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What Is a Hand Auger?

A hand auger is a manual tool used for drilling holes into various materials, such as wood or ice. It consists of a handle attached to a spiraling metal shaft that, when turned, bores into the surface. This simple yet effective device is favored for its precision and control. Curious about its diverse applications? Let's delve deeper into the world of hand augers.
M.C. Jones
M.C. Jones

A hand auger, sometimes also called a handheld auger, is a tool, often made of steel, that is used to bore a hole. These sorts of tools can be used for a lot of different things, but they’re perhaps most commonly employed to create holes in dirt, ice, or wood, much as any other auger would. Augers generally are a class of instruments designed to make holes of varying sizes, and many of the largest models are powered mechanically or with the use of larger construction vehicles or machines. The use of the word hand in the name restricts this type of tool to one that can be used by hand and is powered by human force. Just the same, there are a couple of different sizes available in most places, and a variety of different projects and tasks the tools can be used to complete.

Augers as Tools More Generally

A plumber's snake is a type of hand auger.
A plumber's snake is a type of hand auger.

The auger family of tools tends to be quite broad, and there are a lot of different options in many different sizes. Some are mechanical whereas others are powered entirely by hand. Motorized augers aren't usually considered to be a type of hand auger. These can be standalone tools, or they can be attachments used in conjunction with handheld drills that are powered by electricity, whereas hand models are often about the size of a screwdriver, though perhaps a bit longer in some cases, and are normally powered only by human force. 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. A plumber's 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. These tools are usually included in the broader category, though, since they are handheld and powered by the user.

Characteristics of Hand Models

Augers -- which are helical drill bits -- may be used for boring into the ground.
Augers -- which are helical drill bits -- may be used for boring into the ground.

The part of any 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. A traditional woodworking auger is this sort of screw-styled auger that typically does not have the hollow shaft. In this case, the tool is screwed directly into the material and as it is unscrewed the material is removed and a hole is formed.

Hand and mechanical augers vary greatly in size, purpose, and usually also price. The makeup of the steel is one driving force in the price, with high-alloy carbon steel blades typically costing more. Ice augers typically make a hole with a diameter between 5 inches (12.5 cm) to 8 inches (about 20 cm). An adjustable model, as its name suggests, 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.

Common Applications

Hand augers are most commonly used to bore holes of varying sizes in almost any sort of material. Depending on the strength of the blade and the forcefulness of the user, the material can be as hard as stone, but is more commonly a softer substance like wood or plaster. In soil these sorts of tools can also be effective; garden augers are frequently employed to make holes in the ground for bulbs and seeds, and sometimes even aeration. Augers are also used to gather soil samples to test the pH of the soil.

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 type of auger typically has two long, curved metallic panels opposite each other that are thrust into the material. The augers' handles are then pulled towards each other and the tool is removed from the material, leaving a hole behind.

Care and Upkeep

Augers can rust and become dull with time and use. Proper maintenance is necessary to maintain the tools’ integrity. As a best practice, the devices should always be cleaned after each use. Oiling the metal components can also help improve 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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    • A plumber's snake is a type of hand auger.
      By: Petrik
      A plumber's snake is a type of hand auger.
    • Augers -- which are helical drill bits -- may be used for boring into the ground.
      By: Doin Oakenhelm
      Augers -- which are helical drill bits -- may be used for boring into the ground.