How to Dig a Hole

Three Parts:Planning to DigDigging a HoleDisposing of the Soil

There are many reasons you might dig a hole. Whether you're digging in the wilderness or making a posting hole in your backyard, the process is generally the same. Digging a hole can present more challenges than you might give it credit for at first. The amount of work will vary based on the type and extent of hole you're making

Part 1
Planning to Dig

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    Call the municipal government to verify digging the area is safe. If you're digging in a suburban or even semi-rural area, you should first consult your local utilities authority about the underground utilities layout. Digging into the layout isn't just disruptive but potentially lethal if your shovel comes in contact with anything electrical. Even in the mildest cases, a lot of hassle can be bypassed if you contact the proper authorities first. Remember the words: "Call before you dig."[1]
    • If you're looking for the right number to call, you can Google search "dig hole" and your city or municipality. The proper authority should come up in the first or second listing.
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    Spray a hole outline. If your hole is going to be any bigger than a post, it is good to first have an outline of how big you'd like the hole to be. Without a line, diggers have the tendency to miscalculate how big their finished hole should be. With a can of marking spray paint, spray the area you would like to have dug up. Be generous with the size; it's usually better to have a hole that's slightly too big than one too small for your needs.
    • If you're digging post holes, you should run a straight string along the area you'd like to see fenced and spray markers or drive marker stakes in to the ground at consistent intervals across the line.
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    Gather the right supplies for the job. Due to how many different types and sizes of holes can be dug, there's all-encompassing list to turn to if you want to know what equipment you'll need. For virtually all kinds of holes, a shovel is necessary. While most of the work may be one with a shovel, other instruments may speed up the process. Though you may ant to get the biggest tools available for efficiency's sake, getting something smaller dependent on your body size will keep you from tiring out quickly, thus improving efficiency in the long run.
    • A shovel and mattock are good for regular holes. Get your hands on a posthole digger if you need to make holes for a new fence.
    • You should also consider how you're going to deal with the displaced soil. If you're putting the soil back in the hole once you've dug it up, you can shovel it back. Putting a tarp next to the hole will give you a clean place to place soil. Use a wheelbarrow to dispose of larger amounts of soil.
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    Use powered equipment if possible. Only dig by hand if you need to. Digging can be a very physically strenuous activity, and you will be better off if you are able to do it with the help of a machine. For the sake of making postholes for example, you can rent and use a power auger.
    • Power augers are used much like a lawnmower. It is a better idea to rent one that buy one yourself. Depending on the inventory of your local hardware store, you should probably have a choice between a one or two-man power auger. Base your decisions around the size and amount of holes you need to make. Talk to someone at the hardware store if you're unsure about the details.

Part 2
Digging a Hole

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    Wait for a dry day, if possible. Digging can very made more difficult if you're having to do so in rainy weather. If your hole is being made large enough, rain will eventually pool up at the bottom o your hole, which can pose its own challenges depending on the type and depth of hole you're going for. Moreover, it goes without saying that yard work is more enjoyable when it's done in reasonably good weather. Waiting for a good day is ultimately optional but it will have a major effect on the way you experience the work.
    • Frozen soil is very difficult to work with, so it's best to dig in months without extreme weather.
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    Stake your desired depth. It can be different to accurately estimate how deep your hole is while you're digging. For holes that require a certain depth, it's a good idea to plant stakes into the ground around the hole's perimeter. Get stakes of the same length and measure them to be a few more inches more than the depth you want. Mark a line on the stake for the desired depth, and hammer the stake into the ground until the ground level meets the mark. Having at least three markers around your hole will be a helpful gauge to make sure your hole's depth is consistent and accurate.
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    Loosen the dirt with a mattock. Instead of going straight in with a shovel, you will save time and effort if you prep the area first with a mattock. A mattock is specifically designed to pierce topsoil and rip out roots. You'll find the most resistance or your digging at the top. Once you break through the surface level, you can switch to a shovel and let the grunt work commence.
    • If you don't have a mattock, using a spade to tear up the sod will suffice as well.
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    Shovel out the soil from the outside, moving inwards. Once you've broken the topsoil, it comes to the grunt phase of getting the soil out of the hole. This may be a short step, or quite intensive, all depending on how big you want the hole to be. While you are shovelling, it's a good idea to shovel the perimeter first, and shovel inwards from there. That way, you'll have a set perimeter, and won't be making the hole any bigger than you need to.
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    Keep your disposed soil in one place. It's important to keep a tidy workspace in most situations, and digging a hole is no different. Having your disposal pile next to the hole is preferable, as it minimizes the turnover time between shovelling loads of soil. If the project is big enough, it's a good idea to offload the shovel loads directly into a wheelbarrow. Once the wheelbarrow is full, you can offload it somewhere further away and bring it back for more.

Part 3
Disposing of the Soil

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    Lay down a tarp next to your hole. A tarp is not necessary, but it helps a great deal with the cleanup. Placing the dug-up dirt on a tarp will reduce the mess caused by a lot of errant soil. Depending on the amount of soil you have to dig up, you can wrap up the tarp into a sac and carry it to the organic garbage as such, or shovel it back.
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    Place ads for your free soil. If you have a lot of soil and have nowhere for it to go, there are probably others in your neighbourhood who could use it for their own landscaping projects. Putting an ad up somewhere like Craigslist is your best bet. There are obviously no guarantees whether someone will respond to your ad, but it is a way to get rid of your soil for free, all the while helping out a stranger while you're at it.
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    Send your soil to a landfill. If you have enough excess soil from your digging operation and have nowhere to put it, you can send it to a landfill as 'clean fill'.[2] You can put send this excess to a landfill provided the soil has not been contaminated and meets your municipality's minimum sanitary requirements. The particulars will depend on where you're living, but you can usually find specific details on your home city's webpage.
    • Keep in mind that you may be charged a fee for disposing of your soil in a landfill.


  • Digging anything goes by a lot faster if two or more people are helping out. In order to prevent quick fatigue or bigger projects, you should try to enlist the help of family or friends.


  • Digging may be a relatively simple operation, but it can be incredibly physical strenuous, especially if it's hot outside. Remember to stay well-hydrated, and give yourself a break if you feel your body's beginning to wear out.
  • It should be stressed you need to call your local utilities authority before digging anywhere. A simple garden chore has the potential to turn lethal if you don't.

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Categories: Landscaping and Outdoor Building