Choosing the best post hole digger depends on how much effort you want to expend when working and also the scale of your project. Our ancestors had do dig holes by hand but even they developed tools to help them get things done quicker; and that’s where a gas-powered fence post digger comes in handy.
Intro | Best Post Hole Digger
We live in an age where manual labor is hardly needed for most tasks. Today, we have machines to do just about anything or, at least, make the work much less strenuous. A post hole digger is definitely one such tool. We all need to dig holes in the yard, whether this is to erect or mend a fence, plant trees, put up a mailbox, or install garden lights – to name but a few circumstances.
Primarily, this article is going to review some of the best post hole diggers and then go on to provide you with a buyer’s guide on how to select the best post hole digger.
Before I begin with the review, there are few things that are worth mentioning. One of these is how a post hole digger works. You can’t make an informed decision if you don’t have a basic understanding how of the machine functions.
A manual post hole digger is a relatively simple device and does not use an electric motor or gas engine – you have to put in all the physical effort required. Gas-powered post hole diggers are the most popular, though many homeowners (particularly with smaller properties) prefer electric for the low noise, no fumes and virtually no maintenance that comes with electric tools.
52cc > Dirty Hand Tools (104306) Post Hole Digger
Regardless of how your post hole digger is powered, the basic principle of how it works remains the same. They all use an auger to churn the soil from the hole. Many people refer to these machines as post hole augers or earth augers because of this. At the base of the auger is a cutting blade to break the soil and a drill tip to pilot the hole.
The width and length of the auger are important as this determines how wide and how deep the hole will be. As the earth auger increases in size, so will the power of its engine and its weight. The larger machines (2-person earth augers) will be too heavy and powerful for a single operator to handle. Go even larger, and you’re looking at a 3-point post hole digger. I’ll be reviewing models in all three these categories.
Should you rent or buy a post hole digger?
With prices for a quality gas post hole digger starting at about $200 and reaching upwards of $600 for a large 3-point machine, you could well be asking if you aren’t better off renting a post hole digger.
As an avid DIY enthusiast for many years, this is a dilemma I’ve faced many times. As the tool you’re considering becomes more expensive, the more you’ll consider the pros and cons of renting vs buying. In most cases, renting has turned out to be a horrible disappointment, in my experience.
Why do I say this?
I’ve found that most of us DIY guys tend to be a little too optimistic about our abilities. Most of the time, we lack foresight. If you’re doing a job for the first time, you’ll estimate how long it’s going to take – it usually takes longer than what we anticipate. Even if we’ve done the job once or twice before, we may have been lucky and everything went smoothly. This isn’t always the case and experience has taught me that anything can happen. No two jobs ever take the same amount of time. What I’m getting at here is that we’ll budget for tool hire on an estimated amount of time. This may make the cost of renting appear to be very attractive. When we find that it takes much longer, things get stressful and more expensive than anticipated.
Then there’s the question of how many times we’re going to use the tool in the future. Renting once is fine. Though doing this repeatedly, is going to add up over time. A post hole digger is such a versatile tool and makes general maintenance tasks and gardening so much easier. Once you own an earth auger, you’re going to use it time and again. Even for much larger holes, you can use the auger to dig several holes in close proximity and then simply join the dots. Point is, once you start using a post hole digger, you won’t want to be without one.
In some cases, the rent vs buy argument can be complicated. When it comes post hole augers, I think it’s a no-brainer. Buying is going to be the best – you’re going to use it far more than you might originally have thought.
So, if you think buying a post hole digger is a good idea, here’s a review of your best options.
Best Gas-powered Post Hole Digger
This section is going to cover gas-powered earth augers that can be operated by one person quite easily. Though all of them have dual handles, so it’s possible for two people to operate them when needed. These machines will usually have a maximum auger width of 8” and the depth can be up to 4’ – depending on the width of the auger. A narrower hole will be able to go deeper.
These are quality post hole diggers and are considered by many, to be the best in their class with reliable gas engines (usually 2-stroke).
43cc gas-powered, one-man (or woman) earth auger. Best post hole digger for the money.
- Manual recoil easy start
- Heavy duty construction
- Ergonomic butterfly handles
- Includes 8″ bit
- 2 year limited warranty
- EPA & CARB certified
The Southland SEA438 is a well-constructed piece of machinery with heavy-duty cast metal components and is easy to use. For a dependable and durable post hole digger, I’ve found the price to be very competitive.
The 43cc 2-stroke engine (manufactured by MAT Engine Technologies) is a breeze to start and runs perfectly. It’s a CARB certified engine, good news for Californians. I like the large 40.6 OZ gas tank – you need to pre-mix the gas and oil at a 50:1 ratio and this is going to give a long working time before refueling. You can keep an eye on your gas tank level while you work, it’s translucent so you can see the level without a gauge. Starting the Southland requires a quick tug on the recoil starter after turning on the ignition, opening the fuel shutoff, and priming it with the bulb at the starter. It’s as simple as one could expect and there’s a choke lever for cold starting. It has a very impressive bit speed of 316 RPM, so it’s going to work faster than many others.
VIDEO | Southland SEA438 Earth Auger
The large (26” wide) butterfly-styled handles are great for single or two-person operation. The handles have thick foam grips and this helps a lot in eliminating vibration. There’s a conveniently placed throttle at the handle for easy and safe operation. The coil spring shock absorber seems to work very well and does make it easy and comfortable to use.
You’ll get an 8” auger with the machine and this will dig to a depth of 2.5’. An optional 6” auger is also available. The weight of the auger head and the engine is 22 LBS and the 8” auger weighs 13 LBS, so you’ll be handling a machine that weighs 25 LBS which is very manageable for one person. The 6” auger is a pound lighter, though I can’t this making much of difference when using the post hole digger.
There’s some assembly required when you unbox the Southland SEA438, but this will be the case with any post hole digger. It’s quick and easy to put it together – I found the instruction manual to be helpful and had no problem understanding it. You get a small bottle of 2-stroke oil with the post hole digger and this is enough to get you going with your first tank of gas.
VIDEO | How to Operate the Southland SEA438
My basic impression is that this is good quality post hole digger and is as easy to use as the best of them. Having read plenty of customer reviews, most people seem to agree that this is a great product. Where I found complaints, they seemed to be that people didn’t know how to use a post hole digger properly. Spare parts are readily available and many of these are universal, so you can use replacement augers from other manufacturers if you wish. Though check first to make sure that parts other than those supplied by Southland will fit the machine. A 2-year warranty is great to see, you have a decent length of time to make sure your post hole digger isn’t defective once you’ve bought it.
no longer available in 2019
- Viper 2-cycle 43cc, 2 HP engine
- Bit turns at a maximum of 250 RPM
- Compatible with earthquake augers from 2-10 in. in diameter
- Solid steel, heat-treated alloy gears, 30:1 gear ratio
- Anti-vibration foam grip handles
- CARB compliant
- 45.5 ft. – lb. output shaft torque
- Includes earthquake’s E43 powerhead with EA8F 8 in. earth auger (36″ length)
- Steel shaft with replaceable earth point & blade
- Isovibe “shock spring” absorbs ground shock
- Delivers maximum power without the twisting and jerking
✓ View or download the MANUAL for the Earthquake 22777.
The Earthquake 22777 is very much the same as the Southland equivalent. Though Earthquake probably have a bigger variety of accessories and specialized augers to fit this model. The Eskimo ice auger is a good example of this. Though in terms of general design, power, weight, and usability they are very similar.
The Viper 43cc 2-stroke engine compares favorably to any of the best engines used in this class of post hole digger. It starts and runs effortlessly and electronic ignition is a big plus when it comes to reliability and easy maintenance. The gas tank is certainly big enough (0.3-gallon), this engine also requires pre-mixed oil and gas (50:1). Like the Southland, you can see the gas level inside the tank at a glance. The auger isn’t quite as efficient though in terms of speed – the Earthquake 22777 has a maximum of 217 RPM at the shaft (167 RPM at full torque). Sound level at the operator is 100dBA. I don’t have the same specs for the other models in this review, but this seems very reasonable for this type of engine. I think that most people will prefer to wear ear protection when using any gas-powered post hole digger.
The handles are strong welded steel with exceptionally comfortable grips. These are also wide butterfly handles, making it easy for single or two-person operation. It has a convenient finger-operated throttle on the handle. Thanks to a really good flex coil shock absorber and the soft grip handles, you’ll experience less vibration than one would expect – a maximum of 16.1 M/S². The weight is perfectly manageable at 24 LBS (net weight). I’m not sure what the standard 8” auger weighs, but I would think that the total weight of this post hole digger won’t more than a pound or two heavier than the Southland.
The Earthquake 22777 is a solid machine with a ball bearing alloy gear transmission and an industrial air filter. The instruction manual is excellent and I can’t see anyone having a problem assembling this machine. The same can be said for starting the engine and using it.
Comparing this post hole digger to the Southland is a close contest, they’re both very similar machines and great quality. It could simply come down to brand preference when making a decision. The Earthquake 22777 comes with a 1-year product warranty and a 2-year emissions control warranty for the engine.
XtremepowerUS V-Type 55CC — X1096
with 10-inch auger. One of the best one-man gas-powered post hole digger in terms of reliability and value.
- Engine : 2-stroke, air-cooled
- Displacement : 55cc
- Rated output power : 1090W
The Xtremepower V-Type is a big hit with fishermen because of the big 10” ice auger. While it’s ideal for cutting larger than average holes in a frozen pond or lake, this post hole digger is a great machine for regular hole digging with an 8” (or similar sized) auger. It’s more powerful than most and will also dig a little deeper than many of the best post hole diggers in this class.
The 55cc 2-stroke engine is already bigger than the others in this review and the power difference is noticeable. One thing to take note of is that this engine will use twice as much oil as the others – your mixing ratio is 25:1. It’s so powerful that a single user may have problems handling this machine when using all that power in hard clay with a large auger. This also means that you have those extra few horses to dig a little deeper – up to 3 Ft. I’ve heard of people having trouble starting the engine initially, but this doesn’t seem to be something too many have complained about. I can say that once it’s running, the XtremePower V-type is a beast that devours the earth beneath it. It also comes with a good selection of bits – 6”; 8” and 12”.
It’s a little easier to use than the others because of its slightly lower net weight (20 LBS) – this is despite the larger engine. The handles are just as great, being dual butterfly handles that are wide enough for two people to operate it comfortably. The throttle is also placed just where you want it – on the handle.
Information on this model is hard to come by and it seems impossible to get an instruction manual for this post hole digger. That’s a little sad and it means that I don’t have all the tech specs that I would have liked to share with you.
What I can say is that this is a remarkably powerful machine and seems as easy to use as any of the best post hole diggers in this review. It also comes at a very reasonable price, making it excellent value for the money.
2-Person Earth Auger
Need something bigger? If you want a gas-powered post hole digger that’s going to dig larger holes than the ones that we’ve already reviewed, a 2-person auger is probably what you’ll need. This will give you the power to dig holes up to 14″ wide but you’re going to need two people to handle the machine.
Best 2-Person Earth Auger (Powerhead)
- Powerful – Briggs & Stratton engine delivers 202 ft-lb output torque.
- Durable – ball bearing, alloy gear drive transmission.
- Tough – welded Steel cage.
- Leverage – wide handle placement for maximum control.
- Easy-to-grip fingertip throttle control
This is quite an industrial earth auger. I don’t think we should be calling this a post hole digger because it can dig holes much larger than a standard post hole. You’re only buying the power head (auger head) and will need to buy the augers separately. There’s a much larger selection of augers available for a machine of this size, so it wouldn’t make sense to supply one. It can handle an auger up to 14” in width.
VIDEO | Earthquake 9800B
Power comes in bucket loads from a 190cc, 4-stroke, Briggs & Stratton engine. This engine delivers an incredible 6.75 FT-LBS of torque and is CARB certified. Once the power is channeled through the tough ball bearing alloy gear drive, you get an astounding 202 FT-LBS of torque at the auger shaft. That’s by using a 30:1 gear ratio. I’m glad to see that it makes use of a 3” centrifugal clutch. If you hit a root or rock with all that power, it would otherwise rip your arms off. The maximum speed at the auger is 121 RPM, which is great – you don’t want a huge, high-torque auger spinning too fast. This machine will turn out massive volumes of soil at a steady and manageable pace.
The auger head is protected by a durable welded steel cage and the working machinery is enclosed in a cast aluminum housing. Making it rust resistant and lighter. Though it’s obviously going to be heavier than any of the one-person post hole diggers. Despite this, I think that its 52-pound net weight very reasonable for a machine of this size. With two people operating it, things are quite easy. The long handles give you plenty of leverage and this helps a lot. It also has rubber grips on the handles which make things more comfortable. The gas tank is tough enough to match the industrial-grade of this earth auger, it’s made from steel and has a 0.25-gallon capacity. That’s enough fuel to keep the large engine running for quite a while.
This is a hardworking 2-person earth auger with enough power move a lot of dirt in a short amount of time. It’s designed and built for extreme durability and to this end, you get a 5-year product warranty and a 2-year engine warranty.
3-point Post Hole Digger
Unless you own a tractor, this section of the article won’t be of much use to you. Though farmers would probably prefer a 3-point post hole digger that attaches to the PTO shaft of your tractor. If this sounds what you’re looking for, then we’ve got the best option for a smaller light-duty 3-point post hole digger at a great price.
Model 100 : 3-point Post Hole Digger
- Compatible with Cat 1 and Cat 2 tractors
- Attaches easily to 6 spine PTO
- 6, 9, and 12 inch augers available, sold separately
- Heavy duty drive lines and gear box
- Shear pin protected
This 3-point post hole digger is designed for a category 0 tractor and allows for safe operation from the driver’s seat. It’s a heavy 225 LBS machine and can handle the rigors of tough work.
It connects to a 6-spline PTO shaft and runs through a heavy-duty gearbox with a 3:1 ratio to a 2” output shaft. When it comes to augers, you have a good selection that are available separately: 6”; 9”; 12”; 18” and 24”. The length of the auger that you can use will depend on the ride height and angle of the tractor that you’re using, as well as the position of your 3-point hitch – this can be as long as 34.5”.
The model 90 is designed for category 0 (20” frame) and there two other options – model 100: category 1 and 2 (25.5” frame), or the model 110: category 2 and 3 (32” frame). Though this is a general size categorization and you may have to change pins to match your tractor to the closest size.
The Dirty Hand tools PTO post digger looks like it’s going to dig countless holes for many years. It’s also really easy and safe to use. The warranty is excellent – 3-years on the gearbox; auger; boom and A-frame and 1-year on the driveline.
Choosing the Best Post Hole Digger
The type of post hole digger that you choose will depend entirely on your intended use and, of course, budget. If you’re going for a 1-person post hole digger, you’ll have the choice of electric or gas. For 2-person machines, gas is the only option. When looking at the particular models there are a few guidelines that you should follow to make sure you’re actually getting the best post hole digger.
In order for post hole digger to perform well, it needs to have the power to dig through some heavy dirt. Dense clay can bog some machines down and gas engines are probably the best for these situations.
A single-person gas post hole digger should have an engine size of 40-50cc in order for it to handle an auger up to about 12”, though most are best suited to an 8” auger. Two-person post hole diggers can do a lot more, with an auger capacity of about 14” and this requires an engine size of 150-200cc. The smaller engines will usually be 2-stroke and the larger ones 4-stroke. A decent post hole digger from a reputable brand should have the engine well-matched to the auger specifications.
What’s most important to consider when choosing a gas engine is reliability and serviceability. I cannot stress enough how important it is to stick to recognized brands when it comes to gas-powered post hole diggers. Not only will these engines be the most reliable, but you’ll be able to get spare parts and service. An unknown brand is just that – unknown. This means that you don’t know what type of quality you’re getting and you won’t know where to go for spare parts. That’s if you can get them at all, never mind a dealership that will service it for you.
The part that does all the work is the auger and this needs to be good quality. A high carbon auger is a must as these won’t snap on you or wear down too easily. Fortunately, many augers are interchangeable between the major brands and this is another reason why you should stick with known brand names.
There two secondary factors that are not strictly about the auger, but rather about safety and ease of use. One is a clutch. On a powerful two-person post hole digger, a clutch is a must. When a powerful high-torque engine and wide auger experience kickback, it can cause serious injury. A clutch will disengage the auger from the engine when it encounters an obstacle. Smaller one-person post hole diggers don’t often have a clutch. These don’t have the power to do as much harm in the event of kickback. Though you could still get a nasty twist of the arm if this happens and a clutch can be a good idea if you don’t have much strength to hold the machine.
Another thing to look for is a spring shock absorber where the auger joins the powerhead. This makes the post hole digger a lot more comfortable to use and improves your general safety.
Last, but certainly not least, take a look at the handles. They must be able to adjust to your best working height and this pretty standard on all post hole diggers. The handles must be strong as the machine handles a lot of torque. For your own comfort, padding is always a good idea as there is quite a lot of vibration.
The machine’s weight will also affect how easy it is to use. Larger augers will weigh more and there’s nothing one can do about that. Though the powerhead is going to remain the same regardless of which auger you use. For a single-person post hole digger, 20-25 LBS is a reasonable weight for the power head. A two-person post hole digger will be about double this weight (maybe a little more) and 50-55 LBS is quite reasonable for these machines.
How to use a gas-powered post hole digger
You’ll start the engine like any other small gas engine with a recoil starter and your instruction manual will help with this. Though here are the basics to starting one of these gas engines.
- Switch the on/off switch to the “on” position.
- Open the fuel stop valve.
- Prime the fuel line by pressing on the small primer bubble until you can see fuel in the pipe leading from the tank.
- Set the choke to the on position.
- Pull on the recoil starter and once the engine starts to splutter, press the throttle a few times to allow fuel into the engine.
- You may have to pull a few times on the recoil starter and be careful not to press the throttle too much if the engine doesn’t start immediately. This will flood the engine with too much gas.
- Once the engine is running, lightly pump the throttle a few times and let it run until it idles smoothly before using the machine.
With the engine running smoothly, you’re ready to begin digging your first hole. You need to maintain a good grip on the post hole digger at all times – this is a powerful machine. Make sure you always use both hands.
Rule number one is not to push down hard on the auger. This is going unnecessarily strain the engine and increase the risk of injury if kickback occurs. Press down gently on the handles and let the auger do the work.
If you start off on grass, you will experience mild kickback as the auger breaks through the grass and its roots. Don’t be alarmed, you should easily be able to counter this by using some forearm strength.
As you dig into the ground, it’s important to help the auger along by pulling on the handles in an up/down motion every now and then. This pulls the dirt out of the hole and deposits neatly on the side of the hole. By not allowing too much dirt to build up in the auger, the machine will work faster, more efficiently and place less wear on your engine.
If you strike a large rock or thick root, the auger may stop suddenly. However, the engine will keep running according to your throttle speed – this causes kickback and can be painful on your arms. The moment you feel stronger than normal resistance through the handle, ease off on the throttle immediately and pull the handles upward. This prevents serious kickback. You’ll need to remove the obstacle (rock or root) with a shovel before continuing.
One of the biggest issues first-time users have with a post hole digger is when they encounter clay. Clay is dense and heavy, making it tough to get through. Wetting the clay is the best way to soften it, so use plenty of water. Also pull the auger up more often than you would with soft ground. The less resistance that it gets from the clay in the auger, the better it will perform. Be patient and work slower when digging into clay and hard ground.
The blade at the bottom of the auger can be damaged by rocks and stones. You’ll need to remove it and sharpen or replace it if you notice any damage. Otherwise, you won’t make much progress. This is usually very easy. Generally, the blade is fastened to the auger with two bolts.