A simple device which is no magical post insertion device but a tool to aid in the insertion of wooden fence posts. Let’s be real and understand that this device or tool is not a light tool to use but by nature, it is heavy and labour intensive. No Free ride here but blood sweat and tears.
What is a Post Rammer?
A post rammer is a heavy-duty tool for the physical ramming of posts into the ground. The post rammer is ideal for stock fencing on paddocks and boundary fencing. It is a lot easier than digging a hole or using a heavy mallet. It is a simple design but effective for installing fence posts.
Post Rammer Design
The image above shows 5 main designs of manual fence post rammers. Most Post rammers are designed to utilise their own weight to provide the striking force. Rammers with a striking plate can be used with mechanical post rammers for manual guiding by a helper. This tool used in this way can prevent fence post splitting damage.
- Rammer with extended handle design for reinforcement to the top
- Extra steel bands to strengthen the striking area of the driver
- Like my Spear and Jackson, this one has a flat striking surface
- This collar design is very strong
- A bit ‘Heath Robinson’ looking post rammer but functional. It has a square striking plate.
The design of the post rammer as described in this blog is a very simple design. It is basically a steel tube big enough to go over the post. For operation, there are two metal handles. For the kinetic energy, the sheer weight is enhanced by the heavy steel plate in the blank end.
Basic Use of the Post Rammer
In an effort to enlighten you on how to use the post rammer. I will attempt to describe it’s basic operation.
- Mark where the new post is to be installed
- By hand place post point into the ground
- Put rammer over the end of the wooden post
- Hold vertical in a plumb position
- Lift rammer to the top of the post
- Bring down with force
- Impact Post with your Rammer, this will force the post into the ground
- After every few impacts check post for plumb
- Rotate the Rammer every few impacts
Which Brand of Post Rammer Should I choose?
With such a simple tool the decision of product choice is a simple one. There are several products available for the insertion of fencing posts but they are very similar. Be careful when buying a post rammer as some have some silly gimmicks attached. Simple tools do not require gimmicks. My post driver lives outside so adding plastic or rubber bits will just cause problems later as they will deteriorate if living outside. My post rammer is very basic and can live outside when not in use.
The main criteria are:
- Is it heavy enough
- Will it fit over your posts
- Can you lift it?
- Is it possible to drive posts into your ground?
- Should you choose another method
- Are the welds sufficient
- Is the top or hammer end reinforced
Makes of Fence Post Rammers
There are lots of makes of post drivers but the one I have experience of is the Spear and Jackson. I don’t say that others are inferior but I can endorse this brand. As a woodworker, I am probably a bit biased as I use Spear and Jackson saws in my workshops.
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Alternative Post Driving Methods
So if you value your health then you could commission a contractor to look into different tools to do the job. If you have the money and need a portable fence post driver solution then consider petrol-powered machine. This blog is about the use of the manual post rammer but there are other options such as:
- Earth auger also is known as an earth drill, soil auger or post hole digger
- Manual auger
- Pneumatic post driver or also known as air post rammer
- Tractor mounted post driver
The Earth Auger is a drill for drilling holes in the land. You can quickly drill a 2ft (600mm) deep hole of 8” (200mm) in diameter to accept posts of 4” (100mm) in diameter.
The auger is available as a manual and a powered earth drill. The manual version uses your own brute force to rotate the drill. With each revolution, you lift the tool removing the soil with it. You make repeated insertions until you have a hole of the correct depth.
The petrol earth auger uses a combustion engine to drive the soil auger. The earth auger machines come in two main handheld formats: one-man operation and two-man operation. I own a Makita single-handed machine which works surprisingly well.
Health and Safety warning of the ‘Single Handed Auger’
The only thing would say is that the single hand auger can get stuck if it hits a root or rock. If this happens the torque on your shoulders can be considerable. I tend not to hold the machine too tightly so if it grabs I just let go the machine should return to tick over and easy to regain control. This is where the two-man version is safer.
Pneumatic Post Driver
Unlike the handheld post rammers I talk about in this article the pneumatic post rammer eliminates the need to use brute force to drive the post to the required depth. These convenient and easy to use machines are available in a variety of sizes from 3” diameter or more. Ideal for driving steel posts or round wooden posts.
Tractor mounted post driver
The heavy post rammer that farmers mount onto their tractors via a 3 point linkage. These post rammers are quite impressive at driving large posts deep into the ground. Our local farmer Didier uses a tractor mounted hydraulic post rammer after the fall when the ground is wet. These machines are efficient but work best with at least two operators. One tractor driver and one to position the posts.
Driving Fence Posts
This is a tough job no matter what manual method you use but with practice, you will learn the simple techniques required for efficient use.
What Type of Posts for Post Driver
Here in France Chestnut fence posts for driving stock fencing is readily available in most communes. Many sawmills or specialist fencing suppliers make posts for use with a post rammer.
Three main wooden fence post profiles available
- Half (Sawn)
All the above are available in a variety of lengths but I generally choose 1.5m (5ft) for 1m (3ft) stock fencing. The length you decide on will depend on the height of the fencing you require. Allow 450mm (18”) to 600mm (24”) to be driven into the ground with your post tool.
Which Post Driver Should I Chose?
This is dependent on your project but for most people driving posts for simple stock fencing then split chestnut or oak posts are more than enough. If you want taller fencing then round posts are better as the cross-section is greater so stronger than split posts. Saw cut posts such as square section are really only for the aesthetics. Sawn posts do not have continuous grain so are weaker as the grain is short around the perimeter of the posts.
Chestnut Fencing is Sustainable
Chestnut trees are renewable timber source and a good choice when we want to behave responsibly to the environment. For instance, Chestnut trees can be coppiced for the first time(cut level with the ground) and the material used in the manufacturing of floorboards or other wooden products.
The Chestnut stump will shoot new growth which the forester will grow on to 12” (300 mm) for future products or cut earlier around 4” (100mm) for fence posts. This timber harvesting can continue for many years.
Chestnut Vs Oak
Frankly, if you are considering Oak fence posts then you should reconsider because Oak is not sustainable. When you cut an Oak tree to the ground it will die, unlike a chestnut tree which will shoot new growth.
Oak will last longer in the ground than Chestnut but you will contribute to deforestation. Furthermore Oak is much harder and when dry you may find it difficult to hammer home the fencing stables.
Oak fence posts like chestnut will also be susceptible to insect infestation and decay.
How long do Chestnut Posts Last?
This is a rough answer as the longevity of external timber is dependent on different factors:
- Your Climate
- Size of Post
- Treatment if any
Green Chestnut posts can last 10/20/30 years but this is variable as I have had some posts only last a few years. One deciding facture is your soil or land strata as many different soils contain different trace elements. These trace elements can speed or retard the rotting of timber.
Why do my Fence Posts Rot or Decay?
Land that is fertile with high Nitrogen levels will rot your posts fast. An additive such as Garotta that is used as an accelerant for composting garden waste contains high levels of Nitrogen. It would then stand to reason farmed land that regularly fertilises their land will increase the speed of rotting. Nitrogen is a key component of fertiliser.
Bugs are everywhere and some a are a bit partial to wood. Chestnut is a delicacy for wood boring insects. Posts that have the bark still on the post is more prone to insect habitation.
Exporting fence posts to Holland, for instance, requires the bark to be removed. Distributor for many commercial fencing outlets insists on the bark to be removed. Removing the bark will reduce the infestation of other wooden products.
Should I Contract to Professionals?
This is a question depending on your circumstances and if you can afford it you should unless you’re a sadist! Using the post rammer is hard work and if you have a large fencing project then a manual fence rammer is a tough job.
A Wonky Fence Line is Annoying!
Nothing is more annoying after a hard day working is looking along your new fence to see it is not straight. How to build a straight fence is not hard but it is easy to get carried away thinking it does not matter!
How to line up Your Fencing Posts?
Lining up a few fence posts is not difficult. You can use a line or string stretched between two points. Then install posts to that line but I tend to work by eye and I have been doing it this way for years. The above picture simply shows an order for the installation of 5 posts. This simple method of aligning fence posts can be utilised for longer fencing runs. First I install the two end posts
- Then I eye up for the middle post (intermediate)between the end posts
- Follow the same procedure for lining up between installed posts
- dividing the gap with a new post each time
- For wire stock fencing aim for 3m or 10ft but it is not critical
- Your fence should be straight using this method
Why are Straight Fences Important?
The truth is that for tensioned fencing an inline run of posts is quite important. If your posts are not inline you will cause sidewards resistance to the wire fence when tensioning. This sidewards force can cause the wire to loosen over time and make stock fencing less effective. We want to keep our animals where they belong.
Best Post Rammer Weight
When you have made the decision to purchase the post rammer for your fencing projects. You will need to decide which weight of rammer that is best for you. A heavy rammer is preferable for effectiveness but you have to ask yourself “can I lift it consecutively?” I personally choose a manual post driver of 15kg. If you are well built then invest in a heavier tool but be warned you may be the only person able to use it.
Why is Driving Posts Directly in Ground Popular?
This is an easy question as it is such a financial and convenience answer. Another method of installing posts is the use of concrete to stabilise posts in a pre-dug hole.
Where to Buy Posts for Fencing?
Posts suitable for use with a post rammer are easy to find in rural areas for low prices. In France expect to pay 1e50c for a split chestnut post suitable for 1m high stock fencing. Farmers often have forests to manage and often produce their own posts for their stock land boundaries. Many farmers also see this as a good cash business and produce posts for local people. We buy our posts from multiple sources and find it easy to find post suppliers from multiple sources.
Exterior Treatment for Fence Posts
Treating fence posts is a bit of a mute topic. On one hand, treating timber for external use is frowned upon due to toxins being released to the earth. But on the other hand, the fence will last years longer. Do you go for longevity or replacing more regularly. You could burn the post-black as this will reduce the decay of the wood.
- Burn bottom of post black
- Use branded wood preservative
- Use old engine oil
- Tar posts
- Soak post-treatment
Distance between posts for Wire Fencing
Stock fencing like we use in France is called Mutton grillage and post distance of 3m is fine. If you intend to use a simple tensioned wire or electric fence system distances over 5m is not unusual. If you decide on a large distance between posts then you will also need to purchase a fencing tensioner or stretcher. I have used my quad before to stretch the fence to good effect but I suppose you could also use utility vehicle or 4X4.
Post and Rail Ranch fencing post distance
If you decide to instal a post and rail fencing system then a fixed distance could be more appropriate. It is not unusual for ranch fencing posts to be installed with a post rammer. If I was to implement a post and rail fence then I would make a measuring stick so every post is the correct distance. A post and rail fence needs a shorter distance such as 2 m as the rails can sag between the posts.
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Post-Rammer Health and Safety
For such a simple basic tool health and safety may seem unnecessary but just like a hammer, it can still hurt. I myself have had an accident involving the post rammer tool. Real risks can materialise with a lapse of concentration. Simple obvious precautions should prevent accidents.
- Work no longer than necessary
- Wear gloves with padded palms like cycling or weight lifting gloves.
- If going naked then use rock climbers chalk
- Mark post in line with the bottom of rammer if you have a helper holding post to protect fingers
RSI and the Fencing Rammer
Repetitive Strain Injuries are becoming a very common work-related condition. And should be prevented if possible. Good hand protection to prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a must. I have had the surgery at Saint Junien Hospital in France for this condition. The surgical operation for the condition ‘Carpal Tunnel Syndrome’ entails creating clear space for the nerves to pass through the carpal tunnel without restriction.
The repetitive impact combined with the clasped grip of the post rammer is a syndrome conditioning facture. Read on to our blog on the correct use of the post rammer.