring the past driver around to the other side of the post to straighten it. When straightening a post, try to do it by having the pounder gently pushing it while driving it. The moving post can then move dirt away from that part of the hole. Once an end or corner post is nearly to depth, it is very hard to change its angle or to pull it out.
Let’s go over what tractor is needed. Although the Shaver 10 specs call for 12 gallon per minute of hydraulic fluid, I had a couple fencing crews using tractors with HD-10’s that only had 5.3 gallon pumps. The gpm only relates to how fast the ram is raised. You really don’t want to be hitting the top of the frame or cylinder too fast with all the momentum of the H beam. The impact on the post is not affected by the pump. The important point for how hard it hits the post is that the return hydraulic line has very little restriction. Try to bypass the tractor quick coupler by going straight into the hydraulic reservoir.
Front-of-the-tractor mounting is the lowest cost and is the easiest on the tractor driver’s neck, but there are several disadvantages. Unless the tractor has 4 wheel drive or heavy weighs in the rear, it is much more prone to getting stuck. Since the front tractor axle has a center pivot, the tractor is less stable than if the driver weight is on the wider rear axle. The height of the driver is fixed so it is hard to pound a post so it is less than 4½ feet out of the ground; the driver is likely to start hitting the bottom of its frame. If the driver is mounted too close to the ground, there are potential clearance problems. If it is on a three point hitch mount, it is easy to raise and lower for taller or shorter posts.
There are a number of improvements in Kencove’s PD-10, built by Shaver, that weren’t available when I bought my first Shaver HD-10 post driver around 1980.
1. Hydraulic tilt is available which makes the driver much quicker, easier, and have less slope than the crank tilt.
2. The Safety Arm Attachment, designed and patented by Shaver Mfg, is now available to anyone wanting to drive posts even more safely. The Safety Arm Attachment fits all Shaver Model Post Drivers and is easy to attach. The unit bolts to the back of the short channel with 2 bolts which are provided. The spring-loaded attachment holds the post in the Driving Ram securely to keep the operator away from the impact area and helps the operator drive a straighter post from start to finish.
3. Nyrim slide blocks have replaced the steel wheels inside the guide channel for the H beam. The guide channel is less likely to get bent since a larger area is pushing on it and the steel on steel wear is eliminated.
4. Stabilizer legs are now available for the three point hitch bracket. These make driver storage easier and safer. They also can take the bounce out of the driver when pounding posts.
5. The hydraulic ram is now chrome-plated so the seals last much longer.
6. The hydraulic control valve is now convertible for tractors with either open or closed center hydraulic systems. It had been very expensive to buy another valve to convert the driver to the other system.
7. Skid loader mounts are available. They speed up the whole post driving process and allow better communication between the operators.
8. Side shift, rotate mounts and trailer mounts are available for these drivers.