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Digging out old fence post plugs

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Snapped Post
I recently relocated to the Austin area, and the spring wind took a real toll on the wood privacy fence surrounding my yard.  The previous owners of the house had put rocks under the pickets of the fence to keep their dog from digging out.  Unfortunately that made water pool around the fence posts, and in just 4 years some posts are rotting just under ground and snapping off.  We called several fence companies, but they were either not interested in doing this repair or had a several hundred dollar minimum charge.

With this type of fence, the posts are installed by digging a round hole 24-36 inches into the ground, dropping the post in, and pouring cement into the hole surrounding the post.  To replace the post, you first have to remove the old cement.  Several companies make devices to pull posts or concrete plugs, but neither my local Lowe's nor Home Depot tool rentals had them  If you are curious about them, search the internet for "fence post puller" to see how they work.  This article will describe how to do it without a special machine.

Digging the plug out may take a while, especially if your soil is as hard and rocky as the soil around here.  Just know that as long as you are getting dirt out of the hole, you are making progress.  Even if you are removing it a tablespoon at a time, you will eventually get there.  Don't get discouraged.  My first post took hours to dig out, but using this technique I can dig one out by myself in under 45 minutes.


  • shovel
  • huge pry bar
  • water + hose
  • hammer

A breaker bar is a long heavy pry bar and is the key tool.  I got mine at Harbor Freight shelved with the sledgehammers.  The first plug I worked on for hours digging on my hands and knees.  When I got the big pry bar, I got it out in about 15 minutes.  Don't be a hero, get a pry bar.  Over time, I discovered adding water to the process made it go even faster.  You don't have to use water, but I found that it was a lot easier, even considering the mess that the mud makes.


1. Start digging around the plug with your shovel or hammer.  You'll eventually have to dig 6-12" around the plug in every direction, so get in there and let it rip.


2. Once you have a 1-2 inch deep trough around the plug, fill the trough with water.  It might look something like the picture.





3. Dig around the plug by working your shovel from the side of the hole toward the plug.  The water will slosh back down into the area vacated by the material you remove.   You may want to add more water too.






At this point you may want to alternate between using the big pry bar to loosen material, removing dirt or rocks with a hammer, adding more water, and maybe even removing handfuls.  We removed a lot of material by hand - it was just easier than working the shovel down into the hole.





Cursing may help here.  I have done this 6 times, and I cursed at all 6 plugs.  Coincidence?  I didn't want to chance it.


4. Eventually when using the shovel or pry bar, the plug will start to wiggle like a loose tooth.  You're getting close!  Continue to remove material.










5. When the plug is loose enough, you can use the pry bar to lift it out of the hole.  Some of the plugs I've been able to lift out by bumps on the side of the plug, and some I had to get all the way under it to lift it out.  The plug is heavy, possibly up to 50 pounds or more.  That may not sound like a lot, but when it is stuck in the ground below your feet, it is too heavy to lift out by hand, at least for me.





Success!  A second person is really useful to pull it out of the hole.  



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