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Best Fence Post Tamper

 
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Hey folks - I poked around and didn't see this posted already so I'll insert it into the permies knowledgebase.

For fence and light building posts I am very much a fan of packing gravel around a post - but the critical part is packing the gravel around the post!    There are many things that can be used as a tamper to pack that gravel in, but I've found my far-and-away preferred tool is a grounding rod for portable electric fencing!  More specifically,  a T-post grounding rod.  These are widely available, multi-purpose and that T makes it really easy to hold in the hand and push and - key - pull it back out.

Versus other tamping mechanisms... wood sticks, t-posts, shovel handles, rebar, etc ... I find this produces a noticeably tighter post AND is faster and less effort.  What's not to love?  Well, sure it might cost you $15.

Looking around at images, there seem to be two types of these ... ones with a welded top and those with a cross bar slipped on to the post (more of a cross than a 'T").  You want the welded or smooth top one, the slipped-on bar will ruin your hand!
iu.jpeg
T-post grounding rod example
T-post grounding rod example
 
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Agreed, a long metal rod is the best. Not too thin. My father used an axle from a railway car, but that thing was damn heavy. I used the flat end of a 5-6 foot prybar in the past. Now I have a rod from a barbell set that was given to me. I think it will be perfect.
 
Eliot Mason
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Douglas:

A weigh lifting bar seems like a likely success!

The ground rods are about 1/2" diameter and only 36" long - so they are much lighter and more maneuverable.  I think the smaller one "works" the gravel into being tight while a heavier bar makes its point with force.  I've tried using a big 6' breaker bar and found it effective but tiring.

 
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You need a flatish surface on the end, points will simply divide the soil.
I have used an old road makers tool.
Its about 3'6" long, about 25mm diameter.
At one end it has a disc 4 inch diameter and 3/4 inch thick welded to the end edges worn rounded.
At the other end it has a knob 1 1/2 inch dia.

Its used by holding the bar anywhere, kneeling beside the hole and punching the loose material in the hole.
The knob does well packing most post holes and the disc protects your knuckles.
If the hole is big enough, I use the larger disc and drive down into the loose material.
6 inch layers of fill enables a tight pack to be achieved.

I have used it with wooden, steel and concrete posts and never wounded my knuckles. Which is a bonus.
 
John C Daley
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Here is a modern version which may work
wacker packer
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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The other thing is to do it in layers. If you fill the hole completely and try to tamp, there's no way you will get the lower layers tight enough.
 
Eliot Mason
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Douglas Alpenstock wrote:The other thing is to do it in layers. If you fill the hole completely and try to tamp, there's no way you will get the lower layers tight enough.



Yes!  Pro-tip there!
 
Eliot Mason
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John C Daley wrote:You need a flatish surface on the end, points will simply divide the soil.



John, you say "soil" here.  I was referring to packing the posts in gravel.  I think they are quite different ... and yes, a pointy stick doesn't seem to work well on soil!
 
John C Daley
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Eliot, it works very well with gravel, I just mainly packed soil / cement mixes dry down into holes.
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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I'm on a sand hill and have a few structural posts to install for an "unofficial annex" to a "temporary building." I'll be using the native sand plus some cement powder plus some random small rock from the local river. Well tamped, of course. With any luck it will stay vertical, unless I lean on it too hard.
 
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A true "digging iron" or "Digging bar" has both a digging end and the other end is round and flat and is the tamping in.  When I dig with the auger, I still use the tamping end to pack the dirt and rocks and gravel back around the pole.  Its exhausting, but makes for a sturdy pole set.

The one at Lowes is nearly the same price as HF, I have both, the HF will bend whereas the Lowes one will not.

https://www.harborfreight.com/17-lb-digging-bar-with-tamper-93612.html
https://www.lowes.com/pd/Truper-Tru-Pro-69-in-Post-hole-Digging-Bar/3055437


 
Eliot Mason
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Mark - thanks for sharing your experience - and the links.  My local Lowe's actually has some of those in stock... hmm.

One of the reasons that I like my grounding bar is that I can maneuver it into a tight hole.  The standard 6" auger with a 4-5" post often doesn't have a lot of room around it so that broad tamping end wouldn't fit.  Maybe I should get a bigger auger?
 
Mark Dominesey
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Hi, I primarily use a 6" auger bit on my little beaver. I like to put a post in and drive sharp rocks between the post and the ground alternating with soil. So I kind of prefer a 4" to 5" locust post when I am fencing (especially for hinge side of a metal gate). The tamping end is super effective at tamping the dirt and rocks down along the post.
 
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For my fence I skipped digging altogether, leaving the soil intact maintains it's integrity.

We use the tractor bucket or hand sledge to pound 8 ft, metal (think chain link posts) down two feet (six foot solid, metal panel fence), and it is more sturdy than the previous ones that were dug and concreted.

That said, we did have to dig/loosen where there was existing, compacted gravel, until we got below that and into the soil.
 
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Tamping gravel by whatever method works for you is good if you are starting with an augered or dug hole. The gravel is also good for letting the post breathe a bit and reducing rot just below the surface.

My preferred method is to use a digging bar to prep the hole as deep as the post needs to go, and just a bit smaller across, packing the dirt tight around the cavity. Then I drive the post (preferably locust if it is supposed to last) to proper depth (20-24" depending) and get a rigid installation. This method works very well in my soil (hardpan usually) and light to medium use. Large livestock use may require deep augered holes.
 
Mark Dominesey
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Lorinne Anderson wrote:
We use the tractor bucket or hand sledge to pound 8 ft, metal (think chain link posts) down two feet (six foot solid, metal panel fence).



I purchased a T-post pounder off of Ebay and it pounds the T=post very effectively.  I've also used it for the sharpened round wood that fit into the driving hole.  I think it takes close to a 2" diameter.  



The next post pounder I am going to buy will be a hydraulic t-post pounder that can run off of the Little Beaver's hydraulics. The HP-12 can drive a post at almost 2" diameter, the next size the HP-16 may go to a chain link pole



 
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