Jonathan: This is the first of a new, occasional series of posts on the many and varied ‘tools of the trade’ we use in our day-to-day lives. How we use them, and their significance in our island lives (some are indispensable!): it’s in these things that the interest lies. The first is from me, and continues today’s theme of fencing.
The Hole Digger is for breaking open the ground, typically in making holes for fence posts. They are big, heavy, pointy, and not easy to carry about, and certainly not something one runs up or down the hill to borrow from one job to use on another. So, we have two of them. One has spent the past few months up in High Field working on the new fences. It’ll come back down to the store for Christmas! The other lounges around in the store, waiting for occasional smaller jobs elsewhere.
Our hole diggers are two metres long and each weighs 10kg. Most of the weight is in the long round steel bar. Welded at one end is a steel wedge with a hardened cutting edge. Welded to the other end is a round steel pommel, both to add weight and balance, and as an aid to handling.
Despite its name, the hole digger is rarely used for digging holes – in fact it is extremely ill-suited to – and most likely never intended for that task It is used with more for jabbing or thrusting into the ground to penetrate compacted soil, to break into and break up dense and stony subsoil and to lever rocks and stones out of the way or out of the hole opened up. The weight gives oomph to the jabbing, and the length and strength or the bar provides formidable leverage. We use it mainly for opening up a pilot hole, jabbing it successively deeper and deeper, first through the turf and soil, then into the subsoil, and then by a levering action forcing stones to one side or the other. ready for driving a fencing stob (an intermediate post). This pilot hole makes it easier to drive a post – usually a fencing stob (3″ square or round pointed wooden intermediate post). The post can then be driven in deeper and straighter. Sometimes we use the hole digger (in combination with a post-holer – but we’ll leave that tool for another time!) to clear a larger hole of stones and rocks ready for dropping in a big gate post or straining post. This does involve the tool being used more with a digging action, and is more likely to require levering rocks out entirely.
Occasionally it’s used for levering large boulders, lying on the surface of the ground, out of the way entirely, or moving them – for example by rolling – from one place to use elsewhere.
This is a really tough tool. Heavy work on the croft would not just be heavier without it, it would be impossible. This is the nearest I get to having an assistant fencer on the payroll!