How to Hand Dig a Hole





Introduction: How to Hand Dig a Hole

About: When I was young I enjoyed and immersed my Grandpa' DIY world. He was a metalwork enthusiast. He couldn't get into this profession, as the era of WWs put him on different track, and became shoemaker. Anyhow ...

I started to dig a hole yesterday, and it occurred to me that it would be a great instructable, despite (or rather because) of it is a simple thing. So this instructable covers the technique of digging a rectangular hole as a sample of doing it in any other shape.

There are many ways and many reasons for digging a hole, but the tools are the same: spade, shovel, and maybe a pickaxe. However if you need a pickaxe, it is better to hire machinery to do the job. You can save a lot of time, physical efforts and even save yourself from pain (backache).
So, this instructable is about to do it by hands and with a lot of physical effort. What is - anyhow - a great workout

Step 1: First Step: to Measure

I missed  to take pictures from the very beginning, but you can do it without them.

Use your tape measure to sign the four corners of hole. You can make marks with your shovel, or just put four stones there for each corners. If you need/like to be more precise, then use poles and lines to mark sides and corners.
Do not forget to use you measuring tools (tape measure, spirit level meter, else) during the digging process. You can save lot of your efforts with just this little care.

Once you dig the hole, you will have to shovel away the dirt that was scooped up by the hole.
You might be surprised by the fact that the volume of loosened earth is greater than you think. And the deeper you dig, the more storage space you need, and you need it close to the hole. If there is no such area then you will need a wheelbarrow too.

So you have your determination, your hands, tools, the measured place of hole, and storage space very close to it. You are ready to start digging now.

Step 2: Start to Dig

You might need to handle the fibrous topsoil separately, as this is probably a good, fertile soil, so you may wish to keep it. You can use it later to cover around your hole, or you can put it in your compost to enrich it.

You will see how thick this layer is from its color, but - as a common rule - I suggest to put aside a spade deep layer.
I mean as thick layer as the length of spade head is.

Step 3: Now the Hard Work Starts

Start to loosen the dirt on one side of your hole with your spade.

The loosened dirt may contain big dirt-nuggets - as I you can see on this picture - if the soil is dry.
Cut them into small pieces with your spade. It makes the shoveling easier.

Step 4: Deeper

Drag you shovel and throw the dirt to the storage area. Your target is the remotest part of it. Later - when you get deeper - you won't be able to throw the dirt that far.

Now you can start to loosen a new line. Then cut it into small parts and throw the dirt away again.
Repeat it until you have a clean and nicely leveled floor in the hole.

Then you can start a new layer deeper.
Do it over again, until you reach the wished depth of your hole.

Step 5: Just for Fun

For those many comments about "dump the body"..

I finally finished the hole in hot weather of 40C°/ 104F°. So I let the body hit the floor.
It was cool.



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    This is really on here? People don't know how to dig a hole?

    4 replies

    well, you must be experts, ali & jcrook. that's so nice for you. i, on the other hand, have a tough time with it [i'm not as strong as guys]. i searched to find this so that i get the hole not too shallow or deep, & to save my back.

    You know, people can be different. Some of us grew up in the middle of town or city, and never planted a single plant, or never have to slaughter a chicken or to open a hive. One can not sew, another has no idea about jam-making...
    I'm sure there are people who do not know how to dig a hole.
    Digging is simple thing, but you can do it on easy or hard way. I hope this can help some to find the less hard way.

    This is very true. Milking a cow is a simple thing, but I'd challenge anyone who's not done it to get it right the first time. I'm doing a lot of digging right now, btw. Really wish I had a roto tiller!

    hah! That take me back! We had this jersey who fed our bottle calfs and when we didn't have calfs I had to milk her before and after school. We just had the one cow, so no machine. Your right that there is an art to it, especially to do it effeciently, quickly and without irritating either the teat or the cow itself. All the more so when you remember that all milking used to be done by hand and that people would milk a dozen cows or more twice a day.

    Yet it was once a common skill.

    Killing chickens is another. My uncle had this technique of grabing the bird abruptly by the head and whipping the up back and around like a wicked fast softball pitch and the bird's head popped off like a cork. Sounds gruesome but the bird didn't even have to think WTF... before it was dead.

    Still, you know that sayings, "like a chicken with its head cut off," I got to actually see that a few times.

    (Birds have more of their brain in their spine, things like basic coordination that mammals keep in their cerebellum. Cut the head off and the spine keeps the body upright and moving randomly for a disturbingly long time.)

    Rural and small town housewives used to kill a chicken at least once a week.

    Actually digging holes by hand can take a lot of knowledge and skill, especially if you have to do it day-in-day-out in all types of terrain and ground.

    Read a book once about the "navis" (na-vees) who were irish laborers who dug the canals of early industrial England in the late 1700s early 1800s. The canals were only 12ft/3m across and 6ft/2m deep but the transversed mile after mile cutting a straight level line. The engineers and navis had to learn to become experts in the nuisances of soil, sand, clay, rock and groundwater to keep the canals from collapsing as they were dug.

    Most critically, there was the poetically named, "angle of repose" which was the slope at which any particular type of ground matter could be piled before it slid off itself. This in turn told the workers how likely the walls were to collapse, Layers of different types of ground matter would, when the lateral pressure was removed by the digging, move independently of one another. Sometimes sand or sand mixed with water would jet out when cut into sometime with enough force and mass to knock men down and bury them.

    There is an infinite level of regressive detail in the universe. The closer you look at anything, the more of it there is. Digging holes is no different.

    2 replies

    this is very interesting; thanx for sharing! :^) "angle of repose" reminds me of the "slump test", when one is making a batch of concrete.

    It may be two years later, but this is still very true. I congratulate you on this moving and informative comment.

    (Basically there's no like/star/+1 button, but it's still a well made argument)

    really ?????????????????

    Here in Florida there is sand, then more sand so I'm pretty sure this step could be ignored :)
    Even though it's 'simple' to dig a hole, I'm sure many people have never done it, I've only ever dug a couple of post holes

    OH MY! I have dug many a hole in my 50 years! I have roto-tilled, shoveled, depending on the dirt, and I have used my trusty-beloved mattock! Told hubby that I wanted to be buried with my mattock that was my dad's! I can flat tear up something with a mattock and suggest everyone planning on digging a hole, digging up tree stumps by hand, cutting massive tree roots in said hole get them a mattock! It is amazing that a large part of the population in America has never dug a hole but it's true! Thanks for the instructable!

    Hi, if it takes 1 hour to dig a hole, how long will it take to dig half a hole?

    After having to dig a 120cmx120cmx190cm hole in Honduras, I highly suggest investing in a digging bar. The area of Honduras that I was in has very dry, rocky soil and was the hardest ground I have ever encountered. The top soil was only about 5cm thick. The foreman gave us a sharpened digging bar and it helped tremendously. We used shovels, spades, shovels and spades with shortened handles, pickaxes, and the digging bars. With a crew of 5 of us working on the hole, it still took 2 days because you could only work for about 10-15 minutes slaving away in the hole before you had to stop and rest to bring your temperature down and hydrate (it was very hot and humid there, plus it would be another15 degrees hotter in the hole). And as with any outside activity, hydration is a must, I drank more than 8 liters some days while working in Honduras.

    Phew. Thank god for this. Now i can finally get rid of the body.

    I can't help but just say... Diggy Diggy Hole!

    Ya know- I followed this procedure instinctively 15 years ago (!!). while digging a cellar for myself and my (now) ex-wife. I dug for 2 hours+ per day. One day- I finished digging and throwing out dirt, only to find that I was now 2.5'+ underground with no ladder. I couldn't reach the edge of the hole. I had to cut a ladder in the side, and jump, in order to get out. I learned from this, and later joined the army- where planning ahead is a REALLY good idea.....

    I agree with folks not knowing things about the great outside. Many people don't grow up with folk wisdom and 'how things are done'. Anyone who has had to undo something done poorly or cheaply by someone long ago has muttered about this! 'Of course' it makes sense to start tossing the dug dirt further and save the nearest place for the heavier dirt and the growing soreness of your back and hands, or that the dug dirt is going to look bigger out of the hole. Unless you hear it, you may not think about it in that way. This kind of info shouldn't die out..