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How to Properly Use a Power Auger

power auger

If you're planning an outdoor project such as building a deck or installing a fence, you'll need to dig a lot of holes. But you can save yourself quite a bit of labor by using a gas-powered auger. Commonly available for rent (or for purchase if you plan on using it often), power augers are easy-to-operate machines. But a basic understanding of them is necessary not only to get the best digging results but to stay safe in the process.

Understanding the Auger

Available as a small one-man unit, a larger two-person type and an even larger tow-behind model, a power auger is basically a gasoline engine that spins a large earth-digging bit. The most common bit sizes are 4, 6, 8 and 12 in. diameters, and they usually come in 3 ft. lengths, but bit extensions are available that will allow the auger to bore down to 4 ft.

The auger's controls are fairly straightforward. A choke primes the carburetor, and a pull rope starts the engine. A hand lever or twist throttle engages and accelerates the bit, and handles on either side of the engine (also referred to as the "power head") give you control of the auger as it runs.

A Note of Caution

When using a power auger, beware of underground utilities. To prevent the danger of severed utility lines, simply call 811 (the national Call Before You Dig service) to arrange to have all of your underground utility lines marked. And before beginning your project, check with your local building inspector or code enforcement agency to determine necessary digging depths and to find out if you'll need a building permit.

Operating the Power Auger

Mark the locations for your holes, and dig a small pilot hole for each one by hand. Attach the bit to the auger, position the tip of the bit in the pilot hole, and while a helper steadies the auger, start its engine. Advance the throttle slowly until the bit begins to spin. As it turns, you'll feel the clockwise torque of the machine in the handles, so brace yourself to steady the auger as it runs.

As you work, don't dig too deeply at once. Clear the hole of dirt frequently by stopping the auger from spinning; then lift the auger and the soil out of the hole. If you dig too deeply, the added weight of the excavated dirt will make lifting the auger significantly harder.

If you're digging holes deeper than 36 in., do not attach the extension rod until you've reached the full depth of the 36 in. bit. Otherwise, the added length of the extension rod would cause the auger's power head and handles to stick significantly out of the ground and make the auger very hard to control.

When you're not using the auger, shut it off and leave it in one of the holes, or rest it on the ground with the spark plug facing up to prevent fouling. And when you're finished digging, use a garden hose to wash the dirt from the bit—if you've rented the auger, the extra effort will be appreciated.