Selecting One-man Earth Drills

Safety, ergonomics, and engine power should all be considered.

These days, digging is more than just grabbing a shovel or hand posthole diggers and hitting the dirt; sophisticated, productive earth drilling equipment exists.

And though they all achieve the same basic end result – a hole – all one-man earth drills are not the same.

No longer “just a hole digger,” designs and features have advanced and improved over the years – the industry has come a long way from the simple hand method of digging.

With many models and accessories available, units are now able to match specific applications and cut through virtually any type of ground.

Whether the project calls for several, identical holes in typical lawn soil, or a single, large hole in rocky soil, there is a model and appropriate accessories available to achieve the best results safely and efficiently.

Because each machine will perform better in certain situations, and offer features and options to further enhance the process, it’s important to consider the entire scope of the digging project when selecting a drill.

All aspects, from the soil structure and project location to the hole depth, diameter and frequency will come into play.

But despite differences in projects, the bottom line remains the same – choosing the proper drill will complete the job fast and effectively, and even help to dig up some ROI along the way.

Play It Safe

It’s a widely understood rule that digging into the ground can be extremely dangerous.

One-call phone numbers have been established for every area across the country to help protect operators and let them know what’s below the surface before digging.

But the drill itself can pose a safety threat to the operator too, making it imperative to look for units designed with added safety features.

Certain models incorporate the engine and auger into one piece, while some manufacturers offer a configuration that places the engine on a wheeled chassis, which sits back a few feet from the operation point.

Compared to models that mount the engine right on the operator’s handle, a separate mounting keeps harmful exhaust emissions at a distance.

Even in well-ventilated areas, carbon monoxide poisoning is serious, and minimizing its likelihood of occurring in any way will greatly increase operator safety.

This style may also protect the operator in additional ways.

Some models with a separate engine chassis utilize a steel torque tube that protects operators from potential harm by transferring digging torque from the drill head to the engine carriage.

This allows operators to use larger diameter augers without fear of dangerous kickback.

Additionally, the torque tube enhances drilling ease and reduces operator fatigue, effectively improving overall drilling safety.

A more alert, less fatigued operator will be more likely to pay attention and handle the drill properly.

And as an added benefit, easier operation will reduce physical stress on the operator, including back problems and muscle strains.

A pressure relief valve is another safety feature to look for, and one that is often incorporated on hydraulic units.

If the auger becomes overworked and the drill reaches a certain hydraulic pressure, the valve will release, stopping the auger’s rotation.

This halts the drill before it reaches a point where it stops the engine or causes damage to the machine.

Mechanical units are also built with unique safety features, one in particular is a centrifugal clutch.

If a buried object is encountered or the auger is overloaded, the clutch automatically slips, protecting the operator from serious injury.

Additionally, this eliminates potential damage to the drive cable and transmission gears, reducing the likelihood of expensive repairs or full replacement.

Extra, Extra

When the crucial considerations have been identified, and the drill choice and accessories have been narrowed down, the final decision rests in the details.

From ergonomic designs and the unit’s engine to reduced maintenance and enhanced portability features, these extra features play a major role in finding a productive solution that will maximize overall drilling efficiency and safety.

Whether an experienced operator or first-time hole digger, all ultimately desire a machine that’s easy to use.

An ergonomically designed piece of equipment will provide a more comfortable, user-friendly experience, further enhancing operation ease.

First, a unit with large, easy-to-grip handles will allow for better control and more comfortable operation.

Additionally, look for a model that places operator controls right on, or in close proximity to the handle.

Certain functions, such as a hydraulic unit’s forward/reverse switch should be adjacent to the machine’s on/off switch for added convenience.

Choosing a unit with a high-quality engine is a must, as a drill’s operation is greatly dependent on its engine.

Look for one from a reputable manufacturer that includes a warranty and adequate service network.

For portable units offering the engine on a separate chassis, one that includes a durable steel frame will help protect the engine and its components.

To ensure the machine is safe for even the most delicate lawns and turfs, consider a unit with large, pneumatic or semi-pneumatic tires.

The benefit will be two-fold, as quality tires won’t damage turf, and will also allow the unit to easily traverse a variety of terrain conditions.

Beyond providing multiple auger tips, look for a manufacturer that also offers augers in multiple lengths and diameters.

Some manufacturers offer snap-on augers, making the change-out process quick and easy, and eliminating the need for extra tools.

Snap-on auger extensions offer the ability to achieve various digging depths without requiring multiple augers, adding versatility and saving money.

Finally, just like any piece of jobsite equipment, an earth drill that’s easy to care for is ideal.

In the event the machine becomes damaged, a unit that can be serviced in the field, and doesn’t require special tools to do so, will be most convenient.

As an added bonus, a drill that’s easy to maintain will encourage the operator to stick to a routine maintenance schedule, preventing future issues, enhancing longevity and ultimately maximizing the drill’s ROI potential.

Thanks to the advancements in drill designs, as well as the available features and accessories, what was once a simple hole digger is now much more – it’s a complete solution to any digging project, simple or complex.

Taking the time to learn about the available options prior to selection will ensure the success of a project on all levels – from safety and productivity to quality and equipment ROI.

Posted On September 12, 2013

Mike Hale

Sales Manager with Little Beaver

Mike Hale is sales manager with Little Beaver, manufacturer of portable earth drills and accessories. With more than 30 years of experience in the industry, he is an expert on hole digging equipment. For more information, feel free to contact Hale at, or by calling (800) 227-7515.

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