Setting a fence post into the ground doesn’t seem that complicated if you’ve never done it before. Dig a hole, throw in the post, and that’s it, right? There’s a bit more to it than that.
If you want it to be straight and stand up to the elements, you need to understand how to install a fence post without concrete.
Otherwise, it’s going to end up crooked at best, and it might even just fall over in a strong breeze.
Let’s see how to do it the right way.
Before you start installing a fence post, you need some basic tools.
- Long level (2- or 3-foot)
- Short level
- Post-hole digger
- Fence Post
- Extra soil
- Tarp or wheelbarrow
You might also need a pry-bar or long-handled tool to help tamp the soil and a narrow shovel if your hole is very deep.
Installing the Fence Post
We’re going to break this project down into three main parts. Don’t start working until you understand the scope of the whole project.
Step 1 – Prepare the Hole
This part should be pretty obvious. You’re going to need to dig a hole deep enough to set your post. To make sure you have enough purchase underground to prevent it from tipping over, you need to get enough of the post underground.
If you’re placing a series of posts, make sure to mark them all before you start. For instance, if you’re putting in a series of posts every six feet, use some spray paint to mark your spots so you can ensure everything is aligned.
Lay out your tarp or set your wheelbarrow near the first hole. You’ll put the dirt you dig off to the side, but you don’t want to dump it on the ground and make a mess.
If you are working in an area with good-looking grass, you could even use your shovel to cut out the edge of the hole you’re digging to extract a plug of soil and grass.
Instead of throwing it away, use it around the base of your fence post when it’s done for a tidy appearance.
Grab your spade and take a turn out of the soil. It’s helpful to get past the top layer with the shovel first. Now grab your post hole digger. Check out how to use one here.
Drive the post-hole digger into your hole, pull the handles wide to grab the dirt, and lift it onto your tarp or toss it into your wheelbarrow. Here’s a good tutorial:
Keep going until your hole is big enough. Post-hole diggers usually even have depth markings running along the handle to make this easier. If yours doesn’t, use a measuring tape.
How Big Does a Fence Post Hole Need to Be?
Think of two separate aspects to your fence post hole. You need to consider both the depth and the diameter of the hole.
For a good rule of thumb, try to make your hole two to three times the diameter or width of your pole, and make sure that at least ⅓ of its total height above ground will be below ground.
Post Hole Depths
A post hole should always be at least ⅓ of the planned above-ground height of the post. When in doubt, go deeper, and consider leaving a few extra inches of space for gravel. The gravel will help prevent water from accumulating around the base of the post.
|Minimum Depth of Hole
|Total Length of Post||Above Ground Height|
|1 Foot||4 Feet||3 Feet|
|2 Feet||8 Feet||6 Feet|
|3 Feet||10 Feet||7 Feet|
Post Hole Widths
Fence posts widths are usually measured in inches. The diameter of the hole should usually be about three times the width of the pole.
|Minimum Diameter of Hole in Inches||Pole Dimensions in Inches|
Set and Level Your Pole
Now that you have your hole completed double-check its depth and add gravel to the hole to bring it up to height.
Keep adding gravel until your hole is at the exact right depth for your set post to match the rest of your project.
Set the post into the hole on top of the gravel base, and double-check that its height is correct.
Now, place your long level vertically against the first side of your post. Shift the post until it is dead level. Do the same thing on all four sides.
If you have a helper, they can shovel a bit more gravel into the hole to lock the post in place.
Or, you might need to use something to wedge or block the post in place while you add some gravel.
Before you go any further, make sure that the post is right where you need it to be. If it’s too short, you can just take it out and add more gravel.
If it’s too tall, you can either start over and dig a bit deeper or cut the top off later using a saw.
Don’t forget that the face of your fence post needs to line up with the other posts, or your fence will end up crooked.
Once you have enough gravel in the hole that the post stands up on its own, set your shorter level on top of it, make sure it is absolutely level.
Fill and Tamp Your Hole
Now, using the soil that you excavated from your hole, begin adding it back in around the post. If you have a grass plug, save it for a finishing touch.
As you shovel in the dirt, make sure to do so equally around the post.
After a few shovel fulls, use the long handle of a garden tool to pound the sand down around the post, tamping it down and locking the post in place. The back of your spade handle will work just fine.
Keep alternating between shoveling dirt and tamping it down. Periodically, check the plumb of your post with your long level, and always keep an eye on the short level on top.
If you need to make small adjustments, you can put your weight against the post and reset it a bit. Just remember that each time you move it, you need to re-tamp aggressively.
There’s no such thing as tamping the dirt down too much, and not doing it enough will leave you with a wobbly post.
If you run out of dirt, consider buying some fill or finding some from somewhere else on your property.
Frequently Asked Questions
Some questions about installing a fence post without concrete come up quite often.
What kind of soil is best for back-filling the hole around the post?
The more clay content your soil has, the better, as that will help lock things in place more than soil that tends to be quite loose, like sandy soil.
Is there an alternative to a post-hole digger?
Digging with a post-hole digger is hard work, especially for your arms and shoulders. If you’re doing a big project, you can rent or buy a machine called an auger that makes quick work of digging fence post holes.
How do I know if it’s safe to dig where I want to put my post?
Anytime you’re digging a deep hole, you should take maximum care to avoid damaging underground infrastructure like irrigation systems and electrical lines.
You should always contact Before You Dig to have the area inspected prior to beginning your project.
Install a Fence Post Without Concrete: Mission Accomplished
Once you’ve tamped down the top layer of dirt around your post, you can find that plug of grass you cut out and set it in place around the post.
Press it down firmly with your hands and give it a light watering. The grass will probably survive, saving you the trouble of reseeding around your post.
And, if you followed all of these recommendations and put in the hard work to tamp your soil down, you should have a sturdy fence post that will last many years to come.