Powered augers: Can you dig it?

If you spend any significant amount of time digging holes, an auger should be among your essential tools. It not only will get you out from behind a shovel-which is a benefit in itself-it also will save you tremendous time and effort, giving you the capability to get more done during a day. Whether you are planting trees and shrubs, erecting signs or putting in fences, the right auger can make light work of it.

Auger options Augers are available in almost any configuration you can imagine. There are augers that are one- and two-person operated augers for small jobs, and augers that attach as implements on skid-steers, front-end loaders, backhoes, tractors and cranes. You can customize an auger to fit your business by choosing what type of power head you need as well as the length and width of the auger bit.

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* Power heads. Generally, power heads can be divided into two categories: high speed and high torque. Within these categories, you can also choose from planetary driven or chain driven. Depending on what kind of surface you are digging into, high-speed power heads are typically used with auger bits 12-inches in diameter and smaller; and high-torque power heads are used with larger bits.

"If you're digging into peat moss, then torque is not as big an issue as speed, so you would choose a high-speed auger," says Don Reed, sales manager for Ramrod. "But if you are digging into Georgia clay, you are going to need something with more torque."

Also, the wider your auger bit, the more torque you're going to need. "When you get up to an 18-inch-and-wider auger bit to plant shrubs and trees, you're going to have so much surface to cover that you are going to need the extra torque," says Dana Ellefson, director of sales and marketing for Finn Corporation.

Remember that what you're attaching the auger to also plays a role in what type of power head you should choose. You will only be able to press down with half the weight of the unit you're digging with, says Reed.

The choice between a planetary or chain driven power head is not as clear cut, and is more up to the preference of the operator. Although a planetary drive is more compact and recommended for higher torque and speed, a chain drive is less expensive and just as effective for many jobs.

* Auger bits. The size of the hole you need to make will dictate what size of auger bit you will need. Bits range from 6 inches in diameter to more than 30 inches. If you are installing fences or erecting signs, a 9-inch auger would best fit the job, with 12-inch auger for digging the fence post holes.

"The 12-inch auger is probably the most popular size overall," says Reed. "Unless you are digging tree holes, it seems to be the most versatile."

The most common length for auger bits is 48 inches, but auger extensions allow you to make the bit as long as you need.

If you are digging tree or shrub holes, you will probably select an auger bit 24 to 30 inches wide. It should also be shorter in length, probably no longer than 30 inches, according to Reed.

Again, the type of vehicle you attach the auger to also plays a role in the size of the bit.

"On a smaller machine, you will want to keep the weight down," says Mark Tanis, operations manager for Kanga. "A bit that is no longer than 24-inches in length can help you. There are not too many (landscaping) jobs where the hole needs to be much deeper than that."

Hydraulic vs. PTO Most mounted auger attachments are hydraulically operated, which allows them to be much more versatile. However, a few auger attachments are driven by a PTO shaft, which has limitations, but will fit any tractor with a PTO drive. For example, if you get a PTO-driven auger stuck in a hole, you cannot just put it in reverse it to get it out.

"That's one of the biggest benefits of hydraulic augers: You can reverse them. So if your auger does get stuck on a tree root, you can easily reverse it and get it out of the ground," says Tanis.

Dig in "Our machines are extremely user-friendly," says Tanis. "We can have someone who's never used an auger digging in a couple of minutes."

As with any equipment, however, you will want to practice using your auger before going to work with it. Even though augers are generally easy to operate, you need to get a feel for them.

And don't try to overcompensate the versatility of your 9-inch auger by trying to make it dig a 24-inch-wide hole. It can put stress on the machine and cause serious mechanical damage.

"There are augers to meet every hole-digging need," says Reed. "From heavy-duty tree-planting holes to bed planting, you can customize an auger to do the digging for you."

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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