OPTIONS: HANDY DEER FENCE TOOLS AND CEMENT FOOTINGS
Deer Fence Options: Introduction
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Metal Hexagrid and Welded Wire Deer Fencing
Metal, Plastic, and Electric Fences
Deer Fence Posts and Post Spacing
Fence Anchors and Bracing
Post Tools and Cement Footings
Fence Support Lines
Deer Fence Stakes and Flags
Deer Fence Gates and Grates
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The Manual Post Driver
There are lots of ways to install metal posts. One can use a post-hole digger, or if the ground is really tough one can rent a mechanical auger. But the first method is time-consuming and the second is expensive. So unless the soil is rock-hard, a better way to install posts is with a manual post driver.
You can get fancy drivers, but ours, the better basic model, works just as well. You don't need to get way up in the air to drive in nine or even ten-foot posts. Just slip the driver (a heavy tube closed at one end with two long handles) over one end of the post. Then get up on one of those two-step affairs you use to move dishes in the pantry; put the post bottom where you want it to enter the ground; raise the driver up a bit; and drop it on the post. This typically drives the post into the ground 2 to 6 inches, and repeating this action will soon get the post down two feet or more. It's really very simple.
The Digging BarOf course, rocks and roots can block the descending post. If that happens, you may need to pull the post out and start over. Or else, you may want to start ahead with a digging bar and "prove out" a path two feet deep for the post before you drive it.
To do this, take the digging bar (a heavy metal bar like a crowbar that instead of being bent is straight). Push or tap the bar's pointed end into the ground a few inches; rotate it to enlarge the path; push or tap it down a few more inches; and repeat the process until you have reached the necessary depth. Now, when your take up your driver, you will know the post has an open path.
The digging bar offered on this site is a four-footer well-suited to getting two feet down that is less expensive than most digging bars available in local stores. If you need to get three feet or deeper, we recommend that you get a 6-foot digging bar locally.
The Pipe CutterSometimes one needs to drive round metal posts into really hard or heavy ground. It's all right to do that, but hitting the top of the post really hard with a post driver can cause the top to mushroom out, so that it no longer fits the post cap. Should this happen, stop an inch or so short of the post's intended depth, take a pipe cutter (available at your local hardware store) and remove the affected portion of the post. The world will never know the difference.
Drive Caps and SleevesIf you're installing posts that come with 2.5-foot drive sleeves you'll need one or more drive caps. These are heavy steel caps that fit into the top of the sleeve. With the cap in place, you can hit the cap-sleeve combo with a sledge hammer, driving the sleeve into the ground without damaging its top. Doing this repeatedly will mash the drive cap, so we recommend that you get one drive cap for every 20 sleeves you intend to drive.
Please note that if you already have your 1-5/8 inch round posts on hand and want to get sleeves for them, there could be problems. The sleeves for all the 1-5/8 inch posts have a crimp one foot down that stops the post. So for a 7-foot fence with sleeves you want an 8-foot rather than a 9-foot post. You can remove a foot from your 9-foot posts with a hack saw or pipe cutter easily enough, but it's worth knowing about this in advance. Forewarned is forearmed.
Cement FootingsWe no longer recommend lots of cement footings. Here's why: If a pull or load on your fence is sufficient to tilt posts lacking cement feet, then it's likely to bend those same posts when they have cement feet--and tilting is easier than bending to correct. In this vein, current knowledge says it's best to put your posts close enough together and do enough bracing (assuming the fence will face snow loads, falling limbs, or repeated deer impacts) so that tilting or bending is unlikely. Then limit your cement footings to anchor posts (those posts that are brace posts or that have earth anchors attached to them). This prevents sideways stress from being transferred downward and pushing the anchor post into the ground.
If you are using corner/end/gate braces instead of earth anchors, it's a good idea to put both the main posts and the bracing post or posts in cement footings. Since the main post comes with a drive sleeve, this means putting the drive sleeve in a cement footing, which is perfectly all right. In the case of the side braces, one can substitute "dead men" (cement blocks placed so as to block the post ends) for the cement footings. This approach involves a bit less labor that the footings; but it is also less effective--because if a block is not properly aligned the blocked post can move.
Happily, in places where no earth anchors or brace posts are called for, cement footings are not needed.