What is a Hand Auger?

Augers -- which are helical drill bits -- may be used for boring into the ground.
A plumber's snake is a type of hand auger.
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  • Written By: M.C. Jones
  • Edited By: Lucy Oppenheimer
  • Last Modified Date: 27 October 2015
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A hand auger, sometimes called a handheld auger, is a tool, often made of steel, that is used to bore a hole. Typically, hand augers are used to create holes in dirt, ice, or wood, though a hand auger may be used to create holes in other materials as well. The use of the word hand in the term, restricts this type of tool to one that can be used by hand and is powered by human force.

There are many different types of augers. There are mechanical and motor-driven augers. Perhaps the most common mechanical auger is that which is used to create the holes that a post for a fence or gate is inserted into. These are also known as hole diggers or clamshell diggers. Motorized augers, which aren't usually considered to be a type of hand auger, can be standalone tools, or they can be attachments used in conjunction with handheld drills that are powered by electricity. A plumber's hand auger, also known as a plumber's snake, is slightly different than most augers as it is used to unclog pipes by pushing the blockage through; but these hand augers are also handheld and powered by the user.


The part of the hand auger that does the actual boring is shaped much like the an Archimedes' screw. The outside looks like a loosely thread screw, and the center shaft may or may not be hollow. The traditional woodworking hand auger is this sort of screw-styled auger that typically does not have the hollow shaft. The tool is screwed into the material, and as the tool is unscrewed the material is removed and a hole is formed.

A hand auger is not the right tool in all applications, however. When digging a hole to insert a post, for example, especially in soils with a high clay content, a clamshell digger, or hole digger, is usually preferred. This types of auger typically has two long, curved metallic panels opposite eachother that are thrust into the material. The augers' handles are then pulled towards eachother and the tool is removed from the material, leaving a hole behind. A small hand auger, however, may be more effective when planting bulbs, as it is easy to control both the diameter and depth of the hole. Augers are also used to gather soil samples to test the pH of the soil.

Hand and mechanical augers vary greatly in size, purpose and therefore, price. The makeup of the steel is one driving force in the price, with high-alloy carbon steel blades typically costing more. Ice hand augers typically make a hole with a diameter between 5 inches (12.5 cm) to 8 inches (about 20 cm). An adjustable hand auger allows the user to adjust the handles. Garden augers typically are 3 or 4 inches (7.6 to about 10 cm), although it should be noted mechanical augers are much larger and appropriate for tilling or other heavy garden work.

Augers can rust and become dull with time and use. Proper maintenance is necessary to maintain the tools integrity. The tool should be cleaned after each use. Oiling the metal components can also help the longevity of the tool. Also, the sharp rim of the auger would benefit from an occasional rub with a whetstone or hone to keep the working edge sharp.


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