Deck Construction

How to Dig Holes for Post Footings

Correct Deck Construction starts with preparing the foundations. Firm foundations will help to create a stable and long lasting deck of value.

Digging holes for post footings is the messiest and most unpleasant of tasks when you start a deck design, it is often the job that makes people look for short-cuts or even delay deck building altogether.

Your first step in deck construction can be made much easier and quicker by using specialist tools and equipment - a word of warning however, please make sure that you know where all you local underground utility pipes and cables are located before you start to dig.

Digging out a deep narrow hole in the ground is not as easy as it sounds - especially if you start off with a traditional shovel or spade.

Deck post holes picture

Which type of post hole would you prefer!

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Digging Holes for Post Footings

Using a Shovel / Spade

Digging with a shovel is easy to start but once you try to get deeper and try to remove the soil until you actually reach deep enough to be able to pour concrete below the soil frost level - you will find that you end up with quite a big wide hole.

You are not renting or borrowing any equipment - but there is still a price to pay and it is that those last few deep inches will really, really put a strain on your back - and don't forget you will have quite a few holes to dig!

If you are going to pour concrete without using a concrete tube - you are of course going to have to use a lot more mix to fill in the hole - more mixing time and more materials - means more money!

(You can read more about different deck footing methods here at Deck Building Footings Options (opens is a new window) as you are planning your deck construction you may find the illustration regarding attaching posts to cement footings useful as this is using the 8" concrete tube method.)

You may feel like just getting on with the job because the shovel is the tool that you have to hand - but you will save a lot of time and more importantly - your back! - if you can search out specialist tools that will do a great deal of the hard work for you.

Using Specialist Equipment

Using the right tools enables you to create narrow deep holes - quickly and easily - without overly bending and straining your back.

While tools take the strain you can concentrate on making sure that you are working in exactly the right place - to make sure your deck construction will be square.

Machines like a "Power Auger" can usually be hired on a daily basis from a specialist machinery rental store. A "Hand Auger" and a clamshell digger may be tools that you could invest in or borrow from a fellow deck building enthusiast.

  • The Power Auger

power auger illustration


This can be a real mean machine - really earth shaking stuff, but I wouldn't recommend using one unless you really had experience - most available machines only require one person but some do need two to work them.

Once you press the ignition button this machine really rips into the ground and churns up the soil - careful - you have to make sure that the electrical cable and tube, as well as your trousers are well away from the blades of the Power Auger.



The Power Auger is not one my favourite machines but if you do have a lot of pre-deck construction holes to dig this might be the best way forward.

You can get the hang of using a Power Auger if you keep a firm grip on the handle - with one hand - and the balancing guard - with the other - ALWAYS carefully follow the manufacturers instructions.

Decking posts often only go as high as the joists with the decking boards resting on the frame - however there are many professionals who prefer to use long posts that extend up higher than the deck surface to become the main support posts for deck railings, this method will require deeper holes made by using a Power Auger for stronger support.

The tallest posts that we cemented in were old wooden telephone - or telegraph posts, to create and support a high - huge pergola type of shade for buffalo's - the holes needed to be very deep and a small digger truck with a big Auger blade was the only way to do it.

As with all machinery - please carefully read and follow the manufacturers instructions before using - and don't forget to put on recommended your personal safety equipment - including your goggles.


  • The Hand Auger
hand auger illustration
The Hand Auger is the piece of equipment that I favor for basic ground level deck construction, basically it's like a giant cork screw - so the wide "T" bar at the top is there so that you can push down and round to screw the blades into the ground - breaking up the soil just in the area you need to.

Hand Augers have been around nearly since the beginning of time - you may have seen a hand auger being used in the old movie "Western Union" - do you know that in those days they managed to connect about 6 miles a day - just look at telegraph poles still standing and imagine how many holes they had to dig and how deep! - so it's going to be real easy digging a few holes in your garden...

Because it doesn't have a motor there's no vibrations with the hand auger to send you off course - and I find that this makes it easier to keep in line and gives me more precise results.

It's easy to use - easy to control and is a great tool to use if you are new or experienced in deck construction. The only danger with this tool is if you lend it out - like mine - and don't see it for a while!.


  • The Clamshell Digger

clamshell digger illustration


It's just about impossible to dig deep deck construction post holes without a clamshell digger - maybe I have just forgotten what life was like without one.

This tool is basically like two shovels facing each other and connected together, it's easy to work by digging the blades in and then seperating the handles to bring the shovel heads together.

A lot of people only use a clamshell digger to cut into the soil and scoop it out.

I prefer to combine the use of both a Hand Auger and a Clamshell Digger to get the job done easily.

Digging into the soil with a Hand Auger and using the Clamshell Digger to create nice straight edges and scoop out the soil is a quick and easy method of digging holes for Deck Construction.


Start your Deck Construction by careful measuring to find the correct location of your post holes before digging - this will make the whole deck construction process much easier as all the pieces will fit together true and square upto your ledger.

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