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Removing Fence Posts Set In Concrete

How to remove fence posts set in concrete if the post is broken off at ground level without digging or heavy equipment.  There are many solutions on the internet that work well when the post is intact and sturdy.

Wind damaged fence with broken post

Wind damaged fence with broken post

  • attach a block to the wood and use a lever to lift it
  • dig a trench next to the post and tip the post out
  • lift the post using a bumper jack or high lift farm jack
  • or bring in heavy equipment like a tractor, bobcat or backhoe

But these methods don’t address the common situation facing a homeowner or do-it-yourselfer. Storm damage and high winds leave the fence knocked down with a broken post. Wood rot and insect damage leave nothing sturdy above ground. The concrete footing is of unknown size and depth. The damaged fence is close to buildings or utilities that restrict access of heavy equipment. (not even considering the rental expense or the damage they may cause to lawns)

Replacing a few posts on a fence requires the replacement posts to go into the same location. Cutting the old posts off below ground level and installing the new posts using an offset is simply not an option.

Fence Post / Concrete Footing Removal

Using a combination of methods is the best solution:

Remove Fence Posts Set in Concrete with the Wood Post PullerFirst, reduce the hold the ground has on the post by using the Wood Post Puller. The Wood Post Puller is the only tool on the market that ‘cuts’ the post out of the ground. Water runs along the edge of the concrete footing and creates a mud layer. The Wood Post Puller automatically relieves suction when lifting the post and concrete footing.

Second, apply the best lifting method available.  Using brute force to lift concrete is a bad idea. Concrete is extremely strong when compressed, but extremely weak when pulled. In fact, the tensile strength of concrete is only about 10% of its compressive strength. (properties of concrete reference).  Forcing the concrete is likely to cause dangerous flying chips as the concrete fractures.

Create the Mud Layer – ‘Cut’ the Broken Post and Footing Out of the Ground

Step 1:  Clear the area around the post and concrete footing. Remove anything attached to the post, such as railings or old nails/screws.

Step 2:  Turn on water flow to the Wood Post Puller. Insert the spike tool fully into the ground at the edge of the concrete footing.

Step 3:  Repeat step 2 at equal spaces around the concrete footing. Most posts will require no more than 4-6 insertions of the spike tool. Difficult posts may require insertions spaced 2-3 inches apart until you have circled the entire concrete footing.  If you are unable to lift the post and concrete footing in Step 4, repeat Step 3 at additional locations around the footing.

Slide the Post Out of the Ground

Step 4: Alternate lifting methods may be used. Firmly drive a pry bar into contact with the concrete footing at approximately a 45-degree angle from the ground.  Repeat the setup on the opposite side of the concrete footing. Placing the fulcrum closer to the concrete footing increases the leverage applied.  Two 5-6 foot pinch point bars are ideal, but San Angelo bars, crowbars, and even shovels are suitable.  Fully insert the spike into the ground next to the concrete footing. With the water turned on fully to the spike, apply even downward pressure to both pry bars (requires two people).

The concrete footing and fence post will lift up a short distance. Do not rush this step – allow time for the water to create hydraulic pressure on the bottom side of the concrete and assist in the lift. The water MUST be on during this step or lifting the plug will create a suction force pulling the plug back down.

Step 5:  Alternately remove one of the pry bars and reset back to the 45-degree starting position. Using the other pry bar to hold the plug during the reset.  After both pry bars are reset, repeat Steps 4 and 5 until the concrete plug is fully removed from the hole.  Caution – the fence post and concrete together are heavy (often over 100 pounds)!

If the concrete stays intact you will be able to lift the post and concrete together as one solid piece. If the concrete has cracked we will often see the pieces lift out together because the pry bars squeeze them against each other like a puzzle.  Even if the post is completely rotten within the concrete and pieces break off they are easily removed after taking out the main section. Just reach into the hole and peel the broken cement off the sides of the hole and from the bottom.

Immediately cover or otherwise secure the hole to prevent any accidental entry or injury.

Helpful Tips

TIP – Try wiggling the post after the first insertion. Any movement of the concrete footing in the ground (even a vibration) will allow the water to spread along the concrete surface. Any little movement is enough for the water to form the mud layer.  On broken posts, try to jam a pry bar into the stump area and then push back and forth on the top. Or hit the concrete footing firmly side to side with a sledgehammer.  Now try lifting the post and footing using the instructions in Step 4 – often the post will come right out!

TIP – If the bars are sinking into the ground, support them with scrap pieces of 4×4, or old posts.

TIP – Start the pry bars at 45-degrees or less. If they are too vertical the bars will be pushing against each other and not push the concrete plug UP.

How to Set the New Post

Don’t use concrete footings when setting the replacement post. Concrete is simply not needed for most privacy fence installations – don’t repeat the mistake! Dig a 10 inch diameter hole and set the post 1/3 of its length into the ground [set an 8ft post at least 2 ½ feet deep].  Use a treated 4×4 fence post approved for direct burial and set the post with crushed gravel. Put 6 inches of gravel in the bottom of the hole before adding the pots. Tamp the gravel firmly every 2-3inches as you fill the hole and plumb the post.  Using this method, your fence should be straight and sturdy for many years.

There are many discussions (arguments) on the internet about what causes posts to rot and if concrete footings should be used. Our experience shows that concrete footing are needed when setting posts in sand locations. For other installations, concrete footing cause more trouble then they are worth.

We recommend crushed gravel to set residential privacy fence posts. When tamped, the crushed gravel will mix with the soil and ‘lock’ together to hold the post in the ground. The crushed gravel gives the same size of footing as concrete, with the benefit that you can dig thru the gravel if you need to remove or relocate a post.  Crushed gravel may also provide some benefit with improved drainage, but the main purpose is to provide the increased surface area to hold the post secure in the wind. Note that the sharp edges of crushed gravel are important, round pea gravel is not effective.

Do not use pea gravel to set wood posts

Do not use pea gravel to set wood posts

don't use concrete to set fence posts

3/4 inch crushed gravel is ideal to set wood posts