Anyone who’s torn down a fence knows that the biggest headache by far is pulling up the old posts. The problem with fence post demolition is that when installed properly, those posts are meant to withstand exactly the kind of side-to-side force you put on them to loosen them up. Add to that any code requirements to accommodate the frost line, and you may have three feet of post and concrete below ground.
The trick to removing a fence post is to apply force upward, so that you’re not fighting the strength of the earth on either side of the buried post. This can be done with a jack or machinery, or with a lever and some elbow grease. One of the best post-pulling techniques comes from Family Handyman reader Mike Barnes. Here we’ll break down his technique step-by-step, as well as offer a couple alternatives.
1. Assemble Materials
To get started, you’ll need a way to get a bite on the post and something to apply pressure. Approaching it as Mike did, you can do this with a scrap board (preferably of 2×4 or 2×6 material) and good old fulcrum and lever: a length or two of 4×4, and a spud bar or long pry bar.
If you don’t have a piece of scrap lumber, a spade bit and drill will do the job, and if you’d rather use a mechanical device such as a jack, you’ll need a length of sturdy chain and scrap bit of plywood to create a flat base.
2. Get a Grip
If you’re following along with Mike’s method, attach the 2-by material to the side of the post, leaving about 2 inches of space between the nailer (pry board) and the ground. If you’re only removing one post, then go ahead and attach the board to the post with whatever fastener is convenient. If you’ll be pulling more that one post, use screws or double-headed nails to make removal of the nailer board easy. Remember, you don’t need to approach it like you’re sistering a joist!
If you don’t have scrap lumber, you can use a spade bit to drill a hole in the side of the post, large enough to insert the pry bar and get leverage. Another option is to drill a hole clean through the post, with a diameter big enough to slide your bar through.
Finally, if you’ll be using a high jack or other mechanical assistance, wrap your chain around the post or (even better) around the concrete pier itself.
3. Weaken or Wet
Take a moment to scrape away any topsoil at the base of the post. This will let you see the diameter of the concrete pier, as well as giving it a straight shot upward. If the earth around the post seems to be especially packed in, you can break it up with a shovel or wet it with a hose.
This is the fun part! In Mike’s method, set the 4×4(s) on its side by the fence post. You’ll be using it as the fulcrum of your lever, so you’ll want to set it far enough to the side that it won’t overlap the concrete post sleeve. Now just lay the pry bar across the 4×4, wedge its tip under the nailer board, and press down or step on the far end. The post should rise up, loosening it enough to allow you to pull it the rest of the way out.
If you chose to drill a hole in a post instead of using a nailer board, simply slip the tip of the lever into the hole, and lift from there.
An alternative is to use a jack to put pressure on the post. If you’re going that route, there are two important things to consider: First, you’ll want to have a piece of plywood or something similar to create a stable base for the jack. Depending on the condition of the ground, it could give out unexpectedly. Second, consider the width of the concrete pier when you set the jack. If your jack is sitting on top of the concrete, all you’ll be attempting to pull the post from the concrete, which will be nearly impossible. Should you run into a pier that’s unusually wide, a good solution is to use a high jack with a chain loop around the post, or if you bored a hole all the way through the post, set a jack under each end of the metal bar to make short work of things.
If you don’t have a jack, (but you do have a helper) you can simply lift on both sides of the bar. Two strong workers lifting from their legs can pull up almost any fence post in this fashion.
Now you’ll either want to set a new fence post in the hole, or backfill it and top it off with some soil to help patch up the sod. Be sure to compact the fill to prevent settling divots later on.
And that’s it! Of course, some fence posts come up easier than others, and sometimes there’s so little concrete that the simplest approach is to just break it off and pull the post by hand. But no matter which approach you choose, a little bit of prior thought can save you a lot of effort in the long term.